Posted September 26, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Gasoline Lollipops Get Greasy on ‘All the Misery Money Can Buy’

Gasoline Lollipops
Gasoline Lollipops

On Gasoline Lollipops‘ new album, All the Misery Money Can Buy, frontman Clay Rose delivers 11 songs populated by “restless souls who live entire lives in three minutes, mining triumph out of desperation, chasing the American Dream, and “choking on a pot of gold,'” as it’s put in a press release. “What I took from Leonard Cohen was the value of a word,” Clay says. “If it’s not needed, it doesn’t go on the page. You whittle a lyric down to its essence, say it once, and that’s enough.”

A seasoned songwriter, Rose took cues from his mother who spent a ton of time in Nashville writing songs (she co-wrote “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” with Gary P. Dunn, recorded by both Willie Nelson and Chris Stapleton.) His father who drove a big rig and sold pot (Willie Nelson was one of his most faithful customers) also proved to be an inspiration.

Recording in Louisiana, the band recruited a local gospel group to provide backing vocals on the alt-country album.

“The reason we recorded in Louisiana was twofold,” Rose says. “First, we wanted to get some of that greasy Southern rock and soul sound, and secondly, because we would like to open a dialogue with our fellow Southern working class. Typically, folks in the South that dig our sound tend to be a bit conservative. I don’t want to condemn them, I want to have a conversation and identify common ailments — dangerous, underpaid, overtime work weeks; spotty healthcare; poor and overpriced higher education; and other things.”

In a recent phone interview from his Boulder home, Rose spoke avoid the new album. The band performed a special release party in front a small, socially distanced audience on Sept. 14 at Red Rocks.

You had a remarkable childhood. Talk about what it was like.

You know, when it’s all you know, there’s not much to compare it to. There were points when I was jealous of my friends who got to spend the summer together in this hometown and just ride bikes around and get in trouble. Every summer, I was in a big rig riding from coast to coast. It wasn’t a traditional trucker lifestyle. My dad works for himself and to a degree got to choose his own hours. He had been a draft dodging hobo for many years before I was born. His spots were not the normal spots. They were hippie communes and hot springs and stuff like that. Those were our pit stops. That kind of stuff was really cool. He was an outlaw by nature. He was looking at the maps and finding the back ways into state parks so we didn’t have to pay. He taught me how to get your money’s worth out an all-you-eat buffet. Always wear cargo pants.

Did you manage to receive a formal education?

My dad was distrustful of public education. He stowed away his money and put it toward a private school in Boulder called Waldorf. First through sixth grade, I went to Waldorf. We lived hand-to-mouth and usually rented a room in someone’s basement to afford that school. In seventh grade, I wanted to get out of there. I felt like it wasn’t reality at all, especially with the way I spent the summers. My dad liked to drink, and he didn’t like classy bars. We’d end up that these shitty bars outside of Cleveland Detroit and Oakland. I was getting an education at the school of hard knocks. We’d come back and I would go to Waldorf and put on my slippers and play with my block crayons. Something wasn’t jelling there. I started getting an affinity for the vagabond lifestyle and wanted to do that full-time. He kept trying to rein me in. At the same time, he couldn’t help his influence on me. I ended up doing the same thing. I dropped out my junior year and spent the next five years just traveling around.

At what point did you start writing your own songs?

When I was 15. My dad taught me the chords to “Mr. Tambourine Man.” If I remember correctly, it’s three chords. I figured out that if you change the order the chords are in, you have a new song. I wrote my first song then, and I really became hooked on it. That was the only guitar lesson I ever had. My dad would drive and would let me ride in the trailer, and if we were moving furniture, I could sit in the loveseat and would sit there for eight hours at a stretch playing guitar. I did that for many years. It was my number one drug of choice.

You started out as a solo artist, right?

Yeah. They were mainly just demos that I was releasing. I had friends in Nashville, where my mom was living. Back then in Nashville, it’s like where it is everywhere. Every musician had a home recording studio. My friends would let me record demos at their studios. Back then, it was tapes. I was slinging tapes out of my guitar case on Second Avenue in Nashville.

And then you formed the Gasoline Lollipops and Widow’s Bane?

Gas Pops started in 2005 and Widow’s Bane started in 2008. Widow’s Bane was a project of my marriage hitting a bump in the road and me needing to say some shit that maybe I wasn’t brave enough to say myself. I started this alter-ego who was put to death by a woman, so his rage was justifiable.

What did you set out to do differently with the new Gas Pops record, All the Misery Money Can Buy?

I try to do a whole lot of things. I don’t know if I tried, but it just ended up this way. It was a collaborative process with the writing, which I had never done before. With Widow’s Bane, some of the members wrote music and I would write lyrics. With this record, the band chipped in on the music and my mom, who is also a songwriter, came out and stayed for a couple of weeks and helped write a couple of the songs. She wrote most of the lyrics for “Train to Ride.” My buddy Max Davies was hanging out a lot. I’ve known Max since we were five years old, and he helped with a couple more songs. He’s on “Taking Time” and “Lady Liberty.” He helped me write those lyrics. That was a big learning curve for me and took me out of my comfort zone, which I think is a good thing if we’re talking about the creative process. But it’s terrifying at the same time. Musically, I opened the door to the rest of the band. I had never done that. Every single person in the band other than myself has a degree in music. They really know their shit. That was very intimidating. It’s like I laid down a canvas for them to paint on. This canvas was so broad and expansive, that I felt like my palette was very limited. Come magical things happened because of that. Certainly, my palette expanded. They had to work around my sensibilities and experience. I have to pull things into my sphere of experience. 

Talk about the inspiration for the title track.

In keeping with the last Gas Pops record, the name of the album came first. I came up with that phrase. Donald Trump was a main point of influence. Money is interchangeable with insatiable hunger, in general, which he clearly has. Watching him win the election and watching his ego inflate was such a baffling thing to watch. He really stands for capitalism. He’s the main nerve of American capitalism, exemplified on every TV screen in the world. It’s such an interesting case study. To watch him get everything you could dream of getting. He has everything anyone could want, and he is clearly one of the most miserable people on the whole earth. You can see him squirm in his own skin. He’s so uncomfortable. That’s why you can see him grasping at these things. He wants to feel comfortable and feel loved and like he wasn’t a mistake. Those feelings are universal and I have all of those feelings, but luckily I was taught to reach for something other than material gain to quench that hunger.

To watch someone who was taught to reach for material gain and watch their hunger go untethered was really the inspiration for this record. I don’t think it’s just Donald Trump. I think it’s most people on this planet. That’s our instinct, but the hunger we have is spiritual. That’s why it’ll never be full.

His Twitter feed gives you a sense that he needs mental help.

For sure, but I think it’s really important, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone, to recognize our similarities when we look at him. We’ll never change him. We might vote him out, but I can never change him. I can change myself and if I exemplify any of the same traits he has, I better pay attention to that rather than pointing them out in him. 

Capitalism here has reached a breaking point, don’t you think?

The capitalist system has failed. Don’t get me wrong. I am going to vote. And I am going to vote for the lesser of two evils. At the same time, I’m not under the delusion that this system can be save or even repaired. It’s fucked, and it needs to go away. Right now, we need to bring it a little closer, so we don’t all drown. Hopefully, we can reshape it completely. 

As much as many of the songs are rather somber, “Get Up!” is tons of fun. Talk about that tune.

That is probably the most difficult song on the whole record. I have never played a song with that many chords in it. There are so many chords. I think we used them all. The complexity of that song is how do you take that many chords and make it sound like a simple ’50s pop song. Musically, it’s very complex. Lyrically, I wrote that song myself and it was the easiest one to write. I think I wrote all those lyrics in an hour. I’m saying something that I say everyday. It points out the facets of this capitalist system that are broken and it’s function of oppression, which I know a whole lot about firsthand. It’s easy for me to inspire motivation and maybe a little bit of anger. And some joy and unity. We are not alone. We are the 99 percent. I get that from my years listening to punk rock. As a teenager, punk rock saved my life, as Sublime famously said. For me, specifically, it was the West Coast very upbeat positive punk rock. I like groups like NOFX, who are heavy on the political message, but taken with this spoonful of humorous sugar. 

I love the backing vocals on “Flesh and Bone.” Who’s singing behind you?

Those are a couple of gospel singers from Louisiana. My producer Justin [Tocket] knew them. He called them up as we going to the studio. He called us and said, “Do you need anything.” I said, “How about some gospel singers?” He said, “Yeah, no problem. I’ll make a phone call, and they’ll be here tomorrow.” They killed it. 

What made you want to cover “Sinnerman”?

“Sinnerman” is very near and dear to my heart in so many ways. When I was dying a drug-addicted and alcoholic death, it came to me on a bleak night when I was in the desert with my best friend. He was kicking heroine and I was kicking booze. It was one of those dark nights of the soul where you’re not sure you’re going to survive it. We were cold, and we got in the car and started it up and that song came on. When that song came on, it was like somebody threw us a life raft. We hung on and put it on repeat and listened to it all night until the sun rose. It was the only thing that made sense in that moment. When you listen to it and you’re in a place where you need to hear that song — at least Nina Simone’s version — it’s not even music at that point. It’s like a wormhole opens to the other side and the place where we came from and where we’re going. It was such a powerful medicine at that point. I wanted to play it or at least give it a shot. That moment was five years ago. I’ve been working on it for that long until I got a good version.

It’s so spooky. I think your version is gonna give me nightmares.

Sorry about that. There’s a lot in it. There’s a lot of pain and yearning. That’s just the nature of that song. Each person that covers it puts their own pain and yearning on top of the generations who have performed it in the past. 


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].