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