PopMatters Books Editor
If the members of Boston’s Click Five could find a way to bottle their collective confidence, they’d never to need sell another record to pay the rent. Just check out the homepage photo on the band’s website—lead singer Eric Dill has a look so self-assured, complete with semi-smirk and cool head tilt, that you’d think he and his band of suited 20-somethings were about to rumble with the Sharks.
Whether it’s a constructed coolness or the result of a band with supreme belief in its virtue is beside the point—whatever these guys are doing and whatever the reason, it’s working. Right now the Click Five are everywhere, from teen beat TV staples TRL and Fuse to Conan and Jimmy Kimmel. They’ve hit venues from Sacramento to Richmond, showing off what they call their very own brand of New School Power Pop.
The hectic schedule has paid off. The Click Five’s debut CD, Greetings From Imrie House, hit the Billboard charts at number 15, the highest charting debut of a new rock act this year. The CD also makes the band Lava’s highest debuting act since the label began. Not bad for former Berklee students (Dill attended Indiana’s Purdue), and a step in the right direction towards Dill’s objective—“to be the biggest new band in the world”.
In the midst of the touring madness, and on the eve of Imrie‘s release, Click Five’s keyboardist, Ben Romans, spoke to PopMatters about music, marketing, screaming fans, and just what it feels like to be on the brink of mega-stardom.
“It’s an exciting time,” Romans said, preparing for the band’s recent Conan appearance. “I think at this point [getting the record out] is more relieving than anything. We finished it around Christmas, so a lot of people have been asking, ‘Are you nervous?’ and ‘Is there pressure?’ I’m thinking right now it’s just going to be a relief, because from here on all we can do is just keep doing what we’re doing and let it unfold.”
What the Click Five is doing is bringing the power pop from the late 1970s and early 1980s to a modern audience. Imrie House is bursting with catchy songs about young love and Friday nights on the town. It’s not rocket science, by any means, something Romans is aware of. In fact, the classically trained keyboardist is decidedly down to earth. He’s excited about the new release, but in discussing the band’s style, and its objectives, he sounds more like a marketing exec that a future pop star. He matter-of-factly expounds on the psychology of young female fans, and the reasons behind the Click Five’s suits and mop-top haircuts, both clear strategies to get the boys noticed amid the current flood of pop/rocks acts.
It’s not about selling out; it’s just common sense. Though Romans considers the Click Five’s style quite different from other acts on pop radio, he’s aware that in order to be heard, certain measures have to be taken. “It’s very important [to stand out], otherwise people aren’t going to be able to hear this kind of music. We took a lot of influences from 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and now. Kind of all these elements of things that we liked, we put them into one big melting pot. Conceptually we looked at what we were doing and we were aware of what we wanted to go for. We’re definitely a rock band, but we wanted to market ourselves towards the pop audience to try to bring that back into the spotlight.”
As important as marketing is for Romans, the music drives every band-made decision. Without the confidence that their chosen style is something young music fans can get behind, no amount of marketing ploys would secure the numbers of music fans these boys are aiming to impress. Romans and his bandmates make their music based on power pop influences of the past—essentially, they’re recreating the musical styles they’ve discovered and learned to love throughout their school days.
Romans was raised on classical music. He discovered the Beatles and the Beach Boys during his teens, while tracing the musical roots of some of his favorite contemporary acts. He found inspiration in Brian Wilson’s “profound” melodies, and credits the Beach Boys’ composer with influencing his own particular style of melody crafting. According to Romans, most Click Five members are Beatles nuts. “Joe [Guese; guitar], for example, the first record he ever got was Sgt. Pepper, ever since then he’s been a Beatles fan. I grew up on classical and got into pop later.”
Romans found inspiration, too, from a very specific era of influential pop—years 1977 through 1982. He credits his band’s producer for the introduction and noted its effect on Click Five material. “It’s a lot of the [same] power pop stuff: loud guitars, harmonies, melodies.” He says he and his Click Five band mates felt less of a connection with bands from the period than identification. In other words, the music of Kiss and the Cars resembled the kind of music they wanted to play. It makes sense, then, for the Click Five to attempt to build a similar kind of association with its young fans.
Romans said he and his band mates connected with those older acts because many of them weren’t afraid to be “kind of goofy with some of the production”. This works for the Click Five as Romans said the guys are “all about having fun”. Instead of Kiss’s unrepentant sexual energy backed up by some ultra-lusty lyrics, Imrie House is jammed with cute lines about dating and young love. This power pop is for a decidedly younger age group. How else do you explain these lyrics on “Friday Night”:
Wearing night clothes never felt so cold, / Wish we were a little older, / Restless souls, / I cant hold this ladder for too long, / Wont you open up your window, / Come outside on Friday night, / Baby are you sleeping, / Friday night, / My heart is still beating, / It’s alright, / Curfew’s gonna break my heart, / So come and meet me in the dark.
If you can overlook the creepy stalker vibe, it’s clearly an ode to unrequited teen romance. The same theme shows up on “Pop Princess” (“Pop princess make me smile, / Pop princess drive me wild”) and “Catch Your Wave” (“When I turned sixteen, / That’s when I started to dream, / I chased you around in memories”). Look hard enough and you’ll find just a hint of hormonal attitude tucked safely from parental view, such as the reference to “los[ing] love in bed” on “Time Machine”, and teenage teasing on “Catch Your Wave”, and the not so subtle “I grab my bat and I’m back in the game” on “Angel to You (Devil to Me)”, written for the band by, of all people, Paul Stanley. There’s a cleverness to these more grown up lyrics, too—they’re rare enough not to threaten too seriously, but their placement should nonetheless satisfy some teen dreams.
Romans is aware of the importance of this kind of subtle lyrical communication. He understands that his band is more likely to appeal to younger audiences, but not because of any suggestive lyrics. For Romans the young fans respond to the Click Five’s deliberate optimism. “There are only a few things like music, entertainment, sports, politics that can stir emotions. It’s a psychology. And I think [the young fans] just want to invest in something that has changed them somehow or in some way. At that age things are very exciting. And if there’s something that helps them stay positive, they’re going to want to invest their time and energy in whatever it is that guides that emotion. In this case, it’s expressed in signs and t-shirts and a lot of enthusiasm.”
Are the Click Five concerned that their positive image will encourage resistance from more hardcore rock fans? Not at all, according to Romans. “That’s our thing,” he said. “For so long it hasn’t been cool to be happy, but this band are like, you know what? Whatever. Let’s just go out there and do it. It’s about time for something positive.”
Despite the band’s confident appearance and their strict belief in their fun philosophy, Romans admits the guys had real doubts about setting their sights on music careers. “When we started out, we were like, ‘Are we out of our minds? Are we foolish? Are we completely mad?’ But, no, I think at this point we’re ready to do it. But it is kind of scary.” Romans is thrilled at the positive response to the band, but said now and again he and his band mates have to pinch themselves that the dream is happening. “It’s definitely very unreal. Like today—we’re gonna do Conan O’Brien; times like that you’re like, what?”
The accolades and appearance, though, haven’t changed the boys according to Romans. “We haven’t really changed what we do from when we were playing in front of a few people in a club and practicing really hard to what we’re doing now. Yes, it’s on a bigger scale, but the work ethic is the same. I think if we ever stopped working, if we were ever just satisfied completely… I mean we’re satisfied, but if we were ever, ‘Okay, we’ve made it,’ then it would be all over. What really keeps us going is constantly setting more goals, that’s what got us going in the first place. You have to remember that.”
For now, though, the goal is to continue spreading the word. Where it goes from there, Romans can only guess. “Right now, we’re gonna promote the thing as much as possible. We’re gonna tour as much as possible. And you know I’m sure if it goes well, things are gonna get crazier and crazier.”