'H' marks the spot

Local H sticks around for the long haul

By Kevin McKeough

Turn the radio to a modern rock station in the spring of 1997, and there's a good chance you would have heard the funky, metallic riff of Local H's "Bound for the Floor." Tune in that same station a year later, and the band's thundering anthem "All The Kids" might well be bursting out of the speakers.

In the last two years, though, there haven't been any new Local H songs on the radio, and that's a loss for anyone who appreciates guitar rock that's both forceful and melodic. After growing increasingly skilled at merging alternative rock bluster and pop tunefulness over the course of its first three records, the Chicago band has been sidetracked by record company woes and a change in members.

It sounds like the same downward spiral that's claimed countless bands, but Local H is alive and well, thank you. It plays Friday-Saturday, Nov. 24-25, at the Penny Road Pub, and Friday, Dec. 1, at the College of DuPage Student Resource Center. "I think everyone kind of thinks we're on the ropes," observes Local H's singer, guitarist and songwriter Scott Lucas. "It's nice that people are concerned, but we're fine."

Driven by "Bound for the Floor," Local H scored a hit with its second CD, "As Good As Dead," a concept record about dead-end, small-town life based on the band's origins in north suburban Zion. Local H was poised to capitalize on that success with its third record, 1998's "Pack Up the Cats," and the CD's first single, "All the Kids," was receiving heavy airplay.

Then Polygram, the parent company of the band's label, merged with Universal Music, prompting a housecleaning of Local H's corporate supporters.

"We were out there working really hard, and after a while we realized we didn't know anybody at the label anymore," Lucas recalls. "We just wanted to go where they had gone -- away."

On top of that setback, drummer Joe Thomas, who had been with Local H since its beginnings in 1987, left the band. "I don't know if he thought that things were going downhill, but he wasn't having a good time," Lucas explains. Lots of bands change drummers, but in this case, Thomas was the only other member of the group. Originally a quintet, Local H became a duo when the second guitarist and bassist left. Instead of replacing them, Lucas adapted his guitar to play both bass and guitar parts simultaneously.

Fortunately, Lucas had a longstanding relationship with Brian St. Clair, formerly the drummer for local rockers Triplefastaction, and enlisted him to take Thomas' place. The band also is close to signing a new record deal, and the duo hopes to begin recording a new CD in January.

Local H's records have become progressively more ambitious since the band's debut, 1995's "Ham Fisted." "Everything was just full throttle. We weren't sure of ourselves as far as letting melody show," Lucas admits. "When we made `As Good As Dead' we were more confident. On the third we didn't care about anything." Thus, on "Pack Up the Cats," the band added backing harmonies, multi-tracked guitar parts and recurring musical motifs to a suite that ran 15 songs together without interruption.

Lucas says that, having done that, it would be pointless to repeat that approach on the next CD. "The idea has been all year to just make a full-on rock record that reflects the way we sound live." That doesn't mean, though, that Lucas has abandoned the brooding acoustic ballads that showed up in the past. "I like a good scream as much as the next guy," he says. "I also like really quiet songs."

"I like songs and I've always liked songs, but I like loud rock," he continues. "Sometimes a really good loud rock band doesn't know how to distinguish one song from the other and you get bored. Making sure you've got a song first and foremost and then cranking it up I always thought would help."