“The [Vanity Crash] singer was always doing theater and we just weren’t playing live enough; that would drive me crazy,” he says one recent afternoon from the band’s practice space, the finished basement belonging to drummer Harry Humphries where the band was about to rehearse for an upcoming show in support of its glam rock-inspired, high-energy new album, Let It Roll. “I wanted to start my own band. I tried to find whomever I could to start a band. I didn’t know if I could sing, so I just started writing songs and singing on my own.”
A trip to Las Vegas proved to be rather fortuitous. While waiting at the airport terminal to board a plane back to Cleveland, he saw this guy with long hair who had an “’80s look.” He ending up sitting next to him on the plane, and it turned out that he lived in Brunswick, five minutes from Hager. At that point, the Chromes were born.
“He was pretty good,” Hager says. “He was 19. He didn’t have a car or a job but from there, we just sat down and wrote songs. We brought people in for auditions and put a band together.”
The group put out its first CD in March 2012 and the band subsequently played a CD release show the following month. In the wake of that release party, the group went through a number of lineup changes before settling upon the current incarnation that includes Hager, Humphries, bassist Greg Boehnlein and guitarist Dennis Downey.
Two years ago, the Chromes signed a record deal with the local imprint Abydos Records and began assembling the songs that would make up its hard rocking new album, Let It Roll
. Some of the songs date back quite a few years.
“I was into glam rock for a really long time and was really into the New York Dolls,” says Hager. “I don’t know if these guys are as into the glam so we’ve started to get away from that a bit. But we like any classic sounding music. You can hear a Rolling Stones influence.”
“I like Chuck Berry — he’s one of the best guitar players ever,” says Downey. “I wanted to add some Berry-like licks and some Carl Perkins to the mix.”
When they went into the studio to record at Abydos Studios in Richmond Heights, they wanted to capture the band’s live sound.
“From the beginning, we wanted to capture a playing together sound and more of a ’70s sound,” says Hager “We started doing the basic tracks all live together. We replaced some things after that and put new guitars over it. We ended up with less of a live sound because we kept the drums from the original session.”
Producer Jeff McConocha, whom Brian says has a ’70s mentality,” helmed the project.
“We wanted a producer and engineer to get some outside perspective so Brian could focus on the artistic side of things,” says Boehnlein. “That was an interesting process for all of us. It’s hard to break out of the role and just be an artist and allow someone else to give you commentary. We wanted to have a live sound and an in-your-face mix but we wanted to retain the qualities of our influences and not just sound like T. Rex. We used more traditional recording and mastering techniques to get that retro sound. That, for me, someone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s with the metal and progressive and grunge, my idea of mixing is totally different. In the end, we felt the collaboration with everyone came to a head.”
The band has written enough songs for a new album. Members say they hope to record in early 2016.
“‘Let it Roll’ is an example of where things are headed,” says Boehnlein. “Dennis likes to use alternative chord fingerings that compliment what Brian does. It opens up the music and fills it out more. It’s less of pumping on the eighth notes. We love the old material, but our writing is maturing a bit as a band as we learn how the other members play. The other guys know the value of space, and it gives the listener opportunity to sit in the mix and just absorb it. There’s a lot going on in the harmonies. I try to find some places to compliment that when I can. The next album is more representative of us writing as a group. I bring the Queensryche and Metallica and Stone Temple Pilots and Brian brings the Stones and the Biters. Dennis brings the Chet Atkins and the Beatles and Harry brings the straight-up forward rock ’n’ roll beats. They’re such a pleasure to play with.”
The group plans to record in February with a release date slated for fall.
“The songs stylistically are a little bit of the same but we want to show off more musicianship — we’ll have better drumming and guitar playing and singing,” says Hager. “I want to change my style of singing and be a little smoother and not so punk sounding. More rock ’n’ roll and less glam. The next CD you’ll see more songwriters listed. I would love to continue to have that retro vibe and have it sound a little more like today and not so much of the ’70s. That will be a real challenge. I love retro music but it’s hard to get the attention of people with it.”
The Chromes, Paul Vician and Feel, 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19, Coda, 2247 Professor Ave., 216-274-1200. Free, danteboccuzzi.com.
Chromes singer-guitarist Brian Hager had spent nearly a decade playing with the local glam outfit Vanity Crash when he started to get the itch to play more frequently than the band was capable of performing. So he did what many an ambitious rock 'n' roller has done before him. He started his own damn band.