Hard rock duo Local H still keepin’ it real April-04-03
Industry standards aside, Scott Lucas isn’t content with coupling a pair of singles with a bunch of meaningless filler tracks and calling the end result an album.
The singer-guitarist-bassist-songwriter for the Illinois hard rock duo Local H takes much more pride in his work, and it’s clear when you consider the band’s four albums to date. There’s its classic garage rock debut, its hit-laden sophomore breakthrough, its finely crafted concept album and its latest CD — a dark, streamlined rock record that aspires, in part, to AC/DC’s "Back in Black” LP.
While Local H parted ways with the Palm Pictures label before Christmas, Lucas has been busy working on new material and isn’t the slightest bit worried about finding a label for the band’s fifth studio album. He and drummer Brian St. Clair have already completed 18 songs for the forthcoming, self-produced album, which is tentatively titled "What Ever Happened to P.J. Soles?” The title makes reference to the ’70s actress who appeared in such films as "Rock ’n’ Roll High School,” "Stripes,” and "Halloween.”
Local H, incidentally, will headline April 12 — one week from Saturday — at the Empress Ballroom in Danbury.
"We’ll just make the (new) record and whoever wants to put it out can do that,” Lucas said in a March 28 interview from his home in Chicago. "We’re not really worried about that. We’re always able to find somebody who wants to put our records out, which is cool and it’s kind of a load off. You can kind of do what you want and not worry.”
Whereas the band’s 2002 release, "Here Comes The Zoo,” featured 10 straight-ahead rock songs and production by Jack Douglas, Lucas is going for something entirely different for its follow-up.
"We’re trying to get more extreme in the poles,” he explained. "With this record, I’m more interested in the opposites — having songs that are really mellow and pretty up against the most grating and hardest songs that we’ve got. (It’s) something more along the lines of the ‘White Album’ or ‘Physical Graffiti,’ where you’re talking about the extremes. And that’s what makes the record more interesting.”
In the absence of label deadlines, Lucas has been able to record at his own pace. It’s allowed him to step away from the studio, rethink songs and rework them as he sees fit.
"When you’ve got this many songs, you don’t want to approach every song the exact same way,” Lucas said. "I want to try to bring as many different colors into it as possible.”
Born May 10, 1970, David Scott Lucas grew up in Zion, Ill., a small town about 1½ hours from Chicago. Father David was an artist and painter, while mother Donna worked at a hospital. Scott Lucas also has a younger sister, Dawn.
With little to do in Zion, Scott read a lot and often watched movies, including "Raiders of the Lost Ark” and films by Martin Scorsese. His favorite bands included Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Cheap Trick.
"I just thought the songs were great,” he recalled. "Each of those bands had something different to offer. The pop hooks of Cheap Trick are pretty great and undeniable. There’s great singing — a lot of power. I really liked Led Zeppelin because they could go from a rocker to a really soft song really easily. Jimmy Page is such a great guitar player.
"And I think (with) Pink Floyd, I liked the lyrics a lot and I liked how all the records really fit and the songs really flowed together,” he added. "Each record was like a huge piece. It was composed and written that way so all the songs would fit together. That really made a big impression on me.”
When he was 13, Lucas got a guitar so he could begin writing songs and playing them. Around 1985, he started his first band, a pop-punk group called The Family Cruisers, with bassist Matt Garcia — a classmate from Zion Benton Township High School. The band played a few shows locally and even recorded some material.
The pair later formed the rock band Rude Awakening. At the time, Lucas was really into The Cult.
During Lucas’ senior year in 1988, he met drummer Joe Daniels, who attended the same high school. Lucas, Garcia and Daniels formed Local H in 1990. A second guitarist, John Sparkman, left the group after about six months.
After recording three songs that would be released as the "Drum” 7-inch and a handful of demos, Garcia decided to leave the band in 1992.
"If we were a normal band, we probably would have broken up,” Lucas said. "But we just kept going without him.”
Rather than replacing Garcia, Local H continued on as a two-piece band. The idea wasn’t entirely foreign; the Chickasaw Mud Puppies and the Flat Duo Jets, two-piece bands from Athens, Ga., had simply played without bassists. So had the Spinanes from Chicago.
What made Local H different, however, was that Lucas rigged a bass pickup under the bottom two strings of his guitar — allowing him to play simultaneously through guitar and bass amplifiers.
"The first time we did it was in front of somebody from Interscope,” Lucas recalled. "They were coming to see us and they didn’t know that we didn’t have a bass player. We had decided, at that point, not to get one.”
To this day, fans who come out to see Local H in concert for the first time often find themselves wondering about the whereabouts of the rest of the band.
"They’re confused, you know?” Lucas said. "And they don’t really know what’s going on. They don’t know where the bass is. I’ve had reviews where people have said the bass is on tape. Sometimes, when we have somebody come up and play a guitar solo, people will think that that’s the bass player.
"I always liked confusion,” he added. "I think that it’s cool when people don’t really know what (is) going on.”
Island Records A&R representative Joe Bosso signed Local H to a record deal in 1994. In ’95, the band released its debut album, the intentionally unpolished "Ham Fisted” LP. The guys still play the songs "Bag of Hammers,” "User,” "Feed,” "Skid Marks” and "Chicago Fanphair ’93,” which is about local music scene politics and the feeling of not belonging.
The song "Mayonnaise and Malaise” makes reference to Lucas’ job at Subway prior to signing with Island. (He also had worked at a movie theater and as a glass cutter.) Another memorable track, "Cynic,” has a riff, melody and chorus that make it Lucas’ pick for "the quintessential Local H song.”
The song "Sports Bar” includes the lines:
"Every time I wake up, I feel sad. / I dream of all the things I used to have. / And how did I get into this? / I’m tied to it. I’m tied to it. I’m tied to it. I’m tied to it.”
Local H played shows with Corrosion of Conformity, Spell and Tripping Daisies. But the band wouldn’t taste success until its second album, 1996’s "As Good As Dead” — which was also written while Lucas lived in an apartment in Zion that was modest at best.
The band followed its first single, the concert favorite "High-Fiving ...,” with the MTV and radio smash "Bound for the Floor” aka "the copacetic song.” The band’s first major hit reached No. 5 on the Modern Rock chart and No. 10 in Mainstream Rock. The album also had Top 20 alternative radio hits in "Eddie Vedder” and "Fritz’s Corner,” which is named after a bar on the outskirts of Zion.
The album’s title and cover illustration — which features a child with quarters on his eyes — certainly make a statement. "People (would) put coins on people’s eyes when they were dead to keep their eyelids shut,” Lucas said. "I also read that it means something else going back further, but that’s what I was trying to go for. You’d see Lincoln getting shot and then they’d put pennies on his eyes or something. "When I made that record, I was like, ‘I’m gonna put whatever I want on this thing and we’re gonna treat it like our last record,’Ÿ” he added. "There was some of that — that tongue-in-cheek thing where we were like, ‘All right, this will probably be our last record. We’re over.’ But it was also kind of about class. We still do this with songs like ‘Half-Life,’ where you just kind of feel like your main station in life is (that) you’re not meant to succeed. And it’s almost better for the status quo if you don’t. So you’re just kind of feeling that.”
By the time Local H’s third album, "Pack Up The Cats,” came out in September 1998, Lucas had moved out of Zion and into Chicago. The concept album features songs that flow into one another. The main character of the narrative is a musician who goes to the city and starts believing his own hype — only to watch his band crash and burn.
Another goal with "Pack Up The Cats” was to separate Local H from the slew of other ’90s alternative rock bands with which they shared the airwaves. The album featured the Top 20 Mainstream and Modern Rock hit "All The Kids Are Right.” But Island was bought out by Universal the week of the album’s release and, through the merger, the focus on promoting Local H was lost.
Daniels left the band in January 2000 and eventually was replaced by St. Clair, who had played in Triple Fast Action and served as drum tech for Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos.
Local H found a new home on Palm Pictures, a label founded by ex-Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.
The band released its fourth album, "Here Comes The Zoo,” in March 2002. Lucas considers the album Local H’s darkest and most cynical to date — proving that he hasn’t lost his edge. The song "Hands on the Bible” addresses guilt over abortion and karma. A mass suicide on New Year’s Eve serves as the focus of the album’s closer, "What Would You Have Me Do?” And, on "Rock & Roll Professionals,” Lucas pokes fun at his peers.
Has Lucas changed much over the years?
"I’ll still be angry about anything,” he said. "Anything will (tick) me off. You know, somebody talking in the movie behind me, a neighbor not saying hello, a neighbor saying hello, somebody’s ... SUV in my way — just tons of things can (tick) me off. I think now we’ve probably got more concrete reasons to be (ticked) off. So that’s interesting.”
So is Local H’s "No Fun” EP, which is due out in May on the Chicago punk label Thick. The album includes the title track, two covers and the songs "Cooler Heads,” "President Forever” and the jam "... Yeah, That Wide.” Lucas and St. Clair may play some of these new songs at the Danbury show.
While Local H rocks harder in concert than most bands with three or more members, does it ever bother Lucas that he hasn’t sold as many albums as another band that broke through in the mid-’90s — Everclear?
"I don’t think I’m a very good businessman,” said Lucas, who is single. "I never really try to play anything up. I’ve never tried to play anything as if it were a gimmick — whereas I think somebody like Art (Alexakis of Everclear) keeps pounding the fact that he’s a supposed ex-junkie and a wife beater into people’s heads. Using that as a gimmick is a little crass for me and I think maybe sometimes it’s what you need to do to get sales like that.”
What has driven Lucas through the ups and downs of the music business?
"I’m in it to play,” he said. "I’m in it to make records. And I can honestly say that. I feel good about that. I’d like to make more money and reach the kind of sales that Everclear might have had in their heyday. I certainly don’t give a (second thought) about their sales now. There’s a lot of things that I’d like, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the integrity of what we do for that.
"It could have been easy to record another ‘Bound for the Floor,’ which is what I think your boys in Everclear did — just re-record the same song over and over. That’s easy, but it’s not very interesting. I don’t know how I’d be able to sleep at night if I did something like that.”
By David Friedman