Back in 2001, singer-guitarist Dennis Van Crash, who was in the local industrial Goth band Queue Up, accepted a job as music director for Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
even though he didn’t know much about the play. A hit off-Broadway, the play centers on a glam rock band fronted by a genderqueer East German singer. The musical’s songs, however, really spoke to Van Crash, and he formed a band to perform the songs in productions of the play that took place in both 2001 and 2002.
“The band formed specifically for the play,” says Van Crash one afternoon over coffee at the Tremont coffee shop Loop. “The play had been in New York and L.A. but hadn’t really left those two cities. When I got turned onto it, I realized the music was great. It had this great glam-punk thing going on.”
Even though the group did some gigs as the Angry Inch when the play wasn’t in production, Van Crash says he didn’t initially know that the band, which would be rechristened Vanity Crash and go on to attain a cult following on the local scene, would carry on after the play’s conclusion. The group will celebrate the release of its latest EP with a concert and art show at the 5 O’Clock Lounge in Lakewood on Oct. 3.
“When it came time to mount Vanity Crash, there were only three of us left from the lineup that had been in the play,” he says. “We had to get a few more members and then we released our self-titled debut. The recording of this record went pretty well. Brian Hager, now of the Chromes, and I were really into recording. The album became half and half. He did half the album, and I did the other. What is cool is it doesn’t sound that way. It sounds cohesive.”
For the next album, singer Dan Folino wrote songs that revolved around the story of a serial killer.
“The original recording sessions went very well, but Dan kept writing and having me write more and more songs,” says Van Crash. “We never thought the album would be done.” Then Folino left for almost three years for an acting gig. Upon his return the band finally issued the album. With an eight-plus minute long opening overture that featured David Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson, the album was rather “verbose,” as Van Crash says.
In the wake of the album’s release and Folino’s departure, Van Crash took over lead vocals and retooled the lineup once again for Rock N Roll Junkie
. A much more accessible (and light-hearted) offering than the weighty Yours Justice, the album includes a cover of the Zombies' "She's Not There" that comes complete with British accents. The punky "Happy Anniversary” is a Ramones-like ditty. With its sneering vocals, "Never Coming Up" has a real psychedelic edge to it and the album closer "Restraints" is so heavy, it borders on stoner rock.
As its title implies, the band’s newest album, Love
, centers on a theme. “Each one of the songs has an element about love from a different perspective,” says Van Crash. ‘Do It In the Movies’ is about the innocent love of two young actors who fall in love while doing a movie. ‘Indicators’ is about having a relationship with somebody and then you get signs that it’s falling apart and going down the tubes on a downward spiral. ‘Wishful Thinking’ is about obsessive lustful desires.” Van Crash says he came across “Love is Moving Underground” when he went through some old DAT tapes. He decided it was worth redoing and the song almost sounds New Wave with its squiggly guitar work and synthesizer fills.
“The guitar work on the album is different because [veteran local guitarist] Miss Melvis brings raw sonic sparks to the band. In the past, we worked hard to get that classic guitar sound, but with this album we upped the ante and played with the guitar sounds more. The backing vocals are a little different too since there’s more falsetto work.”
Recording of the record began early May but hit a number of speed bumps. “The interruptions started when I got sick the week I took off to work on the record. Then I had a commitment to finish the recordings of Titus the musical. And then for two months I lost access to our drummer, Jason Giaco, who was playing drums for Green Day’s musical, American Idiot. Ugh!” The passing of two family members a few weeks apart in August added to the delay and stress. “In the end it all came together really well,” he says. “Looking back I did have a lot of fun doing the CD.”
The band continues to carve out a niche for itself on the local scene where there aren’t a helluva lot of glam rock bands.
“We’re out about once a month,” says Van Crash. “We love playing and that glam rock sound (and look) suits us well.”
“I really enjoy that era of music,” he says. “It has a lot of magic. It’s affected a lot of musicians downstream. What’s funny is that if you say glam rock, I would say 80 percent of people think hair metal bands. You have to clarify that. Audiences like our performances because we deliver great music and a visual show. I’ve always been of the opinion that rock bands shouldn’t look like their audience. The 'look' is a big part of rock. I don’t want to see a guy looking like he just got out from working underneath his car.”
Vanity Crash CD Release and Art Show, 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, The 5 O’Clock Lounge, 11904 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-4906. Free.