story by Eric Nyffeler | photos by Chevy Anderson
Now that we are firmly into the 2010s, it seems only natural to begin to cast nostalgic glances back to '90s music. The '80s throwback vibe of the 2000s has run its course and everyone's looking for the next decade to be nostalgic about, as evidenced by this year's countless reunions of high profile '90s rock bands, ranging from My Bloody Valentine, Refused, At the Drive In, The Pixies, The Toadies and Garbage. Most of the other top '90s rock bands have either died (rest in peace, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and the Beastie Boys) or wish they had died (cough Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis and Pearl Jam cough).
Still, there is one surprising survivor of the '90s rock scene that never broke up, went on hiatus or stopped releasing new music. Chicago-bred Local H has somehow avoided the fate that befell so many of their peers. The two-piece rock outfit, composed of Scott Lucas and Brian St. Claire, has long since bucked the "Nirvana-light" tag that hung on to them in their earlier career. They've even shed their "one hit wonder" status bestowed upon them by their one radio staple, "Bound for the Floor," and its classic chorus: "And you just don't get it / You keep it copacetic." Instead, Local H spent most of the 2000s releasing new albums, playing creative tours (such as their "all requests tour" where fans chose the entire setlist via a sushi menu) and even auctioning shows on eBay.
Local H struck a special chord in the midst of my cliched, angsty teen years. They had all the aggression and pissed-off attitude of Nirvana and other grunge bands, but with a distinctive Midwestern quality. They weren't from some distant punk scene in New York City or Seattle. These guys were singing songs about growing up bored in shitty little Midwestern towns! Now here was some punk rock I could relate to! Some years later, before their show this past Wednesday, Sept. 19, I was fortunate enough to sit down with singer/guitarist Scott Lucas at the Waiting Room to discuss their recently released album, Hallelujah! I'm a Bum!
The 17 songs on the new double record try to capture the atmosphere of uncertainty that surrounds the 2012 political environment. Lucas takes no sides or offers any solutions, skewering left- and right-wingers alike. He instead sees life through the eyes of Chicago's countless stray dogs and homeless men. Lucas explains that "stray dogs and homeless people are the two groups least likely to give a shit about politics. Right wing, left wing… they're just worried about their next bite of food."
The sense of urgency and apprehension is captured well by the production of Sanford Parker, a producer best known for his work with Chicago's metal scene (including such notables as Pelican, Nachtmystium, Yakuza and countless others). Lucas described the recording process as a fight to see who could come up with the gnarliest sounds.
"Oh, you think THAT'S a shitty guitar? Check out how shitty THIS guitar can get!" Lucas says. "And it never got to a point where anyone said uncle."
The resulting sound is instantly more abrasive and in-your-face than anything the band has recorded in years. Despite their amped-up aggression, Local H is still not a metal band, but Lucas found that he wanted to be a part of Chicago's metal scene anyway.
"They have their own studios, their own bars, their own hamburger joint, their own beer," he says. "If there was some kind of nuclear disaster, they'd be able to survive. That's kind of what metal is, it's survival music," a sentiment perfectly matched by the homeless narrators of the new record.
A great deal of emphasis was put on making Hallelujah a physical album, not a collection of singles with a bunch of filler.
"Once we realized it was going to be a double record, we started thinking, 'Let's let each disc have its own flow and personality.' If you get the vinyl, one is blue and one is red. There are a lot of themes going on about why: the political thing, the [Chicago] L-trains, one record has a lot of hot themes, one has a lot of cold themes." Lucas shrugs, "And I'm old, I like records."
Shortly after the interview, the house lights dimmed, and Local H tourmates Ambassadors opened. This Brooklyn four-piece began with an uptempo, keyboard driven sound, not unlike MGMT or Yeasayer, but quickly moved into a series of ballads that verged dangerously close to Hoobastank and Maroon 5 territory. They seemed an odd pairing with the no-frills attitude of Local H.
Then at last, the duo took the stage and kicked into a pair of new songs, followed immediately by "Bound for the Floor." The rest of the set followed a similar model of new material paired with classics. Lucas' unusual instrumentation, a guitar modified to play both guitar and bass parts, worked surprisingly well in a live context. Never once did their two-piece nature hinder the volume or aggression of their songs, but instead screamed and kicked with every ounce of intensity and attitude that made '90s rock great in the first place.
Eric Nyffeler is a Hear Nebraska contributor. He is not a Hear Nebraska intern. Reach him at email@example.com.