Anyone familiar with Clay Rose’s songwriting knows his favorite themes: dancing with, or running from, personal demons, testing the limits of mortality, sin and redemption, regret and release. The devil, the preacher, a soiled conscience, a bruised soul. The eternal karmic skirmish.
The pandemic hit Rose and his band Gasoline Lollipops hard. The Front Range outfit had just completed All the Misery Money Can Buy, a well-produced, musically ambitious offering recorded at the iconic Dockside Studio in Louisiana. Rose took it upon himself to line up supporting gigs, networking and shaking hands. Was this going to be the album that vaulted his award-winning alt-country/Americana band into the next strata?
“That was the first album, and the only time in my life, where I had really done a record from the recording process through the promotion process, correctly,” Rose told Boulder Weekly. “I hired the people you’re supposed to hire to do those things. The whole thing was completely self-funded, and I’m not a wealthy person. That was a whole lot of work and a whole lot of money that went into it, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath our feet at the last second.”
But despite the extra work and expense, including months booking two separate tours, Rose says “relief” was the first emotion he experienced upon learning of the impending shutdown.
“I felt relief that I didn’t have to go out for four months and miss vital steps in my baby daughter’s life,” Rose said. “And I felt so relieved that for a moment I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be playing music anymore, that I got so caught up in the career path that I didn’t see the signs telling me I was done. And I even told the guys in the band that I thought maybe I was done.
“And then after a couple of months of not playing, I realized I really missed playing at the Gold Hill Inn,” he continued. “Whatever had been amputated from me…fit perfectly at the Gold Hill Inn.”
So after years of tours and bigger stages, rising Spotify stats, album releases and critical plaudits, the key for Rose, the spark of reinvigoration after getting flattened by the pandemic shutdown, actually came from the stage — the small stage.
“It’s connection with other people,” he says. “When the stage gets too big and the room gets too big, I have a hard time connecting with people.”
“For me, it wasn’t just the pandemic, or the Trump debacle. It wasn’t just the George Floyd thing, or my step dad dying, or the forest fires burning down half the state. It was everything all at once,” he continued. “I think we all did, but I certainly got the shit kicked out of me on a really deep level, and when I came back onstage, it was with a limp. I couldn’t go out there with my rock ‘n’ roll face and pretend it was the same party we were rocking before the interruption.”
‘I have a lot of baggage to unpack.’
Emerging from near collapse, Rose and the band returned this summer to produce their new album Nightmares, featuring a handful of new songs and new recordings of earlier material, some dating back to 2012. Recorded at Animal Lane in Lyons and mixed at PS Audio in Boulder, the album’s DSD (Direct Stream Digital) treatment renders an articulated, intimate sound.
Given Rose’s newfound appreciation of close-up connection to his audience, the new LP reflects a mature re-read of material that got the failed-brakes rock treatment the first time around. It represents a healthy distance from the band’s early days, when as Rose concedes, they didn’t always know what they were doing in the studio.
“When the dust settled and we grew up a little bit, we realized we had wasted some really great songs,” Rose said. “We re-recorded a bunch more than actually made the cut, but a lot of them just didn’t land.”
One track that did land was “Mary Rose,” a standout on the new album. A tribute to Rose’s sister who died under tragic circumstances in 2005, the song stands as a pained and poised, almost prayerful ballad — a far cry from the chugging up-tempo country rocker the band first delivered on Resurrection in 2017.
“We re-recorded it the way I wrote it … that was a deeply personal song to me, I wanted people to hear the lyrics,” he said. “And it’s always been a crowd favorite, as far as a dance song goes. I always thought it was interesting watching people dancing to this story, but at the same time, it was OK. It was celebratory of her life.
“Still, there were some nights when it was pretty rough, when the crowd was drunk and it’s turning into a meat market scene out on the dance floor, and I’m up there grieving my sister,” he continued.
But the octane tank for Rose and the band isn’t dry just yet. Darkness and fatalism wear different costumes, and despite the poise and introspection of Nightmares, Rose hasn’t jettisoned his pissed-off ex-punk defiance.
“My feeling is that [the show] will kinda be in two parts. We’ll do the ethereal, new, intimate, exposed, raw album … and then we’re just gonna have a cathartic, shit-kicking barn burner,” he said. “For me, that’s where the exorcism really takes place. I have a lot of baggage to unpack.”