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Gauntlet Hair didn't spring up overnight, but it sure seems like it. Their recently released self-titled debut has all of the right pieces in place to be a quintessentially contemporary creation. The Lafayette-Colorado-based duo's specialty is noisy garage-pop that's rough around the edges in all the right ways. Their songs are dunked in sweet reverb; their melodies are palatable but a bit primordial, too; and the combination of instrumental effects and production renders the vocals barely intelligible. Moreover, Gauntlet Hair sports a faded photo for a cover (an ever-popular visual choice right now), and the album has been issued by Dead Oceans, a niche label that's the perfect home for this young band. As a fleet of other bands with similarly happily humble aesthetics and origins (see Painted Palms, Washed Out and Small Black, among others) have been all over the indie-rock press lately, Gauntlet Hair and Gauntlet Hair are as 2011 as they can be.
The partnership between drummer Craig Nice and vocalist/guitarist Andy R has roots that reach far beyond their current sound. The two met as high-school freshmen in the suburbs of Chicago nine years ago. Originally bonding over punk rock, their first collaboration was a simple crust-punk act. When their tastes changed, they moved to grindcore, then folk, experimental and noise. "That's a lot of territory over the years," Andy says, estimating they've been part of 10 different bands together. "We had different names for the projects, but it was always just me and Craig."
When they were on the cusp of their 20s (they're both now 24), they moved to Chicago, acquired a rehearsal space and started a new project titled Gauntlet Hair. (The moniker stems from Andy hearing an amusing turn-of-phrase to describe the locks of blues guitarist Johnny Winter.) This project's particular sound was sparked by Nice acquiring a delay pedal that both players took great interest in. "The beginning of Gauntlet Hair was extremely loud, super-layered guitar leads that were very short and very repetitive," Andy recalls. They heavily implemented reverb into their sound as a way to make it "as large as possible" while only having two members.
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Eventually, the pair left for Denver's scene, and it was in that city they made the connections that led to their success today. They enlisted two more players to flesh out their sounds for shows, but their future as a two- or four-piece is still up in the air, indicating that despite their history, Gauntlet Hair (the sound) are still young.
Timing aside, you might wonder why the duo finally found good things in Gauntlet Hair after striking out so many times before. Turns out, those projects were never too serious; none of those earlier bands went beyond recordings. Still, Andy doesn't mind having spent those years laboring over the drawing board. "Those were more naive ideas," he says. "Maybe people would have caught onto them, but I think that I'm glad we never did anything with them because Gauntlet Hair was the culmination of all of them."
This article appeared in print as "Locked In: After nearly a decade of toiling away, the duo from Gauntlet Hair finally rise to the occasion."