Cramped inside a small booth at Joe's Bar, a dingy downtown Canton joint, the guys in Lovedrug talk about their love for their hometown, a city known more for being home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame than its rock scene. "People blow my mind in Canton," says guitarist Jeremy Michael Gifford. "I go to public places to watch people."
Singer Michael Shepard says his favorite thing is the lack of overbearing influences in the city.
"You're free because there's absolutely no music or art scene here, so people are free to do whatever they want," he says.
As the band talks about other cities where it's performed, drummer James Childress adds, "It's a beautiful thing to feel stuck here but not stuck somewhere else."
Originally from Columbus, bassist Thomas Bragg is still getting acquainted with Canton, he says, but hasn't had a hard time adjusting.
"Upon moving here it felt like my world just got a little bigger, because I'm constantly meeting new people," he says.
While working on its new album, The Sucker Punch Show, which comes out later this month, Lovedrug stayed in an apartment-style hotel in Santa Monica, California, and was there long enough to have at least one surreal encounter. One night, while walking alone, Gifford stayed out late to watch a film crew shoot scenes for a movie near the beach. On his way back to the hotel, he noticed a man poking his head out from behind a tree.
"He jumped right out in front of me and was making strange hand gestures," he recalls. "I think he tried to cast a spell on me."
If there was a spell cast on Lovedrug, you wouldn't know it by listening to the album. The band delivers what it calls its most abrasive material. The vocals hit you in the face; the music is equally aggressive. The band clearly benefited from working with Michael Beinhorn, who produced Soundgarden's 1994 breakout, Superunknown, and worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Lovedrug finished the album in a little more than four weeks.
"Superunknown is one of my favorite rock records from the '90s," says Shepard. "Working with [Beinhorn] was an honor, first and foremost, and he played a big part in how this record sounds.
"Good producers don't tell you what to do but guide you to a place you might not have gone before," he continues. "He absolutely did that for us." "He's a genius, and he knows what he wants to hear," adds guitarist Jeremy Michael Gifford.
Shepard says Beinhorn pushed him to write lyrics with a harsher sensibility, something that hasn't gone over well with fans.
"I say exactly what I mean on this record, and we've already gotten hate mail on MySpace," says Shepard.
"I enjoy how it's aggressive and dirty at times," adds Braggs. Since forming in 2001, Lovedrug has released two records - 2004's Pretend You're Alive and 2007's Everything Starts Where It Ends - on the California-based label, the Militia Group. According to Shepard, The Sucker Punch Show was a more collaborative effort than the previous albums, where he primarily controlled the songwriting.
"Everyone added his own personality," he says. "It was the first time this has happened. I would come in with an idea. Everyone would add to it, tear it apart and reconstruct it."
Shepard says there was a point in his career where things weren't so clear. When all three members of his previous band quit on the same night, he says he decided right then that he would never play music again. But when he met the guys in Lovedrug, he changed his mind. His new band was christened to reflect his commitment to making music.
"I couldn't run away from it," he says."Anything you love, you can't run away from. That's Lovedrug."