Jason ZumBrunnen – vocals, guitar
Robbie Kalinowski – guitar, vocals
Jeff Merkel – bass
Forrest Bartosh – drums
Irony is always interesting. Just a week ago I found my thrift store jacket with the Fairlanes logo I’d bought at one of their shows a few years back, dusted it off and wore it to brave the surprisingly cold weather we got in that day. A few days later I was speaking to Robbie Kalinowski, the gleeful guitarist and singer in another Denver punk outfit, The Downs. That night his group played with Laymen Terms and The Jealous Sound, and he informed me that his old group the Fairlanes, a Colorado punk favorite that has at least ten years of history under their studded belts, was playing the following weekend at the Punk Rock Bowling Awards show.
I had heard the Fairlanes were playing a few gigs in Japan, which came as a surprise, considering all the other members beside Robbie had moved out of Colorado and were doing their own thing. But at this past Saturday’s post-party to the bowling tournament (that happened earlier that day), Robbie stated the band’s members felt it may just be a good thing to warm up their set with a gig in Denver before heading overseas.
Last September the group had a short tour through Japan after the release of their greatest hits record, Perpetual Motion. “We played a few shows there and had a great response. Everyone has been involved in music somehow, however,” Robbie says of each member’s musical efforts beyond the Fairlanes.
Beside Robbie’s gig in The Downs, Scott Weigel, the Fairlanes’s previous bassist, now lives in San Francisco where he started the Absinthe Glow with his brother Bill and other musicians. Former drummer Andy Baldwin has been playing up in Seattle with their friend, Josh Meyers, who was also part of their first full-time tour in the spring of 2001. And according to Robbie, guitarist and singer Jason ZumBrunnen, “Has been working on his tan in So Cal…also writing new material. For what, we don’t know; most likely the new Dr. Pepper theme song. They are due for a new one.”
For this particular tour to Japan, the line up will be different since many of the members are doing their own thing. “Scott and Andy couldn’t make the tour, because the Absinthe Glow is going to be touring in Italy and Switzerland at the same time as our first few shows. We didn’t want to mess up the AG tour, but we didn’t want to pass up being able to go to Japan either,” Robbie explains.
To round things out, they went back even further in the Fairlanes’ year book, bringing back Forrest Bartosh on drums (who is definitely a veteran player in Denver), and Jeff Merkel on bass, who has built a bigger reputation behind the scenes as the producer ar-teest for his 8 Houses Down recording and mastering studio. Add Jason into the mix (who pulled out of the Absinthe Glow tour to make this one), and the four-piece is ready to leave on that jet plane.
So how did this Japan tour come about? Robbie believes, “These shows are happening because we are on a Twilight Records compilation. They wanted to do a tour around Japan and wanted some of the bands to come. We are very honored to have been chosen.” They’ll get a full tour of the country during the weeklong stint that start June 5, going from Tokyo to Hamamatsu, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe and Okayama.
Other Denver bands have also done well in Japan, including their buddies in The Gamits. The music fans out there just eat up the formula of rock, punk, beer and sweat. And Robbie’s not sure why, but he attempts to guess. “Probably because they have much better taste,” he jokes. “I think the Fairlanes were very fortunate to be given a chance in Japan, and we happened to produce fairly well there. Suburban Home, and especially CR Japan have been so great to us and have put a ton of time and effort into our cause there. I think that in Japan, kids really want to be invited to have a good time at shows, and they are waiting for you to show them that you are having a great time so they can too.”
He feels that in our own homeland, music fans who know of a given band typically make up their mind on whether they are going to enjoy the band, even if they’ve never seen them live. “If you are not cool enough, too bad for you. We are a fairly animated band, and I think that helps kids get into it. Jason learned a few lines in Japanese, so we try our best, although I’m really not sure if any of us knew what he was saying,” he jokes again.
So the guys are psyched to be together again playing Fairlanes songs, and practicing for this warm up show and subsequent shows abroad. What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess. “We are super excited to play in Denver since we haven’t played in the U.S. for almost two years. Especially since our last show was not re-booked when Tulagi’s was shut down when we returned from Japan [last year]. I am waiting for the next catastrophe so that we don’t play Denver. It’s just the way it goes with the Fairlanes,” Robbie says in jest. “I hope Japan goes great, and there is some interest in new material. It would be great to keep things going, but a bit more involved, like playing more often, more than once every two years, for example, and a new recording for Japan. It seems like they are the only ones interested.” (Insert laugh track here.)
Robbie admits that he really missed the Fairlanes when they stopped touring, in part because they had been playing for so long and he gets a big kick out of playing in general. “I think a big difference, as I’ve come to find out, is not really ego but pride in what you are doing with this band or another. I’ve been involved with everything the Fairlanes EVER did, so there’s a lot of personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. As I get more involved with The Downs, I’m adding a lot of my creativity in the songs, whether it’s me doing new writing, or adding parts and tightening things up in existing songs. The more effort I put in, the more we get out.”
Getting more involved in the song creation with The Downs has also help him to let go of his Fairlanes ties enough to feel comfortable in his new shoes. “I think getting to the point where I am treating the bands the same was a big change,” he explains. “Also, The Downs are a lot faster and aggressive, where as the Fairlanes were moving in a more indie rock direction. I like it though, it’s really fun, and I can explore that other direction later, or try to mix it into The Downs more.”
Saturday night at the BlueBird will be a party, no matter what. If it’s anything like previous year’s Punk Rock Bowling Awards, there will be plenty of music, bonding, Jager shots, and bowling prizes in the form of porno and skateboards. Along with the Fairlanes, Magic Cylcops, Call Sign Cobra, and Autonomous Collective will also perform. The show is open to the public and will begin around 8:00 pm.