Guitarist Elliott Frank and singer Nick Kratsas have been friends since they were kids but never played in a band together until they formed the hardcore outfit Harvey Pekar a few years ago.
The lead screamer in the local outfit Heads Held High, Frank had “fucked around” with playing guitar and in the wake of Heads Held High’s implosion, realized he wanted to start up another band. So who better to experiment with than Kratsas.
“I wanted to be in a band but not yell,” says Frank one afternoon while sitting at the bar at Ohio City’s Platform Beer Co.
“We had been friends forever so it made sense to start a band,” adds Kratsas, who has accompanied Frank. “We felt like there was potential in playing together from the start.”
The two then met bassist Nick Schmitt outside the punk club Now That’s Class. The band, which also includes guitarist Ty Sickels, has had a rotating cast of drummers until Nate Kelly showed up.
“Whatever the web of friendships are in the bad, they’ve been road tested,” says Frank. “The stuff that would throw hiccups into other bands doesn’t affect this band. Any damning band ending argument would have occurred years ago at this point. Both Nick and I have booked shows locally, so we feel like we know how to do band shit.”
The group initially issued a self-released EP, Thirty Ghosts
, which they recorded locally at Brain Child Recording Studios in Lakewood.
“That record happened pretty quick,” says Frank. “As soon as we had enough songs that justified some type of release, we wanted to record right away. It had metastasized and we knew what the band was about.”
Last year, the guys followed it up with Upward, Not Northward
, which they also recorded at Brainchild Records. The album included songs from the EP, but the group rerecorded them for the full-length.
“It was different from the EP,” says Frank. “We had had three different drummers so the songs were a bit different. After you start practicing, there’s a breakthrough period where you start learning new things at one point. The jump was a huge one. We were way better than we were six months ago because of the practicing and digging into our instruments. Even Nick’s voice sounds drastically different.”
Now, they’re set to release The Astral We
. They play a Vinyl Release show on Aug. 13 at the Agora to celebrate its release and kick off a tour in support of the album. The album opens with the sludge-y “Huff Joules,” a song that features parched vocals and meaty guitar riffs. Kratsas' sneering vocals and an onslaught of hard-rock riffs distinguish aggressive songs like "If-Then/Else” and “Truisms of Infinite Regress.” “Body, Our Contronym” features rousing gang style vocals. The album’s other songs have a similar intensity to them.
“We wanted to do something different with the album,” says Kratsas. “These songs represent a cleaner break. Ty is in the band, and we wanted to write ten songs for the album that would take that into account.”
While not especially melodic, the mid-tempo tunes are still fairly accessible.
“I love hardcore from the late ’90s and early 2000s because it’s fun,” Frank says. “There was a bunch of rock ’n’ roll stuff happening back then and the bands would play riffs that sounded like they could fit in a Thin Lizzy song. It had the urgency of punk rock but was also something you could hum for 20 minutes after you were done listening to it.”
The songs also revolve around a concept.
“I wanted to make the lyrics cohesive, so it’s all about human consciousness and the sense of self,” says Kratsas. “The album is about self-identity and the sense of being an individual. I’m interested in those ideas, and I drew inspiration from sci-fi books and movies that talk about artificial intelligence.”
Though Frank and Kratsas never met the late comic-book writer Harvey Pekar, they decided upon the band name because it references their childhood experiences hanging out at comic book shops.
“Elliott and I spent most of our adolescent at a comic book store while we were discovering music,” Kratsas says. “When I thought of naming the band ‘Harvey Pekar,’ I was thinking of his honesty and observant nature and that aspect of his writing and, of course, the fact that he was from Cleveland. When I write lyrics, I think about how that fits into it. That aspect of it still holds true. I think of him walking down the sidewalk and grumbling about the people he sees. I think of my lyrics as observations of people in some similar sense.”
Frank says band members might all give wildy different answers about the group’s name.
“He’s a working stiff who could still be creative and have something to say,” says Frank. “We don’t have illusions of being rock stars. We all have day jobs, but we have an aggressive sense of purpose when it comes to being in a band. You can have a creative outlet and make something of importance and have that as a creative way to share an experience but its not like you’re either an artist or someone who has a day job. It’s not stratified. It’s not either/or.”
Harvey Pekar, All Dinosaurs, Analog Fantom, Seeress, Cringe, 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $5 ADV, $8 DOS, agoracleveland.com.