Rock and roll and Rose Hill Drive

When you think about it, true rock and roll is a lot like sushi – it’s best served fresh and raw, preferably with a spicy kick. True, some people can’t handle it, but most tend to warm up to the exotic delights it employs in the body’s sensory system after a few tries. And just like most can’t tell the difference between cafeteria sushi and that from a solid Japanese restaurant, most don’t differentiate between packaged pseudo-rock music and the real deal.

Pete Townshend of The Who, for example, has a delectable palate for the taste of rock music (after all, taste and smell are related, and with that schnoz . ) It is doubtful anyone would ever dispute Townshend if he said, “You know what? This band rocks.” And according to Townshend, the Boulder, Colo.-based trio Rose Hill Drive does indeed rock – they’re opening for The Who on their U.S. tour, which will stop in D.C. tonight at the Verizon Center.

But how does a small rock trio on an indie label from Colorado go from playing clubs and festivals to suddenly opening for The Who? In an interview with The Hatchet, drummer Nathan Barnes described The Whole Who experience as, quite simply, “just a random sequence of events.”

Rose Hill Drive played at music festivals in Leeds and London, England, where Townshend caught the band’s set. The Who guitarist then asked the band to play on the internet TV music show “In the Attic,” put together by Townshend and his girlfriend Rachel Fuller. Shortly thereafter, the band was added to The Who’s current U.S. tour.

When asked to describe Townshend in person, Barnes replied, “Intense. He’s really tall and he has these piercing blue eyes that, it’s like, almost kind of scary to look at just because it’s Pete Townshend. But he’s the warmest, nicest guy – he’s been nothing but cool to us and totally approachable.”

Rose Hill Drive consists of brothers Jake and Daniel Sproul on bass, guitar and vocals, with friend Nathan Barnes on drums. What started off as a few 16-year-olds in high school playing music together has evolved into a true rock-and-roll dream, all without the help of major labels, music videos and heavy radio play. Rose Hill Drive did it the old-fashioned way, the way the masses were meant to hear rock music – live.

“We tried getting any show we could play anytime and anywhere,” said Barnes. “After high school . we were practicing every night and playing on weekends at local shows for probably about two years, and then after we met our manager, he introduced us to a booking agency that had club connections and they just threw us on the road.”

The band managed to build a large underground fan base, which helped them release their first full-length self-titled CD in 2006. The album, like the band, is solid. For being a trio, the band is able to get a very big sound out of only three instruments with very little studio intervention.

“We kind of homed in on all the songs and had a lot of time to ‘road test’ them and see what was working and what wasn’t, and had a lot of time to lock into the groove of the song,” Barnes said. “So when we came into the studio we were ready to go, we knew exactly what we wanted to do.”

While most of the songs on their album average around three to five minutes, Barnes says their live show tends to be a little different. “When we do a 30-minute set opening for The Who, we’ll do maybe 3 or 4 songs,” he said, “rather than cram a bunch of songs into a short set.”

And like Townshend, the crowd digs them. The audience has been very responsive to Rose Hill Drive, which has been a pleasant surprise to Barnes, who was scared of possibly being booed off stage like previous openers for The Who. Instead of boos, what he remembers is receiving a standing ovation while opening for The Who in Vancouver.

“There’s definitely old guys that grew up listening to (The Who), but there’s also a younger generation there too, of people kind of our age that found their music and really liked it, kind of like we did, and they’ve been totally responsive.”

Rose Hill Drive will open for The Who tonight, Thursday March 8, at the Verizon Center at 7:30pm. Tickets range from $55-$205. Their self-titled CD “Rose Hill Drive” is out now – check out www.rosehilldrive.com.

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