Encinitas Blows

Justin O'Connell
de las Carnitas
Published in
19 min readJun 2, 2015

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On Losing Terrin Durfey & Denver Lucas

Rob Crow (Pinback/Thingy/Heavy Vegetable/Optiganally Yours) is one of the most admired and influential creative forces to have spent considerable time in Encinitas.

A songwriter, guitar player, and leader of many San Diego based bands, he has long excelled as one of San Diego’s great creative forces. His national notoriety is testament to this. Whether it is in Pinback, Optiganally Yours, Heavy Vegetable or singing on-stage with a reunited Drive Like Jehu, Rob has long been at the center of San Diego music culture.

The irony for Rob must be that some of his local musical heroes lived in his shadow.

This is the story of two of those individuals: Denver Lucas and Terrin Durfey, singer/songwriters for Powerdresser and Boilermaker, respectively.

Unfortunately, both of these fierce Encinitas talents have something in common: both died young, but not before accomplishing a great deal for their community.

Bill Perrine’s film about San Diego music, It’s Gonna Blow: San Diego Music Underground from 1986–1996, takes its viewers throughout San Diego county, and even south of the border to Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. To be sure, there is plenty of Encinitas featured in the film. Whether it is Lou’s Records or the band Pitchfork, which featured former Encinitas resident Rick Froberg and San Diego’s John Reis (both of whom play in Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu) opening for Fugazi at La Paloma Theatre in 1990, much can be said for Encinitas’ influence on greater San Diego’s 90’s music scene.

Terrin and Denver tie the story of San Diego’s celebrated 90’s post-punk scene to Encinitas. When most people think of music in Encinitas, they think of Lou’s Records. It’s Gonna Blow changes this with interviews and footage of Boilermaker and Powerdresser members.

Lou’s has always been a storied small business. Many artists have performed there, including Rob Crow and his band Heavy Vegetable, as well as Three Mile Pilot, which features Zach Smith and Pall Jenkins, who both went onto perform in acclaimed bands Pinback and Black Heart Procession, respectively.

And so, while Encinitas might mostly be known for its infamous skatepark and laidback culture, there’s been plenty of mathy noise made within the city’s limits. To be sure, Bill’s film zooms in on a time when Encinitas was not quite as affluent as it is today.

“Local music scenes have always given the young and footloose a sense of community,” wrote Michael Walker in an October 1993 Los Angeles Times feature about San Diego as The Next Seattle. “It was, after all, at the stage-fronts of the Fillmore and Winterland…at the feet of Big Brother and the Dead, that the Haight-Ashbury crowd first found each other. A generation later, in San Diego as in Seattle, music is still a potent unifying force. But the stakes are higher. Forty percent of Americans in their 20s, the age group that defines the San Diego scene, were raised in broken families. For a generation reared in uncertainty amid diminished expectations, even a music scene is freighted with psychological implications.”

Few Encinitas bands have had worldwide success. And the bands included in Perrine’s It’s Gonna Blow are no exception. Sure, Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 (the latter of whom is featured in the film) might have called Encinitas home for short durations in their lives, but they are not really Encinitans when compared to Denver and Terrin, who spent their adolescence wandering the streets of 101 along Leucadia and Encinitas.

Denver on guitar

Denver Lucas (Powerdresser)

[To listen to Powerdresser, click here.]

By 1994 San Diego was already marketed as “The Next Seattle” by a disingenuous national press and major record labels. In this climate, the disappearance and death of an influential young musician, who lived thirty minutes north of San Diego proper, shook the community.

During the abovementioned Heavy Vegetable in store at Lou’s, Denver Delmonte Lucas was not performing. Instead, he was working the record store as a clerk. Soon, however, his band would get its big break opening for Drive Like Jehu at The Casbah. That Drive Like Jehu show would be one of the band’s last performances before their August 2014 reunion at Balboa Park in San Diego.

A few weeks after the Heavy Vegetable in store, Denver went missing. Members of his band, and the local community, feverishly searched for him. Lucas had spent time before his disappearance talking about a big road trip meant to help him find himself and his next creative path, and so calls, to no avail, were made to people across the country.

One night Paul Williams, who wrote the definitive piece on Powerdresser for The San Diego Reader, was eating with his wife at Juanitas taco shop along the 101. Denver walked by and made funny faces at them. He was on LSD, Paul would later learn. He also later learned that was the night Denver disappeared.

On November 10, 1994, eight days after Lucas had last been seen, a body, decomposed beyond recognition, was found on Carlsbad State Beach. The next day the body was positively identified as Denver Lucas, with fingerprints taken from the local musician’s instruments and later by dental records.

A Powerdresser CD

In Paul’s San Diego Reader feature on Denver, Gabe Voiles, bassist for Powerdresser, recounted his memories of the talented musician. They had met in junior high school and remained close until his death. He remembered a young Denver as a skinny kid, who liked straight ahead punk rock, bands like Circle Jerks and The Germs. He played in a punk rock band called The Seizures and fit well the stereotype of young, rebellious punker. One day, his mother, who was often busy with work, couldn’t handle Denver anymore and sent him to live with his father in Maine.

“We were kind of at a loss. Denver was just kind of gone,” Gabe remembers.

Denver didn’t like Maine. He ended up living with a chemistry teacher.

“This family kind of adopted him and probably pretty much saved his life. That man helped Denver handmake an electric guitar,” Gabe said.

Maine is where Denver began listening to Jimi Hendrix in addition to The Germs and other hardcore punk bands. Eventually, Denver began a long distance relationship with Eléa Tenuta, who would become a singer in Rob Crow’s band Heavy Vegetable. Denver ultimately returned home to North County when Eléa and some friends picked him up for a cross country road trip back to Encinitas.

Denver On the cover of San Diego Reader for Paul William’s feature

When Eléa and Denver broke up, he started hanging out with Gabe more often. Denver moved in with Gabe on La Mesa avenue, west of the 101. This would mark the beginning of Powerdresser. Gabe and Denver started practicing at Three Mile Pilot’s space in Del Mar. Gabe remembers the day they met Rob Crow:

“… Denver and I were walking along the east side of 101 in downtown Encinitas and walking up the west side was Rob Crow [of Heavy Vegetable], looking at the 25-cent tapes in front of the old Lou’s Records. And Denver said, ‘That’s that guy! Rob, from that band.’ And I said, ‘Go talk to him! He can get us a show!’ And he’s, like, ‘No, no, you go talk to him.’ And I said, ‘How can I go talk to him? Look, c’mon, you talk and I’ll go with you, but you do the talking.’ Finally he just got annoyed with me and my wimpiness and walked away and did the Denver, put himself forth boldly and warmly. And Rob was, like, ‘I can’t get you a show! We can’t get shows. We can’t…’ You know, they were nobody. When to us they were a band. Oh my God, they have songs and they played at a party!”

Rob did eventually get them a show at the second SOMA. Gabe remembers the show well. Rick Froberg drove them to it, and while the band was ready to leave after their sketchy set, Rick implored them to stay for the other bands out of respect.

Soon thereafter, Powerdresser’s singer, Randy, left the band, and Denver had to take over on vocals. He decided to eschew distortion as well, because his intricate guitar pickings were not coming through. This was novel territory for San Diego math rock bands. The band started getting gigs and played the Che Cafe on the UCSD campus often.

Rob would sometimes decide to play shows atop the Danforth Building in downtown Encinitas, which was the original location of Lou’s Records. Rob and Eléa, co-vocalist for Heavy Vegetable by then, lived in the apartments above the businesses for awhile, along with other local musicians.

Things had started coming together for Powerdresser. The band recorded an album. They recorded a single with Jason Soares (Physics). The band recorded with Heavy Vegetable drummer Travis Nelson, who also lived at Danforth for awhile, at Mira Costa College.

Travis was taking the same Mira Costa College recording classes that his friend Mark Trombino (drummer, Drive Like Jehu) had taken. Trombino later went on to record Blink 182’s Dude Ranch (which was mostly recorded at Big Fish studios in Encinitas) and Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American.

Recordings they did with Travis were put on a CD compilation curated by Trumans Water, a successful San Diego band whose reach, by the mid-nineties, had extended to Europe. (In fact, at one point, Trumans Water was more popular in England than in their hometown, San Diego) The comp had Powerdresser and Heavy Vegetable, Fishwife and Custom Floor. The little sticker on the outside said, ‘featuring Powerdresser.’ Powerdresser felt this was their moment in the ‘spotlight.’ The band would also record with Jeff Forrest at renowned Doubletime Studio in San Diego

The band evolved, and in particular Denver’s songwriting evolved. Drive Like Jehu soon asked them to play The Casbah. Denver also started the band Physics with Rob and Travis, John Goff, and Jason Soares. Powerdresser played a festival show called “Nuns Don’t Jam” at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas, which featured Three Mile Pilot, Heavy Vegetable, Johnny Superbad, Fishwife and “literally everybody,” as the members of Powerdresser saw it.

Denver got a job at Lou’s after having worked at Lily Vietnamese Cuisine in downtown Encinitas as a cook. Gabe was the dishwasher. Denver was very excited about the job at Lou’s Records. Lou Russell of Lou’s recounted how Denver came to work for him:

“Suzanne Lee [another employee and North County music scenester] said, ‘Hire Denver, he’s cool,’ and of course he looked like the ragamuffin that he looked like. And then, a month or two before he was hired, he and Gabe and Lee drove into our parking lot on a Saturday or a Friday and jumped out, set up, played for 20 minutes, then jumped back in the car and left. It was like a kamikaze in-store. It was hilarious, it was awesome. That kind of was a cool thing, so I thought, this guy, there’s something going on here. So I hired him.

“I’d gotten to know him a little as a customer. I think he threatened to do that or something, ’cause they wanted to play an in-store show, and I said, ‘No, you guys can’t play here. You have to have a record out.’ So he said, ‘We’re gonna play here anyway.’ Of course, I wouldn’t stop them. It was funny. It was a good little event.

He was a great worker. Denver always worked in the used store. Pricing CDs. He did a good job of it. He had such a good attitude. It was really fun to work with him, because he was great to talk to. We’d have these crazy conversations about just crazy stuff most of the time. And he would talk to me about the band, about how hard it was sometimes trying to keep the three of them together, how the drummer was always flaking out. They practiced in the store a lot, in the back room of the used store.

I saw one Powerdresser gig at a coffeehouse. I enjoyed it a lot. Their minimalistic kind of music I really liked, the way it was free-form. They were doing something really different, not screaming, thrashing rock and roll kinda stuff. Denver had definite stage presence. Something about him onstage, on top of the music, kept you sort of riveted to the situation.”

Denver’s death resulted, according to police and friends, either from falling off a Leucadia bluff while climbing down to the ocean while on acid and breaking his neck and being carried out to sea, or from going swimming and bodysurfing at night, as he and his friends often did, only to get caught in a riptide or some other oceanic circumstance and drowned. His body, thrown about in the ocean for a week, was unrecognizable by the time it was discovered on a Carlsbad beach. Gabe remembers Denver’s temperament:

“One thing that was so affecting to me personally about Denver was the fact that he came from some really, really hard times in his life. He had some problems. Denver was not some naturally gifted orator who felt continually at ease with people and had this wonderful social life and was always this outgoing, wonderful positive person that everyone saw. Denver got there through sheer will to not f*ing lose. He went through a lot of crap and was perpetually tortured by communication with people, which was so important to him, he was so driven towards that. He didn’t come from a normal place and was pushing it to this great level. He came from a negative space, from a very negative mind-set. I joke and take lightly the things that we did as teenagers, but it was extremely self-destructive and it was horrible. We hated everything, we hated ourselves, we couldn’t talk to anybody. It sucked. And to go from that to a point where he was putting so much into communicating with people and to finding new levels and ways of communicating with them.”

The Powerdresser guys and Terrin Durfey of Boilermaker were friends. Boilermaker hailed from Leucadia, too. Denver and Gabe would go to a pizza joint on 101 at the south end of Encinitas, right near the Self-Realization Fellowship, where they’d get garlic pizza.

“The person who was often enough standing in front…making pizzas was Terrin Durfey [Boilermaker singer],” Gabe recalls. “So we’d go in there, and we’d see Terrin a lot. And he’s just this nice kid. And he’s not really that much younger than us, but at the time, you know, he was this kid. And then he had a band, and then his band was good.”

Terrin Durfey on bass

Terrin Durfey (Boilermaker/The Jade Shader/Pinback)

[To listen to Boilermaker, click here]

Boilermaker

In It’s Gonna Blow, Bill interviews members of Boilermaker at Swami’s beach. The interview is bittersweet considering Boilermaker singer and bassist, Terrin Durfey, passed away in 2008 at the age of 34. Terrin has inspired countless people. This is part of his story.

His band Boilermaker was one of the most influential mid-late ‘90s post-punk bands to come out of San Diego County, thanks in large part to Terrin’s beautiful and soulful voice, with it’s signature surfer’s drawl common to California surf and skate cultures.

Durfey had been battling cancer for nearly a decade before he died in 2008, but not before he would leave behind a legacy that would continue to move people for decades to come.

Boilermaker never fit into any of the local niches popular in America’s Finest City in the nineties, experimenting with their own sounds thirty minutes from the San Diego which was to be the next Seattle. Boilermaker themselves felt more at home in middle America, actually, where bands were experimenting with similar emotionally driven sounds, than they did in San Diego. Regardless, they are an unmistakably San Diego band.

In 1995, Boilermaker released Watercourse on Goldenrod Records, which was recorded by Mark Trombino.

In 1996, the band released In Wallace’s Shadow, also on Goldenrod, and also recorded by Mark Trombino. This was Trombino’s last full-length with the band, and was done a short time before Trombino would record Blink 182’s Dude Ranch. In 1998, the band released their self-titled album on Wrenched. Songs for the band’s compilation record, Leucadia, released in 2001, were once again recorded with Trombino. Leucadia was released on Better Looking Records, and is the band’s only CD in print.

Boilermaker, after year’s long hiatus, returned to music in 2000. About his time as drummer for Boilermaker, Timothy Semple writes on the Better Looking Records website in a description for Boilermaker’s sort of “best-of” compilation, Leucadia:

“I have a warm feeling about that. A feeling like I’m back in Leucadia, soaking up that warm sun. Swimming in that Pacific and embracing that humid, salty air. Like I’m home once more. And if you knew Leucadia the way I know it, all of this would make perfect sense. Perfect sense.”

Durfey Close-up

In October 2008, about a week before his passing, there were two benefits for Terrin and his family, both of which demonstrate the immense influence the bassist and vocalist had had on the entire San Diego community.

Pinback played The Casbah, and, at The Belly Up, local musicians like Jon Foreman (Switchfoot), Joanie Mendenhall and Ryan Ferguson (No Knife) played a benefit. On SD Dialed in, a post by someone named Alex highlights Terrin’s inner-beauty while the talented musician still walked the earth:

Whether cancer wins ultimately, or Terrin gets the blessing to see his son grow into a man, there’s no doubt that Terrin has already beat his cancer on the fundamental side. Terrin is still the same, infectious personality that I met back when we were kids and I’d like to share some of that.

I instantly got along with Terrin. He was (and is) such a charismatic personality and immensely talented. We met in an after-school screen printing class. I had signed up in hoping to find some sort of creative talent within me. Terrin was one of the students in the class that instantly caught my eye because he had some of the most stylized illustrations I had ever seen. I couldn’t draw (still can’t) but had really wanted to be involved in art, but was beginning to think that art wasn’t in my future. Terrin (with others in the class who were also inspirational to me) showed me that art could be more than just illustration/painting. He helped put me on a path that has led me to my point today, doing graphic design for a living, for the Museum of Contemporary Art no less, a feat I never would have imagined possible back then.

In the weeks before his death, the chemotherapy treatments for Terrin’s stage IV cancer were suspended as he was no longer responding to the treatment. After he passed, an outpouring of love filled with blogosphere and San Diego concert halls.

“Terrin and I met in recording class in 1993 at Mira Costa College,” Chris Prescott (No Knife/Pinback) wrote after Terrin passed. “I had the fortune of recording the first Boilermaker songs and was immediately a fan. Boilermaker was such an amazing band. To this day I always take his music with me on trips or wherever. There’s just nothing better. It blows my mind that more people hadn’t gotten to hear Terrin’s music. It’s a pity but also sort of a special secret.”

Chris ultimately started a band, The Jade Shader (who oft played Encinitas concerts), to spend time with Terrin.

“Our goal really was to have a reason to just hang out, drink some red wine and make music,” Prescott said. “I felt lucky to have that time with him and spend all those evenings in the home studio hashing out what would become the Jade Shader CD later on. There are so many good memories but more than everything I remember his sense of humor and what fun it was to hang out with him. His musical ability continues to inspire me. Such an original talent. He is missed.”

Ezra Caraeff, music editor at The Portland Mercury, grew up in Encinitas. He credits Terrin for having a big influence on his life.

“I think [Terrin] helped the legacy of San Diego music,” Caraeff wrote for The Portland Mercury. “Terrin’s creative output stretches outside the city. I live in Portland and people always ask me if I’ve heard of Boilermaker. He represents everything good that can come out of a local music movement.”

Terrin, though young, was wise beyond his years. This was made clear through his music, and how he fought the fatal malady which afflicted him from the ages of 24–34.

“I decided a while back to just stay positive,” Terrin said. “It feels better to have a positive outlook than to get down and depressed. Life’s about fun!”

When Terrin was re-diagnosed with cancer, he was preparing to head out on tour as a member of Pinback. The re-diagnosis did not slow him down. He learned keyboard, as well as Pinback’s songs, for the tour.

“It was an opportunity for me that I hadn’t experienced yet,” he says. “I’d been on tour with Pinback before, opening up for them [with Jade Shader], and I knew we were really compatible. We were able to schedule the treatments around the tour, and I got full support from my family.”

Pinback bassist Zach Smith, who is notoriously uninterested in other people’s music, listens to little music outside of the music he himself creates. But when he does put other people’s music on, oft he finds himself listening to his good friend’s band.

“Boilermaker was one of the only bands I ever cared about in San Diego,” claims Pinback bassist and co-vocalist Zach Smith. “A lot of it had to do with Terrin and his vocals and the way that he carries a band. On tour, he’d be the only guy in the back, packing the van. And he’s got cancer, you know? He really is a trooper and always has been.”

In August 2008, a few months before his death, Terrin played in Pinback for one of the band’s biggest gigs of the year, and likely one of Terrin’s best-attended performances: a packed 4 O’Clock Friday show at the Del Mar Racetrack, attended by his entire family — his wife Adrienne, then 5-year-old son Dakota, his parents and cousins. They watched from backstage, beaming as Terrin played for thousands of hometown fans.

By September, Terrin was feeling too ill to go on tour with Pinback.

“His spirit is so strong that we feel his absence immediately,” says Chris Prescott, who also played in Jade Shader and now in Pinback.

Things had been gradually declining for Terrin.

“Since May, I haven’t had the energy to play with my son or give my wife the help she needs,” he said. “And sometimes the treatments are more painful and debilitating than the cancer itself.”

Adrienne disagrees with Terrin on how much he helped.

“He offers emotional support, and he seems to be stronger than I am sometimes,” she says. “His outlook on life and his optimism inspire me.”

Terrin with Adrienne and Dakota

The San Diego community, and in particular the music community, rallied to Terrin’s aid.

“I honestly can’t think of someone else who would garner this amount of support immediately and unconditionally,” Prescott says. “Everyone is rooting for the guy. I think he sometimes feels uncomfortable with the attention, but I believe he is in tune with all the positive wishes.”

Terrin loved playing music for others.

“I love tours and I love playing in front of people. The camaraderie that a band creates and the friendships that are formed are lifelong.” But those weren’t the only perks of life on tour with Pinback. “And I get to see Rob [Crow]’s butt a lot while on tour.”

Zach Smith recalls losing Terrin, who had quickly become a full-fledged touring member of the band.

“It’s just debilitated the band. Terrin was an amazing person we all cared for and miss a great deal. The thing extra amazing about him, he’s a bass player, and he’s really enthusiastic, and when he gets his hand on a thing he just goes for it. He’d never touched a keyboard, really, besides noodling on them here and there. I remember getting together with him when Rob suggested getting Terrin Durfey from Boilermaker, who I loved. I knew Terrin for years. “You want him to play keyboards? But he’s a bass player.” We got together a lot, and he had this, “I’m going to sit down and learn it and do this.” And he did.

Most people say they’re going to do something and they don’t. (laughs) He was this kind of guy that had that energy. He put his heart into it. I’m getting bummed thinking about it. He wasn’t a writer for the band but he contributed so much for us. We would never have gone to a three-piece if he were still around. And he was an amazing singer. It came naturally to him.

He had full-on cancer and managed to play this one last show with us at Del Mar, Calif., near San Diego. He was sick. But he pulled it off. He said, “I really want to play this,” and this was when the cancer was getting really bad.”

The San Diego music community still maintains Terrin’s memory, even if his work has gone unnoticed by the mainstream culture and music magazines. In 2012, Rob Crow played the Boilermaker song “Switch” with No Knife at Live Wire 20th Anniversary Show.

No Knife w/ Rob Crow cover Boilermaker

One of the larger publications to mention Terrin, The LA Times, mentions him for something he did before Boilermaker, while he was still a student at San Dieguito High School, playing for the same baseball team another Leucadia musician, Tim Flannery, would later coach. As the paper writes in an article dated 1991:

Double trouble: Poway baseball players Donnie Jones and Miles Kelly hit back-to-back home runs in back-to-back games. Jones and Kelly homered in the fourth inning off Vista’s Matt Stone and homered in the third inning off San Dieguito’s Terrin Durfey. It was the third homer of the year for each.

By the time Terrin picked up a bass and started singing his songs for others, it was him who was hitting the home runs.

If you’d like to learn more about the greater San Diego music scene, be sure to check out Bill Perrine’s documentary, It’s Gonna Blow. The documentary’s website is www.sdmusicdoc.com.

Twitter.com/justinofconnell

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