Rose Hill Drive: Bombast for the 21st Century
Rose Hill Drive is something of a modern musical marvel. Ever since the rise and eventual downfall of the vast majority of 1960’s and 70’s era rock n’ roll bands, (Jimi Hendrix, The Band, Led Zeppelin and The Doors, etc.), that long hair flying in the air, scorching guitar solos and excessiveness that came to be known as classic rock n’ roll is seldom seen in the 21st century.
But upon a more exhaustive search, in pops Boulder, Colorado’s Rose Hill Drive. For those who still haven’t succumbed to their scorching power trio attack, take note. Formed by brothers Jake and Daniel Sproul and high school friend Nate Barnes while still attending Boulder High, RHD quickly made a name for themselves in the land of Birkenstock-clad neo-hippies and Woodstock revivalists. Typically known as a jam band Mecca for groups such as the String Cheese Incident, The Motet and Yonder Mountain String Band, RHD came about in a time when Boulder needed a shake up from the floor up. From the Sproul family garage to sold-out shows at the famed Fox Theatre and trading licks with windmill enthusiast Pete Townsend, the young 20-somethings have proven they may just be the rock music’s savoir. Then again, they may also be the next big thing.
Jambands had the chance to touch base with Rose Hill Drive’s drummer, Nate Barnes, on the rapidly approaching eve of the band’s two-night New Year’s run at their hometown Boulder Theater. We talked about everything Rose Hill Drive, from fiery guitar solos and opening for The Who to Boulder’s liberal and artistically supportive community and its’ cosmic number of crafty Tibetan shops.
Jambands: Let’s begin with what’s going on in the world of Rose Hill Drive. Are you here in Boulder now?
Nate: We toured all over the country and after that we flew out to England to do a tour with a band called The Answer. In the middle of the tour we got called and offered to play with The Who for 3 days. Then, we flied to Vancouver and played with The Who for the next three nights. We got home in mid-November and have been taking it easy and writing new songs and practicing some new songs.
Jambands: How has life changed since last year? Is there a difference in your daily life and occurrences?
Nate: I think we’re all just kind of adjusting to being gone for as long as we have. It’s definitely a change, a change for the better. It kind of takes, it fells weird when you’ve been a way from home for a month and a half and you still have another month on the road. I don’t even know if it’s totally sunk in yet. We’re all really excited to have a record out now. We finally have our first record out now. That, for us, is a really cool thing to have fans there that know our music and like our record.
Jambands: To me, living in Boulder, I feel blessed to witness some of the finest musical talent around on a consistent basis, especially at the Fox. How does it feel to have already pumped the walls out of the Fox several times before being able to legally drink?
Nate: It’s amazing. The Boulder fans have just been so great to us. We’ve been playing shows at the Fox since high school. The fact that the fans stuck with us for as long as they did was a real blessing for us. It’s great to be able to come back to your hometown and have support and love there for you. We’re really fortunate and grateful to have the Boulder support we have.
Jambands: When the band began several years back at Boulder High School, could you have ever envisioned being your age and have just played on stage together with Pete Townsend?
Nate: I think that was just a crazy dream. If I thought about what we’re doing now. We’re definitely really appreciative of it. It’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to experience what we’ve experienced.
Jambands: How old are the three of you now, by the way?
Nate: I am 24, Jake is 23 and Daniel is 22.
Jambands: Damn, must be nice. So what was it like to trade licks with one of the most heralded guitars players of the 20th Century?
Nate: We grew up watching the Kids Are Alright and all these live The Who DVDs. We totally went through this phase when we were totally loving The Who. I always thought Pete had such a cool, commanding presence on stage. It was crazy sitting behind the drums watching Pete play “Young Man Blues.” It was pretty mind-blowing watching him ten feet away. But he’s just a dude. That was definitely the highlight.
Jambands: If you were to go back and critique one of your own live shows, what qualities would make for the best live shows? What have been some of your favorite moments while on stage?
Nate: The exciting thing about our band is things keep changing and evolving on stage with us. In each song there’s kind of a part where it’s totally wide open. I think it keeps people on the edge of their seats when they come see us.
Jambands: Has the concept and style of RHD changed at all since your formation? Did you always have it in mind to play pure rock n’ roll?
Nate: It’s a product of what we listen to and what we enjoy playing. We grew up on all of the classic rock bands. We’re a new band and we have our own twist that we put on things. You can definitely hear those influences in us. Just through everything we’ve been through, it’s just kind of evolved into what it is. We’ve just honed into what feels good to us and what we have the most fun playing.
Jambands: Is American rock n’ roll a dying breed?
Nate: I don’t know. The whole rock n’ roll dying seems so over, it’s been dying for 20 years. It’s never going to go away, I don’t think. There’s kind of a consciousness of bands trying to put something out there that’s something more than a money-making pop song, like Wolfmother and The White Stripes. There could be a lot of really good stuff coming out in the future. I love And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.
A lot of people are fed up with the way music is right now. The need is there. People of sick of the bubble gum pop produced pop.
Jambands: Give our readers a sense, in your words, of the band’s current sound, both in the studio and in the live setting. How much do you feel the statement, Rose Hill Drive is the rebirth of rock n’ roll’ holds true?
Nate: When people ask us what kind of music we play all I can think to tell them is rock n’ roll. What we’re going for is that, and we have the blues, and the funky rhythm section and also the lead guitar that everybody loves. We're also trying to have substance to our lyrics and stuff that means something to us. I would say we’re not trying to be a throwback band, but we definitely have that old influence. I just call it rock n’ roll. It’s just no bullshit.
Jambands: Growing up in a community like Boulder, you’re exposed to an assortment of cultures and world views one might not expect from a Colorado college town. How has being here immersed in all the quirky color that is Boulder affected you as musicians and ultimately facilitated some of the burgeoning success of RHD?
Nate: I don’t know. I think Boulder, there’s no other place in the world like it. We’re very fortunate to be living in a town that there are not a lot of people that are doing what we do. The fact that no one here was playing balls out rock n’ roll was fortunate for us because we stuck out like a sore thumb. Being in high school, I got pretty sick of Boulder. After having been on the road, I realized how a great a place Boulder is to come home to. There are a lot of shit holes in America. Boulder is definitely unique.
Jambands: Will the band continue to call Boulder home base, or are you looking at non-Colorado lands to call home in the future?
Nate: We’ll probably keep Boulder as a home base because of all the business relationships and friendships we’ve made are here. I think we’ll definitely keep Boulder because everyone who’s a part of what we’re doing is from here. We aren’t moving to L.A.
Jambands: Let’s shift to New Year’s. How did the band come up with performing Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys this year? Will you be performing the album in its entirety both nights? And when you play a classic album like that in its entirety, does it make you nervous that you may not play it just right?
Nate: We wanted to pick something that was going to challenge us but something we thought we could do. It was a live recording that was recorded on New Year’s in the first place by a three piece band. There’s a lot of improv and jamming on the record. We did (Led) Zeppelin I because we wanted to give everyone something to be excited about.
Once I heard Band of Gypsys, it stayed in my CD player for a long time.
Jambands: Was the Boulder Theater just the obvious choice for NYE? Will this be the last New Year’s run in Boulder for some time?
Nate: Last year we did one night. This year we’re doing two nights. I think it will be something to keep going; maybe we can extend it to three or four nights. Being at that theatre when it’s full is one of the coolest and craziest vibes we’ve ever had. It gives you a really cool feeling looking out and seeing that.
Jambands: Has all the rather instant success of the last year tripped you up at all? Have you felt that pesky ego, or do you feel the band has taken all the accolades in stride?
Nate: You’ve got to take it as it comes. There’s a lot of stuff that can throw you off what you’re used to. The main thing we’ve focused on is staying tight as friends and not losing sight of where we want to see ourselves. There’s a lot of stuff that can really get you down, especially in this business.
Jambands: What would you be doing if there was no Rose Hill Drive? Do you think you’d be as happy with life working at one of the dozen-plus Tibetan shops or a barista?
Nate: I don’t know. We definitely did that for a while. I worked at a thread store for 40 hours a week, practicing at night, trying to get our band off the ground. We’ve been there and that’s helped us realize how fortunate we are. If I wasn’t doing this, I couldn’t see myself doing something not music related.
Jambands: Going back a little bit, what are your thoughts on your first studio effort? Tell me a little bit about the writing and recording processes, refining your sound into studio format and your thoughts on the finished product.
Nate: We were all really happy with the way it turned it out. It was exactly what we needed at that point in time. We did it in two weeks and didn’t use any Pro Tools, kind of the old school way. The sounds we got and the way it was produced was just what we wanted.
Jambands: So what’s in-store for Rose Hill Drive in 2007? Are you planning more opening stints with rock Gods? Albums? What can your fans expect?
Nate: Well, we’re already writing new tunes. We’re really excited about those. We just plan on touring and building it the way we’ve been building it. We’re just kind of keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it. We have more opening slots with The Who coming up and we’re definitely going to take advantage of that and keep turning people on to that.
Jambands: Lastly, this is a question I find that I ask more and more in interviews. I guess it usually arises with bands that are on the verge of big things. Simply, what’s the best aspect of playing music for a living?
Nate: I was just thinking about that I have to learn this Jimi Hendrix and when you think about it, that’s what I call going back to work. That’s a pretty cool thing.