From The Who to who? Rose Hill Drive’s rock and roll U-turn

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ian Gass­man

Go big or go home. It’s a motto that the mem­bers of Rose Hill Drive know a lit­tle too well. From tour­ing to record­ing to hia­tuses, the Boul­der-born rock trio has al­ways done things on a grandiose scale.

Case in point: On Satur­day, Rose Hill Drive will play its first show in nearly six years. That’s a huge break for any band, and es­pe­cially one that had climbed to the level of open­ing for The Who and Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots be­fore abruptly stop­ping.

But six years is a real mo­men­tum killer. This new re­union gig could launch a sig­nif­i­cant come­back, or it could amount to noth­ing at all. But broth­ers Daniel and Jake Sproul and drum­mer Nate Barnes don’t care. They just want to rock again.

Af­ter a long day of rehearsal, the guys are wind­ing down at Efrain’s, an up­scale

Mex­i­can restau­rant in Lafayette’s bustling down­town cor­ri­dor.

This sen­si­bly mod­ern­ized, semi-hip small town just north of Denver is where Daniel de­cided to raise his fam­ily and make mu­sic along­side Jake. Barnes, also a fam­ily man, re­sides in nearby Longmont. Each of them have found a way to make a liv­ing play­ing mu­sic, but noth­ing re­ally com­pares to Rose Hill Drive.

“We were think­ing what Rose Hill Drive would look like right now, so why don’t we just get to­gether and do that,” Jake said, dig­ging into a tostada.

“I re­al­ized how much I missed be­ing in a band,” Barnes agreed. “The ex­pe­ri­ences we’ve all had do­ing dif­fer­ent stuff for the last six years. I feel like there’s a ma­tu­rity in us now that wasn’t there six years ago.

Af­ter the band broke up, Jake found a steady job com­pos­ing com­mer­cial sound­tracks with Daniel and started his own elec­tron­ica mu­sic. But once cre­ation was con­fined to a com­puter pro­gram, he be­gan to long for the vis­ceral el­e­ments of good, old-fash­ioned rock.

Com­pared to six years ago, the cur­rent mu­si­cal cli­mate has been sorely lack­ing in Rose Hill Drive’s brand of bom­bas­tic rock. It ain’t soul re­vival or surf­punk, just a unique blend that in­cor­po­rates found­ing fa­thers (Led Zep­pelin, Cream) and genre-defin­ing in­die out­fits (The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age) to make a nogim­micks rock Molo­tov cock­tail.

Such an im­me­di­ately catch­ing and fa­mil­iar sound al­lowed Rose Hill Drive to quickly get no­ticed. Upon the re­lease of its 2006 self­ti­tled de­but, the band toured with leg­endary Bri­tish out­fit The Who.

“Pete (Town­shend) en­joyed our ‘Bea­tles’ qual­ity,’ ” Jake said.

Tour­ing with The Who was re­ward­ing but tir­ing for a rel­a­tively green band, and play­ing in sup­port of 2008’s “Moon is the New Earth” only com­pounded the ex­haus­tion. To keep up with ex­pec­ta­tions, Jake, Daniel and Barnes with­drew into the stu­dio for nearly two years and ended up record­ing close to 60 songs for their last record, 2011’s “Amer­i­cana.” Only 12 tracks made the al­bum, which didn’t gain much trac­tion ex­cept in Ja­pan. Af­ter all that time in the stu­dio, repli­cat­ing it live also proved to be a chore.

“I think we al­ways re­ally strug­gled pulling those songs off live,” Barnes says. “We were com­pen­sat­ing in the stu­dio, adding stuff for the lack of a solid core. When we took it out on the road, it was frus­trat­ing be­cause it didn’t sound like we wanted it to.”

They set­tled that with the ad­di­tion of bassist Jimmy Stofer (The Fray, Flobots), who helped Rose Hill Drive flesh out their sound on stage by giv­ing the band a ded­i­cated low-end back­bone. Re­vi­tal­ized, the group set out for a lengthy run with its child­hood idols, Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots.

Af­ter the tour, the band did a short-yet-de­mor­al­iz­ing Colorado moun­tain cir­cuit, in­clud­ing poorly at­tended stops in Breck­en­ridge and Vail. The high — not to men­tion money — paled in com­par­i­son to their time with Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots. Stofer soon left the band for his home state of Min­nesota. Without the cre­ative free­dom the bassist pro­vided, Rose Hill Drive wilted, and the band was put to rest. For a while, only mem­o­ries re­mained.

“When we opened up for Queens of the Stone Age, we didn’t think Josh Homme saw our set,” Jake said. “He walks over to our van and says, ‘Hey, guys, your set was (amaz­ing).’ That was the best. I was so into ‘Songs for the Deaf ’ when it came out be­cause we were still try­ing to write songs, and dig a hole to grow pot.”

Daniel drops his fork and cov­ers his laugh, re­mem­ber­ing that they once tried to cul­ti­vate mar­i­juana in his grand­mother’s base­ment and blasted “Songs for the Deaf” to mask the sounds of dig­ging.

“We prac­ticed in her house on Rose Hill Drive and the crawlspace was so small you’d bump your head,” Daniel said. “So we started with chis­els, ‘Shaw­shank Re­demp­tion’ style, and it ended up be­ing this 5-foot-deep hole.”

“She even­tu­ally found it and thought we were go­ing to kill her and bury her in it,” Jake said.

The Sproul broth­ers met Barnes while at­tend­ing Boul­der’s Fairview High School and be­gan prac­tic­ing in that (since de­mol­ished) house way back in 2000. Nearly 17 years later, the long­time friends are work­ing to re­cap­ture those long-lost feel­ings on an up­com­ing, cur­rently un­ti­tled al­bum. To­gether, they recorded, en­gi­neered, mixed and mas­tered the new ef­fort, which makes it pure and per­sonal.

“To me it sounds like what we were try­ing to cre­ate when we were young, but with a new­found orig­i­nal­ity,” Daniel said.

See­ing that the band has al­ready sold out its Dec. 17 show at Larimer Lounge (a venue it’s never played be­fore) and tick­ets to its Hodi’s Half Note New Year’s Eve bash are go­ing fast, it’s clear that Rose Hill Drive’s res­ur­rec­tion and pend­ing re­demp­tion hasn’t gone un­no­ticed. Heck, maybe Ja­pan will send more love. But re­ally, it’s what­ever.

“It’d be great to have it be sus­tain­able but, if not, (for­get) it,” Jake said, lean­ing back in his chair, con­tent with this sen­ti­ment, if not just the tostadas. “If they want us, we’ll play, if they don’t, we won’t. We’ll do it be­cause we love it.”

Go big or go home.

Boul­der-bred Rose Hill Drive (left to right, Ja­cob Sproul, Jimmy Stofer and Daniel Sproul) plays its first show in six years at the Larimer Lounge on Satur­day.

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