Chris LaTray has been playing music in the Missoula area since the Reagan era. So if the local music scene seems fickle and insular to him, he’s able to look at it from a historical perspective. Here come the jesters, 1-2-3. It’s all part of his rock ’n’ roll fantasy.
LaTray’s journey began in the mid-’80s playing in Stryker, arguably Frenchtown’s first and only contribution to the gala Western Montana Rock Sweepstakes. They played around Missoula for six years to little fanfare, then summarily moved to Seattle, re-forming as Reign (a hilarious promo photo of which has been in heavy Internet rotation the past couple of years), and taking advantage of that city’s music scene.
“Grunge really exploded as our run was winding down,” LaTray recalls of his days in Seattle, “but it was cool to be there at the launching pad of an entire musical movement. I learned a lot about the music world in those days, and it wasn’t the glam and glitz I always thought it was when I’d sit in my room staring at KISS records and Iron Maiden posters.”
After some time away from music, LaTray found himself back in Montana in 1997, this time in Ronan, playing with his old friend and Stryker/Reign drummer Bubba Warne in Nobody’s Heroes.
“I really backed my way back into playing music,” says LaTray. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there again or not, as I had really focused my creative efforts on writing fiction for several years. But once I started playing again, I realized how much a part of me it was and concluded it wasn’t something I wanted to give up again.”
He also found that although Missoula’s rock scene had indeed exploded during his absence, there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm for music that existed outside of the punk/dirty rock realm. Not that such a thing would faze LaTray; he’s been around long enough to have witnessed the Dark Ages of local live music.
“What Missoula has now for a music scene utterly kicks the hell out of what was there in the ‘80s when we started playing. Back then, there was the Carousel and the Rocking Horse, and if you didn’t play Top 40 covers you were hosed.”
But LaTray is astute enough to realize that the audience doesn’t just fall in your lap—it’s a matter of getting people out of the house and to the show.
“In a town Missoula’s size,” he reckons, “I know there are probably several thousand people who would really dig our music, but for whatever reason they aren’t looking in their backyard for the rock. I know it’s like that everywhere, but Missoula really has a very high-quality stable of bands. I mean, the Oblio friggin’ Joes should be the biggest band in the world if you ask me.”
In 2000, when one of the Nobody’s Heroes guitarists moved on to other pursuits, Chris and Bubba recruited guitarist Aaron Carlson and decided to change course slightly, pursuing a stripped-down, power-troika format. Chris was shopping prospective names for a new band on an online discussion forum and the name Lazerwolfs was suggested offhandedly—and followed by a post in which the author threatened suicide if they did not use the name. And so it was.
Having recorded an inaugural EP called Gothic at Missoula’s Bevel Studios in 2001, and faced with the sudden departure of Carlson, the Lazerwolfs subsequently scored perhaps their greatest coup to date: recruiting Bevel co-owner and ace guitarist Jimmy Rolle to become an official Lazerwolf.
“Jimmy rescued us,” LaTray says, “because Aaron bailed on us two weeks before a big show, with a whole bunch of other shows lined up. That was lame. Jimmy had become a friend of ours, so he was the natural choice.”
Rolle is something of a rock anomaly. A youthful-looking, towheaded father of four and a hydrologic consultant by day, he is a veritable encyclopedia of heavy guitar, with a healthy obsession with the finer points of amplification and distortion. All of which suits LaTray just fine.
“I have never been happier playing music than I am with Jimmy and Bubba. I just love Jimmy’s guitar playing, his tone, the attention to detail he has to whatever he’s playing, the whole package. He is a craftsman.”
Rolle’s fastidious and thorough approach to playing music, according to LaTray, is one part talent and one part hard-fought service-sector work ethic.
“The real strength that he brings to the table is a literal one—he is an awesome cook,” LaTray says. “The guy did his time working at Zimorino’s—as did every credible member of the Missoula rock community, apparently—and it paid off. Eating at Jimmy’s house is the high point of the Lazerwolfs experience.”
The recombinant Lazerwolfs have managed to congeal and multiply their individual talents into wondrous new directions to be showcased on their forthcoming CD release, entitled Get Mad.
Whereas Gothic was unsparing in its aural attack, Get Mad makes more dynamic use of volume and meter. Songs are noticeably longer, giving way to lengthy quasi-atmospheric passages that allow Rolle to stretch out and make use of the considerable breadth of his ability. “ORT” is a near-10-minute tour de force that takes the listener over about every type musical terrain, including a section in which it sounds like Rolle held his guitar up to a ceiling fan.
But this is far from being a diddly-diddly guitar wankfest. Lazerwolfs’ democratic, workmanlike approach is clearly evident in their sound. It’s guitar, bass, and drums, equally represented and pulling equal weight, unadorned and shorn of extraneous hoo-ha. Please, get mad.
Lazerwolfs celebrate the release of Get Mad this Friday, November 1, at Jay’s Upstairs with special guests Slow Horse. 10 PM. Cover TBA.