No more Mr. Nice Guy

Clay Rose dishes on the future of Gasoline Lollipops, how Tibetan Buddhism is guiding the next album, finding new soul in the South, the sum total of Creedence, scoring a second ballet and leaving it all on the Hill

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Gasoline Lollipops
George blosser

It’s midday on a chilly Wednesday, in a month of Mondays, and Clay Rose is doing some press in between bites of lunch. Through the half-open door of our office, we can hear the TV-compressed background cadence of outraged politicians grilling some hapless government functionary about some impeachment-related technicality or another, windy performance art for all 11 TV viewers out there still dithering over the president’s moral quotient. Rose, by comparison, is composed and thoughtful, a calming counterpoint to the charade on TV — of course, he isn’t singing.

Guys in ties, telling new lies, we comment to Rose.

“…Except they’re not new, really,” he counters, and maybe he’s right.

Which coincidentally leads to a discussion of the Gasoline Lillipops’ newest project, one that is approaching its finale and is likely to mark a watershed moment for the Boulder-based alt-outlaw-country band, of which Rose is primary songwriter and singer. 

“I’ve been writing a lot of political stuff lately,” Rose offers. “Well, I dunno if it’s political… yeah, I guess so. Social songs, maybe.

“I just wrote a song called ‘Feed the Rich.’” 

We ask them for justice/They come out to bust us/They’d rather just let us eat cake instead/But there’s just one winner/The rest of us are dinner/That’s how the rich get fed 

Nice. 

Whatever happened to protest music, anyway?  

“The only place that I can see it being present at all is in hip-hop. Those are the only musicians speaking out against The Man anymore. And I think it’s because, people think it’s like, glib or something. ‘That’s so 2005’ or something, like Occupy Wall Street. I don’t know what [happened to OWS] — I feel like Facebook and the corporate media conglomerates killed the Occupy movement. They made it… unfashionable… to be socially aware.”

Lots has been written and speculated about that whole thing — we recall Michael Moore being interviewed out there in Manhattan, tents and drum circles behind him, swearing with the full force of progressive rage that OWS was going to finally, once and for all, re-order American society around justice and equal opportunity and the working stiff; the days of fat-cat hedge fund managers cashing eight figure checks while retail workers and auto workers and private equity roadkill get laid off were over. 

Didn’t happen.

Maybe it was the lack of a single figurehead. Or an expanded social grievance gumbo including environment vandalism, racial and gender inequality, corporate corruption of government, stupid and costly military adventurism. Valid complaints all, of course, but a bucketful of grievance mashed into an unfocused and leaderless collective howl that soon bored the networks, invited Nixonian hippy-backlash and submerged quietly under the crush of selfie culture and cute cat videos.  

And yeah, a new figure emerged on the scene not long ago, eclipsing Blankfein and Shkreli and all the others with an entirely new dessert tray of malignancy. 

“Yeah. Should have been ‘fuck the banks,’” Rose says. “We gotta stay focused. One revolution at a time.

“And with this whole fuckin’ PC movement, you gotta know every angle of the issue before you speak about it (even though nobody does that, right?), and everybody has a counter argument to everything, it just made everybody really self-conscious. Or, just an ignorant narcissist that doesn’t give a shit, like the president.”  

For their part, the GasPops are restructuring themselves around Rose’s songs, some co-written with his songwriter mother  and with longtime friend Max Davies, and recording the new material (working title of the album: All the Misery Money Can Buy) to tape at Dockside Studios, in Lafayette, Louisiana — a humble little place located on a 12-acre estate in the heart of Cajun country on the banks of the Vermilion Bayou. That Rose and Co. should seek out a studio and ecosphere far from their Colorado base is part of the plan. 

“There are multiple reasons why I chose Louisiana… but one of them is that’s where… that’s where we need to be having the dialogue. It doesn’t make any sense to be sitting in a comfy home in Boulder, Colorado, arguing about fucking details with my left-wing friends. I would much sooner go down South and speak to our Southern friends. This is kind of how I’m planning this album:

“In Tibetan Buddhism, there’s the double dorje. Each arm of the double dorje represents the four ways of dealing with ignorance. Specifically ignorance. 

“It starts in the East, and the East is to pacify. You try to calm it down, get it off its soapbox. 

“In the South, you try to enrich it. You add things to the ignorance, you try to beautify it a little bit. 

“In the West, there’s the magnetizing — if things aren’t working, you try to get them under your influence, more directly steer it…

“And if all those don’t work, and you can’t move the ignorance, and you can’t change the ignorance, then in the North, there’s aggression. You just cut its head off.

“But you gotta try these other three first before you go to the North. I just feel like so many people just coming right out of the gate with aggression when they’re talking to people on the other side, and it’s not effective at all, it just polarizes us even more.” 

One thing that all of us, or most of us, can agree on is that… well, nobody doesn’t like Creedence Clearwater Revival. The GasPops will be showcasing Cosmos’s Factory at their NYE show this year, sharing the covers with openers The Lonesome Days — perhaps an unexpected selection after last year’s Tom Petty tribute. Arguably Creedence at their creative and commercial highpoint, and closing in on 50 years old, the album carried some of the band’s best loved, but schizoidally combined, numbers — the old school rocker “Travelin’ Band,” the fatigued melancholy of “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” soul nods like “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and the whimsical “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.” 

Why Creedence?

“Just ’cause we made this [new] album ‘down on the bayou,’” Rose says. “And also because we cut it so fast and loose, with that Southern influence. That was how Creedence rolled.

“I just love Creedence, y’know? When you look at any individual part of that band, it’s just garbage. But you put it all together and it’s fucking amazing. It really is. It’s like a beautiful mosaic, made out of garbage.”

Amid rehearsals for the NYE show and semi-monthly jumps south (below the Manson/Nixon line, as Rose refers to it) to finish the new album, Rose is also putting the finishing touches on his second opera collaboration with Garret Ammon, creative director of the Denver-based dance company Wonderbound, titled The Sandman (A Newfangled Western). The piece is set to premiere in February, with the GasPops providing musical support. 

We recall Rose telling us last year that the stress of putting together their first collaboration, Wicked Bayou, just about finished him off for good, so we couldn’t help but ask if he had learned any lessons from the first project. (The ‘ain’t puttin’ myself through that again’ lesson obviously eluded him.)

“Ha. I guess I just couldn’t say ‘no.’ 

“I guess the lesson I learned was just to relax, and have faith. Last time, I was really losing sleep this far away from the production. Just losing my mind. But I have so many pokers in the fire now, I don’t have time to be stressed. I just gotta do the next thing in front of me. So when Garrett calls and says he needs the music, I’ll just not sleep for 72 hours and we’ll have a ballet at the end of the week.” 

Expect a handful of selections off the almost-finished new album at the NYE show, and while it may come across as a new guise for Rose, it’s actually, in a sense, a return to the type of political songwriting and provocation that he used to do.

“All through my teens and 20s, that was the main thing I was writing. I steered away from that for years… But now I have a daughter, and that changes the way I personally view the situation, and I do feel a responsibility to stand up and do my part. And as small and as quiet as my voice may be, there are some people listening to it; I know for the most part I’ll be preaching to the choir.”

Someone once said that protest music was an exercise in finding the right hill to die on.

“Well, we’re all gonna die anyway,” shrugs Rose.

So pick the right hill to die on? 

“Right. Make sure there’s not already a statue on it.”    

ON THE BILL: Gasoline Lollipops New Year’s Eve Show — with The Lonesome Days, The Alcapones. 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Tickets are $25.