Starting over

Lineup secured, Lovedrug prepare new album

Lovedrug, Anafair, Sixes and Sevens 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 Grog Shop 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd. 216.321.5588 Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show

There have been casualties. A pair of ceramic owls and the glass window between the band's practice room and lounge area fell prey to Lovedrug frontman Michael Shepard's mercurial moods. The band went through eight musicians on their first two albums and three EPs. But the storm seems to have passed as Lovedrug prepare to record the follow-up to 2008's The Sucker Punch Show with the same lineup — a band first.

In addition to personality conflicts, the band struggled through a brief tenure with a major label after their 2004 debut LP, Pretend You're Alive. Shake-ups at the record company stalled plans for their follow-up, and band and label eventually parted ways. Fortunately, Lovedrug were able to take their work with them and returned to their old indie label, for 2007's Everything Starts Where It Ends. Combining pretty, atmospheric settings with terse indie-rock punch, the sweet-and-crunchy combination made the CD a fast seller, piquing anticipation for The Sucker Punch Show. Shortly before recording the album, however, Shepard replaced his bassist and guitarist, and dealt with legal difficulties, including a short jail stint for DUI.

When he got out, he recruited Jeremy Gifford (guitar) and Thomas Bragg (bass), and they immediately started writing and recording The Sucker Punch Show. The shadowy, piano-heavy album is draped in dark and decadent metaphors. Songs range from the drowning, broken-fingered narrator of "Dying Days" to the gang beating that opens "Broken Home," and "Blood Like," where Shepard sings, "I've got a little problem with my own head." The swelling, expansive backgrounds of prior albums are replaced with a constricted, pugilistic rumble as sharp-cornered as anything they've created. Audience response to the disc was less than enthusiastic.

"It's like if you're trying to flip one person off in a crowded room," says Shepard. "It's not going to work out too well, and people are going to take it the wrong way. That's kind of how it felt. I was just pissed off."

"Everyone's allowed to put out a selfish album every once in a while," adds Bragg.

Matters weren't helped by the fact that by the time they turned in the album, their indie label was going bankrupt. It offered minimal promotional support and shipped a mere 6,000 CDs to retailers. It was dead in the water before it even left port.

But attitudes in the cozy practice-space lounge are upbeat these days. Without a label, the band has taken its time writing, and the whole atmosphere is more carefree. They've posted five demos on PureVolume that display a return to their more ethereal sound, with a crisp, crackling attack. Shepard credits the two years they've had to grow together as musicians. "That's why the new material we're writing is coming across so well," he says. "It feels like we're in a great new headspace now."

Tracks like the wide-eyed teenage love song, "We Were Owls," with its ringing, Edge-like guitars and thundering drums, and the bluesy, droning slow-burn "Ladders," are impressively tight. Shepard has downplayed the piano, transposing songs conceived on the keys to guitar. They've already written more than 30 songs and plan to use these demos — and their performances at the SXSW music festival in Austin next month — as a springboard to a new deal. Several labels have already approached them.

"I like to hear a song that makes me groove, that I can sing along to," says Shepard. "I think that's coming out more with the new material, so it does seem a little bit more accessible. But I can't really get away from the ethereal side of what Lovedrug is either — the metaphors and the airiness. We've been through the gauntlet and come back to a place where we're really concentrating not about the business so much, which is where I think we stumbled a bit, but just on writing a ridiculous amount of material and making the best album possible. It just feels like a new beginning."

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