After a decade, Ohio indie rock quartet Lovedrug is in limbo, but finally found the right formula 

Lovedrug with All the Day Holiday, The City Lives and Leo Goes Grr
7 p.m. Monday
the Conservatory
8911 N. Western
$8 advance, $10 door

Life is quite unlike the recording studio. You don't get a nearly infinite number of takes to get it right, nor is there an opportunity for post-facto pitch correction or the perfect overdub to amplify what you're trying to do.

It's a shame, because Lovedrug's luxurious, cinematic arrangements and stylish guitar swagger suggests assurance and vision that's unfortunately not been replicated in its career.
But it's not for a lack of trying.

The Ohio quartet began a decade ago, and generated a bit of attention for its big, oceanic sound, which at times recalls the epic swirling soundscapes of British acts South, Doves and Keane. It's accompanied by rugged tension that tugs the more atmospheric elements, as dictated by singer Michael Shephard's wavering tenor, vacillating between swooning croon and grimy, note-strangling strut.

The 2004 debut, "Pretend You're Alive," hit hard enough to attract Sony BMG's interest, but the band's major-label tour was ill-fated.

"When it was becoming very evident that we were not going to be able to put out the album anytime in the near future, we talked to the label president and said, 'Look, we kind of want to be able to keep rolling with our career here,' and they just gave us our album back and let us go," Shepard said.

No harm, no foul. Lovedrug returned to The Militia Group with 2007's "Everything Starts Where It Ends," whose more polished veneer only served to increase their underground buzz. Anxious to get back to work after the extended wait, the musicians returned just a year later with "The Sucker Punch Show," whose bad attitude was inspired by a relational breakup, and didn't come across quite right.

"If you're trying to flip one person off in a crowded room, it's not going to work out too well," Shepard said. "People are going to take it the wrong way. And that's kind of how it felt. I was just pissed off."

It wasn't even necessarily the songs themselves. Shortly after recording the disc, the group recorded another album, "Sucker Punched," comprised entirely of alternate versions of the songs.

"We've talked to people who enjoy that better than the actual record," he said.

Unfortunately, The Militia Group went through a shakeup shortly after the record's release, and hardly any copies were shipped to retailers, almost ensuring that the disc would flop. It was a bitter pill, but after years of struggling, Shepard was callused, and simply dusted himself off and got back to business. One thing that's helped Lovedrug is that its lineup is finally set.

"This, honestly, is the first time Lovedrug has been a band for more than one record. It's kind of crazy to think about, but the lineups have always changed with each record," he said. "The chemistry wasn't right. It's difficult to find the right people to work with musically."

Although without a label, Lovedrug's never been better. The guys work day jobs and spend most of the rest of their time recording. They've already cut more than 30 songs, and plan to release the demos as a series of three EPs over the course of the year, before returning to the studio to re-record the best track for an full-length by early 2011.

"It's different from going from a writing session into the studio and tracking a song than going straight out on tour. We just decided to flip things on their end and go about it in a different way: Go out there, play your songs to people, get the reactions and then go do the record," Shepard said. "Having been through so much material, we're starting to get a grasp what the new feeling or the new aura of the band is going to be."

The first EP came out in March, featuring several terrific tracks, including the slashing guitar shimmer of "Pink Champagne"; "We Were Owls" with its pulsing, exultant rhythmic drone; and sultry, dreamy paean, "She's Disaster." The second EP arrived last week; newer tracks are characterized by the absence of piano " an intentional omission (anything initially composed on piano has been transcribed to guitar) from which Shepard's slowly backing away.

"When we first started writing, I told the other guys, 'I'm done playing the piano. I'm so sick of it. I hate lugging the thing around,'" he said. "Everyone thought, 'OK, Michael's having one of his little tirades, and we'll let him do whatever.' And I said, 'No man, I'm serious.' Thirty songs later, I still haven't written a song for piano, but I recently started writing a few songs on piano that I think are going to be good, so we might move into that territory very shortly."

Meanwhile, Shepard's unflustered by Lovedrug's free agency, finally confident that things will take care of themselves, thanks to the solid lineup and the tunes it's making.

"Everyone just locks in and really understands what they're doing, where they fit in and their role," he said. "We all just really get along well, and I think that's coming across in the music." "Chris Parker

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