The Inactivists
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The Inactivists

Broomfield, Colorado, United States

Broomfield, Colorado, United States
Band Rock Avant-garde


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"The Inactivists Explain The War on Jazz Hands"

Depending on what you think the proper role of a real musician might be or what a real musician is or looks like, the Inactivists (due at the Walnut Room tonight) might either be the ultimate novelty act or an inspired conspiracy of talented artists with a shared love of warped humor.

Whichever the case, the outfit has a knack for penning incredibly catchy songs that creep back up on you in unguarded moments, not just because they're funny, but because the music is genuinely inventive and well-crafted. Curiously operating on the fringe of the local underground scene, the Inactivists have garnered high praise for bringing together musical virtuosity and a keen sense of the absurd.

As one of the founding bands of the Denver Art Rock Collective, the Inactivists have carved out a niche for themselves among people who appreciate smart, challenging yet accessible music that doesn't dumb itself down to the expectations of people who have to have their art spoonfed to them. The group's latest release, The War on Jazz Hands, is a looser affair than previous efforts, but it also represents the sound of a band having fun and not stressing so much on the end product.

Before the album was recorded, primary songwriter Scot Livingston shopped out his demos to several different companies that take songs sent to them to interpret and record. This resulted in some hilarious versions of each song on the record, and it comes as a free download with the purchase of the album.

In advance of their CD-release show tonight at the Walnut Room, we spoke with the bandmembers about their musical backgrounds and the story behind the vanity recordings that make up Volume Two of The War on Jazz Hands.

Westword: There's clearly an element of humor and the absurd in your music. How would you describe the sense of humor informing some of your songwriting? Do you try to write songs to make yourself laugh?

Scot Livingston: We write our songs mostly for ourselves, because there's a good chance no one else will come and hear them, so if I can't please the other five members of the band, I'm wasting my time.

Matt Sumner: Some of the songs were just funny phrases that cracked us up at one point.

Scot Livingston: Like "Pieces of Jesus" -- I still swear I never said it.

Kelly Prestridge: "Keep Washing With Soap" was one of those.

Almost any time anyone writes about your band, they mention jazz and musical virtuosos like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. What kind of musical backgrounds do you have, and what bands did you play in before starting and becoming a member of the Inactivists?

MS: I was in Rainville [with John Common], and I was mostly in rock bands. I played jazz in college, and I played trumpet from sixth grade until a couple of years in college. I'm a jazz appreciator but not a jazz player.

SL: My first high-school band was the Phlegmtones with Avery Raines, who is now Mr. Pacman. I spent nine years in that. It started in 1992 or 1993. Avery, bless his sweet heart, didn't know a whole lot about music, so I would write a song, but he couldn't play it because he didn't know any chords, so we would just play his songs.

As a child, I had to take an instrument, so I took the drums, because I didn't want to take an instrument and I didn't want to take the piano. My parents found out I couldn't play, so I had to pick something else, and I picked the guitar, just so I didn't have to take piano lessons. My siblings all had to take piano lessons, and they hated the piano teacher, so now I have a piano. So I knew how to play guitar, and that was my first real band where I wasn't playing a tennis racket. Avery sang, played some guitar and accordion. I got to do my songs when he broke a string.

When the albums came out, because I paid for half of them, I overdubbed all the guitar parts. There are three or four albums all on cassette. So on the recordings, it sounded like an even-sided thing, but on stage, it was hard to compete with a guy that's got a piñata taped to his head, tearing apart an inflatable woman with his teeth while he's bleeding out of his nipples. I would get off stage and people would say, "Wow, did you see that band?" And I'd say, "Yes, I'm in it."

So I had a lot of songs written that I never got to perform. My first band after that, I came in with a backload of, like, three hundred songs, and the other guy came in with two. He wanted to do the even trading thing, and I did, too, because I felt like I'd been gypped on the last one. After six months to a year of that, he said, "You know, I can't write any more songs, but since I'm Native American, I think it would be far more commercial if I sang all the songs, so I'm going to sing all your songs."

I took my amp and tried to be a singer-songwriter under the name Ozzy Osmond for a while. I played a lot of open-mike nights, but it was dispiriting. I knew I needed a band, but the only way to make it happen, I had to start booking - Westword

"The Inactivists with Little Fyodor & Babushka Band and The Skivies, 4/1/2011"

With Little Fyodor & Babushka Band and The Skivies
04.01.11 | Walnut Room
This show didn't turn out to be a April Fool's Day joke of some kind -- although that was certainly a possibility given that the Inactivists are jokers with a wickedly mischievous sense of humor. Nonetheless, at least The War On Jazz Hands got a proper introduction into the world at large at a venue with excellent sound and with bands on the bill that were as high quality as the headliner.

Seeing Little Fyodor & Babushka Band is a little like seeing The Ramones, except the songs are not played at maximum speed and are more twisted and bizarre, as if Edward Gorey wrote the lyrics while not being particularly focused on the macbre. This outfit doesn't really take breaks between songs except to engage in quasi-lewd commentary as theater. Little Fyodor himself is a dream subject of fascination for someone suffering from a combination of OCD and ADD, as his face constantly shifts from one contorted expression to the next when he's not singing profane and curiously memorable lyrics. But this was not a novelty act, even though Babushka, too, has a persona for the stage like a Lithuanian great aunt.

The band played songs with titles like "You Give Me Hard-On," about, well, just what you might think it's about, and covered Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," with Babushka, fully in character, on vocals. And each moment and note was executed with a precision and fluidity that only comes from honed talent. As per times past, Little Fyodor ended the show with his signature set of unpredictable dance moves called "The Dance of the Salted Slug." While the rest of the band played even weirder than usual music, Fyodor ran off stage into the audience to spread the weird to people often too afraid to be near it.

When the Inactivists took stage, most of the band was wearing some piece of military gear because, well, it's a "War on Jazz Hands," right? But even that obvious gesture is just one layer of the ability of this band to use humor and sarcasm to express the absurd with great clarity. Opening with "Wannabe Dale Earnhardt," the Inactivists made us chuckle with a light-hearted evisceration of bad drivers with no sense of reality or care for other people on the road.

After the first two songs, the band played largely from The War On Jazz Hands. "Failed At Life" sounded like a bizarre cross between the music for those silly Cialis commercials and a solo Donald Fagen song -- tou know, from The Nightfly or something. But it worked, because while it is borderline cheesy, it veers off from convention both lyrically and in terms of the aim of the music. Jeremy "Babblin' Brooks" Young was called to the stage to guest rap and such but he was not there. Nor was Sara Century who was called up to do some vocals but was detained at the door over a paperwork technicality.

Little Fyodor joined the band on stage for its cover of "You Give Me Hard-On" and, providing backing vocals in call-and-response to Scot Livingston, sounded a bit like a more coherent version of the monster from Young Frankenstein when it tries to sing "Puttin' On the Ritz." On his own original, Fyodor does not sound like that. On "Defenestration Imbroglio," Tim Kaminski, Nate Huisgen and Brent Moran from Yerkish came to the stage to sang along and then stayed there as part of a chorus for most of the rest of the show. Additionally, Matt Maher of Mourning Sickness filled out the stage further to perform a song he wrote with the band called "Richard."

Everyone seemed to be having so much fun on stage, it was almost too bad that the set had to end with "Press the Space Bar." But with enough coaxing from the sizable crowd, the Inactivists were convinced to make us all sorry by playing "The Center Square." Somehow I don't think anyone there felt sorry for getting to see that weirdest of songs from a band already blessed with plenty of strange music. It's probably too early to say but this was easily one of the most entertaining and fun local shows of the year already. But it was.

Bias: These are three of the best, most consistently compelling and interesting bands out of Denver for the last several years.

- Westword

"Weirdo pop band talks about the new album, boredom, and more"

The Inactivists are one of Denver’s best-kept secrets. Operating on the absolute fringe of the city’s underground music scene for more than six years now, the group has featured an ever-rotating set of cast members who take several familiar formats and turn them on their asses with new words. Combining the professional skill of a house band with the snarky lyrical finesse of Frank Zappa, the band always manages to creates a humorous—or at the very least sardonic—soundscape.

Based on frontman Scot Livingston’s dream of utilizing abnormal instrumentation to create wonky pop songs, The Inactivists began, as most bands do, as a lonely vision. “I had written some songs,” Livingston recalls, “and booked shows.” He played the first two Inactivists sets solo, backed with a drum machine, before someone suitably crazy responded to his detailed advertisement on Music Mates. That man was bassist Matt Sumner, who has been with the group ever since.

“I figured that anyone with such a specific ad would be a total dick to work with, but one day, I finally got drunk enough to respond,” Sumner explains. Sumner then discovered an ad from Theremin player Victoria Lundy, who joined the band sight unseen, meeting both men for the first time while lugging her gear onstage the night after signing on.

That core trio has survived for several years, scores of shows, multiple band mates, and four albums, with the fifth, The War On Jazz Hands, due April 1 at the Walnut Room. The A.V. Club caught up with the band, including longtime drummer Kelly Prestridge and new marimba player Cody Schlueter, to talk about audience expectations, the inspirational power of boredom, and William Shatner.

The A.V. Club: What made you guys decide to record again?

Victoria Lundy: We never stop recording.

Scot Livingston: For [our last album], Love Songs [And Other Songs About Love], we went into a really expensive studio, and we took time layering it up, and I think we spent $4,500. And while I’m very proud of that recording, we could have gotten the same effect a lot sooner and a lot cheaper …

Matt Sumner: That’s sort of what we all concluded from it, was it’s pretty cool to be in a sweet studio to spend a lot of money, but there are other studios that are pretty great, too, that ... don’t take that much time, and don’t take that much money.

AVC: Something I noticed about the Love Songs And Other Songs About Love was that it’s a lot jammier than your previous work.

MS: That was the whole idea, I think.

SL: We’re not used to doing that.

MS: We had to learn to flow longer than felt comfortable.

SL: Each album, we try to figure out something we hated about the last album, and fix it.

AVC: What did you hate about previous albums?

SL: The first album was really good for what it was. We’d been together for six months, and we recorded it in a day. For the second album, we tried to do that, [but] better. The third album, let’s see if we can’t do something where we throw every instrument we own in, even if we don’t know how to play it, and that was the Concept Album. The fourth, we decided, let’s do something structured; make it sound as good as possible. Then, after that took forever, we decided to do an album where we just goof off and jam.

Kelly Prestridge: We ran out of ideas, basically.

AVC: Are you changing out of anticipation of the audience?

SL: We just get bored—far faster than the audience.

KP: We thought the audience would love Love Songs, so we can’t go by the audience.

VL: Screw them!

KP: Next album, we’re going to have six different parts, each song.

MS: It’s going to be “Band On The Run,” every song. It’s not like we have some mass fan base to appease, so we might as well do what entertains us.

VL: When there are expectations, we always screw them up anyway.

AVC: Name some mutual inspirations you share.

SL: Probably none that we all share.

KP: Does everybody like Prince?

SL: Uh, I don’t think anybody hates Prince, but the four of us combined probably don’t have the love of Prince that you do by yourself. Um, William Shatner?

VL: We haven’t asked Cody yet. Do you like William Shatner?

Cody Schlueter: Yes.

VL: Oh, good! You’re in the band.

- The Onion - AV club


2004 - The Inactivists
2005 - Disappointing Follow Up
2007 - Dreaded Concept Album
2009 - Love Songs and Other Songs About Love
2011- The War on Jazz Hands



This is a love story.

Sort of.

Five years ago, Matt Sumner answered an on-line ad, and couple of days later met up with a strange man at My Brother’s Bar. This was the beginning of a strange yet beautiful long-term relationship. You see, the ad was placed on (this was in the pre-CraigsList days) and the man he met was guitarist and ukulele-player Scot Livingston. As a bassist, Matt had looked at Scot’s rather long ad searching for musicians for quite some time before actually getting drunk enough to respond. Not that Matt disagreed with anything in Scot’s diatribe, he just figured that anyone that verbose would be a controlling pain in the ass to work with. He was only half-right. Matt and Scot met at My Brother’s Bar (now the traditional Inactivists’ meeting spot) and exchanged CDs of half-finished song ideas and other demos. A week later Matt and Scot met up again where the were now about half-dozen newly written songs. Which is a good thing, since Scot had gotten frustrated with the solo singer-songwriter doing acoustic numbers at the coffee shop open mics and decide to start to booking shows as a band under the name The Inactivists in the delusional hope that someday a band would form around him. Luckily, Matt already knew a saxophonist and drummer who he thought would be interested in this project. Unfortunately the only day they had to practice (October 19, 2003) was the day before the next show that Scot had booked at Pink-E’s. So a dozen original tunes were practiced real fast and the next day, played pretty well given how talented and game the musicians were. Without time for another rehearsal, there was another show booked two nights later. Matt mentioned that he had been corresponding with a theremin player who also might be interested. Her name was Victoria Lundy and she walked onto the stag of the Blue Mule having no idea what the band sounded like or even what they looked like. But it worked. Sure there have been the usual band personnel shifts while looking for the right combination of talent and interest, but now the Inactivists have finally found their penultimate line-up. The drummer wasn’t too hard to find, since he ended up marrying Scot’s cousin, while saxophonist and accordion player, Pattie Melt was actually a refugee from an unfortunately aborted Surf-Tiki-Lounge project where she played with Victoria.

In the last five years the Inactivsts have drunk countless pitchers of hard cider at My Brother’s Bar, recorded three albums (four if you count the Xmas album) and are nearly done with the next one; they have played over 103 shows; opened for acts as diverse as the Red Elvises, Golden Arm Trio, Cecil “P-Nut” Daniels, and Captured! By Robots; they have yelled at the Hobby Lobby in Arvada and have serenaded protestor at the DNC on the 16th Street Mall; they have staged the only performance of the rock opera “Jahoprah & The Golden Guitar” with a cast of dozens; they have helped promote the Art Rock community in Denver by joining and helping organize the D.A.R.C.; they have had their theremin enshrined in the Aurora Natural History Museum, and smashed an acoustic bass guitar at the D-Note,; they have been joined on-stage by such luminaries as Little Fyodor & Babushka, Abbie Norm, and Tim from Yerkish; they have received dozens of glowing articles, even once being compared to “watching the Muppet Show in prison”; enduring thousands of questions from people unfamiliar with their instrumentation; but most importantly the Inactivists have had a good time while making good, strange music.