"It's like having a thing for Claudia Schiffer. You go to a bar, she's sitting there, and she starts hitting on you," laughs the former guitarist for Cleveland modern rockers Leo. As he recounts the formation of his new band, Dozen Dead Roses, his words register in toothy grins on the faces of the three bandmates huddled around him -- former Leo bassist Dan Griffith and ex-Signoffs guitarist Tim Long and drummer Kris Monroe. They look like drunks who've just had their bar tabs canceled.
Their happiness has been a long time coming. Though all are fresh from two of Cleveland's more successful bands, which had numerous dalliances with major labels and notable producers, the grind of trying to score a big-time record deal has taken its toll.
"As we started to get involved with producers, record labels, lawyers, and all this stuff, they kind of take your music and change it around and make it so that they know it's going to work when they shop it, because they're trying to get us a major-label deal," Long sighs from the band's practice space in Rock City Studios, a labyrinthine rehearsal complex nestled in a near West Side industrial neighborhood that Robocop would think twice before entering. "As that started to happen, the music just changed, and we're like, 'Maybe they know better than us. They've been doing this way longer than us, let's do what they tell us.' As that continued to happen, I think the love of the music just slowly dissipated."
"It was a really big internal struggle with me with the Signoffs for the past year," adds Monroe, a sinewy, amped-up guy whose heart might possibly pump Red Bull. "I lost pretty much the whole desire to play in the band about a year ago, but I kept going because I was afraid if I left, it would burn bridges with everyone. I didn't want to do that. I'm really close with the rest of the guys in the Signoffs. I didn't know that Tim felt the same way I did, and I found this out about two months ago."
The two decided to leave the band they had spent six years in and reconvened the Dozen Dead Roses, which had started as a side project between them and Zano in 2003, but had been inactive beyond a trio of shows, owing to the schedules of their full-time outfits. The only problem: Zano had just gone to St. Louis with Leo singer Ian Eddy to try and make a go of it in a new city.
"Two days after I got there, Tim called me and said that things weren't working out with the Signoffs, and he wanted me to come home," recalls Zano, his eyes playing hide-and-seek behind a veil of long black bangs. "I told Ian that I had to leave, and he kicked me out. I had to leave everything I owned there -- everything except for my amp, my P.A., a bag of clothes, and my car, which just broke down two days ago. So now, not only do I not have my personal possessions, I don't even have a fucking car."
What he does have is a fiery new band that mates rock bombast with punk snarl, an outfit much more combustible than any of the members' previous acts.
"I think that if the group stays focused on the essentials of hard work, team mentality, and a killer, take-all mentality, their collective creativity holds no bounds," says Mark O'Shea, the former tour manager for Nine Inch Nails and the Signoffs, who's now overseeing the Dozen Dead Roses.
The reconstituted lineup -- rounded out by former Ivet guitarist Mike Robs -- debuts with a live broadcast on WMMS Sunday at 10 p.m., followed by a show at the new House of Blues on Wednesday.
"It's kind of like a new beginning with this band," Monroe explains. "It's all about seeing a band and having it be an emotional release. A lot of the intensity is brought back. For my experience, it felt like it hadn't been there for a long time, for the past year or so. It feels really good to truly believe in something again."
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