Stevens, who works as a sales rep at JakPrints, has a clear-headedness about him that suggests sobriety has sharpened his focus. He talks about the reunion of the band, which will play its first show in more than a year on Saturday, Aug. 14, at the 5 O’Clock Lounge in Lakewood, with true enthusiasm one recent afternoon from the JakPrints offices where he works in downtown Cleveland. The group’s music has just become available on iTunes for the very first time too. And he’s jumpstarted his former record label, Ghost Laboratories, and is creating a content production company called Stevens Creative.
Stevens has been connected to the local music scene for years. He grew up with Stitch (Richard Thomas), another local musician who would join the local metal act Mushroomhead. Thomas always encouraged him to start a band.
“He ultimately pushed me to start playing guitar and play out,” says the wiry Stevens. “He said he would help me and he did. We’re still close friends and I really like all those guys.”
In 2004, Stevens formed Who Killed Marilyn?, a band whose emo-punk sound corresponded to what was popular at the time.
“People called us emo but I preferred the term alternative,” says Stevens. “Because we were young guys with died black hair, we had the look. We were in the scene. We had a good chance to play with [the alternative rock band] Thrice before they got big.”
Then with the metal band Dead Even, a group he was asked to join, he says he sharpened his guitar playing skills. After a couple of years with Dead Even and Who Killed Marilyn? — he played in the band simultaneously — he decided to take a break from music to attempt to complete the degree he had begun at the University of Akron.
“It was a big thing for me because I had dropped out of school three times,” he says. “Music burned me out and touring unsuccessfully for five years was tough. I was tired of eating Chex Mix and apples.”
But he couldn’t leave music behind, and the Missing started as a solo project in 2008; things quickly “skyrocketed.” The band put out two full-lengths, two EPs and a live album that it recorded at Groovebox Studios in Detroit. Stevens was featured in the film Long Way to the Top
, an indie movie featured in the Cleveland International Film Festival. “Prizefighter,” a track from last year’s White Gold
, features a mix of melodic vocals and heavy guitars that suggests a cross between early Social Distortion and ’90s nu-metal/alternative rock. The band appeared to be going somewhere and had high profile shows at Warped Tour and Roverfest.
But Stevens couldn’t stay sober.
Stevens didn’t drink until he was 22. But once he started drinking, he couldn’t stop. He says he can’t remember playing a show sober or working sober as a bartender at Peabodys. The Missing released an album that didn’t do very well and stopped touring. He became a recluse. In 2013, he realized he had a problem. He says all of his relationships were deteriorating.
“People thought I was the crazy frontman but they didn’t realize the amount that I drank,” he says. “We lost out on record label deals and management deals. I derailed so much progress. We had the opportunity to play with [the punk band] Everytime I Die. We played a show that we looked like as an audition for a spot on the tour. I played well but my post-show behavior ruined it for us. I feel that drinking ultimately led to the downfall of the Missing after we were being pushed to be the next big thing out of Cleveland. It’s a lot of guilt to carry.”
Now, the Missing is writing new songs and working on a new album, and Stevens also says he wants to take his solo career more seriously as well. Over the years, Stevens says he’s had opportunities to move to Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville to pursue his musical ambitions but chose to stay in Cleveland.
“With Cleveland, it’s cost-effective,” he says. “It’s expensive to have a band. From here, you can play Nashville, Chicago or New York. It’s centralized. And the scene is so small that if you do something of significance, you can get recognized. The weather sucks. My first sober winter was really hard. I never realized how cold it got. I would go to Browns during my drinking days wearing tennis shoes. Now, I have to bundle up.”
The Missing, Bloodshift, 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 15, The 5 O’Clock Lounge, 11904 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-4906. Free.
Five hundred sixteen days. That’s the number of days that Chris Stevens (formerly Christopher Marinin, the lead singer in the local rock band the Missing, has been sober. He knows the number. Ask him tomorrow, and he’ll tell you it’s 517 days. He doesn’t have to run the numbers in his head.