If Ultimate Fakebook's hard-driving, hook-laden This Will Be Laughing Week evokes memories of high school, it isn't surprising, according to singer/guitarist Bill McShane.
"It really all boils down to the fact that I'm still fairly new to songwriting," McShane, 26, said. "So those [notions of high school] are just the big themes that bubbled up first."
On This Will Be Laughing Week, the band sticks to the guitar-pop tradition of songs about girls and the passions of youth, but McShane and his bandmates 28-year-old drummer Eric Melin and 26-year-old bassist Nick Colby attempt to inject new life into the form.
Aggressive, tuneful and packed with yearning, celebratory songs like the optimistic first single, "Tell Me What You Want (I'll Be Anything)" (RealAudio excerpt), the wistful "Real Drums" (RealAudio excerpt) and the energetic "Soaked in Cinnamon," Laughing Week's confidence and depth belie the band's subject matter.
Re-released by 550 Music on July 25, the trio's second record offers shadings of classic-rock albums by bands such as the Beatles, the Who and Cheap Trick, but the trio have more in common with '90s indie-rockers such as Dayton, Ohio's Guided by Voices, Los Angeles' the Muffs or Seattle's now-defunct Flop.
A Band From The Heartland
McShane and Colby, third cousins who grew up in Beloit, Kan., learned to play instruments together as teenagers. An early, more metallic, four-piece version of Ultimate Fakebook (a fakebook is an easy-to-follow guide to playing a song) began in Manhattan, Kan., after McShane and Colby moved there in 1994. After the early lineup's lead singer left the group, McShane stepped into the role.
The band steadily built a loyal following throughout the Midwest. Early on, Ultimate Fakebook's local circuit in Kansas included Manhattan, Lawrence (home of the University of Kansas and a healthier local music scene) and Kansas City.
Although hours apart, "those three cities are equally our home base," McShane said.
Geography played a role in Ultimate Fakebook's touring range after they issued their first record, 1997's Electric Kissing Parties, on Lawrence indie label Noisome.
"It works out really well, being from Kansas, 'cause we're centrally located," Melin said. "We can play Chicago on a weekend, then come back home, or play Minneapolis or Iowa or Texas, then come back home."
"We can tour in spurts, and it's less expensive," Colby added.
Sophomore Album Gets The Rock Rolling
Increased touring last year, after the initial release of Laughing Week on Noisome, led to a monthlong opening slot on an East Coast and Midwest tour with At the Drive-In and the Get Up Kids. The Get Up Kids' label, Heroes & Villains, is issuing the vinyl version of Laughing Week.
"That tour was probably the best thing that's ever happened to us," McShane said. "A small show was like 300, so every night it was exposing us to a lot of people."
Ultimate Fakebook played more than 140 dates between April and December last year, and the hard work helped them line up their deal with 550 Music to re-release Laughing Week. "Everything started building right around the time we started touring a lot," McShane said.
"When we recorded the record, we wanted it to be bought out," Melin said. "We recorded it with that in mind, but we thought it'd be, like, a big independent label, maybe. This was way more than we thought."
And, although the band re-recorded two songs from Electric Kissing Parties "Far, Far Away" (an ode to "Star Wars" creator George Lucas) and "Downstairs/Arena Rock" to include on the re-release of Laughing Week, the group didn't have to alter the recording at all to please their new record company.
550 Likes Fakebook Just As They Are
Melin said Ben Goldman, the A&R representative at 550 Music who signed Ben Folds Five, told the band, "I want the album as is, and I want you guys to continue to do all-ages clubs, tour like you are, and keep working the grassroots level."
"I think he would rather build a band's career and let them do their thing than try to get one hit single out of them and throw them away," Melin said. "And we need that kind of thing. We want to play forever, until we're old."
And the bandmembers, wary of becoming what McShane calls a "cult power-pop kind of band," think they have a good chance to make it.
"You could say Blink-182 is doing a fairly similar thing as we are," McShane said. "Even though they're more punk rock, it's still really straight-up, three-piece rock-pop. I don't think we're just some cult thing."
"Radio today scares me a little," Melin said. "But maybe we'll be one of the ones who crosses over; maybe radio needs a change. And who knows, there are all these underground bands out there that we know are really good and that kids keep coming to see, so maybe we'll get lucky."
"And if we don't," Colby added, "we're just gonna keep doing it anyway."