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Escape From L.A. 

An Akron pop group returns with a new name, a new album, and a new outlook

For years, Kira Leyden tried to fit her bands into Northeast Ohio's music scene, which can be somewhat stifling if you don't play metal, punk, hard rock, or some variation on them. First with Jaded Era and now with the Strange Familiar, Leyden, along with bandmate and husband Jeff Andrea, has made the type of polished, radio-ready pop that dominates the charts whenever R&B boys and girls are too busy to get one of their hip-hop pals on the line. It's the kind of music you really don't hear too often in local clubs, outside of a few cover bands or DJs spinning a couple tunes for the drunken bridesmaids party.

"We started out playing covers of No Doubt with these death-metal bands," says Leyden. "We felt pressure trying to fit in, like How do we rock hard enough to play with these other bands? But we finally found our own thing."

The Strange Familiar are set to release their full-length debut, Chasing Shadows, next month. It's been a long time coming: Six years ago, Leyden and Andrea formed the band from the ashes of Jaded Era — the same time Ashlee Simpson took a cover version of their song "Invisible" to No. 21.

They've stayed busy, placing the song "Courage Is ..." — from their 2008 EP You Can't Go Back — on The Secret Life of the American Teenager (the show starring the actress who played George Clooney's oldest daughter in The Descendants) and appearing on America's Got Talent two years ago.

They also relocated from Cuyahoga Falls to Los Angeles around the same time things started heating up. "We wanted to get a fresh start with the new band," says Leyden. "We stayed out there four years, trying to find our voice. But we got too comfortable there — we wanted to shake things up again."

Now back in Cuyahoga Falls, and with Chasing Shadows set to come out on April 10, the group is revving up with a new single, "Being Me," which is making the airplay rounds from MTV to radio. They just played South by Southwest and have a CD-release show at Musica on April 27. In other words: They're doing just fine being themselves these days. "When we were in Jaded Era, we thought we had to do it all," says Leyden. "But we peeled all that off. It's OK to be who we are."

ALL THE GNEWS THAT FITS: We don't like to play favorites around here ... ah, who are we kidding? Of course we do! And we love us some Mr. Gnome. One of Cleveland's bestest bands just released a two-song, seven-inch EP called Softly Mad. The lead cut from it, "The Way," is all moody goodness, as Nicole Barille and Sam Meister spend five minutes defying gravity's pull before slowly falling back to safe ground. Mr. Gnome also just unveiled their cool new video for the song "House of Circles," which can be found on last year's excellent Madness in Miniature — their third album, their best album, and our favorite Cleveland album of 2011. The band's current tour stops at the Beachland Ballroom on April 20.

INDUCTION UPDATE: The Rock Hall unveiled the list of presenters who'll be coming to Public Hall on April 14 for the induction ceremony: Chuck D, John Mellencamp, Stevie Van Zandt, Bette Midler, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, Carole King, Robbie Robertson, Smokey Robinson, and, best of all, Chris Rock, who will induct his pals the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Rock Hall says more names will be added later.

More by Michael Gallucci

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