Letter From Leipzig

Cleveland's Lovekill takes Germany day by DIY.

The Lovekill Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Road 8 p.m. Sunday, February 19, $6 (all ages), 216-383-1124
The Lovekill has played Germany more than the Grog Shop.
The Lovekill has played Germany more than the Grog Shop.
Though it's an indie-rock band that favors a hands-on approach to its work, the Lovekill has never done things on a small scale. Its recent decision to sign with a major indie label came after a personal invite from the lead singer of one of the biggest post-punk bands. And four years into the Cleveland quartet's career, the Lovekill has played Germany more than the Grog Shop. Taking refuge from a dense, smoky fog in Leipzig, the band answered questions by e-mail from an internet café.

"Last night we played an illegal show at a rehearsal space in Germany," write Jonah Bayer, a wiry guitarist with a frizzy half-'fro. "It was great. The show we had booked fell through, so some local kids in a band called Kids Explode set up a DIY show at their practice space. It was actually really cool. Probably 30 or 40 people showed up. There was plenty of German beer, and we got paid really well just out of donations."

Bassist-backup singer Carla Cherry says that gigs in Deutschland aren't always easy, but they usually pan out. "We played in Berlin on the coldest day ever on record. It had to be at least 10 below zero, if not colder. The venue was an old punk squat, in a small cavernous room underground that held about 75 people. There was no heat, but they were trying to generate some with this thing -- a metal cylinder shooting out a giant flame, and fueled by a propane tank.

"After about 15 minutes, the flame went out," continues the self-assured brunette. "They were pumping it, trying to get the flame going again, and pretty soon the room just smelled of gas. And there were quite a few people smoking (the Germans love their cigs). We thought we were going to die, but our driver assured us the squat had been around for about 25 years, and no one had ever died at a show. The place ended up being packed, wall-to-wall with people, so the lack of heat became less of an issue. And the show was just great. There was hardly any room to move, but people were dancing and having a good time."

Formed in 2002, the Lovekill eventually found a middle ground between adventurous indie rock and tense post-hardcore. It has maintained a touring regimen for three years now, regularly going on weekend excursions and two-week swings through the Midwest and the mid-Atlantic states. For this European tour, the Lovekill is "jamming econo," as the Minutemen once said. The band flew its guitars, cymbals, and merch in from America and is making its way down the autobahn with no crew, just a hired driver. Aside from the foreign names on signs, it's a lot like driving to Kentucky, the band says.

Although three members are from Cleveland, and Cherry is from Columbus, singer-guitarist Chris Rager says that the Lovekill isn't the kind of meat-and-potatoes rock band so prevalent in the Buckeye State. He prefers playing Danish clubs to Rust Belt bars. "Bands get taken care of really well over here," he says. "The reason for this seems to be that the organizers we deal with are actually excited and idealistic about music, and are more concerned with the bands than with how much to charge for PBR tall boys (which do not exist here, thank God)."

With a quixotic, emo-kissed sound, the Lovekill plays post-hardcore for people that don't like hardcore. "This Is Me Leaving" bursts into action with a bang-crash beat and a parallel weeping guitar line. Cherry provides flashes of harmony in the chorus.

"We try really hard to make every song different and interesting," Rager says. "Instead of examining why or how we sound the way we do, the best thing I can tell you is that I grew up listening to a lot of hardcore, and I played in a couple of hardcore bands. I got bored with playing hardcore, so I took what I knew and expanded upon it."

When Rager and Bayer aren't playing music, they're writing about it. As a contributor to Guitar World, Bayer approaches melodies with the six-string in mind. And Cherry knows a thing or two about rock writers too; she's married to Rolling Stone contributor Robert Cherry.

Bayer says their role as critics doesn't overly influence their musical sensibilities -- "We are trying not to really make a huge deal out of that fact," he says -- but his day job contributed mightily to the Lovekill's big break.

While on assignment for Alternative Press at the Vans Warped Tour, Bayer gave a Lovekill demo to Geoff Rickley, lead singer of emo kings Thursday, one of Bayer's music idols. To Bayer's surprise, Rickley not only gave it a listen, but liked it and offered to put it out on Astro Magnetics, a label he helped start that's run by the guys from Eyeball Records (the label that broke post-punk headliners Thursday and My Chemical Romance).

The band recorded its current EP and upcoming These Moments Are Momentum LP with Stephen Pederson, formerly of the seminal post-hardcore outfit Cursive. The disc is slated for mid-2006 release. Until then, the group is keeping company with punk stars on Fat Wreck Chords' Protect: A Benefit for the National Association to Protect Children, alongside acts such as MxPx and Against Me!

Technically, the Lovekill is part of the biggest record company in the world. But the band members don't expect to see themselves on the cover of Spin anytime soon. Working with some of their scene's leading lights is good enough, says Cherry. "Success is being happy with what you're doing. We recorded a solid album, and we're having a great time playing out, so it's already a success for us."

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