Thirty years after forming in Zion, Ill., Scott Lucas figures he and whoever he’s playing with in Local H are indeed Lifers in the music world. And that’s what makes it a fitting title for the group’s ninth studio album, and first in five years, premiering exclusively below.
“It’s weird,” Lucas tells Billboard about hitting the three-decade mark. “It’s strange. But there’s also a sense of pride, that this is work you can be proud of. The thing about it is I never really gave myself an out. It’s not like I went to college or ever thought there was anything else I wanted to do. On one hand it’s impossible to think you could still be doing this so many years later.”
However, Lucas adds, “To be honest, I don’t think I ever thought about it at all. I don’t think you can. I think you just do it and try to feel like you’re doing good work and not wasting anybody’s time or not wasting your own time. We don’t have unlimited time, so there’s no point in thinking too much about it. Just do it.”
For Lifers, due out April 10 on AntiFragile Music, Lucas and Ryan Harding — Local H’s drummer since 2013 — did 11 new songs in Chicago with Steve Albini, the first time Lucas has ever worked with the recording icon. The set also features guest appearances by Juliana Hatfield and Deer Tick’s John McCauley.
Lucas says recording started with a four-song session and pointedly wasn’t rushed in any way. “It was just about taking time on it and trying to make everything right, not taking any shortcuts,” Lucas explains. “We took almost a year off, didn’t play any shows — for us that’s kind of a big deal. I think we just really got into the record, and once we started seeing what we had just kind of went from there and felt like, ‘Hey, we’ve got something here. These songs are really great. Let’s not f-ck it up.’ I think there’s a lot of validity to not forcing things and letting them be natural. And I think it’s better than all the other records we’ve done.”
Lucas acknowledges that he’s long been “kind of afraid” to work with Albini, whose credits include seminal albums by Nirvana, the Pixies, Bush, the Breeders and many more. “I guess I just didn’t want to get in there and embarrass myself in front of him or anything like that,” Lucas notes. “But we figured it was time to finally do something with him, and it was great. Everything we did with him was analog; There was no digital with him, so we’re recording to tape again, and that was fun. It really got us in a different mindset as far as getting everything live and then going back and punching things in. So that really got this whole thing going.”
There’s plenty of Local H’s trademark, punchy rock on Lifers, but fans will also notice some musical muscle flexing and prog rock influence on a handful of epics, including “Defy and Surrender” and “Beyond the Valley of Snakes,” which stretch past 10 and seven minutes, respectively. “We needed a 10-minute song on the record so we could have this sort of live set piece,” Lucas says of “Defy and Surrender.” “It was like putting together this big puzzle — we need a part here, we need a part here, not really typical verse-chorus type of songs. It goes in movements.” For “Beyond the Valley of Snakes,” meanwhile, Lucas says “we were trying to come up with a mix between a Cars song and a Metallica song. We knew that’s what we wanted the end result to be, but it took a while to figure out how to get there.”
Local H previewed the Lifers material while touring with Soul Asylum earlier this year, and the group is, like everyone else, waiting for a chance to get back on the road and support the actual release. The coronavirus pandemic shutdown has given him a chance to work on some new material as well, and Lucas is hopeful there won’t be another five-year gap between Local H releases.
“There is an idea that if we did the next record it would be quicker,” he says. “We spent a couple days at Pachyderm (Studios) in Minnesota, and that room has got some spirit to it. There’s some ghosts in that room. We really enjoyed behind there, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to write another record pretty quickly and go in there and record. But who knows; Our minds could change about that, so we’ll see what happens.”