Interview: Local H and the sophistication of the simple

Local H

Gabe’s — Saturday, Jan. 30 at 9:30 p.m.

Illustration by Josh Carroll
Illustration by Josh Carroll

A full year is a long time to be on tour. Then again, 25 years is a long time to be in a band. Local H, who played their first show on April 20, 1990, hit that second milestone early last year, and are coming to Gabe’s in Iowa City on Jan. 30, almost exactly 50 weeks since they were here last, and about two weeks before their current tour will finally wind down.

Don’t mistake this for a 25th anniversary tour, though. Although they played a celebratory show 25 years to the day after their first, the purpose of this tour has been firmly in support of their eighth studio album, Hey Killer, released April 14, 2015. “Everything that we’ve done this year has been about the new record,” says founder and frontman Scott Lucas. That’s 100% intentional. “The best way for a band to celebrate 25 years,” he says, “is: put out a record that’s one of their best records yet.”

In Hey Killer, Local H have done exactly that. It’s Lucas’ first full-length album with drummer Ryan Harding, who joined the band in 2013. The record is driving and ferocious, an unrelenting force into which are woven ridiculously smart melodies and harmonies. It’s a paradigm that has served the band well over the last 25 years, and it’s at its best here. “We love this record,” Lucas says, “and it happened really quickly so there’s a lot about it that, that you can’t really take credit for, … you’re just happy to sit back and kind of enjoy it.”

Photo by Katie Hovland
Scott Lucas (left) and Ryan Harding of Local H — photo by Katie Hovland

The record, and Local H’s entire career, are awash in Lucas’ wickedly wise pop sensibilities. It’s a deceptively simple approach that he’s mastered: “I don’t really think anything in pop has changed since the Beatles,” he says. “There’s a fundamental idea there and it hasn’t changed … write songs that hook, but also write with brains.” It’s a solid grounding in the past that allows them to look towards the future. When asked to reflect on the band’s history, Lucas notes instead, “We’re trying to always think about the next thing.”

He is willing to touch on the past a bit, though. While most famous as a two-piece, Local H started out as a group of four. An offhand comment in the midst of a long retrospective post on the band’s website makes reference to the songwriting becoming more complex once it was down to just Lucas and Joe Daniels, the band’s first drummer. Asked about that, he says, “The more people you get involved, you know, everyone’s gotta be on the same page, and if everyone’s not completely locked in with each other, you’ve got to sort of make things simpler.” His comments echo that same pop commitment to building a deeper complexity onto the simplest of foundations.

Another instance of looking back is the Local H coffee table book, Twenty-Five Years of Skin In the Game, released on Dec. 15. Lucas calls the book “a remembrance of things,” that “happened on its own because people were asking about it.” When asked to compare the creative process of making the book to that of making music, Lucas says, “For me, personally, putting a record together … is for me, you know, it’s for us. Everyone else’s reaction is secondary … You kinda want everyone else to like it, but if you don’t like it, then you can’t put that out. And putting something like that book together — that is for everybody else.” It was done for the fans, at the request of the fans — and the fans more than appreciated it. The first print run sold out in less than two weeks.

As for the future? Lucas has some ideas percolating for his other project, Scott Lucas and the Married Men (with Aaron Duggins and Rebecca Manthe of The Tossers, among others), which has two studio albums and an EP so far. He’s not quite ready to go into that yet, though. For the immediate future, he’s ready for some time off of the road. “Once [the tour]’s over, it’ll be cool,” he says. “We’ll have some time to relax, and wait for the next thing that we do.”

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 191.

Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the date for this performance. Little Village regrets this error.