Courtesy of the Fifth Wheel
When the Fifth Wheel, a local pop rock outfit that took a hiatus way back in 2000, announced it would play its first show in 15 years, guitarist Jeff Koval wrote us an email explaining what he hoped for the band’s rebirth.
“In the ’90s we had the Fifth Wheel rocking, playing big shows from openers at Agora and Blossom to CBGBs, selling out Peabody’s Down Under and the Odeon many times on our own.” He likened the Fifth Wheel's return to a "dream come true."
Koval, who had worked at a local recording studio at the same time, subsequently moved to Nashville and did recording/mixing and producing for many artists and publishers. Since moving back to Northeast Ohio and reuniting with the band’s songwriter and singer, Josh Stone, he’s wanted to pick back up with the Fifth Wheel. Now, the band hasn't just reunited; it's also recorded a new album.
Initially, Stone and Koval met at a music store in Fairlawn. They decided to form the band on a whim.
“I was going in there when I was 16 or 17,” says Stone, who has written songs since he was 12. “I would go in there and play guitar. [Koval] said, ‘That sounds cool. Do you want to start a band?’ He knew a few guys and then we put together a few of the songs. It blossomed from there.”
The band recorded its debut, Nothing
, and began to receive airplay on The Inner Sanctum, a local music program on 107.9, the prominent alternative rock station at the time.
“That’s back when there was a good scene for live music in Cleveland,” Stone says. “There was a good scene in 1994, 1995, 1996 down in the Flats when that was pumping. All of a sudden we were headlining places like the Agora."
Thanks to some local radio airplay, that debut album sold 5700 copies. With the followup album, Therapy for the Sane
, the band’s popularity tapered off a bit.
“We got popular, and Therapy
didn’t have the same success as the first record, but that’s normal,” says Stone. “I love the album. I wish we could have spent a little more time producing it. We weren’t able to produce our own music at that point yet. That never quite had the sonic quality I wanted but the songwriting is there and a couple of songs like 'Spider Boy’ are still fan favorites. There are a few gems on it.”
The band had started to dissolve by the time of 2000’s In America
“That album was after the fact,” says Stone. “We recorded that album in a house in East Akron. It was more of a fun and experimental album. It’s one of my favorites.”
The group officially split up shortly after its release because, as Stone puts it, “life happens.” Koval moved to Nashville to work at a studio, and Stone went to work with reggae singer B.E. Mann, a local musician who was a childhood friend.
The band’s new album, Even without Wings
, has been a ten-year project. It marks a strong return to form. Stone says he wrote some of the songs, including the track “Vega Song,” which is about his daughter, ten years ago. The album opens with the shimmering “Find You,” a moody ballad that suggests the band’s strength revolves around delivering songs that start slow and finish strong. “Dirty” has a simmering intensity to it as does “To Dust For You,” a song that begins with a bit of gently strummed electric guitar before Stone starts crooning and the band cranks up the guitars.
The album was put together piecemeal. When Koval would come from Nashville to visit, he would bring things to record. They’d record scratch tracks and then Koval would hire studio musicians to flesh the tunes out. When Koval moved back a few years ago, the band started getting serious about making an album.
“We worked really hard to make it sound cohesive,” says Stone. “Even some of the vocal takes are a few years old. We had long talks about whether we should do a different vocal take. We wanted to keep that charm of that take. We made that conscious decision to not redo things. We wanted to mold it and make it sound like it was all done now. It wasn’t by accident.”
The upcoming Beachland show will mark the band’s rebirth and even include a slideshow featuring old photos that will make the gig like a “class reunion.” It will also serve as a CD release party for Even Without Wings
“We’ve been practicing for six months for the show,” says Stone. “We had to deconstruct the new songs as well as some of the old songs that are just things we did on the spot in the studio. We had to gather up the guys, and I did a lot of one on one sessions with the guys playing in the band. I had acoustic sessions. We broke them down and relearned them. We just started having practices and decided which songs we’d play for the show. We’ll do half old and half new. I am blown away by this band. They ran with it. We’re really ready to come out of the gates. We want to keep going and make another album more as a band and not just as me and Jeff. We don’t want to play every weekend, but we’ll do shows that are really relevant. We’re in our forties, so we don’t have any delusions about where it’s going.”
The Fifth Wheel, Maura Rogers & the Bellows, 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $10 ADV, $13 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.