Catching Up With Local H

by Michael Christopher


Unapologetically, Local H will not go away, nor change with the times. They’re staid in a box of loud guitars, tribal drumbeats, ragged screaming and sarcastic don’t-give-a-shit lyrical fingerpointing at the hypocritical, the elite, the slackers, and most recently, the President.

The two-piece from Illinois achieved their highest level of success in 1996, with the Seattle-sounding “Bound For the Floor” from their sophomore release As Good As Dead. Being labeled too late for the waning days of grunge or simply Nirvana wannabes did nothing but make singer/guitarist/bassist Scott Lucas turn up the knob even louder. Half the band left with drummer Joe Daniels’ exit almost five years ago, so Lucas forged ahead and found Brian St. Clair, who banged like Bonzo and maybe even a little more like Bill Ward. The duo makes more noise than most rock acts with four members, but they realize what was once a novelty has become all too familiar in a scene where garage rock means the fewer the instruments the better.

On the heels of this year’s covers-heavy (and just plain heavy) No Fun EP, Local H has a new record on deck, to be released when the right deal comes along—a wait which shouldn’t be more than a few ticks of the clock. Currently on tour, the band is readying their legendary Halloween gig in Chicago, where in past years they have dressed up and performed as, paid tribute to or mocked the likes of everyone from Nirvana to the Doors to ZZ Top. In the meantime, Lucas talked to PopMatters in depth about the clouded history of Daniels’ departure, why politics and rock never quite mix, and what George W. Bush has in common with Macaulay Culkin.

PopMatters: The new record is finished?

Scott Lucas: Yeah, it’s kind of all over the place—it’s fucked up. It’s noisier, and more extreme than, say, the last record was.

PM: What’s the label situation?

SL: We’re not sure who’s gonna put it out, we’re talking to people, as soon as we decide to get things going. One of the things is that we didn’t want to be put in the position where we’re waiting for another four years to put out a record.

PM: Ideally, when would you like to have it out?

SL: We’re probably looking at it coming out the beginning of next year.

PM: After Pack Up the Cats there was a lot going on personnel-wise within Local H; how did you approach recording Here Comes the Zoo?

SL: We tried to make a live sounding record, letting things grow and breathe like they would live. There was so much that was changing, I wanted to strip it down and get pretty basic with the record. I didn’t want any pop songs on it. It was all pretty dark and pretty straight ahead. We tried to present just ten rock songs—kind of like Back In Black. We just wanted to return to form.

PM: What happened with Joe [Daniels]? Did he leave? Was he dismissed?

SL: He just hadn’t been enjoying himself for awhile. When things like that happen, it affects everyone. It was pretty evident that he was gonna leave for awhile—he threatened to quit so many times. That wasn’t even a big deal. For a couple of weeks I was like “Aw shit—what I am I gonna do here?” Then I called up Brian, and we were on the road within a month.

PM: Did you ever think about just ending it, packing it in, and doing another project?

SL: Just a little bit. Then I thought, if I do something like that, it’s just going to be me riding the phones again anyway. I’d probably still play the rig, then the more you thought about it, it’s like: What’s the point? It’s going to sound like Local H anyway. I wasn’t ready to make a first record, I wanted to make a fourth record.

PM: Talking with Joe and with you separately, it seems like you were not only different personalities, but complete opposites in so many ways.

SL: That kind of personality difference and friction can create sparks, people are always talkin’ about things like that. But if you don’t enjoy it and you’re never happy…I just want to be surrounded by people that are glad to be out here and want to do this.

PM: There’s been such an emphasis on the Joe issue, not to bog you down with history questions, but it’s not like an Ozzy thing where you can interchange drummers without notice.

SL: We’re a two man band.

PM: Right, so you’re losing half of the band.

SL: We don’t really think about it much, but for a lot of people, it’s the first chance that they’re getting to ask us those questions. This issue is pretty old for us, but if someone hasn’t had the chance to ask us, we totally understand.

PM: How about the fans’ reaction, right after you made the switch?

SL: They were surprised. We knew that was going to happen, so we spent the beginning just kind of putting our head down and rocking. That was the price to be paid. After awhile, that stops.

PM: Your audience has remained largely the same over the years, disaffected teens who have smarts and a sense of humor about themselves and everything going on around them. What’s interesting is that there is a new group of teens who become fans each year, over all of the other music getting rammed down their throats. What do you think it is about Local H that separates them from the Linkin Parks out there?

SL: I think Linkin Park takes themselves seriously, like, really seriously—I don’t think there’s a whole lot of humor in that band. If I’m wrong—please point it out, but it’s deadly dull. There’s always gonna be a band that comes around and captures the ear of everybody…but you can’t capture the ear of everybody. I mean, I don’t own any of those records, and maybe some of the kids who listen to us do, but maybe they don’t wanna own those records. There should always be bands out there that not everybody listens to, but people that don’t want to listen to the record that has to sell seven million that year listen to—and there are tons of bands.

I really don’t know. I think maybe to people like that there’s something kind of homespun about us, that’s not such a professional thing. There’s always some kind of music that kids are gonna want to listen to.

PM: How do you keep in touch with your youth? What gets you up there in a gorilla suit on-stage [Six Ways to Sunday Tour, 2001] or doing the Halloween thing each year?

SL: I really like to play. That’s all there is to it. It’s fun to do.

PM: What’s the plan for Halloween this year?

SL: Ahhhh…I’m not sure yet, we’ve got a couple of ideas.

PM: There’s rumors of Bruce Springsteen…

SL: Yes—there are rumors…that’s probably what it’s gonna be. That could be really funny.

PM: Is there anything that you’ve found you can’t pull off as a duo live?

SL: There’s things, but we always find our way around it. If there’s a guitar solo to be done, we just have somebody play it. There are a lot of people that are playing as duos now, and I think that all those people are showing that there are a lot of things you can do with the format. I always knew it was a great idea, and I think all these people are proving that it’s a great idea.

PM: When you hear of a band like the White Stripes getting all of these accolades, and how inventive it is when they’re doing this garage thing as just a two-piece, do you ever think, where was this attention back in 1995?

SL: I’m jealous of them more for how many records they sell and how many people like them. I mean, we certainly didn’t invent it—the Flat Duo Jets have been around a lot longer than we have, and no one ever brings those guys up. Now that the White Stripes are out there, there are so many bands that are coming in their wake…it kind of makes it a little less fun being in a two-piece. Maybe on the next record we’ll tour as a full band.

PM: Do you ever seriously consider adding another full-time member?

SL: I haven’t, but this new record is pretty complex and pretty fucked up so maybe we will. It’s not that the White Stripes make me feel this way, it’s just all the bands that are coming out behind them. It’s like, all right, I guess we don’t really need to do this anymore. The world is safe—there’s plenty of these guys out there.

PM: There’s a certain recognition when you mention the name “Local H,” a band that’s not going to change their sound to go with the times, a band that is sticking to rock. Some people call you “keepers of the grunge club flame.” Are you happy if that becomes your legacy?

SL: I respond to bands that do what they want to do and stick to their guns. The most obvious examples of that would be AC/DC…and Motorhead—I love bands like that. I also love bands that play around with what they do, but kind of wait for other people to come to them, that don’t blow up right away. An obvious example of that would be REM. I don’t know if we’re ever gonna blow up big, or what’s ever gonna happen to us, but I think that we’re in a place right now where we’re comfortable with where we are, and as long as we can keep making records. We can change, but I wouldn’t want to change in the ways that would be obvious for commercial appeal. I’d want to change for real reasons. Nothing wrong with making rock records.

PM: What was behind releasing the No Fun EP?

SL: We were talking about putting something out overseas, and the guys from Thick [Records] found out we were doing it, and they wanted to put it out here. It wasn’t even really designed to come out here.

PM: Were you surprised with the positive buzz that it generated when it came out—especially for an EP?

SL: Yeah, I kinda was surprised, just because EPs are always treated as second fiddle throwaway type of things that don’t matter. It’s kind of fun to do an EP; you can approach it differently, you can put covers on there—something we would never do on a full length. You don’t expect anyone to take it seriously, so that was kind of nice.

PM: How did you go about choosing the covers?

SL: Just songs that we liked and thought we’d like to do. The Godfathers song [“Birth, School, Work, Death”] we always loved and we were playin’ it for a little bit. The Ramones thing [“I Just Want Something to Do”] just came from watching Rock and Roll High School a lot lately.

PM: “President Forever” is as critical as you’ve gotten politically in Local H, though the band has always been critical of the indie scene elite, small town mentalities—but on a national scale, especially now, did you have any reservations about putting it out?

SL: No. I mean, we were putting this out when the whole Iraq thing was starting to happen. Originally the EP only had five songs, and I wanted to get in there before we mixed and record this song. If that [the war] wasn’t going on, I wouldn’t have pushed to get it out, because it did piss me off that no one was saying anything. Ever since 9/11 no one had the guts to say that Bush is still a fuckin’ moron—and I don’t care what happens—he’s an idiot. I just don’t like him as a person, I think he’s a fuckin’ spoiled brat—and the fact that no one was supposed to say that, I think is ridiculous.

PM: It seems like when people did, they were criticized for it. Look at Lenny Kravitz and the Beastie Boys doing a song—or even as extreme as what the Dixie Chicks did, were you concerned about any of that type of backlash?

SL: No, not really, because I don’t really think anybody really gives a shit about us anyway. It doesn’t really differ from what we do all the time. I think it’s pretty funny, and it just kind of portrays Bush as like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone; he’s been given the keys to the White House, and he can do whatever he wants. To me that’s a funny idea.

A lot of songs that are political take themselves way too fuckin’ seriously—I think that’s part of the problem why people are afraid to do those things. One, you’re not supposed to, because since the ‘90s, rock isn’t supposed to be very political. Two, when people do those things, they are just embarrassing. It would be nice to see people doing things more like the Clash did. Even Rage Against the Machine always got criticized, like “How can you say these things when you’re on a major label?” It’s like; well, fuck it. Who cares? Let them say those things. It’s nice that there was some band out there that at least had the guts to say those things on record and in songs.

PM: So how hard is it, with a band like Local H, to say something political and not compromise your sound, as some of these groups that we’ve mentioned have—avoiding embarrassment.

SL: You just try not to take it too seriously. To write a song about a poke head fuck-up is not to far from our usual subject matter.

PM: As a band you’ve survived member departures, label changes, and continuous musical tastes shifting. What’s the one record that you’re chasing that keeps you going? Do you feel like you have yet to make your Back In Black?

SL: What I always like to do is look at a band like Led Zeppelin and watch how they would change from record to record, and keep trying to change like that. I’m just always interested in seeing where we’re gonna go next.

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