Local H moves independently toward nirvana

Though the leader of the most famous band that grunge produced is dead and gone 10 years now, the brutally powerful but wonderfully melodic sound that Kurt Cobain and Nirvana pioneered lives on in Chicago's own Local H.

After a disappointing lack of support from Island and Palm Pictures, guitarist-vocalist Scott Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair found themselves back in the ranks of the indie labels. But they've continued to deliver a massively tuneful, wickedly smart and thoroughly rewarding brand of hard-hitting rock, onstage and on record, first on last year's "No Fun" EP for Thick Records and now on the new album, "Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?" (Studio E).

The group will celebrate this release tonight with a sold-out show at Metro, with Cobra Verde and Cisco Pike opening. I spoke to the always pleasant and articulate Lucas a few weeks ago as he geared up for a tour in support of the new disc.

Q.Tell me about making this album, Scott.

A. We did this one in town. The big thing was I didn't want to go through another four-year drought where I waited around for people to get their schedule together. So, sometime around Christmas the year before, we said, "We just have to get out of our record deal and put this one out on our own dime and not wait around."

Q. You wanted to keep the momentum going?

A. Right. So we did an EP and as soon as that was done, we just kept recording.

Q. You did the "No Fun" EP with Thick, and now you've released "Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?" with Studio E. How did you wind up there?

A. Basically, we just finished the recording, and that was the deal: I don't want to have anyone else involved with it. I just want to do it, and that's it. I want someone who will put it out as is and not touch it. I've never really had bad experiences at any label, so I can't complain. The worst that has happened has just been bad luck. It doesn't matter to me who puts it out; I just don't want to be inactive.

Q. Local H has been through so much over the years. How strong do you feel the band is today?

A. Well, I really do like this record a lot. That was it -- that was the only thing we were thinking about: "Let's make a great record." Now all we're thinking about is: "Let's go on tour." I can't really think beyond that.

Q. How was the mindset different making this album vs. the last one?

A. The idea with "Here Comes the Zoo" [2002] was to make as straightforward a record as we possibly could. With this one, I didn't want to do that; I missed all the little detours and little different things that you can do on a record. I really wanted to do that -- make a "Houses of the Holy" or something. And I really do like the lyrics on this record, though I don't necessarily think my lyrical obsessions are any different than they ever were.

Q. How do you know when you've written a song that's a keeper?

A. I know when I wrote the song "P.J. Soles," I thought, "This is great; I really do like this." But it's hard to say. You just feel this little buzz when you know it's working.

Q. So is "P.J. Soles" your favorite song on the album?

A. Probably not. The last song ["Halcyon Days (Where Were You Then?)"] is my favorite; I just dig it. I tried to sing in a husky voice.

Q. Nevertheless, I want you to tell me about your fixation with P.J. Soles.

A. She was great! Me and all my friends knew who she was.

Q. She was in the Ramones' "Rock 'n' Roll High School," right?

A. Right, she was in "Rock 'n' Roll High School," "Halloween," "Stripes." She always seemed to be in movies that I had seen tons of times, and nobody ever talked about her.

Q. And did you answer the question? Whatever happened to P.J. Soles?

A. She did a photo shoot for us, so she is inside our cover art.

Q. So you have her phone number?

A. Almost. I got a signed picture of her and the Ramones, so that is pretty cool.

Q. Tell the truth, Scott -- you just wanted to meet and date P.J. Soles, didn't you?

A. Uh, sure. You know -- she was Riff Randell!

April 9, 2004