Jonson Kuhn | New SCENE
Clay Rose is what you’d call Colorado music royalty. Having founded a number of bands, from his current and long-running project Gasoline Lollipops to his hugely popular Zombie-Death-Polka band The Widow’s Bane to even simply entertaining audiences with countless solo sets, Clay Rose is a name that’s hard not to know.
Gasoline Lollipops are headlining at the Rialto Theater in Loveland as a part of the Sweetheart festival on Friday, February 10 at 7 pm where they’ll be performing an intimate “Songs and Stories” set of music that will flesh out some of the heartfelt and harrowing backstories to Clay’s songs, of which there are many.
With the endless ups and downs throughout life that come with pursuing dreams and happiness, Clay said he often reflects on advice that someone once gave him, which was that the fear of losing what you have is always far greater than the fear of not getting what you want. Clay explained that for his entire life, he’s only had a fear of not getting what he wanted because he didn’t really have anything to lose, and it’s not really until recently that he’s experienced the fear of losing what he has, which he sums up by saying, “It’s way harder to have shit than to not have shit.”
As much as anyone will recognize his name, they certainly, too, will recognize the name Gasoline Lollipops as they’ve been known to tour the globe, as well as headline every major venue throughout Colorado, and have received substantial radio play, as well. Clay recently sat down with New Scene to talk about starting over and staying positive, as many bands were forced to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Clay explained, though being forced to slow down with the band’s tremendous progress, the opportunity to reassess his reasons for playing music in the first place proved to be the best thing that could have happened.
“I had been climbing this ladder and it seemed systematic and doable and then all of a sudden the whole structure came down and there was no goal anymore, so I had to figure out if I was going to keep playing music without a goal,” Clay said. “For the first year of the pandemic I thought, ‘No, I don’t and I’m done,’ I was just going to go back to swinging a hammer in construction work, which I did just out of necessity. But then there was sort of a liberation from not chasing a goal; at a certain point I realized I have to keep playing music just to keep my sanity and to keep some degree of spiritual health. Now I feel like I’m back to playing music for the right reasons for the first time in a really long time.”
Since the pandemic has become less intense, Clay said he feels things have in a sense started returning to normalcy, but at the same time there’s no denying a feeling like the band was knocked back “10 miles on the path.”
“It’s gotten back to the normalcy of 2010,” Clay said. “We’re obviously not the only ones having to start over to an extent, but I’m also at an age where it’s hard to go back ten years when I’m ten years older than I was then. I’m feeling like an old dog for sure.”
2017 was not only the year the band saw their biggest lineup, but it was also the year they saw their most success. Nowadays Clay said the band sits pretty steadily as a five-piece and has been so for the last several years.
Though fans have become accustomed to catching Clay’s solo sets, The Rialto will feature the full band, however, it will consist of a more stripped-down acoustic style set. Clay explained the reason for the stripped-down set is that the Rialto is a seated venue, which the band doesn’t often play due to their high energy, so for this occasion, they’re excited to change things up by dialing back the sound to focus on their more songwriter tunes as opposed to the crowd favorite “rockers” while providing a bit more insight into the history of those songs and where they came from.
For instance, Clay said his song Mary Rose, which was originally released on the Resurrection album back in 2017, was one of many songs that started out as a ballad but was eventually converted into a faster song simply because the original incarnation of the band was playing so many gigs in dive-bars and rowdy clubs where Clay said they couldn’t really hold the audience’s attention with ballads.
“We needed as many rockers as we could get, so we turned a lot of those ballads into rockers, and Mary Rose became a dance song, and I don’t think a lot of people were listening to the lyrics or knew what it was about,” Clay said. “That song is actually about one of my sisters who was murdered back in 2005, so it’s a deeply personal, kind of heavy song, but historically it’s been covered in a sheen of rock and roll, which I guess in a sense is like the medicine that helped the sugar go down, but on our most recent album we revised the song and played it in its original format so that the lyrics are more featured and you can get a better idea of what that song is about.”
Challenges and ups and downs aside, fans can be happy to know that the band is feeling as though the days of licking wounds are over and the days of melting audience’s faces are well back in season. With their current lineup of Don Ambory on lead guitar, Bad Brad Morse on bass, Kevin Matthews, on drums, and Scott Coulter on keys, Clay said the boys are back to plotting world domination once more.
“I’ve definitely pounded enough nails now to remember what that life is like; it’s hard to be an aging rockstar, but it’s way harder to be an aging construction worker,” Clay said. “If I go two weeks without playing a show, I’m losing my mind, it’s more than just a job or a hobby for me, it’s therapy. It’s really necessary for my sanity to continue playing music, so in the face of all that, we’ve become motivated again to get back on the career path. We’re getting strategic about it and mapping out tours for the summer. We’re going to give it another push because what the fuck, we’re still here, we’re still sucking air, might as well.”
Gasoline Lollipops certainly have come a long way from their 2005 origins as a ‘cowpunk duo’ with Jonny “Machine Gun” Mouser, and as far as the sound goes, Clay said there isn’t a trace of it left, and the name is all that’s remained. But whether it’s Gasoline Lollipops or The Widow’s Bane or anything else, as the question goes, what’s in a name? That which we call a (Clay) rose (band) by any other name would smell as sweet and still sound as badass.