“These boys pair rock-solid, ringing guitars…with the hefty grit of garage and the whipsmacking raid of punky, big guitar indie rock.”
-The Big Takeover
“Melodic, rocket blast hooks and psychedelic mystery,” –The Chicago Tribune
“Stop what you’re doing right now. Go directly to the record store and buy The Living Blue’s latest disc…Finally, a rock band who is doing something interesting.”
The partnership between songwriter-guitarists Stephen Ucherek and Joe Prokop started in 1998 in the small-town environs of Odell, Illinois. Ucherek was still in highschool when the two began penning songs, bonding over a mutual love of gnarled garage rock.
They formed the Bloody Knuckles, who owed much to the sound of the garage revival bands the Makers, the Oblivians, the Quadrajets, and the Cramps. Says Ucherek. “Joe and I used to play sleazy stomp rock at ungodly volumes.”
Soon the Bloody Knuckles made the move to slightly more cosmopolitan Champaign, Illinois. Within the city’s emo-heavy music scene their sound stood out. “People didn't like us 'cause we were wild, and loud, and we didn't take shit from anyone,” says Ucherek. “We never looked for fights, but they found us often in those days. Just because of the way we looked.”
The group – now featuring drummer Mark Schroder and bassist Pat Olsen – opted for its first name change– to the Blackouts, and in 2002, the group recorded its first full-length, Everyday is a Sunday Evening, over a couple of weeks with their own money with Matt Talbot of Hum. “It was quite the learning experience,” says Ucherek of the time spent. “It did okay, but Joe and I knew we could do much better.”
That opportunity came in 2004, when they recorded Living in Blue with power-pop cult hero and producer Adam Schmitt at his studio in Champaign. “Adam's exactly what we were looking for,” says Ucherek. The album broadened the group’s sound; incorporating everything from lysergic psych to sun dappled California pop. “We were very confident about that record. I knew if it got out, it would turn some heads.”
Turn some heads it did. Within months of the record’s release in April 2004, several songs from the album had been featured prominently in the WB Network’s One Tree Hill and MTV’s Power Girls. The group toured nonstop– sharing the stage with the likes of The Strokes and The New York Dolls (twice) and landed a slot performing live on MTV2.
A deal with Chicago-based Minty Fresh came next. “Which was great, cause all the major label A&R guys we talked to had no idea what to think of us. [Minty owner] Jim Powers came down to Champaign a few times and hung out at our practice space while we played him our new songs. “
Around that time, the group underwent two major changes. First, they decided to take on a new moniker – with so many bands (past and present) using variations on the word ‘blackout’ they took a cue from their own song title, and now call themselves The Living Blue. Then came a new bassist, Andrew Davidson. Ucherek: “Here's this 23 year-old factory worker living in Champaign who plays bass like John Entwistle. He reminds me of the Ox in his demeanor as well, very cool, calm, and collected. I can be a bit spazzy at times, as can Joe, so it’s a nice balance.”
On the heels of a triumphant set at the 2005 SXSW conference, the group headed to Chicago to record the basic tracks for their Minty Fresh debut, Fire, Blood, Water at Gravity Studios, once again with producer Schmitt behind the board.
Prokop explains, “We pumped out the whole album in just over five days, which was rough. But it felt appropriate that way because [Fire, Blood, Water] is more raw than our other records. And it has a sort of live feel anyway.”
“Those days were kind of a blur,” continues Ucherek, “but we conditioned ourselves before recording by practicing our asses off. We were so tight in that studio that we banged out the basic tracks in one day.”
The resulting album is a thrilling mix of musical bravado and lyrical panache. The songs range from the Beefheart-meets-Television riffage of “Conquistador,” the heavy swagger of “Wishlist” to the imagistic "Murderous Youth" -- a track inspired by “Angry Young Man” author Alan Stilltoe’s Down and out in Paris and London. The songs veer wildly in content, from deeply personal narratives (“State of Affairs”) to straight-up rock bombast (“She Bleeds Pink”). “That was another big thing with this record,” says Ucherek. “We wanted these songs to fuckin’ jam.”
Outfitted with a new label and band name, a solid line-up, and their pride and joy, blood and guts, “Fire, Blood, Water”, The Living Blue is set to tour through the end of ’06. “I feel really good about this record. This one really feels like its us,” says Ucherek. “And I love playing it live.” Which reminds us: their live show should not be missed.