When Local H dropped its sophomore breakthrough effort As Good As Dead two decades ago, it fit in nicely with the post-grunge explosion radio formats taking off all over the country; especially with the catchy and unavoidable single “Bound for the Floor,” otherwise known as “Keep it Copacetic.” But the late 90s for the most part were unkind to up and coming rock bands, with major labels reshuffling, merging and repeatedly dropping the ball on talent. The period heavily affected the Chicago by way of Zion, Illinois duo of singer and guitarist Scott Lucas and drummer Joe Daniels, despite their 1998 follow-up Pack Up the Cats landing on year end best of lists left and right. Daniels split the group the following year while Lucas forged ahead with a string of critically acclaimed releases first with Brian St. Clair and more recently Ryan Harding in the drum seat, the latter for last year’s well-received Hey Killer.
The specter of Daniels loomed though, and with the 20th anniversary of As Good As Dead taking place this spring, it was prime time if some sort or reconvening were to happen. A pair of reunion shows were booked in Chicago at the Metro late last month, both of which sold out immediately. Despite having not played regularly for several years, Daniels – one of the hardest hitting drummers this writer has ever witnessed live – by all accounts performed admirably, leading the band to take it on the road as a trio, with Harding on board as well.
The show, which comes to Brighton Music Hall tomorrow night, will see As Good As Dead played in its entirety, a set with Lucas and Harding and and encore featuring both drummers. Vanyaland caught up with Daniels and Lucas to see how all this came about, especially as things didn’t exactly end well between the two of them, and how it’s been revisiting the past.
Michael Christopher: The two of you haven’t had the best relationship in recent years. Forget musically, but on a personal level how did you end up reconnecting?
Scott Lucas: There had been some bad shit going down in the last few years, as you were privy to see yourself, and it got to the point where there were some legal threats, and I was like, “Look, let’s have a drink and let’s hash it out, let’s figure out what’s going on here.” And that’s pretty much how it happened; it was just basically over a couple of beers and figuring out what exactly is bothering everybody. From that, there was the door left open in the future to maybe do something, because the alternative was, like, never do anything ever again and fucking close that door right then and there.
Joe Daniels: I think it was just a combination of time and maturity and going, “You know what? Enough’s enough.” It was one of those things where if you were married and you have kids then you have to come to a resolution and we gotta be amicable between each other. As Good As Dead, Pack Up the Cats and Ham Fisted isn’t just the legacy of Local H, we can stay enemies, but then who’s missing out? Not so much us, but the fans; the fans who are an innocent party in all of it, and would love to see a re-connection between the original Local H. It was time to bury the hatchet. We’d meet, we’d talk, we’d hash it out, then we stayed away from each other for two years.
So how does it go from that first meeting to playing together again?
Daniels: With the anniversary [of As Good As Dead] it really kicked into high gear; it was now or never. Finally we got into a rehearsal space and played after 16 years of not playing together and it was just kind of normal. Was there much conversation? No. I guess there’s a lot of quiet moments still because we don’t know each other anymore – it’s been a long time.
Scott Lucas: We got wind that a label was talking to Universal about licensing [As Good As Dead] and putting it out – and we had no idea. We found out who that was and wanted to work with them and make sure they got extra tracks and made it something a little more deluxe. Once that happened, then the idea was floated about doing a show where we’d play the record. That was an idea I wasn’t totally crazy about because everybody does it, and I was trying to figure out what would be the best way to present that. Then it just kind of hit me to have this stage set up where there’d be two drums on either side and I’d be in the middle, and there’d be two sets and there wouldn’t be an opener. In the middle would be As Good As Dead and the opening set would be me and Ryan and at the end would be two drums and it was, “This could be a really great show.” It was just a matter of making sure everybody was on board with it. That took a little bit of convincing on Joe’s part. Once he was on board, I thought, “Maybe we should book some more dates.”
Were you familiar with the music Scott has been doing as Local H since you parted ways?
Daniels: I was honest about it, I even told [Lucas]. I personally didn’t ever listening to anything he was doing – and you can’t blame me; generally when you have a falling out, you stay away from that person and whatever they’re doing. Other than hearing things in passing, I wouldn’t search out anything. Once we connected and started preparing for these shows, he gave me a CD of Hey Killer, and I listened to that in my car and I actually like it. There’s four really strong songs that I would be into doing if I was in the band still.
How much have you been playing the drums over the past several years?
Daniels: I have not been playing much at all; 2008 is pretty much the last time I played since Local H.
And the music of Local H isn’t something you can just jump right back into.
Daniels: No, and it’s hard – and it’s hard right now. I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t nervous as shit those two Chicago shows.
Were you at all concerned that Joe wouldn’t be up to doing it, skill-wise?
Lucas: Not really, but I guess in a way, yeah. That was one of the things where we wanted to get in a room together before we announced he was gonna be playing. We spent a good four months going over this stuff and have him shake out the cobwebs. The main thing was to get to this comfort level between me and Joe onstage, and we worked really hard by doing that.
Obviously Ryan is in the band too so that’s a bit of a wrench; how did that play out? Was it tough for you to bring it up to him and to make sure everybody felt good about it?
Lucas: The first person that I brought the whole idea up to was Ryan. I was like, “Hey…what do you think of this?” [I was] perfectly willing to abandon the idea if he wasn’t into it. He was like, “That’s a really good idea, I think that would be a kick ass show if you think Joe will be into it.” I don’t think every drummer would be laid back about things like that. The thing was, when these ideas were sort of brought up, we were on tour for Hey Killer, and I really love that record and I love playing with Ryan. So I wasn’t ever going to do something that was gonna jeopardize or get in the way of that.
Daniels: I feel kind of like this third wheel on a date, and I guess that’s just a normal feeling and maybe it will get better as we play more shows. And I love Ryan – Ryan’s great. The whole thing is kind of like…a lot. I never envisioned, if we got back together, that it would be like this. One hundred percent, this is Scott’s idea, this way. I wasn’t cool with it at first, I did have a problem with it. It took some pecking at me to get me to really do it, with Ryan – and it could’ve been Joe Schmo, it could be an alien – but I had to sit back and go, “Scott really likes to do different things all the time and do what the next person wouldn’t do,” and I know he didn’t want to leave Ryan out. I get it. I got used to the idea, and once I met Ryan and played with him and started being around him more, I got more comfortable – you know what I mean? I think it’s a normal reaction for anyone put in that situation. With all that said, my feeling about this is 85 percent positive, 15 percent it is what it is – that’s where I’m at with it.
Lucas: If you set aside egos and all that bullshit, it’s just a really good show [laughs]. I think that people who have seen it already really fucking dig it. I get everybody’s feelings and all that, but let’s do it. I think everyone can see that.
Were you surprised at the reaction to the news the two of you would be reuniting?
Not really. There’s plenty of people that haven’t seen Joe play, and there’s plenty of people who have seen Joe play. And I remember seeing some band at the Pitchfork Music Festival here in Chicago, and I can’t remember who it was; but I was watching the drummer and thinking, “Wow, this drummer reminds me a lot of Joe.” And I remember thinking, “Was this guy into Joe when he was a kid?” And I started thinking about kids who hadn’t been able to see Joe play. So to me, the idea of playing with Joe was just a way to let people who hadn’t gotten the chance to see him play before see him play. The idea of playing it without him felt a little cheap.
What was the first show like, looking over at each other onstage for the first time in so long, and how were the nerves?
Daniels: The emotions were…I was overwhelmed. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction. I feel kind of out of my element and I kind of feel like a stranger to my own fucking band. The way I get through it right now is like, after we get off the stage I’m going right to the merch and greeting people and meeting people who haven’t seen me in years, and it kind of helps me cope with those emotions of feeling like a stranger, because I can’t help that. This is normal, I know how to play with [Lucas], but I still feel a little lost – if that makes sense.
Lucas: I had my own stuff to deal with, I didn’t give a fuck what was going on over there [laughs]. I mean, I had my own nerves to get over. The shows felt like a blur – I honestly don’t even remember playing them. And the reaction was so positive, it’s almost like it was too easy; I almost felt like I didn’t do anything, like just went out onstage and stood there for three hours. It was strange. I’m looking forward to going on tour and getting a real feel for what it feels like.
Daniels: It was a combination between people that didn’t know me as “Joe rock star” being there, and, “Oh shit – these songs are really hard to play!” I’m not doing Neil Peart stuff, but these are fucking hard songs to play; it’s an endurance and a stamina and you have to keep up. It just challenges you. Now trying to sit behind a kit at 45 years old with my Dad-bod [laughs], and being out of shape…I had to start putting my mindset back to when I was 23, 25. But the only thing that’s going to put me in shape is playing in front of people.
I saw the video from the first night, and you broke two sticks right from the start during “Bound for the Floor” [see the video below at 3:26 and 4:17]. But you recovered instantly and it looked completely bad ass.
Daniels: Yeah, I guess it looked natural because it’s still inherent in me how to recover myself. But “Bound for the Floor,” that’s what bummed me out; we’re filming and I’m like, “Fuck! I blew these sticks and it totally fucks me up.” Trust me [laughs], I was pissed off about it. The second night, what happens? The fourth song in, I break my brand new kick pedal. I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And I threw it out to the crowd [laughs], and I guess I wasn’t thinking because they were fighting over it.
Revisiting these songs, as most of As Good As Dead is about life in your stifling hometown of Zion, which I’m guessing is incredibly far in the rearview for both of you, what sort of memories do they bring up?
Lucas: There’s a song on the record, “Freeze Dried (F)lies,” where every time I play it I’m singing the lyrics and kind of impressed that 26 year old me had that much insight. I just kinda knew what was going on. Not that it’s helped me at all, but it’s impressive that, I’m like, “Wow. This guy saw inside my black heart and fucking put it all down in a song.” Stuff like that. I think there’s something…therapeutic isn’t the right word, but there really is something where you’re like, “Oh man, these are my issues, and they’ve been my issues my whole life and they’re gonna be my issues the rest of my life.” There’s something really interesting to see what you laid out over the last 20 years of your life – and that’s a really odd thing. I’m not sure everyone is confronted by what they thought when they were 25 – and maybe they should be.
Daniels: We missed the grunge explosion. Back then we were getting played just as much as No Doubt, Bush, STP; over Christmas of ’96 we were the most played and we sold the most records in that week, and these bands sold 10 million or more records. And people think we sold that amount of records because of the airplay, but no – and I don’t fucking get it. I scratch my head to this day. We would be better off putting out As Good As Dead today…we were a little to late to the fucking party. Now that I look back on it, and all the YouTube posts and all the e-mails, it’s like, 20 years later, now people get it, now people want it, now people are ready for As Good As Dead. It’s really fucking weird.
I know the big question many have is, “What’s next?” even though the tour hasn’t even really started yet. But are you interested in continuing on in some capacity with together or with Joe contributing at some point to Local H in the future?
Lucas: This whole thing is just a one step at a time type thing, let it breathe and let it be it’s own thing. Coming from a guy about to go on a tour playing a 20 year old record, I’m not really into nostalgia. But I’m not also into trying to figure out too far into the future either.
Daniels: That has not been a discussion, but I know how things work. The sense I’m getting right now is people don’t know where Joe’s head is. I can honestly say I have no future plans to be in a band again, let along Local H to be making albums, to be touring…no plans as of right now. Now, am I open to, if this tour went well, to keep adding dates? Yeah, if it makes sense. There’s excitement, but they’re standoff-ish with me because they don’t know where I’m at. Let’s just do these shows, let’s see how things go and let’s go from there. Be happy with this right now.
AN EVENING WITH LOCAL H :: Thursday, May 5 at Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave. in Allston, MA : 8 p.m., all ages $20 : Advance tickets