The guys in The Exploding Lies, the local hard rock act that describes its music as "loose-groove blues-based riff rock," have been friends for over a decade. They've always hung out, and they've always gone to shows. But five years ago, they decided they had enough of just hanging out and watching other people's bands. They wanted a band of their own. So they assembled in singer-guitarist Kurt Curtis's basement and started learning to play Big Star songs.
"We were always just the friends of the musicians and the roommates of the musicians," says Curtis over beers at a Rocky River bar near his home. "We just never took that extra step."
A Cleveland native, Curtis describes himself as a "big oops" in his family and because his siblings were so much older than him, he got a good dose of The Yardbirds and Cream while growing up.
"I remember the smooth SoCal thing that was going on with The Eagles and I knew [The Byrds'] Sweetheart of the Rodeo inside out by the time I was ten years old just because I was exposed to that stuff. It was the same thing for our other members, too."
Curtis and crew initially formed the White Hesitations, which he describes as "an excuse to get out and play some folky songs," before morphing into The Exploding Lies in 2008. Their first recording was a four-song demo that they recorded with Todd Tobias (Guided by Voices) at Waterloo Studio in Kent. That album yielded the band's self-titled debut, a collection of tunes that they recorded at a variety of different studios.
"The demo was recorded in two days of fury and there wasn't much thought of making a recording with the self-titled full-length," he says. "It was just a collection of things we had recently recorded."
The band followed up the full-length with "The Cleveland Blues," a 7-inch it recorded at its new rehearsal space in Lakewood, the home base for the loose collection of local indie rock bands known as the Davenport Collective.
"The silly part about it is that it's a long song and in the making of it, our keyboard player said it would be funny to make it like the James Brown party records where it fades out and comes back on the second side and is like a dub version on the b-side."
Recording the single with Ben Gmetro (The Dreadful Yawns), the guys decided they had a producer who understood their approach and recruited him for their new album, A Slow Death.
"Ben is just a fan of music," says Curtis. "It doesn't matter what it is. The past year, he's been concentrating on learning to play classical guitar and just listens to classical music constantly. We don't sound like Volta Sound or New Planet Trampoline or Sun Spots or The Dreadful Yawns or any of the Davenport bands. That's good for Ben because he gets something a little different."
The album, which commences with "Wash Woman," a dirge characterized by sneering vocals and a prominent old-school organ riff, sounds like something that came out of Texas in the early '70s. Songs like "Painkiller Blues" and "The Boogie" have a close resemblance to the ramshackle blues of ZZ Top.
"I guess we just have that white boy blues," says Curtis. "We're music geeks so we like bands like Stack Waddy and Leaf Hound and Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and Atomic Rooster. We heard those bands and we were like, 'Yeah!' That's a funny part about us. We always liked the English bravado and the boogie aspect of the English blues that starts with [John] Mayall."
In fact, Curtis says an important moment in the band's development occurred when they all listened to a compilation of British heavy blues culled from 1969-1973.
"It was stuff you never heard of," he says. "The only thing on that compilation that I had heard was Screaming Lord Sutch. We were already music geeks and we definitely found a direction there. It was weird trying to make a record that doesn't sound good. We weren't going for any kind of sonic purity. It's more of a feel thing. We can't get away with really clean recordings. We're a sloppy, beer-drinking rock 'n' roll band."
While it's certainly not going to get radio airplay, A Slow Death is a fun listen characterized by the band's reckless approach. It's the kind of album you want to crank and play as loudly as possible.
"I hate to use the word hobby because it trivializes it and makes it sound like we're a bunch of 40-year-old dads just out to do something on Friday," he says. "This is all true. But for us, it's great that venues in town are willing to book us and they know that we're not goofy old guys that dork people out. It's just really fricking fun to turn a Fender Twin way up and hit a chord."