Local H's Zoo Is A Sanctuary For Classic Rock

New album borrows from Aerosmith, Peter Frampton, Foreigner.

HOLLYWOOD — "I like those old-school guys," Local H's Scott Lucas said recently, digging into a taco salad at a Sunset Boulevard bistro.

The singer/guitarist/bassist of the Chicago rock duo was talking producers, particularly Roy Thomas Baker and Jack Douglas, the legends behind his last two albums, 1998's Pack up the Cats and Here Comes the Zoo, released Tuesday. One listen to the latter record, though, and it is clear Lucas likes all things old-school.

On the opening "Hands on the Bible," Lucas sings of "rats in the attic/ toys in the cellar," a reference to Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic, which Douglas produced (he also did John Lennon's Imagine, among others) and which inspired many of the sounds on Here Comes the Zoo. "(Baby Wants to) Tame Me" is a nine-minute epic complete with a talk-box jam, an obvious nod to Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like We Do," a song Local H once covered. "Half-Life," the first single, cops Foreigner's guitar riff on "Urgent," which Lucas admits was his entire motivation for writing the tune.

"We kept talking about [AC/DC's] Back in Black," Lucas said. "We just wanted 10 rock songs. We tried not to make a concept record."

Local H — whose As Good as Dead and Pack up the Cats chronicled a small-town rocker trying to make it big in a world where resumés are worn around the neck ("Laminate Man") — may be the only rock band in 2002 that have to try not to make a concept album.

And even when they try, they don't fully succeed. After Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair (who replaced original drummer Joe Daniels two years ago) narrowed down 10 songs from the 25 they recorded for Here Comes the Zoo, they found themselves carefully deciding the order of the album. "We work really hard on the sequencing of records, so when you listen to a song and it ends, you're always going to think of the next song that comes after it," Lucas said. "We just can't help it. I like concept albums too much."

Though not technically a concept album, Here Comes the Zoo certainly works together as one piece, a picturesque "miss you" to the glory days of rock 'n' roll. And, unintentionally, many of the songs on the album tackle the same subject matter.

"The whole record has themes of losing your edge and a fear of domestic bliss and a fear of becoming your possessions and having your bills rule you and things like that," Lucas said.

"(Baby Wants to) Tame Me," which Local H have been playing live for more than year, fits somewhere within the album's underlying theme and has evolved from the live version to include a "Sweet Emotion"-like opening. "That song is a cowardly song," Lucas said. " 'I don't want to settle down, I want to get out of here.' It's a battle cry for truant fathers everywhere."

"Hands on the Bible," on the other hand, revisits a theme common in past Local H songs such as "I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are" — what Lucas calls "that whole Frankenstein motif." "Like the creator who ditches his creation, but it finds him and destroys his life. I like the idea of things coming back to you. Like evil, evil, evil karma."

The song is certainly spooky, which was Local H's intent, but not for the reasons one might expect.

"The label said, 'Why don't you guys write some more songs.' And that means, 'Try to write us some hits,' " Lucas said. "We were working on this song that was happy and pretty poppy and then we're like, 'F--- this. This isn't going to work.' So we thought, 'Let's write the weirdest, dumbest song we can think of and we'll send it to them, and they'll never ask us to write a hit again.' So we came up with this. We thought it would be like, 'I put a spell on you.' We sent it to them and they flipped. It backfired."

If Local H seem especially conscious of their record label, it probably has to do with the fact that Pack up the Cats, which received critical acclaim, tanked (they blame poor promotion). In a nasty sting of bad luck, it was released the same week Universal Music Group swallowed up their label, Island Records.

For the follow-up, though, Lucas feels content with Palm Pictures, former Island head Chris Blackwell's label.

"The main thing we want is to have people around us and behind us who are ready to go all-out and for the long haul," Lucas said. "We had the rug pulled out from under us last time. We had a lot of problems — people leaving and being fired. You have to be around people who believe in you." Just like the old-school days.