Power play 

The ear-shattering force of longtime locals, Lazerwolfs

If heavy metal is a six-ton bulldozer pushing a pile of greasy sludge, then Lazerwolfs are a ’68 Camaro SS with a 396 and dual carbs rumbling under the hood. The ’Wolfs don’t play metal, and they certainly don’t play “rawk,” that self-consciously hip brand of sloppy punk born out of the ashes of Jay’s Upstairs. Lazerwolfs play rock, with a capital F.
photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark

Lazerwolfs, who regularly graced the Jay’s Upstairs stage in its day, are unswervingly dedicated to rocking out. “We know we’re loud, and we know that means that most places, we can’t play. But if the hair on the back of my neck isn’t vibrating from my rig behind me I don’t want to play the show,” says bassist Chris LaTray.

“You can’t have a power trio without the power,” says Jimmy Rolle, the band’s guitar alchemist. He was responding to my observation that his band is louder than God with a bullhorn. There’s a big difference between power and volume, and lots of bands make up for a lack of talent by turning everything to 11. But Lazerwolfs are keenly aware of the difference, and for true fans of unadulterated hard rock, they deliver the goods like a pile driver slamming into granite.

The band actually was a part of the Jay’s Upstairs scene during the bar’s heyday in the ’90s, but they always considered themselves outsiders, uninterested in trends or shifting musical tastes. From day one, all they ever wanted to do was rock out.

“We’ve always existed kind of on the fringe of the music scene of Missoula,” says bassist and founding member Chris LaTray in a recent beer-drenched interview. “We’ve never been in the ‘in’ crowd. Even now, we’re playing this PBR thing and I saw who’s playing the same night. I looked up all their websites, and they’ve all played shows together, played the Badlander, and we never get asked to play shows. Even by the guys we’ve known forever, like the Volumen guys or the Oblio Joes.”

It’s not like Lazerwolfs are newbies. LaTray’s musical roots go all the way back to 1985, when he and Lazerwolfs’ drummer, Bubba Warne, played their very first show together in a band called Stryker, in the old Frenchtown Elementary auditorium. They continued playing together and separately, but wound up permanently bonded in Lazerwolfs in about 2000, according to LaTray. Rolle replaced the original guitarist a year later, and the pieces locked into place.

The name, which is frequently misprinted as Lazerwolves, originally was the moniker for LaTray’s and Warne’s side project, but when their main band disintegrated, they kept it. The story involves a vague suicide threat, which was to be carried out if they ever changed the name. “So we’re stuck with it,” said LaTray with a chuckle.

They’ve released two full-length CDs, and a live disc that was recorded at The Other Side last summer. The studio CDs, last year’s Najava Automatica (available as a free download at lazerwolfs.com) and 2002’s Get Mad, are powerful, distilled slabs of no-frills, American hard rock.

Most songs are written and sung by LaTray in his rugged baritone. His songs tend toward urging self-reliance and fighting back, themes that resonate with fans of hard rock and metal. But the band also has a perversely fun side, as evidenced on their live CD, which features a muscular cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right to Party.” They nail it, right down to the spastic guitar solo.

Witnessed live, Lazerwolfs exhibit a propulsive, crushing power that makes no apologies, with enough decibels to separate your vertebrae from each other. But they have the chops to back it up. “We kind of make the sacrifice,” explained LaTray. “We know we’re loud, and we know that means that most places, we can’t play. But if the hair on the back of my neck isn’t vibrating from my rig behind me I don’t want to play the show.”

Rolle refills his glass, and expounds: “If you put just Bubba in a room by himself, he’s too loud. He’s just…loud. We have to tell soundmen, look, why don’t you just push those sliders for the kick drum and vocals all the way up. Get ’em to distort then back ’em off just a little. Because Chris and I, we don’t get miked that often. We can’t get the sustain out of our amps unless they’re loud.”

Indeed, sustain is Rolle’s manna. A true mad scientist of harnessed feedback, he moves about onstage as if he is actually inside the music. At a recent all-ages show, his two-amp rig running hot, he gets a note feeding back on his Les Paul and makes about a quarter turn toward the Marshall half-stack and the guitar begins to howl like a coyote getting its nuts stepped on. Rolle dips and twists his body slightly to shape the squealing note, and hits a couple of strings to add some harmonic overtones. Meanwhile, LaTray and Warne are locked into a chunky, relentless riff that has the teenage crowd headbanging and throwing devil horns in a slobbering frenzy of elbows, hair and Clearasil.

I asked Rolle how much of his sound is created by his collection of effects pedals, mounted on a board approximately the size of my front door.

“Oh, 90 percent of what I play doesn’t have anything on it. It’s just amps. I do use a lot of different pedals on leads, different flavors of fuzz. Bright and punchy to thick and nasty.”

Bright and punchy, thick and nasty. He wasn’t aware of it, but he’d just described his own band to a T.

Lazerwolfs play The Other Side Thursday, Feb. 14, as part of the PBR Band of the Year competition, starting at 8 PM.
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