BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
This month marks the 25th anniversary of hometown rock duo Local H, but don’t buy frontman Scott Lucas anything — unless it’s the band’s new record “Hey Killer,” which came out Tuesday. Other than a special show Sunday and a nostalgic timeline he recently put together, Lucas just wants to focus on moving forward.
LOCAL H When: 7 p.m., April 19 Where: Metro Chicago, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: $13 (in advance) Info: (773) 549.0203; etix.com
“To me it’s all about what’s the next thing,” he says. “I can’t worry about the past or the future. I can only focus on making things good right now.” And things really couldn’t be better with a new drummer (Minneapolis indie vet Ryan Harding) and new album that has Local H sounding more polished than ever on the silver anniversary.
“Hey Killer” is the first album since 2012’s “Hallelujah! I’m A Bum” and the first to feature Harding who replaces long-time drummer Brian St. Clair after he departed in late 2013 to focus on continuing work with Cheap Trick and recovering from cancer. It’s also the first album Lucas has recorded since his health scare after a brutal mugging and choking in Russia in 2013 left his vocal chords severely damaged.
“I think it’s where it needs to be,” Lucas says of his voice today, which was helped along by the MusiCares Foundation that paid for mounting medical costs. “I maybe can’t sing as high as I did when I was 26, but I don’t want to. I listen to old records and I’m like, ‘You sound ridiculous.’ ”
Listening the band’s seven albums over the past few months has given Lucas pause to chronologically catalog the entire history of the band on LocalH.com, beginning with the first-ever show — an Earth Day celebration at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater’s cafeteria on April 20, 1990 (nearly 25 years to the date of this Sunday’s show at Metro).
Back then, the band was a four-piece featuring original drummer Joe Daniels, bassist Matt Garcia and short-lived guitarist John Sparkman. Lucas had known most of them from Zion-Benton High School when he and Garcia played in a group called Rude Awakening.
“There was this tight punk rock brigade back then,” Lucas says of the crew that also included Gabe Rodriguez, Local H’s unofficial third member who does all the band’s merchandising, runs their current indie label G&P records and plays ancillary percussion at live shows. “A lot of the ideas they had in high school are still ideas I take to heart, like don’t take yourself too seriously and rock stars are bull—-.”
That ethos has stuck with Local H over the last two decades, even as increasing exposure had the band balking at the pressure of conforming to industry standards. They lost a record deal in the ’90s for remaining a duo after Garcia left, and subsequently found popularity for biting tracks like “Eddie Vedder” and the pandering “California Songs,” about all the local bands jumping ship to the coasts— something that Lucas never had any intent to do, especially coddling the local music scene that was so important to him.
He throws out names like Cheap Trick and The Jesus Lizard, Red Red Meat and bands they toured with such as St. Clair’s old group Triple Fast Action and Fig Dish who will reunite to open Sunday’s show. “They almost meant more to me than a group like Led Zeppelin,” says Lucas. For similar reasons, Lucas was also keen to hire Harding because he was from the Midwest, and fan Harding jumped at the chance to move to Chicago. “I figured why not be in the same place so we can get some work done,” he says. The two will embark on a national tour this month, intent to keep some things the same.
“The core ideas of the band are the same now as they were from the beginning,” says Lucas. “Try to make songs that rock, try to make good records and try to come up with hooks that reel you in. That’s it.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.