Local H’s Scott Lucas In ’02: ‘Sometimes It’s Almost Better To Be Poor’

Scott Lucas seems pretty hungry these days. Not too long ago, he cranked out his solo debut, George Lassos the Moon, under the deceptive moniker Scott Lucas & the Married Men. And soon he’ll be turning his attention back to his faithful spouse, Local H, with a bevy of tour dates from mid-April through early June.

For posterity’s sake, here’s a Local H piece I scribbled in early 2002, around the release of Here Comes the Zoo. As sarcastic and sardonic as you’d expect, Lucas also meditated on poverty and class struggles, the loss of hope – and “Big Momma’s House.”

Here’s the article, online at last:

Scott Lucas, the brainchild behind rawk duo Local H, is in your fucking face. Sardonic, bitter and downright hilarious, the Zion, Illinois, native is at one moment ready to tickle your armpit, then rip the rug from under your feet in the next. A sampling of song titles from his four-albums-deep catalog proves it in a nutshell: “She Hates My Job,” “ ‘Cha!’ Said the Kitty,” “All the Kids Are Right” and “Mayonnaise and Malaise” just skim the surface. In concert, the point is driven home even harder; at a recent pit stop at Los Angeles’s renowned club Whiskey, Lucas entered the stifling, sold-out venue in a massive gorilla suit. And he had it in mind to do the entire late-2001 tour in the thing, no less.

“A couple shows into it I realized it was a pretty stupid idea,” Lucas says in a recent phone conversation from his on-off Chicago base while taking a break from watching “Big Momma’s House.” “I was wondering how long I could do it until it didn’t become funny anymore, and keep doing it until it got funny again. That’s what I occupy myself with these days, those kind of thoughts.”

That and churning out some killer rock ’n’ roll music. Coupled with his indispensable sense of humor, Lucas is the creative genius behind a bass-guitar combo instrument which has allowed him to keep his Local H unit confined to himself and a single drummer – once the towering Joe Daniels, now former Cheap Trick drum tech Brian St. Clair.

But that’s not all, folks. With their indie cred permanently intact, Local H has accomplished a feat that, while seemingly brushed off by many, is indeed the ultimate-yet-unattainable aim for most. Read: airplay. “Bound to the Floor,” from 1996’s As Good as Dead (Island), became the sleeper radio hit of the year. The irresistible “Eddie Vedder” followed, granting airwaves one of the best lyrics to come out of the ’90s: “If I was Eddie Vedder, would you like me any better?”

The long-overdue Here Comes the Zoo also contains a swatch of tunes solid enough to nab the well-versed listener’s ear, but catchy enough for radio-philes: “Half-Life,” the first single, “Creature Comforted” and “Keep Your Girlfriend Away From Me.” Local H’s first release through former Island chief Chris Blackwell’s new Palm Pictures imprint, the 10-track effort might not reach the mainstream listener, but is a winner all the same. As for Lucas, he’s just happy to see the record – Local H’s first since 1998’s Pack Up the Cats – hit the stores … and without any corporate sponsorship to boot.

When Island was bought out by Universal, Blackwell quickly launched Palm and invited Local H to come on board. “I was ready to go there from the minute that that idea was brought up,” asserts Lucas. “He [Blackwell] has that kind of maverick spirit where he wants to beat the other guys at their own game, but wants to do it his way. And I really respond to that.

“I don’t feel like going to Palm was a step down in any way,” he adds. “We’ve got the resources that we’ve always needed. I don’t have to worry about someone swooping in and buying the thing. It’d be stupid for me to sign to another major-label corporation.”

Despite their new indie-label status, Local H managed to rope in another top-name producer for their fourth album – Jack Douglas of John Lennon, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith fame. Though he recruited Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars) for Pack Up the Cats, Lucas says he wasn’t expecting to land another legend. In an odd twist of circumstance, drummer St. Clair ran into Douglas at a wedding for Cheap Trick’s manager, who quickly agreed to produce Here Comes the Zoo.

Local H's Here Comes the Zoo

What unique slant did Douglas offer to the album? “We wanted to make a record that was a little more rough around the edges and representative of what we’re like live,” says Lucas. “And some of Jack’s greatest records do that – the records he’s done for Aerosmith and Cheap Trick are very rough-and-ready. I don’t know what it is, it seems like people come to our shows and seem surprised at how we sound live. We were just trying to figure out how to get that onto record.”

Aside from the roaring riffage – furthered by visits by Queens of the Stone Age shredder Josh Homme and the Misfits’ rambunctious Jerry Only – Here Comes the Zoo is, lyrically, Local H’s bleakest outing. Says Lucas, “There’s some grim stuff in there. Not a lot hope. On all of our records, the last song always seems to give off a glimmer of hope. On the first record there was a song called ‘Grrrlfriend,’ it was a little cherry on top. The last record was talking about ‘It’s a lucky time with everything improving.’ And this record ends with a mass suicide.”

“What Would You Have Me Do?” is a 25-minute foray into a dark netherworld – the first half a creeping death, the second an atmospheric afterlife clogged with fuzzy, distant noise that furthers the macabre feel. Says Lucas. “I wrote this like it was New Year’s Eve 2000 and what was going to happen. I thought of all these people getting together in a house and drinking cyanide and killing themselves. That’d be quite the New Year’s Eve party.”

For the faint-sounding part two, Lucas and St. Clair held a microphone outside their studio window near Times Square, where they caught a variety of incidental noise: people buying Broadway tickets, a man clanging on a steel drum, cars and motorcycles chugging.

“If you listen real close you can hear me scream and shout,” Lucas says, “We wanted to do it for the vocals and see what we could get. We got sirens and a bunch of stuff by accident. We were listening to it and realized that it’d be really nice to have on the record. [You can] pretend you live in downtown New York.”

On a more socially conscious note, the last cut resonates with what Lucas signals as the album’s mission statement of sorts: “The whole record’s about selling out, getting old and losing your edge. What do you do, just give into that, or cut your losses while you’re still ahead?” “Rock and Roll Professionals,” for example, is a direct assault on bands more than ready to cash in their dignity for a Gap commercial appearance. The album title itself is a reference to Iggy Pop’s sarcastic jab “Success” from Lust for Life.

Though invariably linked with Local H’s transition from major to indie, the anti-establishment concept reaches far beyond just the music industry. “Half-Life” is about class struggle: “The upper class has a vested interest in the working class staying the working class,” Lucas declares. “The way beer commercials and everything is sold to poor people is to keep them there. Those people aren’t really given any handouts. A college education is so expensive, it’s not so easily obtainable. If you’ve got a station, your kids are going to be at that station, too. It just goes on and on and on. The only way to really get out of it is on your own.”

“Creature Comforted,” however, is a sharp critique on the self-made man. “If you climb that ladder and acquire all these possessions, in the end they possess you,” he continues. “You get fatter, older, you lose your edge. You don’t want to leave your apartment or house, you don’t want to stop watching TV. You stay inside the little cage you’ve built for yourself rather than keep yourself interested in what’s going on. And in that respect, I think sometimes it’s almost better to be poor, to keep yourself hungry. That’s better than getting fat and dying.”

Local H are slated to hit the road the day their new record is released – March 5. An eight-week tour will commence, followed by another potential headlining leg or opening slot. Per usual, guests will hop on stage to fill in with guitar solos, tambourines and toy pianos – instruments four arms can’t manage alone. Lucas sounds eager to hit the circuit again and perform in front of Local H’s typically mixed bunch.

“It’s really hard for people to get a handle on what our crowd is,” he opines. “I’m not really even sure what it is either, but I think the people who know the records inside and out are a diverse group. It’s nice when you see 15-year-old chicks up front toughin’ it out. I’ve never seen us as a macho-idiot band. It’s nice to have that reinforced.”

Somewhat-but-not-really-related:

• “Iggy Pop: ‘I Didn’t Want To Sell Out’ The Stooges
• “Iggy Pop Transcript, 7.18.03: ‘I Was Shooting Dope At The RIAA Awards When It Wasn’t Chic’
Anti-Death-Penalty Hangman

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