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Mile Marker: Gauntlet Hair

Gauntlet Hair won’t play mind games with genre label
By Colin St. John
Originally published Sept. 25, 2011 in The Denver Post

There’s an ongoing battle between music critics and the bands they cover. Writing about music requires an attempt to put sounds into words, so comparisons get brought up: Bands are heaped into current trends or equated with past influences.

Nine times out of 10, bands do not like it; And Gauntlet Hair really doesn’t like it.

By any measure of the Denver rock scene’s scope, the duo of guitarist Andy Rauworth (he goes by “Andy R.” and begrudgingly reveals their true monikers) and drummer Craig Fleischman (his last name on-stage is Nice) has been at the forefront for the better part of two years. As Gauntlet Hair, the pair plays a swirling, electronically based fuzz-rock that many have — here we go — identified as part of a burgeoning Mile High City “psych-rock” scene. Other bands on this list include Tjutjuna, Vitamins, A Shoreline Dream and the recently relocated Woodsman.

Rauworth mentions the term with some disdain, enlisiting air quotes when he says it.

“We are not psych-rock. We don’t make psych music. We don’t have a genre we are going after.”
The current sound, he says, “is a combination of everything we’ve ever done.”

And that’s quite a bit in a relatively long time for a rock band. Gauntlet Hair began in the towns of New Lenox and Manhattan, Ill., about an hour southwest of Chicago. Rauworth and Fleischman met in high school and began playing music together almost immediately. Speaking of the band’s evolution, Rauworth recalls, “From 15 to 17, we played punk. Then, we got into noisier, harder stuff, and that moved into freak-folk.”

From behind glasses that add a certain sagacity to his cherubic 24-year- old face, he adds: “That turned into a mixture; Gauntlet Hair happened when we turned to softer stuff: more ambient music fused with the harder.”

Speaking at the Meadowlark — which is something of a home base for the band because Fleischman works there and Rauworth used to, and they still play gigs there fairly often — the two are in their element. Fleischman, who resembles a young Freddie Mercury — especially when he is spastically ticking away at his trademark clicks onstage — sports a mustache and a “Lafayette, Colorado” wrist tattoo. He lets out a loud belch after Rauworth explains the band’s progression.

Lafeyette is where Fleisch- man and his then-girlfriend moved to from Illinois three years ago. Rauworth followed soon after, and Gauntlet Hair was born. (The name is a reference to a serendipitous encounter with a thrift-store clerk and his description of blues guitarist Johnny Winter’s coif on a particular LP. It remains a very inside joke.)

The first few songs the two laid down are a revelation, especially “Our Scenery” and “I Was Thinking. . . .” In fact, it’s hard to remember the last time a Colorado band — the two moved to Five Points after a stint up north — made such reverberations with so little material. The group was signed to the tastemaking label, Dead Oceans — home to bands Dirty Projectors and Destroyer, among many others — for its eponymous debut full-length release.

A national tour was booked with the Dodos (which Fleischman chalks up as a “learning experience”). Another kicks off Oct. 14th, four days before “Gauntlet Hair” is released.

About the debut: It’s a more subtle, less poppy effort than Gauntlet Hair’s previous handful of tunes. Recorded and written in one month at Rauworth’s grandmother’s house in Illinois, it has a pensive gaze, more reflective of the two’s self-imposed isolation than the terse process.

“We were so on top of it, so in tune,” Fleischman says. “Every day we would make coffee, stand outside smoking cigarettes and ask, ‘What are we going to do today?’ At the end of the first week, it was like holy (expletive)! We have a ton of tracks.”

One of those tracks is “Shout in Tongues,” the last song on the record and its strongest. It’s breezy, evoking impressions of a trippier, slowed-down take on Robert Plant’s 1983 hit, “In the Mood.” It’s Miami Vice on acid instead of coke, Gregorian chant distilled through the sounds of ’70s art band Roxy Music.

When compared with earlier material, Rauworth sees the new full-length as having a “slower pace and tone.” In terms of broader placement, he is willfully ignorant of current trends.

Saying he is listening to “early ’80s music now,” Rauworth forces a relative contemporary originality, even if Gauntlet Hair is spoken of as adherents to Animal Collective and its ilk.

Like much atmospheric material released by such experimental groups as “Shout in Tongues,” the rest of “Gauntlet Hair” — including the ripping opener “Keep Time” and punchy “Mop It Up” — features intentionally unintelligible lyrics. Rauworth explains: “The lyrics have significant value but aren’t for anyone but Craig and I.”

This time, there’s no joke.

Live, the group seems perfectionistic one day (they were visibly upset with their sound at their UMS gig at the Hi-Dive in July) and gleefully haphazard another (playing in-the-round with no reservations in August at the Larimer Lounge). At the latter show, Vitamins opened, and bassist Matt Daniels joined in, as he continues to do on tour, for more balanced sonics.

Gauntlet Hair returns to Denver — after stops at storied venues like Shubas in Chicago and the Mercury Lounge in New York — for a show at the Larimer on Halloween night. You can expect Rauworth and Fleischman to arrive in the guises of Andy R. and Craig Nice.

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John Hendrickson is the managing editor of Reverb and a multimedia journalist for The Denver Post. Follow his rants on music and more on Twitter.

Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer and merrymaker. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog.