From Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” to Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear,” and from Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” to… well, almost everything in the Rolling Stones’ catalog, rock ’n’ roll has never suffered from a shortage of great breakup records -- those “open your veins and let ’em bleed” chronicles of messy, nasty and profoundly sad romantic splits.
To this list we can now add “12 Angry Months,” the seventh album from those melodic but hard-rocking grunge veterans Local H, and one of the best that guitarist-vocalist Scott Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair have ever given us.
“The idea was there from the very beginning: to have a breakup record in the tradition of great, angry breakup records,” Lucas says. “So I spent a lot of time listening to ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Aftermath’ by the Rolling Stones.”
The relationship in question -- about which Lucas remains otherwise circumspect -- actually ended several years ago, after the release of the group’s fine 2002 effort, “Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?” A number of things conspired to delay finishing the new disc, including a switch in labels (the band is now one of the few original acts signed to catalog specialists Shout! Factory) and producer Andy Gerber having a baby.
“We put out a live record in between, and we tried to keep putting out stuff like that to keep going. But the problem was that we were making a record by ourselves. We were able to sell it to somebody eventually, but it always takes time to make money to go into the studio.”
In the meantime, friends and fans kept asking what Lucas was working on. “I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m working on this break up record,’ and then it would always be, ‘Oh, you’re still going through that?’ and I’m like, ‘No! I’m not going through it! I’m just trying to make this f---ing record!’ So now I’ve got to talk about it and go on the road and sing all the songs and think about it again. And at this point, it could be about any number of relationships I’ve had.”
That might be the case, but in addition to St. Clair’s always propulsive rhythms and Lucas’ equally abrasive and catchy guitars and vocals, the songs on “12 Angry Months” connect because of the specific details of the protagonist’s grieving process, whether he is railing about the loss of some beloved albums when his partner moves out (“Where’s all my Kyuss records?/You never liked ’em until you met me!” he sings in “(January) The One with ‘Kid'”), derisively mocking her new boyfriend because he’s the kind of guy who loves his car more than his girlfriend (“(March) BMW Man”) or finally accepting that the relationship was doomed from the beginning and resigning himself to moving on with his humble existence (via the magnificently orchestrated “(December) Hand to Mouth”).
“That was the thing: to be as specific as possible with the details and not try to be universal, because the minute you start to try and be universal, people say, ‘Nobody has those feelings. Nobody thinks about ‘the sun, the moon, the stars’ and that kind of bull----. So the whole thing was, ‘Let’s go through specifics and stick to being really honest.’ The entire time when we were doing the vocals and working on the lyrics, I kept going, ‘Andy, I’m not sure I can sing this.’ And that was the rule: Every song should be a song that you’re afraid to have anybody listen to.”
Although Lucas remains one of the best songwriters who’ve ever called Chicago home, Local H has come to be taken for granted in some quarters, simply because of its longevity. The singer formed the band in the late ’80s with drummer Joe Daniels, becoming a duo by default because a solid bassist couldn’t be found. It debuted at the height of the alternative era with “Ham Fisted” (1995) and scored a big modern rock hit with “Bound for the Floor” from “As Good as Dead” the following year. Unfortunately, the release of “Pack Up the Cats” (1998) coincided with the corporate merger of its record company. The disc was largely lost in the shuffle, and Daniels departed soon after its release.
Triple Fast Action veteran St. Clair came onboard, and the band continued to release worthy albums as the alternative era yielded to rap-rock and teen pop and the word “grunge” became a punch line and then the answer to a trivia question. Yet Lucas insists he has never felt boxed in -- not by that admittedly meaningless genre description, or the two-man band format, or the highs and lows of the music industry.
“During ‘Pack up the Cats,’ that’s when I said, ‘I don’t really care. I’m not going to worry about how we do these songs live; live is live, and the record is another thing.’ I don’t use a distortion pedal anymore -- everything is just done through sheer volume now -- so I’m not sure you’re right when you say that I’m the last grunge guitarist. And as far as the label thing…
“Basically, we do things now exactly the way we have always wanted to. The accountant isn’t not doing his job, stealing our money, and the record labels aren’t charging everything against us so we’ll never make a damn dime. That’s all gone. We don’t do that now, and we’re not going to do that again. And I’m actually enjoying everything about making music more now than I ever have.”
To that end, Lucas has not only crafted “12 Angry Months,” but a self-titled 12-inch EP by the Prairie Cartel, an electronic/industrial side project with Blake Smith of Fig Dish and Caviar. He’s been the guest bassist for the Tossers’ European tour, and he’s tinkering with the idea of a stripped-down, partly acoustic solo album. Plus, to celebrate the new disc, Local H is doing a seven-night series of all-ages shows at the intimate Beat Kitchen, performing each of its albums in its entirety on subsequent nights -- even though Lucas admits that some of the songs now seem completely alien.
“It’s like Halloween, except we’re going to the party as ourselves. Sometimes it really feels like we are covering somebody else; it’s like, ‘I don’t even recognize this song!’ So it’s kind of cool, but it also makes you realize that the new record is good and it does hold up.”
Local H performs at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, on May 7 (“Ham Fisted,” with openers Fig Dish at 6:45 p.m.), May 8 (“As Good as Dead,” with Ultra Sonic Educators at 6:45), May 9 (“Pack Up the Cats,” with Fun Club at 7:45), May 10 (“Here Comes the Zoo,” with the Tossers at 7:45), May 11 “Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles,” with Josh Caterer at 6:45), May 12 (B-sides and rarities, with Pegboy at 6:45) and May 13 (“12 Angry Months,” with Mannequin Men at 6:45). All shows are sold-out.