"People don't want to talk about sex, drugs and alcohol anymore," sighs Jeremy Lublin, singer for Toledo's glam-punk upstarts, We Are the Fury.
"We were playing on the Warped tour and I said something about drinking and drugs, and it was like taboo. Kids were booing. Now, granted, we were in Salt Lake City, but I'm thinking, 'You're not only at a rock show; you're at a punk rock show!'"
He's talking from Phoenix, as his band's stint on Warped mercifully winds down. "Most of the bands on Warped are screamo [screaming + emo] or pop-punk. There's not a lot of room for variation," he sighs.
Greener or at least better pastures await them as they tour the rest of the summer with Silverchair, the former Australian teenage-grungesters who have since reinvented themselves as string-soaked, glam-friendly pop expressionists. "We got their new CD [Young Modern] from our manager and it's been the disc we've listened to the most in the van so far this tour."
Their manager, by the way, is Doug Banker, the Michigan rock legend best known for shepherding Ted Nugent's career. At one point, he managed everyone from Mötley Crüe to Bon Jovi. Not the manager you'd expect for a band of 24-year-olds, but he is a guy who manages good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll bands that stick around. (Hey, there's a reason Kid Rock went with Bob Seger's manager and not Korn's, people. It might be their job, but it's the band's career.)
"We had young managers," Lublin admits, "and they were always trying to fit us into this little box of what's going on now the whole screamo, pop-punk thing. Because that's what's happening right now. We always saw ourselves as a rock band first."
There aren't many outlets for a young band that has more in common with Roxy Music than Refused. Still, they're finding ways to reach an audience, slowly but surely. On the East Coast, Lublin says, they sell out clubs there but draw 50-100 people everywhere else.
Still, the WATF story should offer hope to any Midwestern band that dedication, decent songs and the almighty Internet can make things happen. Early demos recorded at Ann Arbor's 40 oz. Studios posted on purevolume.com caught the ear of hungry A&R types in L.A., mostly because they were sick of hearing the pop-punk screamo bands and they couldn't believe a bunch of kids made classic rock stuff they'd actually want to hear.
L.A. showcases followed with the kinds of guys ("douche bags," Lublin laughs) who signed here-today/hair-gone-tomorrow bands like Limp Bizkit. WATF had nothing to lose, so they signed instead with purevolume.com's One Big Spark indie label, which graduated them to East/West two years ago.
Early tours were the stuff of predictable baby-band misery. Faced with yet another gig where the wait- and bartending staff could outnumber the audience in El Paso, Texas, Lublin and company headed to the mall with a box of CDs. "We had a boom box and headphones. We'd walk up to anybody who looked cool and we're like, 'You look like you might be into this ...'" he recalls. "We'd make enough to cover gas money to the next town."
Lublin and the rest of the band younger brother Stephan on drums, guitarist Chris Hatfield, bassist Alan Hoffar and keyboardist Todd Wehrle still live with their parents in suburban Toledo.
"During the past five months, we've only been home a total of four weeks," sighs Lublin. They grew up going to shows at Frankie's and the Main Event, heading up I-75 for bigger shows. "I remember going to see Glassjaw at St. Andrew's in 2002," the elder Lublin sighs, adding "and it still blows my mind that we wind up working with Daryl Palumbo." Palumbo, former Glassjaw frontman and now head of Automatica, was an early WATF champion who, likewise, evolved from the screamo scene to more timeless rock 'n' roll.
Although Palumbo co-produced and sang on tracks on the band's debut Venus disc, it's still largely a local effort, recorded with Tim Patalan (Sponge, Hoarse) on his farm outside Saline. "We demoed a bunch of stuff at a studio in L.A., but we hated it. Tim's is a lot more conducive to making music. You take a break from recording, and there's horses walking around."
Ironic, because Venus sounds more like something you'd hear strutting down Hollywood Boulevard with a good buzz on as opposed to burping up chicken-fried steak in a Denny's parking lot in Saline. Full of Bowie/Roxy Music swagger, but more importantly if only the kids likewise outgrowing screamo and pop-punk can get it it's got depth.
Lublin's nasally staccato croon is perfect. And it's saved from being perfectly annoying (see: Ima Robot) by the group's solid arrangements, chewy guitar punch (Hatfield's the quiet hero of the band) and enough eccentricities (the younger Lublin's over-the-top drumming; oddball piano-synth lines from Wehrle) to make Venus more than an homage it's an accomplishment. As Lublin sings on "Now You Know": "You've got your make-up on, rock 'n' roll Vietnam" ... which might as well be the album's mission statement.
"With a lot of music, everything's just really lateral. With us, we've got kazoo on some songs; there might be a synth line you don't even really pick up on until you've heard the album like four or five times. Most bands try to make a single and write a hook and get it on the radio, which is fine. But the albums I like are the ones you just hit play and listen to all the way through."
"Oh, Queen's A Night at the Opera, or Bowie's Hunky Dory or Ziggy Stardust. Or T. Rex's Electric Warrior and The Slider."
WATF's progression from aggro-punk to future-glam, Lublin explains, just made sense for a bunch of nerds raised on classic rock radio in the Midwest.
"We just felt a connection to that," he begins. "We like really good songs that you can sing along to. We connect with that. And the whole androgynous thing is probably because we were never jocks in high school," he laughs.
Venus could do for the Warped kids what, say, Buckcherry did for the post-grunge alt-rock scene 10 years ago, putting hair on its balls and liner on its eyes.
"There's the hipster scene with Modest Mouse and the Decemberists, which are really good bands, but it's more like art and folk," observes Lublin. "And then there's the My Chemical Romance, Fall-Out Boy, 'parentally controlled, whining-and-moping-about girl problems' bands. To me, that's not really what rock 'n' roll is. It should have more of that let-loose vibe."
To that end, check out "Still Don't Know Your Name," a narrative about having sex with a girl in a car without knowing her name, but, lest things get too cock-rock, running into her again and the mix of accompanying awkwardness and excitement.
"All bands draw on the past Bowie even borrowed from doo-wop. We just wanted to do something that sounds really different coming out now, but also trying to make it more aggressive and modern," says Lublin. "It's why some people say we sound like My Chemical Romance and some people hear Bowie. As long as they hear it, we're happy."
Friday, Aug. 3, at St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E. Congress, Detroit; 313-961-MELT; with Silverchair; 7 p.m.
Hobey Echlin is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]