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Spazzy Romanticism: Love Story In Blood Red

Jason Frederick has been in a lot of bands in a relatively short time, busting out of Athens, Ohio with the hard-rocking Means, continuing to make trouble in the rough-edged Spiveys, and most recently taking a turn toward the pop as the frontman and songwriter in Chicago's Love Story in Blood Red. Still, Frederick says that there's always been a melodic core to his songs, even before he made the shift to Love Story. There was just too much craziness going on around it for people to notice.

"Both the Means and the Spiveys were the most abrasive and rambunctious bands, just spazzing out to the absolute Nth degree," Frederick said in a recent telephone interview. "But the entire time I was doing that, I was really into the lyrics, and basically wrote all the songs on acoustic guitar anyway. Then I brought them to the band and, you know, we would get really hyper and play them really hard.

"Eventually, I just got kind of bored with every song having to be really, really intense and loud," he added. "So I started recording some quieter stuff. It doesn't even really seem that different to me, though. It seems like exactly the same thing, only mellower."

In fact, one song on the new album actually is the same. "Honeymoon Rag" began its life as a Means song in full-on, garage-rocking style. In its new arrangement it is vulnerable, sweet and the tiniest bit cynical, sounding a little like a '50s rock tune retrofitted for the '00s. "I was really into the idea that I could take a song that was bombastic and huge, one where no one understood the words, and turn it into a really boppy, head-shaking, finger-snapping tune," Frederick explained. "It turned into the funniest song on the record."

Indeed, like this cut, Love Story in Blood Red's second self-titled album has an almost perfect balance between spazz and croon, between cagey romanticism and raffish bravado. It's a varied ride, alternating staccato love songs and blues-tinged ballads, new-wave rave-ups and glorious pop choruses. Relentlessly fun in an easygoing way, the album is also sort of ambitious. It never lands on the same square twice, never slips in any obvious connective music and somehow coalesces into a coherent whole.

That variation, Frederick said, was part of the plan all along. "When I quit the Means, I was so sick of screaming my balls out. It was driving me crazy," he said. "Every night, the screaming, it got boring — the same thing over and over again."

He began to listen to other, more pop-oriented records and envied their variety. "Like Blur," he said. "On their records, one song is like a waltz, and the next song is really loud, and the next song is just a guy singing with a piano, and it's like you can be whatever the hell you want to."

But the Means, just establishing themselves as a certain type of loud, rough, punk-garage kind of band, didn't have latitude to explore other styles. "I thought I'd vary the songs with the Means," he said. "But really, if you're going to do something serious, it's important to [stay true to] what your band does."

That meant more of the same aggressive, loud, amped-up sound that Frederick was so tired of. Finally, he solved the problem by quitting and forming Love Story in Blood Red.

There are two Love Story in Blood Red albums now, both titled with the band's name, so that the only way to tell them apart is by cover art. Let's call the first one the black-and-white one; the second is in color.

Frederick says that there's another less obvious difference: the first CD was more or less a one-man project, with musicians pulled in at recording time with little or no preparation. The second was more of a band effort. Kris Poulin, a highly regarded Chicago-based sound engineer, played guitar and recorded the album. Nick Meiers, who runs Nodak Records, played bass. Jim Duffy was on drums. And Devin Davis, the reclusive home-recording artist whose solo album Lonely People of the World, Unite! made waves last year, sat in on keyboards for three songs. "Devin Davis has played piano on basically every recording that I've done since I was in Chicago," Frederick said, including both Love Story records and three Means CDs. "It's been fantastic. But he has been absolutely reluctant to join a band."

Since recording the album, Love Story have added a new keyboard player, Casey Meehan, who will be touring with the band and playing on future records.

Love Story in Blood Red just finished a quick tour of Ireland and will soon be starting work on their next album. Recording, though, will have to wait until Poulin finishes work on a new studio. Frederick said he was looking forward to the chance to work on new material before recording, a departure from his usual routine. "In almost every band I've been in, the songs were being written and people are learning them as we're recording them," he said. "This time, the idea is for me to teach them the songs, and then we're going to play them a bunch, and then we'll record them."

And the album title? We'd guess it will be anything but Love Story in Blood Red again. — Jennifer Kelly [Monday, April 3, 2006]

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