The members of Lazy Spacemen, one of the most popular bands in town, are calling timeout. Tired of spending their time learning and playing covers -- a requirement if you want to get paid in our current local music scene -- the alternative rock band has decided to stop playing live gigs and instead work on their own music for a new album.
Before the Lazy Spacemen formed in 1998, the members of the quartet each played in other local projects, including the prolific Auto No. Having grown up in this town, cut their teeth on its crowds and tried their hands elsewhere, Lazy Spacemen have cultivated an expert opinion of the local music scene, with a practiced and critical eye.
Before their last live gig in February, the Independent sat down with the band to talk about clubs, crowds, music and the future of the Spacemen. Below you'll find the full transcript of the interview that conducted at Jack Quinn's Irish Pub in downtown Colorado Springs. It's a different, and more in-depth, version than what was run in the printed edition.
Indy: Tell me about the reasons you're taking time off.
Chuck Snow, vocals, guitar: We have enough money scraped together to stop playing the covers [that local bands are pressured to play in larger clubs like The Ritz and Jack Quinn's] and the three-hour shows. It's really hard to focus on your own stuff when you constantly have to rehearse covers.
Steve Schaarschmidt, drums: Yeah, just to prepare for the next cover gig, the next 3-hour show, hopefully changing out a few things so we're not playing the same thing night after night -- there's maintenance that goes into that that takes away from creating something new.
Alan Stiles, bass: It's frustrating for me to have to play covers -- and we pick kind of obscure covers -- but we have to pick covers because we don't have three hours, three long sets, worth of our own music. Even if we did, we wouldn't be able to play these clubs. The way we look at is, we're thankful that we got to play there because it exposed people to our music, and we sold CDs, t-shirts, got people interested, but it's just difficult to have to play other people's music.
Indy: that's something that we hear often from local bands -- that if you wan play the Tejon street bars, places where you're actually going to get paid, you've got to have a cover-heavy set. Have you ever played a whole set of originals? What happens?
Snow: I think in times past it was possible to play three or four songs in a row of your own when people were into it, but if people don't recognize it, they just start shutting it out. You play something they recognize and you keep them out there and they're more willing to listen to what you have to play. Mostly what happens is people just stand there with their arms folded.
Stiles: Mike and I have noticed though, that like at the Ritz and here at Quinn's, that we get a lot more people dancing. Here we played an entire set of originals, and it went over well. Our original stuff is stronger than the cover stuff we play, because it's our music.
Mike Amend, guitar: You can look at a crowd and tell, get a feeling how it will work when you spring an original on them. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work out all that well at the clubs down here.
Snow: Plus, people don't realize the incredible amount of pressure when you're fronting a situation like that. Obviously, we play music because we care about music, we have a personal interest in it, and so we're not going over very well, it's personal. It's not like, 'well, I'm getting paid'. And later on, when you do get paid, you get that kind of a look, kind of like they want to ask us to play more recognizable songs.
Stiles: They basically want us to play Matchbox.20 or whatever crap so that people come in a say "oh, I heard this on..' whatever people listen to.
Snow: There was a time when the people were more open-minded. When I first started playing that it was unheard of to play original music here in Colorado Springs and when you did, it was a hostile reaction. But in the '90s, there was a little golden period where people would kind of take it if they were willing to listen. Then, out of a bar of 200 or 300 people, you'd have 15 or 20 people you could have an intelligent conversation about music with. Now it's like one, or two people.
Indy: Is this demand for covers coming from the club owners or the crowd?
Stiles: It's both. I think you have to find the lowest common denominator where you can get their interest. Your average Tejon Street crowd isn't looking to hear anything off our CD, they're looking to get out, hook up, whatever.
Snow: And we understand, it's business. The club owners have a business to run, and as much as you'd like to think they're out to support the artistic side of it, they're still responsible for their business.
Schaarschmidt: They're not a "Patron of the Arts". They're out to sell drinks and make people happy enough to come back.
Indy: So why didn't you guys ever up and move away?
Snow: Easier to be a bigger fish in a small pond. You could get lost out in L.A. or out in Texas where there are literally hundreds of good bands playing every night. Here, it's a little easier to stand out, and I think we do, just because of the style that we play.
Amend: It's also the old adage, "The grass is always greener on the other side."
Snow: I've had other people that have just moved here tell me that that the music scene where they came from is so dismal. It's hard for me to believe that there could be a place worse than here, but when I think about it, there are two stations here\ -- KRCC and KEPC -- that support and play local music. And there are at least there are places for us to play here, so maybe, yeah, it is just a question of the grass looking greener.
Schaarschmidt: Plus we grew up here, our families are here, and for my part, I don't want live anywhere else.
Stiles: After college, I moved to California and lasted about a year. I was going to form a band, but once I got out there I realized, it was no different, so what's the point? I can come back here, play with people that I like, and feel comfortable with, and we're all on the same page, music-wise. And I think the four of us are fairly similar. It's sort of like that Cheap Trick album cover, with the two nice guys and the two kind of scary guys. They're [Steve and Mike] the guys on the mopeds and Chuck and I are the ones on the Harleys.
We have a good dynamic. We put out a strong CD with our last one, and I hope our next one will be even better. It's weird business. You get signed by somebody and they want to change our music and change our sound, but I'd rather sell 10 or 20,000 of our own CDs on our own terms that 10 million on the record label's terms. They're just going to bend you over and it'd not going to be fun. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe being a big rock star is great.
Snow: It would be nice to have some money.
Stiles: But you see a million bands, like that monkey who did the thing with Santana...
Indy: Rob Thomas.
Stiles: Yeah. He said the record label told him, "You need to lose weight. You need to do this, you need to do that"... I'm not going to have some guy send me out on the road for ten months, not pay me anything, make me come back even more broke, dress me, and make me freakin' get on a treadmill everyday so that I look good.
Snow: But that's where it's at now. Selling, marketing.
Indy: Do you think there's image bias here in town?
Stiles: I think there are some bands who like to think there is, but I don't think the bars or clubs care.
Snow: There are some bands in town who really think they're rock stars, and they've got the look. Sure, it's part of the game, but put the music behind it first.
Indy: So what's the plan now?
Schaarschmidt: We're going to go into the lab... and develop something new.
Snow: Concentrate on playing, doing open spots, play up in Denver, at Acoustic, and basically just take time to work stuff out for the new record.
Stiles: I think we're going to take time and focus on our own music, push the envelope, see what we can do when we don't have to do covers or worry about taking two hours out of a three hour rehearsal learning songs that we can count on to make money. We can spend three hours doing our own thing.
Schaarschmidt: We've got some pretty good stuff. We think it's pretty good, and we want to make it more releasable.
Indy: Do you have a long-term goals for Lazy Spacemen?
Snow: I'll probably be dead in another year.
Stiles: I know that when I was a kid and I picked up my first guitar, I wanted to be John Lennon. I wanted girls screaming for me and flying jet airplanes and have my pick of whatever I want, wherever I want. But now, I'd be happy if we sold a lot of records on our terms. If in five years we put out a couple more CDs and they're strong, each with as good songwriting as the last one, I'm going to be happy.
Snow: I think Jim Morrison said it best when he said, "the future is uncertain and the end is always near." When I look back over the CDs I've put out and the bands I've been in, I look at as kind of a work in progress. I wasn't in a band that had one hit and now I'm washing dishes, or that was always on the fringe of success, and that's okay. Sometimes the successes are great and the highs are high and the lows are very low, but that's what I choose to do.
Schaarschmidt: If all we achieve is getting a bunch of discs spread across the country somehow, that's kind of cool too.
Stiles: It's about creating. Of playing the music and enjoying it and saying, 'look, I made this CD.' Maybe after we're dead somebody will find it and decide hey -- this is a great album.
Snow: Plastic immortality.
Indy: Are you going to experiment with other styles?
Snow: Well, we're just trying to get out of the whole two guitars, bass and drums thing. People seem to think that if you add a turntable to your sound it's contemporary, and we're just trying to come up with better instrumentation and make it more interesting instead of the same old song and dance.
Indy: After you put out the next album, then what?
Stiles: I think we're going to try doing some small tours, getting out of here and trying to promote the record through college radio. If we could go to Chicago, hit Lawrence, Kansas -- towns where there's actually people that are interested.
Indy: Do you think the support of the scene around here has gotten better or worse over the past couple years?
Snow: Hard to tell. The music scene to me, in a nutshell, is: "We can't play three-hour sets, where do we play?" You have a choice of playing unplugged somewhere, or learning a bunch of covers.
Stiles: Or you could play the Music Hall, but even if you get a 100, 150 people in there, it still seems empty.
Schaarschmidt: That's a really fun place to play, though.
Snow: They don't pay as much attention to the upkeep as they should. I heard it was up for sale again. I imagine it's because people can't drive that extra mile to go see a show... but they'll drive 60 miles up to Denver at the drop of the hat.
Indy: It is a mentality thing. A lot of the crowds, and the musicians in town, have a kind of beat-down attitude -- "we suck, no one's going to come see us play, we won't go see that band, they suck, why don't we just go to Denver...". It's a kind of fatigue that permeates the city, a dog chasing it's tail. Club owners, bands, and crowds.
Snow: Well, we always come in with the positive attitude, thinking it will be a good show, although it doesn't always turn out that way. A lot of it is self-promotion on the band's side. A lot of them don't do it, it's sort of like "why bother?" The audience picks up on that. But then these bands come down from Denver and people are like "Whoaaaaa, hey.. wow...". There are a lot of good bands in Denver, but there are a lot of crappy bands too.
Schaarschmidt: It's what I call the 'Import Mystique'. When you don't know them personally, they're more interesting.
Snow: People will drive to Denver to see the Beta Band in a frikkin' blinding snowstorm --
Stiles: That's great and all, but there are lots of good bands in town that deserve support.
Schaarschmidt: 'Deserve' is the key. You hit on the essence of it. You have a responsibility to be good first.
Snow: Not just demand it because you think you're cool.
Indy: How are your fans reacting to the news that you won't be playing any time soon?
Snow: I had one guy who has followed every band I've ever been in, and he said, "you know it's really terrible that you guys think you just have to walk away from this", but we're not dealing with it as a tragedy. He said, "it is for the people who come see you."
Stiles: A lot of people got kind of angry. Maybe they have come out, but now the opportunities not there. We've been doing this, for two, no three years now, and they never come out. They think you'll always be there, but as soon as you're not available... it's like the girl in college who always wanted you to ask her out and then she gets a boyfriend and you're like, "Oh man... Should've asked her out!"
Indy: I hear a lot of bands complain about the lack of clubs willing to pay musicians what they're worth.
Snow: We've been treated pretty well. I think it comes back to the question of how much responsibility is on your shoulders. "How come you're not playing my CD on the radio?" Well, it sounds like crap. You recorded it in your garage. It's not quality. And the bands themselves -- there's a ton of bands who will play for nothing, knuckle under to whatever demands are being asked of them, so then everybody else HAS to follow suit. Be it the kind of music that they're playing, or what their tolerating as far as the atmosphere of the clubs they play. They don't fight against it, they're just happy to play. And it's wrong. It's just wrong.
Schaarschmidt: I still say, get good!
Amend: There's an apathy of the people that go out. The clubs can't charge a cover, so they can't pay the band as much. In Denver, you're going to pay five, six, seven dollars to get into a club.
Snow: And you're happy to do it.
Amend: Down here, they can't even charge a cover at the door.
Indy: That's part of the mystery of this town -- I do it too. Why do I drive all the way up to Denver to see a band, when I could just go around the corner?
Snow: Because a lot of bands down here aren't that good. There're a few standouts, and there's the people who are just out there just to be playing, and their job allowed them to buy a new Les Paul, so they're going to go out and play the blues... whatever.
Stiles: Bands like Suites for a King, they just bowl me over; they're amazing. They're never going to get to play here [downtown]. They play the Coffee Lounge and it's standing room only. And they promote like crazy, but they're never going to get noticed by anybody in this place.
Indy: It seems that the clubs that do promote regular live music -- like the Tejon Street bars -- do it well. Yet, as a spectator, the atmosphere is not always that inviting, and that doesn't make you want to go out.
Stiles: Yeah, and also, the bands generally that are there.... I don't like to talk bad about bands because they're out there doing it. But when you're sitting there with your synthesizer and you think you're hip... whatever. The crowds there basically want a soundtrack to the pick-up scene, of music they know.
Snow: We're not in there playing Depeche Mode, Duran Duran -- we demand to be listened to. When it's not happening, it makes it hard. It doesn't make us feel good, and it doesn't make the business feel good because they know we're up there [halfheartedly].
Indy: How would you like to see the scene change?
Snow: I don't know if there's an answer to that, because it's so fragmented. You have all these little cliques doing different things -- there's the house concerts, little coffeehouses, smoke-free shows ... . People want to have it their way. It used to be that when you went out to see a band, you took it for what it was.
There are pieces of the puzzle that are being met. There are places to play, but you have to play three hour sets. Here at Quinn's, they're having bands on Thursday nights now, but if you can't get people out on Friday or Saturday, how many are going to show up on a Thursday?
We've always thought that having multiple bands on a weekend would be a good idea-- then people don't have to play for hours and hours.
Schaarschmidt: That's when it becomes more like a show. To me that's very appealing. You pay one ticket price or once cover charge, and you get to see two or three different bands, that's pretty darn cool. It's a logistics nightmare sometimes if you have to load equipment on and off, but those things can be overcome.
Snow: The main thing I notice from people more than anything else is people who say I don't want to go the Ritz, or I don't like Quinn's, wherever, and that makes me wonder, well, where do you like to go?
Stiles: They want us to come play in their living room. The one thing I'd ask for is for people to support original music. If I could say one thing that would help, it would be for people not to be so apathetic, not so complacent about their little lives and nesting and getting duvet covers or whatever the hell that they're doing. They're so complex in their lives that they can't go out and see a band and have a couple beers, they gotta get their Ikea catalog out and decide what to order. Why don't you take some of that energy and come down and see a band? Live a little. See what's out there. There are four guys here who love performing and playing music, and want to share what we do. Because what we do is good.