Postcards from fault line

How West Water Outlaws spent their spring break

Kristen Cohen

Robert Plant did it with an achin’ in his heart. The Donner Party did it at the wrong time of year and an achin’ in their stomachs. But guitarist Blake Rooker says that going to California was a bash for West Water Outlaws.

On the heels of a successful launch of their first full-length CD in town last fall, and nationally this past February, the band turned west for their first tour of the Left Coast. Terra incognita.

We caught up to Rooker as he was boarding the band’s F350 van for the trip to Moscow, Idaho, looping back east.

“Yeah, we were nervous, man,” says Rooker of touring California and the West Coast. “We’d heard a lot of things. There’s a lot of good bands out here. When there’s so much good music happenin’, it can be kind of hard to make it work fiscally. I mean, they don’t have to pay you unless you bring a lot people out. … But it’s been going great, probably the most fun tour we’ve done.”

While WWO has earned its road cred grinding out mini-tours of southeastern clubs — Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina — and becoming practically familiar faces in Austin, where the band has some family connections, the West Coast was an entirely new market for them. We wondered if Rooker had to spend much time disabusing their newfound Cali fans of the notion that Colorado produced little beyond bluegrass and club music.

Rooker laughs. 

“I’ve been explaining the Colorado scene to people … but I don’t think they really know Boulder so well out here,” he says. “The other night I saw a sludge-metal band that was all dressed as wizards, pretending to be wizards the whole time. It was like, the most fun thing I’ve ever seen, I think. I was thinkin’, man, if I saw this at home, I think it’d be the greatest thing ever, but I don’t know. A lot of jam and ’grass back home, ‘wizard metal’ might have been a little too weird.”

WWO has also benefitted from a little goodwill-sharing with some of the local outfits along the way, copping a few extra dates when their openers (or bands they opened for) invited them to play on some open nights to fill out their schedule. These, of course, are minor investments that can pay dividends in subsequent tours, sharing audiences and helping get the word out. Street teams have long been a way of life for aspiring franchises far from home, but making friends with local bands is one of the hidden keys in opening up new markets.

And to whatever extent guitardriven power rockers feel overwhelmed these days by competition for stage time from DJ’s and house music, the whole “brotherhood” ethic is an added bonus.

“We’re playing with this band right now called Hobosexual, from Seattle,” Rooker says. “ I mean, these guys are awesome … an awesome rock band. They let us jump on a few of their dates … really nice people. Definitely recommend checking them out.”

WWO stages a coming home gig at the Fox on Saturday, April 26, and after shaking off the exhaustion of a few weeks and a few thousand miles of brutal highway driving, staying up too late and living the life, Rooker says the band is stoked to show off a little bit. Every gig is supposed to make you a little better, a little keener to your crowd and a little bit tighter — most bands are just happy to sleep in their beds, but Rooker says that WWO is conscious of their own growth and eager to strut.

“It’s true that every show makes you better,” Rooker agrees. “And every experience changes things a little bit. … We’ve seen so many bands out here … you watch them, and without even realizing it you’ll take things away from watching someone else’s show and do something different in yours. We’ve been out for three weeks, and you kind of get to the point where you’re almost telepathic with one another. Weird things start to happen.

“At the Fox show, I think people will see we’re really on the same level. They’ll probably see some impromptu stuff. I always think the pinnacle of the band’s tightness is at the end of the tour, that’s why we wanted to do this gig now.”

Lastly, we asked if the band had developed any road rules, survival techniques — catechism for surviving three weeks straight of the Best Job in the World. One of them was to play nice with each other, even when they were dancing on each others’ last nerve. The other?

“Yeah, taking that ‘one last shot’ at the bar isn’t always such a great idea,” Rooker laughs. “Maybe a glass of water instead.”