Colorado Springs' 99 Bottles may well have been the first punk band to play Stargazers Theatre, and they were definitely the first to have a violent incident occur during their set there.
The setting was the Indy Music Awards Festival, and, ironically enough, neither the band nor its skinhead fans were involved. Instead, while 99 Bottles played the main outdoor stage — blasting through originals like "Skinhead Violence" and "Working Drunk" — a fight broke out inside the plush theater, where a gypsy jazz musician came to blows with a dance-music deejay.
So much for stereotypes.
Now, some three-and-a-half years later, Colorado Springs' first and only Oi! band is finally releasing its debut CD. The group has actually been together twice that long, but its output has been limited to homemade CD-Rs, Bandcamp downloads, and a split 7" with Denver Oi! band Total Annihilation. ("Oi!" by the way, is a cockney term for "hey" that was adopted by '70s skinheads to describe their music; the exclamation point is mandatory.)
Many of the songs on 99 Bottles are about drinking and working ("I'm working class and I know why / Cause I bust my ass and I fucking try") or drinking and fighting ("Even on the ground all covered in blood / Skinhead pride will stand you up").
The rest are about drinking and having fun. Which is something 99 Bottles appears to be doing more of these days.
"I've known them for years, and we've been through good times and bad times," says Steve Stackhouse, who plays in the Denver street-punk band Potato Pirates. "I don't think they take everything as seriously these days as they used to, which I kind of like. A lot of times with Oi! bands, they just get so serious and so caught up in it, and it's like, 'Well, where is the fun, anymore, if you're just trying to be a tough guy?'"
Stackhouse and his band will join 99 Bottles on April 23 at their Triple Nickel CD release show, which is also a benefit for counter-protesters who were injured at an Anaheim Ku Klux Klan rally.
The 99 Bottles album lineup consists of vocalist Mario Dalla Betta, lead guitarist Zeb Dyer, second guitarist Steve Yanoshek, drummer Sebastian Nutter, and bassist Damon Thomas.
Mario and Sebastian — the band's two resident skinheads — recently stopped by the Indy office to talk about their new album, Oi! music, and beating the crap out of each other.
Indy: When you two were growing up, was there any kind of Oi! or skinhead presence here in Springs? How did you find out about it?
Mario: I grew up on Marine bases, mostly on the East Coast. ... My dad worked for Joint Command. And he liked it here, so this is where he retired.
Sebastian: We met when we were 20 or 21. We had this party house, and we'd pack the garage with bands, buy a bunch of kegs, and everybody got free beer. It was more fun than going to a venue, because you didn't have to pay. There would be a zillion people, and we'd wake up in the morning with beer cans everywhere.
Indy: Is that when you started playing together, or did that come later?
Sebastian: It was probably a couple of years afterwards. Mario got together and started talking with Alex [Martinez], who I also played with in Justice Blocc. We had personality clashes on multiple occasions, but he's a really good musician. You get older and you grow apart from some people.
Indy: So this is the band's first CD, the kind you actually send to a pressing plant?
Mario: Yeah, we've been trying to get to this point for a while, but just kept putting it off.
Indy: Why did you put it off?
Sebastian: Well, we were younger, and sometimes half the band didn't have jobs, or whatever, to pay for it.
Indy: You both have jobs now.
Mario: Yeah, I work at Western Forge now.
Sebastian: He works the night shift making tools.
Mario: It's been around for like 50 years now, up by Garden of the Gods. It's been giving jobs to this community for a long time.
Indy: You quote a review on your ReverbNation page that says you play "pure Oi! music done in the classic American style. How does the classic American style differ from the classic British style?
Sebastian: I just think American Oi! is tougher and less sing-songy, because it has that hardcore influence.
Mario: Iron Cross, who were one of the original bands from that time, would be an example. But I don't try to think much about styles and subgenres and whatnot. People compare us to whatever, and that's cool. But that's just how it came out.
Indy: So the songs on the album cover a pretty wide time-span?
Sebastian: Probably the most recent songs on there are "Bottle Crew and "Here's to the Days." And the earliest on there is "U.S. Skinhead." That was the first song we wrote.
Indy: Tell me about that.
Mario: Well, I used to work for [stage lighting manufacturer] Wybron, and I was sitting at work and just started jotting some things down. You know, I was excited about starting a band with my friends, and it just came out. I wrote a few other ones too that same day.
Indy: Was "Skinhead Violence" one of them?
Mario: Yeah, that and "Trouble" and "Oh Bobby."
Indy: Some of those earlier songs were more about fighting than drinking. Why is that?
Sebastian: Well, we've had our altercations. We've all had knock-down, drag-out fights with each other.
Mario: I think that's why we all fit together so well.
Sebastian: Yeah, you get a little bit of mutual respect for each other afterward.
Indy: And then you know what not to do.
Sebastian: Yeah. [Turns to Mario] You threw me down the stairs that one time.
Sebastian: [Laughs] And I woke up the next morning feeling awful. I felt like I broke something. But I was being a fucking idiot, so, you know, I deserved that. And you know what? I didn't do it again.
Indy: Did you ever expect that, seven years on, you'd still exist as a band, or even be playing music?
Mario: It just happened. And now people like us, instead of shutting us down and 86-ing us.