Rose Hill Drive hits the nitro boosters on its cruise to the top

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Rose Hill Drive hits the nitro boosters on its cruise to the top

By Cornelia Kane and Brian F. Johnson

Rose Hill Drive is a name that is quickly becoming synonymous with the resurgence of raw, garage-style rock and roll in a record industry that has become stagnant with bloated pop stars.

The trio from Boulder that features brothers Jake and Daniel Sproul (on bass and guitar, respectively) and their high school buddy Nate Barnes (drums) doesn’t have to play in garages anymore, but their sound is still pure, unfiltered rock and roll.Though the bars and studios that they play in may be a little nicer now than when they started out (the band came together in 2000 and had their first national tour in 2003), the guys have not lost any of the dedication and unwillingness to compromise their sound that has taken them to the top of today’s list of unsigned bands.

Their relentless touring schedule and technical prowess have brought the band into the spotlight numerous times, culminating with a packed set at this year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. Daniel told The Marquee in a recent interview that Bonnaroo was “the peak. We were unknown, with no record, and we were drawing them in with the music. We were on top of the world.”

The band is actually not that unknown: They were on the Vans Warped Tour in 2004 and have also opened for such bands as the reunited Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule and Van Halen. The latter liked Rose Hill Drive so much that when their run with them was over, they asked them right back to play another round of shows — surprising, but not so to those who have seen the band live.

Forget about the fact that Barnes is the oldest member of the band at 23. Something about Rose Hill Drive’s stage presence is years beyond their age. While the music ain’t polished, the boys’ approach is damn-near spit shined. And, more importantly, it’s seemingly not at all contrived. Daniel’s mane of long, curly hair obscures his face for 75 percent of the performance, the other 25 percent of the time it is flying back and forth while soloing. Barnes, “The Foot” as he’s known to some friends and admirers, hits the skins so solidly that pieces of his drumsticks routinely go flying past his ears as they disintegrate. And Jake, who also tackles vocals for the band, approaches the microphone with a disdain that seems to say no matter how far it’s cranked, it won’t be loud enough to properly convey the band’s essence to the masses. The band actually has their high-decibel policy written into their contract. According to Jake, “Turning down is not an option. If you don’t understand that, that’s your problem.”

Rose Hill Drive’s sound is a no-holds-barred sonic barrage. Imagine the fierce intensity of John Bonham’s drumming from Led Zeppelin I, the guitar chops of early, Cream-era Clapton, and the full-tilt tenor of a young Ozzy Osbourne, mixed with the raw energy of a Stooges show. You might come close.

If you ask the band members or any of their crew to put a label on their sound, as many bands seem loath to do these days, the answer quickly and invariably comes back, “rock and roll!”

With sets consisting mainly of original material, the band is not afraid to delve into covers by rock greats such as Black Sabbaths’ “Faeries Wear Boots,” or The Who’s “Young Man Blues.”

Last year, fans and industry insiders alike were expecting the band to break right away. But, more than a year later, there is still no label and no full-length studio release — and that’s just the way they want it, for now.

Since deciding to pursue their dream of making music their career, the guys have had many experiences that have made them no strangers to the sometimes devious machinations of the record industry. When the band burst onto the scene, playing first at friends’ parties and then moving into touring the Front Range and eventually the U.S., record label execs quickly lined up, each ready to make the band a deal, but none willing to share the band’s long-term vision and give them the creative freedom that Rose Hill Drive values above everything else. “It’s been a practice in patience, a life lesson,” said Daniel, who has expressed countless times his desire to develop Rose Hill Drive into a band whose lifespan will far exceed that of their contemporaries.

One of the band’s biggest tests came last year when they hooked up with famed producer Brendan O’Brien. A friend had given O’Brien (Rage Against The Machine, Springsteen) one of Rose Hill Drive’s demo EPs, and after some negotiation, they entered the studio to record what was to be the band’s first album (still with no label).

Then the band did something that no one expected — they shelved the project.

While the tracks they laid down for that record now sit collecting dust, every band member has expressed gratitude for the opportunity and insight gained from the experience. “The main thing is that we weren’t ready to make our first album. It was a great thing, but it felt forced,” said Barnes. Added Jake, “It sounded slick, and we’re not slick. We’re free to create, and we’re not taking that lightly.”

And creating is certainly what they’ve been up to. Creating new fans, creating new opportunities, and of course, creating new music. The band has written a spate of new tunes in recent months, using the experiences of the road and the studio as a catalyst for some. “We learned so much. We wouldn’t be writing the tunes we are now without it,” Barnes said.

While Jake handles the lead vocals and still writes most of the lyrics, Daniel recently penned the first tune where he was responsible for the lyrics and the music. Always humble, he claimed that he was hardly part of the process. “It just kind of wrote itself,” he said.

Barnes said that the band’s approach to songwriting is loose and unstructured, which allows them to compose exactly the music they want. “We have no set system. We’re always writing,” he said.

The band is currently writing songs that might appear on a future release, although they do not have a target date, and they aree tracking some songs at Boulder’s Coupe Studios, with no self-imposed time constraints. “We’re more into it than we’ve ever been,” said Jake.

Next month will mark Rose Hill Drive’s first gig outside the U.S., when they play the Azkena Rock Fest, in Bilbao, Spain. They will be sharing the stage with bands Gov’t Mule, Queens of the Stone Age and Wilco.

And, while fans still wait breathlessly for a studio release, the band has a live CD, recorded April 8 and 9, 2005, at the Fox Theatre, in Boulder.

Rose Hill Drive :: Fox Theatre :: September 9 and 10 ::
Telluride Blues and Brews :: Late Night Juke Joint Show :: Sheridan Opera House:: September 16
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Black Sabbath
• Led Zeppelin
• Cream
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