Flashback to the Future

Flashback to the Future
Saul Glennon revisits its early years for Triology 2

When Saul Glennon plays the Winchester this Friday to celebrate the release of its new album, Triology 2: The Happiest Guy in the World, expect to hear something a bit different.

Singer-guitarist Jack Rugan, who fronts the British Invasion-obsessed garage-rock act, plans to revisit his past, and the first track of the show will be a flashback to those times.

“The first song I’ll play will be to a backing track, as a sort of homage to those days,” says Rugan in a phone interview. “Those days” are a reference to the early ’80s, when Rugan was known as Johnny O and aspired to be a lounge singer. It was a pursuit he quickly abandoned.
“I think the last time I played a show as Johnny O was 1985, right before I met my wife-to-be back then,” Rugan says. “Then I realized that I found the girl I wanted and didn’t need to do that anymore.”

And even though Rugan is currently separated from his wife, he has no plans to abandon the other three members of Saul Glennon to go back down the lounge singer route. Yet the songs he wrote back then are still with him and, re-recorded, make up the material on Triology 2.

“Everything is true to form,” he says. “There are a few minor chord changes. A lyric here and there is different, because my grammar wasn’t so good then. Some of those written toward the end of the ’80s with more of a garage feel to them are not much different from the originals. The end result is more eclectic than Triology 1.”

“More eclectic” is an understatement. The 20-song album casts a wide net and veers from the Springsteen-meets-R.E.M. vibe of “Autumn Marches On” to the ramshackle rave-up “Troublemaker,” which features some fine backing support from a pair of female singers. There’s a bit of naiveté to the lyrics Rugan sings about being the “happiest guy in the world.” But he insists that even back then, his perspective was infected with a good amount of cynicism.
“I’m listening to those lyrics, and I don’t know if I was being cynical,” he says. “I was 20 when I wrote that song. It had a swing feel to it. I was going for a Dean Martin thing but written from a 20-year-old’s viewpoint of the world in 1983, during the Reagan years. There’s probably some cynicism.”

The real problem, however, wasn’t with fine-tuning the decades-old songs. For Rugan, who records everything himself, getting his computer up to speed posed the biggest challenge.
“I made the mistake of upgrading to Vista, and it crippled the entire recording console,” he says. “I had to upgrade all the other software and had sound-card issues. Things were delayed just from that. Six months alone it took to get that up and running. Everyday life, and doing a lot of travel with work, [and] the last six months have been quite interesting on the relationship front [all of which contributed to the delay]. When we first started recording at the beginning of last year, the first couple of songs I completed [and] played to the guys, they didn’t think they were as quirky as the originals. I went back to the drawing board and bought a vintage Casiotone from eBay. It was lots of cutting and pasting and tweaking.”

A software designer by day, Rugan formed the band, which took its name from a Batman comic, just after he turned 30. Guitarist Adam Zieleniewski and Rugan’s brother, drummer Jerry, started playing with him in 1994. The band issued its debut, No Money for Beer, that same year. Initially, Saul Glennon included Rugan’s brother-in-law, but after he left, the group became a three-piece for a short time. Since bassist Joe Rivera joined several years ago, the lineup has been a stable quartet. And Rugan has already started working on the band’s next releases. First up is an album of “orchestral chamber-pop stuff” he’s calling Lazy Summer Evening. Then he hopes to put together Triology 3, a collection of tunes that didn’t make the albums the band released in the ’90s.

“We keep our aspirations very realistic,” he says. “After 14 years, we all have day jobs. We all love doing this still, and with the help of the internet and digital distribution, you can do this as a side gig and make a few bucks off it. You don’t set yourself up for disappointment that way. There’s always a part of me that says, “One day someone will hear these songs and want to license one of them.” But I don’t lose sleep over that.” -- Jeff Niesel

9 p.m., Friday, August 1, The Winchester, 12112 Madison Ave., 216.226.5681, Tickets: $10.

Life After August
(Grey Haven Music)

For every band like Fall Out Boy or Green Day, there are hundreds of bands that sound like them. A few stand out, but most are forgettable. Besides having a female drummer, everything about Life After August is unmemorable, including its new CD, Instinct. Like albums of the same genre, this disc wouldn’t be complete without the required broken-heart song, and it offers several of them — from the juvenile (“Forever Ends Tonight”) to the clichéd (“Joan”). It starts with “San Diego,” which features lines like “My dreams, they call me to San Diego/But my heart, my mind stays in O-h-i-o.” The tune comes across as a bad rip-off of Hawthorne Heights’ “Ohio Is for Lovers.”

Younger bands always have more to prove, and instead of using its youth as a positive influence, Life After August does the opposite and writes songs that sound just as naive as the four members look. With lines like “I’ll be the asshole and they’ll call you the slut,” the band comes across as immature kids, with nothing but breakups to write about. Also, lead singer James Schleicher’s voice sounds strained halfway through, leaving you to wonder how he’s going to make it through nine more tracks.

Instinct does have a few standout cuts. “Dig In” displays a mature and gritty side to Schleicher’s voice and backs it with aggressive instrumentation, giving the song an in-your-face appeal that others lack. Other band members sing on “In Those Days,” giving a much-needed break from Schleicher’s yearning vocals. It’s important for young bands to stand out, but Life After August ends up sounding like inexperienced teenagers, and there’s nothing original about that.
— Brittany Moseley

Life After August performs with the Morning Of, 1997, ’40s and Exit Cleveland at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at the Agora Ballroom (5000 Euclid Ave., 216.881.2221). Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show.

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