For these sib­lings, rock is in their blood

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Dy­lan Owens

The Demitro chil­dren — John, 24, Lulu, 22, and Demi, 20 — have been chan­nel­ing spir­its in the base­ment of their par­ents’ idyl­lic north Boul­der house for al­most as long as they can re­mem­ber.

Demi, the only one of the three who still lives in the house, said she’d re­cently con­ducted a seance with her friends on a can­dlestrewn ta­ble in her room, which is dec­o­rated with an up­side-down rose, a porce­lain doll, and other Gothic trap­pings that pay quiet homage to Wed­nes­day Ad­dams. (”She likes creepy stuff,” older brother John said, swad­dled in a vel­vet shirt on a muggy July af­ter­noon. “We all do.”)

Mostly, though, they’re chan­nel­ing their rock he­roes. In their teenage years, it was through devoutly stud­ied cover songs, di­vin­ing Ste­vie Ray Vaughan and John Lennon through the gui­tars, pi­ano and drum set strewn around the base­ment-turned-prac­tice-space. Now, in two of Boul­der’s most promis­ing rock bands, they in­ter­pret those rock ghosts rather than ap­ing them: John and Lulu in their smol­der­ing rock en­sem­ble Ban­dits and Demi’s band the Vel­veteers, which John also serves in as one of two drum­mers.

Both bands will play the 17th an­nual Un­der­ground Mu­sic Show­case this week­end.

Though nei­ther band has been around long enough to get a de­but LP out the door, both have made a splash in the Colorado mu­sic scene, and in the case of the Vel­veteers, be­yond. Last sum­mer, the Vel­veteers was tapped by up-and­com­ing Los An­ge­les rock duo Deap Vally to open for them on a short tour of the U.K., where it gained a small fol­low­ing play­ing to packed, 400-plus ca­pac­ity houses.

The bands first crossed paths when the Vel­veteers was paired with Deap Vally for an open­ing gig at the Larimer Lounge in 2016. Deap Vally’s Julie Ed­wards re­mem­bers hear­ing “these great, pre­cise, heavy riffs” in a hall­way out­side the dress­ing room be­fore the show, and turned the cor­ner to find Demi, who was just 17 at the time.

“I knew then she was a force to be reck­oned with,” Ed­wards said.

Though Ban­dits has been around two years longer, Demi’s Vel­veteers has had more im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion. A cut-to-the-bone sin­gle like “Death Hex” is a good ex­am­ple

why: Com­ing out of a Boul­der band, it’s as un­canny as stum­bling on a por­tal to the un­der­world at a Ben & Jerry’s. Backed by two drum­mers, Demi fronts a doom-rock am­bush, the un­der-21 X’s on her hands flash­ing over the fret­board to ring out gut­tural notes from her bari­tone elec­tric guitar.

It’s vis­ceral enough to have made fans out of a band she holds among her big­gest in­flu­ences: Boul­der’s Rose Hill Drive. The band, which toured with The Who dur­ing its peak pop­u­lar­ity in 2006, played a New Year’s Eve gig in Fort Collins last year with the Vel­veteers as its open­ers.

The set floored Rose Hill Drive gui­tarist Daniel Sproul. In the park­ing lot af­ter the show, he of­fered to record the Vel­veteers. Demi took him up on the in­vi­ta­tion in May to record what will be re­leased as the band’s first EP.

“There’s a bunch of good mu­sic out there, but you rarely come across some­thing that blows you back like that,” said Sproul, who’s been a part of the lo­cal mu­sic scene for 16 years, of the band’s “huge” up­com­ing re­lease. “It’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore it starts to catch fire for them.”

Given that quick hit of suc­cess and the na­ture of sib­ling bands (ahem, Oa­sis), this kind of fa­voritism could eas­ily set the stage for a sib­ling ri­valry. But you don’t get that sense from the brother and sis­ters. Gath­ered around the kitchen ta­ble at their par­ents’ house, Lulu and John are quick to de­fend Demi’s quirky child­hood, one where she counted on rocks and a gala ap­ple named “Paige” for com­pan­ion­ship. “Demi had some imag­i­nary friends,” Lulu said. “Who doesn’t?”

“We don’t feel com­pe­ti­tion,” John said. “A lot of what each band does is talked about be­tween all three of us. We’re in­vested in each other.”

It’s been that way since they first played a show to­gether about a decade ago. Need­less to say, it was a far cry from Ban­dits’ cur­rent pol­ished live sets. With hardly any prac­tice, their ren­di­tion of Elvis’ “Hound Dog” man­aged to bomb at a church ta­lent show. It was the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence that sib­lings in­evitably have at one point in their lives, that spot-welds their souls to­gether in shared an­guish.

They blame Nick Demitro, their fa­ther, who put them up to it. A self­taught mu­si­cian, Nick es­ti­mated he’s spent thou­sands of hours mak­ing him­self look, move and es­pe­cially sound like Elvis Pres­ley. In a makeshift record­ing stu­dio tucked be­tween the garage and the base­ment, he’d con­jure Elvis into the morn­ing’s wee hours, ze­ro­ing in on the minu­tiae of The King’s hon­eyed, weath­ered bari­tone.

By the time John turned 14, he had de­vel­oped the same mu­si­cal ob­ses­sion, spring-board­ing from Eric Clap­ton cov­ers and pen­ta­tonic scales into his first band, a reg­gae-ska out­fit called Base­line. He played his first club shows soon af­ter, count­ing on his mom, Pollyanna, to give him a ride to the Larimer Lounge when his other class­mates at Long­mont’s Sil­ver Creek High School were get­ting dropped off at soccer prac­tice. It was a book­end mo­ment for Pollyanna, who used to drag each of the kids to per­form al­most ev­ery day at the mu­si­cal the­ater com­pany she worked at when they were tod­dlers.

None of the three has had a tra­di­tional up­bring­ing since. Though John and Demi ex­per­i­mented with high school, they, like Lulu, ended up grad­u­at­ing from what they call “on­line school,” less nerdy slang for home school.

Now a life coach to stars like Mel Gib­son and Robert Downey Jr., fa­ther Nick has a unique in­sight into what it takes to break out in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try — and what it doesn’t. None of the kids has plans to go to col­lege right now. John did con­sider at­tend­ing col­lege for mu­sic, like his mother did. (Pollyanna was a firstchair trum­peter at the Un­i­mor­ti­fy­ing ver­sity of Colorado in Boul­der.) But af­ter check­ing out Los An­ge­les’ Mu­si­cians In­sti­tute, he and his fa­ther re­al­ized that John was al­ready work­ing on the lessons they were of­fer­ing, which they de­cided weren’t worth the money.

“In­sti­tu­tional learn­ing for rock stars? No such things,” Nick said.

As a fa­ther and some­one fa­mil­iar with the in­dus­try, he’s cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about his kids’ fu­tures. A break seems in­evitable for the kids, he fig­ured. But as he knows, it’s never a cer­tainty.

“If it doesn’t come, that’s fine,” he said. “At least they’re do­ing what they’re pas­sion­ate about. They’re fol­low­ing their bliss.”

You don’t have to be re­lated to get that.

Lulu Demitro plays guitar and sings in Ban­dits. Her brother, John, is also in the band.

Pho­tos by Vince Chan­dler, The Den­ver Post

Demi Demitro plays in The Vel­veteers with her brother, John.

John Demitro plays with The Vel­veteers, along with his sis­ter, Demi.

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