There are a number of cities, aside from New York or L.A., where a band can sustain a career. Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, San Francisco and Seattle come to mind. Of course, if you're not from one of those places you have to re-locate, which is what the Lashes' vocalist Ben Clark did. He grew up in Spokane on the eastern edge of Washington state, roughly 300 miles and a culture or two away from Seattle. Seattle is chilly and wet, they call that summer. Lattes rule as people work long hours so Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing can rule the world. But go east, across the Cascade mountains, and it's a different place. Agriculture is big. Hay, most of which is exported, potatoes and wheat are the main crops. Spokane serves as a transit point. In fact, trains roll right through downtown. It's a two party town - there are business oriented Republicans and religious Republicans. That's it, thank you.
Clark and his compadres listened to a variety of Rock, venturing far beyond the accepted confines of their conservative environment. When push came to shove, Clark fled west to Seattle in '00. But landing in Seattle was not the complete answer. So he turned to his Spokane buddies, guitarist Scotty Rickard and bassist Nate Mooter, and persuaded them to cross the mountains. He then added a pair of locals, guitarist Eric Howk and keyboard player Jacob Hoffman. The group went through ten drummers before Mike Loggins arrived.
There are times in every successful group's life when it all comes down to how well they handle adversity. When the Lashes was still a four piece unit, Clark sang and played guitar. During an '03 show at one of Seattle's better venues, Crocodile Cafe, Clark's amp exploded in the middle of a song. The amp is in flames! The sane thing to do, and the way most rational people would handle the situation, is to stop the show, attempt to put out the fire, evacuate the building and call 911. Of course, if that had happened you wouldn't be reading this because that's not much of a story. What did happen is this: Clark tossed his blue '66 Fender Mustang aside - without an amp it's not much good. He grabbed the mic and gave the performance of his life. The audience was blown away and from that point on Clark focused solely on vocals. The Mustang was passed to Rickard who made good use of it.
The Lashes expanded to six members a short time later and released an EP on Lookout! Records, "The Stupid Stupid." Sold out local shows (though they were never Seattle scene favorites) and an opening slot on a Libertines tour (trial by fire) earned notices. In late '04, the Lashes recorded "Get It" but the album's release date kept getting pushed back - marketing schedules, label staff turnover and other details. Finally, it saw the light of day in early '06.
The early '80s were tough on Seattle. The local economy was down. Microsoft was just a rumor, Starbucks had four locations and wasn't doing all that well and the sports teams consistently failed to step it up when they needed to. And despite a vibrant music scene, the city had yet to really make its mark. Sure, Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle but he had to go to NY, then London, to make it. There was Heart but many people initially thought they were a Canadian band since the group had migrated to Vancouver, B.C., to keep male members out of the draft. But with the Vietnam War long over Seattle was poised to become the new center of the music universe. And the band that was going to make it happen was The Heats. This local outfit played an ass shaking post-Punk power-pop (back when the concept was new). They got the record deal and their first single was the snotty "I Don't Like Your Face." Now there's a Punk song title! Unfortunately, the public didn't like The Heats' attitude. The record stiffed. A couple more singles dribbled out and maybe an album but it was clear The Heats had missed their moment. Now, a quarter century later here are the Lashes. Sure, their self-titled debut contains the anger, angst and frustration that power-pop groups must exhibit but they aren't aggressive about it. Rather Clark sings of relationships (the upside and downside) as evident in the song titles "New Best Friend," "The World Needs More Love Letters" and "Wanna Girl." Unlike their predecessors, The Heats, the Lashes give everything a more palatable, positive spin.
Clark's vocals are scruffy and emotive while the band, a tight unit, puts the songs over with authority. What's not to like?