Psych rock group Eugene’s Axe on the leading edge

Is Eugene’s Axe ready for a close-up?

Eugene\'s Axe
Photo by Mary Robinson |

There’s some undeniable peril in tapping a rock song reference to name your band. The casual listener may mistake you for a tribute band (and conversely, if you are a tribute band, you’re more or less compelled to do it), and the obsessive-retentive types are likely to throw a flag if you disappoint them with merchandise defiantly dissimilar to your presumed inspiration.

Drummer Mike Roth doesn’t seem too worried about it, though. Eugene’s Axe has a lengthy enough history playing small-stage gigs in the area, and the reference is nicked from the title of a pretty obscure Pink Floyd song (“Careful With That Axe, Eugene”) dating to the band’s pre-Dark Side of the Moon days, when they were still frying college-student brains in Birmingham, England.

The fact is, the band’s reference isn’t really likely to resonate with much of its club-crawling demographic (the band’s Bandcamp page explains the term). It’s just a name, a token of the trio’s shared affinity for late- ’60s/early-’70s classicism, even if their own original material moves between heady, riff-centric, club-sized trio rock to moody, meditative indie impressionism. Psychedelia, strained through a filter of post-Seattle and post-shoegazer disaffection.

But Roth and the band’s appreciation for that era extends beyond mere rote archivalism — it’s a common point of reference for three players who otherwise have fairly divergent aesthetic inclinations.

“So, our guitar player Chuck [Nilan] is a big Keith Richards fan,” Roth explains. “He kind of introduced me to the [Rolling] Stones. Floyd and Zeppelin and the Doors … that’s kind of where the three of us meet. Otherwise, the three of us are very different. I’m actually real big into Bob Dylan, kind of folkie stuff, and Chris [Wilke], our bass player, he’s the guy who’s into more modern music like Mars Volta and bands like that.

“But that late-’60s, early-’70s thing is where we all kind of find common ground, and when we’re jamming, that’s when it really starts to resonate.”

For Eugene’s Axe, who got their start in 2005 but are just re-engaging after a couple-year layoff (Roth and his wife had a daughter), an upcoming Saturday night gig at the Fox represents a threshold, and maybe a little vindication that an original-material rock trio can actually punch some holes in the funk and ’grass and house music scene that some think dominate the live scene in Boulder.

“Truthfully, it’s always been kind of an uphill battle for us in Boulder,” Roth says.

“For a long time, especially when we were getting started, it was hard to get gigs, in my opinion, because we weren’t Dead-oriented or Phish-oriented, and that kind of seemed to be what most people were after. The other bands that are playing with us on Saturday are bands whose music we really enjoy as well, and they kind of hit the same chord. They’re not really jam or funk bands either.

“And I like jambands, and I like funk bands. I just don’t think there’s enough psychedelic rock ’n’ roll being played today, so I’m happy to kind of represent that if I can. … And it kind of sounds like a cliché a little bit, but it really is kind of a dream come true for us to play on that stage. Definitely a milestone for us.”

Roth, who writes fiction on the side and also plays guitar, is one of those rare animals: a lead vocalist drummer. On the big stage, who do you have? Don Henley. Phil Collins. Louie Pérez, back in the day. Uh … uh … help us out here.

“Levon Helm,” Roth cuts in. Of course, Levon. RIP.

But seriously … what’s up with the drummer-as-vocalist thing?

“I like the three-piece arrangement,” Roth says. “The three of us are in a like mind, and if two guys disagree, there’s always one deciding vote, y’know? It kind of works for us. … All the drummers we knew were [already] in bands, we were getting gigs and always had new material to write and play, and after a while it just kind of became ‘us.’ I started doing it because we had just formed and there were no vocals. I gave my shot at it and it kind of stuck.”

Eugene´s Axe plays the Fox Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 3. Doors at 7 p.m. 8 Foot Orphan and Some Friends of Mine open. Tickets are $5 in advance, $7 day of show, plus $2 for under-21 tickets.