Baltimore Rockers Liquor Bike Reunite and Recognize Their Impact

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left to right, Colin Preston, David Koslowski, Eric Dixon, Michael Starr Gaitley, 2012 — photo by Sam Holden

David Koslowski, 45, and his Liquor Bike band mates don’t practice for a gig the way they did 20 years ago.

“Basically [back then] someone would show up with a case of beer and we’d practice till the case of beer was gone. That was the MO,” Koslowski says. “We’d play three to four hours, sometimes five. At that point, in ’95, ’96, we were living as a band… We’d be on the road six, eight weeks.”

Two decades later, as Baltimore’s early-90s post-punk phenom Liquor Bike looks toward their reunion gig at Ottobar on December 1st, the fab four — with Koslowski on vocals and guitar, Michael Starr Gaitley on guitars and vocals, Colin Preston on bass and vocals, and Eric Dixon on drums — rehearse with more structure. Practice is shorter; fewer beers go down.

“We’ve been rehearsing twice a week, during the week…after work,” Koslowski says.

At Wednesday’s session, the guys brought along three six-packs but didn’t get around to finishing more than one. These days, they also rehearse weekend mornings on occasion.

“[On] Sunday morning at 10 a.m. with coffee in hand. Nobody was up by 10 on a Sunday in the old days,” adds Koslowski.

Formed in 1991, disbanded in ’96, Liquor Bike pumped as part of a heavier, new music movement in Baltimore in which local indie bands gained steam and ambition and began to tour nationally, even if that meant sleeping on couches and foregoing balanced meals. Before that, small, broke bands didn’t typically take to the road.

“A lot changed in the Baltimore music scene in 92,” Koslowski says. “Prior to that, it was Monkey Spank and Almighty Senators. In ’92 it got hard. It got a little darker. You had Lungfish, Candy Machine, Onespot Fringehead, Womyn of Destruction… What happened [with us in the early part of the decade] helped to fertilize those [current] bands. In the 80s, Husker Du and Sonic Youth would play any church, VFW hall, whatever; my band Liquor Bike grew up on that. For us that’s what you do. Bands now…they go and make a record and they go on tour.”

Koslowski, Dixon, Gaitley, Preston, circa 1995 — photo by Sam Holden

The band recorded three albums in all, Lowborne (Merkin), Neon Hoop Ride (Grass), and Beauty of Falling Apart (Grass/BMG dropped their contract; Merkin released it in ’98).

What is the sound like? Imagine a screaming grunge that’s actually accessible and nuanced. Authentic rage and joy and sorrow improvised by a gang of true head-banging friends.

“We are a loud rock band that pulls from the punk, indie, post-punk, noise rock genres with a strong pop sensibility,” says Koslowski.

Michael Yockel, a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor who covered music for City Paper during the band’s five-year lifespan, says, “For me, Liquor Bike’s sound is defined by a simultaneous rush and roar. Their songs hurdle forward melodically, dragging along the listener willingly in their wake, while also providing an intense visceral quality — you feel the music as much as you hear it. In short, a full-body rock experience.”

Listen here.

“I can see weaknesses and strengths,” Koslowski says. “What I like most about the music: I sometimes can’t believe we wrote those songs at such a young age. A lot is very personal [lyrically]. Some of them are challenging, and we were all more or less learning our instruments. [The music] was a definite vehicle to help me deal with pain and personal demons from childhood — in the sound and the lyrics. I don’t feel like it’s stupid. It was my childhood, what was going on around me at the time, all kinds of stuff — friends getting hooked on heroin…watching people falling out of control. A mentally abusive childhood. [The song] ‘Home Improvement Kit’: The chorus [goes] Can I bury my treasure here? [My future wife] was my home improvement kit.”

After Liquor Bike, Koslowski, now a pro graphic designer, formed the bands Gerty and the currently active Free Electric State with his wife Shirlé Hale Koslowski.

Liquor Bike plays a joint show with Helikopter at Ottobar on December 1. Tickets here.

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