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Swivelhead celebrate 20th anniversary reunion CD 

click to enlarge Back to the future: Twenty years after their farewell show, Colorado Springs alt-rock band Swivelhead are back with a new EP and a September 22 reunion show at the Zodiac. - MICHAEL DOANE
  • Michael Doane
  • Back to the future: Twenty years after their farewell show, Colorado Springs alt-rock band Swivelhead are back with a new EP and a September 22 reunion show at the Zodiac.
Since the beginning of rock ’n’ roll music as a major cultural phenomenon, I’d wager that a lot of young people have entertained dreams of putting together a band with their closest friends and taking it all the way to the top. “Today the neighborhood, tomorrow the arenas of the world.” Since bedroom and garage performances of “Smoke on the Water” are common parlance for upstart bands from the ’70s until now, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet — it was certainly my dream growing up.

Why, then, does it seem so common that this initial, vibrant enthusiasm can fizzle out at any level of a career? I suppose the material reasons are familiar to us all, and are even considered respectable in some corners. But the narrative of old friends holding fast to a musical project is a fairly irresistible one, and one worth celebrating when we can.

One fine example: It’s been a while since local alt-rock band Swivelhead has graced a Colorado Springs stage — their last show was in 1997 at Manhattans, where Springs Orleans now resides — but the quartet is preparing to celebrate the release of a new EP, Swivelhead, with a reunion show at the Zodiac this Friday, Sept. 22.

Lead singer and guitarist Brian McClure, drummer Keith Nelson and bassist Danny McLane met in the third grade, and later got their start making music videos with an old “over-the-shoulder”-style camcorder.

“[We were] filming all sorts of cool, ridiculous stuff as friends do,” explains McClure. “Over time, we ended up writing down lyrics and we would record these off-the-wall tunes in Dan’s basement, with stock keyboard drumbeats and whatnot. At first, it was just sort of a silly, fun thing to do — create music.”

The band members soon found they loved doing it, however, and Swivelhead became a more “legitimate” venture, basically without the band members even noticing, and they ended up purchasing “real” instruments in 1995 by selling their Magic: The Gathering cards to “some guy in Canada.”

The trio was filled out to a quartet by Brian’s younger brother Ross McClure on keyboards, who was only 12 years old at the time. Much like The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson in their early days, however, it was hard to get him into their own shows.

“It sucked when some clubs wouldn’t let him in,” recalls the elder McClure. “He was sad!”
Encouraged by Nelson’s classmates at the Air Force Academy, Swivelhead set about recording a series of basement demos, eventually submitting a video to a college band contest held by talk-show host Conan O’Brien and making it to the semifinals.

“That made us think, ‘wow, maybe we should really give this a try,’” says McClure.

The band recorded their first full-length LP, Riot Girl, in 1997 on a “half a shoestring budget.” (That CD release show, in fact, was held at Pure Energy, now the Black Sheep.) However, college and job commitments eventually led to the band members heading their separate ways for a time.

“We always kept in touch, of course,” says McClure, “and ultimately kept writing, always. We’d communicate ideas and riffs, and I think we always hoped we’d get to play together again.”

On the 20th anniversary of Riot Girl and the anniversary of Nelson’s graduation from the Air Force Academy, the band got their wish.

“Keith flew out for a few days to jam, just to see how it felt, and it was like we were in high school again ... but hopefully better!” laughs McClure.

The recording process for the new EP came together rather quickly, with Nelson flying out to join the band for recording at the Art Institute of Denver. Racing Through the Sky was produced by friend of the band Dan Buckley — a notable local musician in his own right. Featuring new arrangements of previously unreleased ideas, the EP is aptly named; a kinetic, punk rock-and-adrenaline-filled journey with several acoustic detours and pleasant left turns courtesy of Ross McClure’s synthesizers.

“We gauged the interest for this show a while back — just in case — and found the reaction to be very positive,” says McClure. “Our old fans are excited to see us, and I think they’ll love the new material. If you’re a newcomer and you’re brought along to have some fun and enjoy what [local bassist] Mike Nipp calls ‘comic book rock,’ you’ll have a great time.”

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