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Cover Story: Local H • “Navigating The Maze”

| September 30, 2021 | 0 Comments

Local H (Ryan Harding and Scott Lucas)

 

Local H are lifers. That much should be evident to even those with only a casual knowledge of the band’s career over their 30-plus year history. The band consists of singer/songwriter/guitarist Scott Lucas and drummer Ryan Harding, who released their debut record Ham Fisted back in 1995, followed by As Good As Dead a year later. On the second record, Local H broke out on the strength of the inescapable “Bound for the Floor,” which dominated alternative radio in the ‘90s and is still a staple of rock stations today. From there, a steady stream of full-lengths followed, including 1998’s Pack Up the Cats, Here Comes the Zoo (2002), Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? (2004), Twelve Angry Months (2008), Hallelujah! I’m A Bum (2012 ), and 2015’s Hey, Killer.

The band added to that list in April of 2020 with the release of their ninth album, Lifers, a record that opens swinging at MAGA supporters in Local H’s fanbase (“Patrick Bateman”). The agitation continues on the infectious “High, Wide and Stupid” and simultaneously moody and groove-laden “Winter Western.” Elsewhere, Lucas delivers acoustic introspection on “Sunday Best,” with lyrics like “Got some good in me and I got something bad / Got my mom in me, and I got some of dad” and “Am I really all I used to be? / I don’t know / You got somewhere else you’d rather be / You should go.” And in the spirit of many strong finishing tracks in the band’s catalog, album closer “Innocents” blends a psychedelic spirit with Local H’s trademark pop-thrash.

“Yeah. It’s funny because there was no plan B,” Scott Lucas affirms of the album’s title and his lifelong approach to music. “I don’t have any retirement plans. [This work] doesn’t have any of that kind of stuff. And even when I was a kid, it was [that] thing where you’re in high school, and the guidance counselor is like, ‘Well, what’s your plan B?’ And you’re like, ‘I don’t have a plan B.’ I don’t know what the alternative would have been.”

In addition to a consistent release schedule of full-lengths, EPs, live albums, cover albums, side projects, and more, “Lifersalso applies to Local H’s two and a half decades of regular touring. The band is in the van and on the road as they resume their long-delayed tour supporting last year’s record when I connect with Lucas over Zoom.

“It’s weird, man. It’s strange,” Lucas shares when I ask how the live dates have been going. “I never thought I’d see a tour like this. The attendance is spotty, and it’s all these kinds of things. And then every place is different. It’s fucked up.”

Not surprisingly, Local H’s journey to getting back on the road after the past year and a half has been challenging. To fully understand where the band is now, you have to go back to the beginning of last year. In February of 2020, Local H was simultaneously promoting the then-forthcoming Lifers record and the band’s cross-country run of dates through Mid-March supporting Soul Asylum, including a Valentine’s Day performance at Metro. The tour would make it almost to the end, with only the four final dates (San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Oklahoma City) canceled.

In a March 15th post on the band’s Facebook page, the pandemic’s unfortunate impact on the music industry was already coming into focus. “(I)f the (health) experts are right, and no one is paying attention to them? Some of these bands and venues will never be back,” read the band’s post from that day. It’s a sentiment that was clearly in the forefront of my mind and for Local H regarding everything that would come after.

With tours grounded for a then-unknown amount of time, Lucas soon took to Facebook Live for the first of many streaming performances, meeting the mood of the new shelter-in-place mandate with a somber rendition of Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Though Local H’s pandemic live streams were instantly well-received, they almost didn’t happen.

“I’m glad people responded to it, but it was just as much for me as anybody else,” the singer admits of the Facebook Live broadcasts. “At first, I was kinda like, ‘Ahh, nobody wants this.’ And I think I was thinking; I saw Melissa Etheridge do one. I was like, ‘Well, she beat everybody to it. That’s it. Why should anybody else do it?’ And then, one day, my girlfriend and I had had a couple of drinks and said, ‘All right, let’s do a BOC cover.’ And it just went from there.”

A veritable jukebox of covers would follow, from The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” and Foreigner’s “Long, Long Way from Home” to Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones. A number of the live stream covers, including Blondie’s “Dreaming,” Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again,” and “Hackensack” by Fountains Of Wayne, would make their way onto the duo’s new Local H’s Awesome Quarantine Mixtape #3, the latest in their series of covers-focused releases.

“The day that happened, it was obvious that it was going to have to be a Fountains Of Wayne cover because of (Fountains Of Wayne frontman) Adam’s (Schlesinger) passing,” Lucas shares about choosing “Hackensack” for the live stream series and Mixtape #3. “And there’s something about the chorus of…‘Hackensack,’ that whole, ‘But I will wait for you / As long as I need to,’ it’s so sad. And it just seemed to lend itself to a RIP type of tribute. I mean, I wasn’t going to do “Radiation Vibe,” or I didn’t want to do a happy Fountains Of Wayne song.”

Not long after Lucas’ solo streams began, he and Harding had come together for a series of live stream performances that doubled as rehearsals for the virtual record release party for **Lifers in April 2020. The duo also performed Local H’s fifth album, Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles, in its entirety as a live stream.

By this time, it was becoming clear that the live stream model would be a regular part of Local H’s schedule while waiting to return to traditional touring. In addition to the **Lifers virtual release show, the band also activated several other virtual events, including sets on the rooftop of the Empty Bottle, on the sidewalk outside of Metro, at Lincoln Hall for local-based streaming company Audiotree, as part of JBTV’s Revolution Television Virtual Festival, and many more. Lucas also delivered a virtual guitar lesson for “Sunday Best” over Facebook in May last year.

Not content to perform in isolation for a virtual audience, Local H also fully embraced the drive-in theater concert, starting with its “Bound For The Drive-In” event, two sold-out shows in June 2020 at the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-in Theatre in Gibson City, IL. The event would get a sequel that September with “Bound For The Drive-In 2” at the Skyline Drive-In in Shelbyville, IN. Though not as frequent as the virtual streaming shows, the drive-in model would recur, with the band’s “Live From The Lot” event last May in Schaumburg. The drive-in performances also earned Local H a summer 2020 feature article in  Forbes.

Yet while live streams and drive-ins helped fill the void left by traditional touring, by early 2020, as the hopeful promise of vaccines came into focus, the band began dropping the hashtag #LIFERSRELAUNCH while hinting about a return to the road in support of the album. By March 2021, one year after canceling the tail end of their winter 2020 tour, Local H had announced a return to the road beginning in late summer. Yet, like everything since spring of 2020, it wasn’t that straightforward. In the months that followed, and even in recent weeks, the band was still navigating last-minute cancellations and postponements as the uneven reality of touring in 2021 became evident.

Giving up and staying home was never an option, as Lucas explains. “I think there’s a lot of clubs that we’ve played, and the thinking with these clubs is if they have to shut down again, they’re not gonna make it. And I agree with clubs that are trying to do the right thing and are trying to stay open. And I’m happy to be there or help in any way we can by just playing. I agree with that. And I also agree with, we tried shutting everything down, and I’m not sure how much that helped anything. Because people are like ‘We’re trying to protect…patrons and the customers,’ and half those people don’t give a fuck. And half those people are never going to give a fuck, and they don’t appreciate the sacrifices those clubs made. And now those people are complaining that they’ve got to show proof of getting [vaccinated], and they’re bitching about it. And I’m like, ‘Fuck you.’ What else are these people supposed to do?”

With all the challenges the past year and a half have brought, especially when it comes to touring, Lucas knows that Local H has some advantages that many other artists don’t. “The thing about us is there’s just two of us, so we’re able to sort of pivot and do things a lot easier than bands with bigger crews,” the frontman offers.

That said, the touring landscape in 2021 is still far from easy, even for a more adaptable operation like Local H. “I don’t know what people are supposed to do. You know, I feel like smaller bands are getting fucked, and it seems to me like the big festivals are doing fine. I didn’t see them having a hard time getting people to Lollapalooza. I don’t see people having a hard time with big stadium shows. So I don’t understand why small clubs and indie bands are supposed to fucking stay home.”

In addition to its unpredictability, Local H’s current tour also stands out from past treks in another way. The band is currently touring for the first time behind a record that came out over a year ago, instead of the traditional model of syncing the record release and supporting tour to line up on the calendar. Lucas is aware of the unorthodox approach.  “It’s weird,” the frontman states again. “The way you do things is, (you) put out a record, and you start the tour on the day the record comes out. Or something like that. So doing this thing where you wait a year, we’re like, ‘How do you do that?’ But we were also thinking that it might be interesting because it’s going to be like the first time people have had a chance to live with the record. And maybe when we play new songs, people won’t be like, ‘What’s this? I don’t know this.’ Maybe it’ll be different. Maybe it’d be cooler. But it does feel weird to go on tour for a record that’s over a year old,” Lucas adds.

Still, for all of the challenges of the past year and a half, the band’s recent accomplishments are impressive. From the 2020 release of Lifers to this month’s release of Local H’s Awesome Quarantine Mixtape #3, featuring covers of artists like Prince (“When Doves Cry” acoustic and electric), Robert Plant (“Big Log”), Mark Lanegan (“Ugly Sunday”), and more. From the current long-delayed live dates to an ambitious and impromptu strategy of live stream performances and drive-in shows. Lucas, a long-time honorary third member of Local H Gabe Rodriguez, and other contributors even launched The LIFERS Podcast earlier this year. (“I learned it from watching you, dad,” Lucas quips, about his many appearances on my own Dynasty Podcasts Network over the years.)

With all those recent accomplishments, not to mention everything that came before, what’s left for Scott Lucas and Local H to achieve? “We’re talking about making a movie,” Lucas reveals when asked what’s still ahead of him. “So we wrote a first draft script for that. It’ll be kind of like a concert movie, but a concert movie mixed with (Richard Linklater’s 1990 landmark indie) Slacker and (Gaspar Noé’s 2002 psychological drama) Irréversible. I wouldn’t mind doing soundtracks. Just maybe movies are the future because this touring thing might not work out for us anymore.”

The unpredictable future of touring aside, one of Lucas’ many live streams from the past year and a half stood out while researching this article. On New Year’s Eve 2020, Lucas delivered an acoustic version of perhaps one of Local H’s best songs from their entire catalog: the ominous and menacing “What Would You Have Me Do?” from 2002’s Here Comes the Zoo. The song’s chorus repeats the line, “We’re beaten six ways till Sunday.” A line that stood out in sharp contrast to everything Local H and so many other artists, venues, creators, and small businesses have been through in the wake of the pandemic. Lucas and Harding proved they were anything but beaten in the face of this once-in-a-lifetime event that brought the live music industry to a screeching halt. From the second everything broke in March of 2020, Local H got back up again and again, delivering their music, connecting with fans, and supporting independent venues any way they could. The definition of goddamn lifers. But anyone who’s followed Local H already knew that from day one.

-Jaime de’Medici

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