For a while, Scott Terry thought of Ohio as little more than a couple of farms lining the freeway on the route to Chicago. He grew up in Philadelphia, but that was a long time ago. Ohio is home now, and has been for years.
"We are an Ohio band, and pretty much anywhere within the borders of our state we like to call home. And especially Northeast Ohio," he says. Terry is phoning in from Columbus, where he's just returning from a jog across the frozen city. The energetic frontman of Red Wanting Blue is quintessentially Midwestern.
With plans to show Cleveland the same love they've gotten from the city over the years, Red Wanting Blue will post up at the House of Blues for a two-night stand this weekend. And for those who've forgotten, Friday (the first night of the run) is Valentine's Day. The promise of romance among the audience is keen.
"When we saw it on the calendar, we saw it as an opportunity to our fans and audience. We thought maybe we could do more of a love song-themed, ballad-style first night, and then have a more rock 'n' roll set on the second night," Terry says.
And it's been more than a year since the band has graced Cleveland with its presence. Like most eras of the Red Wanting Blue history, the past year or so has been studded with personal growth and considerable time on the road. They're a live band. Their studio work, of course, has pushed them forward.
Terry, who anchors the band's blend of road-tested alt-rock riffs and catchy melodies with a deep, soulful voice, says that patience is a key. This is not a band that runs on autopilot, churning out label-friendly pop quotas as they age. He sifts the shrapnel of his life - the good, the bad, the lovely, the woebegotten - into music.
Along the way, Terry confesses that he wasn't always so forthright about his own personal opinions and thoughts. Before cultivating a community of fans who return the sincerity in his words, Terry found himself lost along the paths to success. That included a lot of black leather boots and bad haircuts, not to mention the dubious song craft.
It all starts with Ohio.
"Athens to me is a very magical place. I'm tied to memories of when I was just beginning my life as an independent adult," Terry says. He spent those years working toward a degree at Ohio University and kicking around notions of finding success here and there with a rock band. Touring across the state, he ambled among different looks and different sounds, all the while working to find himself through music and just plain growing up.
Early incarnations of Red Wanting Blue contrast sharply with the current trip. It was around 2004, when he and the band cut Pride: The Cold Lover, that he found a more honest interpretation of life in his songwriting. It was a breakthrough.
Pride: The Cold Lover is the first real instance of Terry coming into his own as the leader of a rock band. It was the album he had been subconsciously working toward for years.
There was a long period of time, he says, where he attempted to live "as" a rock star, rather than simply live out his own goals and attitudes. As he scans the modern rock 'n' roll landscape, he sees a lot of bands still pursuing that poseur path. But in writing and recording Pride, Terry says he found that the weirder, more experimental, and more downright truthful material was both cathartic and well received by the fans.
"When it comes from an honest place, when it comes from some sincere place, there's something about that that transfers over. And you hope that it transfers into the song and into the words and that people can 'get it,'" Terry says. It's clear that he places high value on just being himself onstage and in the studio.
That same energy carried through the next several records. In 2010, the band signed with a major label for the first time. They re-released 2008's These Magnificent Miles and, in 2012, dropped From the Vanishing Point to critical acclaim. The chorus to "Audition," one of the singles from the album, remains deliciously stuck in people's heads to this day.
Later this spring, the band will release its tenth album. Terry's keeping fairly quiet about the details for now, but he says that they've been slipping two new songs into recent set lists.
Still, the same themes of living life fully and truthfully play out in his work. He writes mostly on the road, gathering memories from crazy nights in small towns and major metropolises. To borrow a line from Thoreau, he strives to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. From his perch in a rock band, he's got a pretty great vantage point for such endeavors.
"I've made a lot of mistakes in my life," Terry says. "Half of them have been haircuts and dressing poorly and making bad fashion statements, whatever. We do these things, but I can accept pretty much anything I've done. I can say, you know, I was just being honest. I was just doing what I felt. And you can't fault somebody for just saying, hey, I was being honest. That's kinda the mission behind me being in the band."
Red Wanting Blue | 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14 and Saturday, Feb. 15 | House of Blues | 308 Euclid Ave. | 216-523-2583 | Tickets: $17 - $20 (Saturday: sold out) | houseofblues.com