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On their Red Ink/Columbia debut Pretend You're Alive, a re-release of their acclaimed album first distributed by noted indie label The Militia Group, the Canton, Ohio-based band unleash singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Michael Shepard's surreal, cinematic vision of dreams transformed into nightmares, angels battling demons, love turned violent and innocence corrupted into an epic, wide-screen rock vision.
Songs like the ominous "In Red," the deceptively melodic "Blackout," the pummeling politics of "Pandamoranda" and the jangling, forbidding "The Monster" form the shards of Shepard's narrative puzzle, a neutral observer recounting the battle of good and evil for our immortal souls.
"I've always tried to write, from a lyrical standpoint, in story form," says Shepard, who formed the band after a hiatus from music led him to film school in New York. "It's a big turnoff for me to turn on the radio and hear bands all singing about the same things. I try to deal with love and emotions, but in a different way."
Like Al Pacino in Godfather III, his passion music "drug" him back just when he thought he was out. "I was kind of jaded with the whole atmosphere of the music business and the people I was working with at the time. But I discovered, you can't just walk away from something that's part of you."
Two years ago, after the recording of Pretend You're Alive, Shepard along with band mates set out to play their music for audiences all over North America. Lovedrug has been on the road ever since, opening for artists as disparate as Robert Plant, The Killers, Cat Power, Creeper Lagoon and Braid, to name just a few.
"Everybody in this band is a great musician, and we play well together," says Putman, who cites Soundgarden, Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Beatles and Fleetwood Mac as among his major influences. "One of our biggest challenges has been playing these songs we didn't write, although at this point, we all feel a strong connection to the music."
Owen, who originally auditioned to be a drummer for Lovedrug, only to join as a guitarist, was a fan of Shepard's work with his previous band Kerith Ravine. "I liked the darker aspects of it," he says. "The album sounded like a combination of my own favorite bands and influences," citing Jeff Buckley, Sunny Day Real Estate, the Catherine Wheel and Cat Stevens as examples.
Imagine Luis Bunuel directing a movie based on Dungeons and Dragons ("The Monster"), the opening scene of worms crawling beneath the green grass in David Lynch's Blue Velvet (representing the harsh view of nature in the title track) or the larger-than-life sound of Smashing Pumpkins (as Shepard's high-pitched Thom Yorke vocal channels both child-like wonder and androgynous temptation in "Down Towards the Healing").
"I'm a big 90s rock guy," says Shepard, insisting he's more influenced by the Pumpkins, Soundgarden and Nirvana than fashionable reference points such as Coldplay, Radiohead or Muse. "It just seemed a little more pure than today's music, where everything is so pop and packaged. It's like we lost some of that raw emotion."
That emotion can be heard in the Fight Club-like physical nature of songs like "In Red," "Blackout," "Angels With Enemies" and "Radiology," with their images of blood spilled, lights punched out, broken arms and legs.
"The idea of love being painful is so true," says Shepard, who admits David Fincher, director of 7 and Fight Club, is one of his fave filmmakers. "Tapping into the feeling of sadness and melancholy is something everyone can identify with without being too overly cheesy about it."
He explains that "Blackout" started out "as a story about an individual walking through the streets of a decadent, disconsolate city, walking by these different buildings and viewing abusive situations going on. And not just physical abuse, but the way we abuse one another and get abused on a daily basis."
"Monster" is based on Shepard's childhood nightmare involving a demon that loved on a mountain and would come down at the same time every year, steal all the children and take them back to his lair, a scenario that recalls the plot of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. Much of his music is an attempt to confront his primal fears, according to Shepard.
"I always kind of dread the "What's that song about?" question when people approach me after a show," says Shepard. "The first thing out of my mouth is always, Well, what do you think it means?"
"It Won't Last" is the album's centerpiece, a seven-minute-plus epic that is Lovedrug's "Day in the Life," an aural film that posits a parallel Matrix-like world filled with angels like Werner Herzog's Wings of Desire, urging listeners to "take your life back in your hands/I know it won't last."
"I don't feel we fit into a niche," says Shepard, who compares the band's attitude to Queen. "They had so many different types of songs, from folk and funk to country and rockabilly."
After two straight years of touring, Lovedrug has become a solid concert attraction.
"I've always wanted to be honest," says Shepard about his performance style. "My attitude changes on a nightly basis. When I'm angry, the music sounds angry. When I'm sad, it sounds sad. You have to let those emotions come through. That's what makes it entertaining for the audience."
At this point, the band is ready to get back into the studio and start working on new material. "I love the creative process and working with other people," says Shepard. "I tend to be the one bringing in the concept or the idea for the song, and then using the creative abilities of the other three guys to turn it into something I might not have anticipated."
"I love being part of this band," echoes Owen.
Let Lovedrug drag you into their world. You won't want to leave and you'll never be the same again.
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