It's been said that you can tell a lot about people by looking at the company they keep. So what, then, could you say about a band that's collaborated with members of Kiss, Fountains of Wayne and The Cars, opened for Alanis Morissette and Ashlee Simpson and honed their craft at Berklee School of Music?
Well, you could say they're conversant in all 57 varieties of pop-rock. You could say they're as unlikely to be pigeonholed as any band around. Or you could simply say "yeah!" as you pop on Greetings From Imrie House, the Lava Records debut from The Click Five, the Boston-based quintet that's managed to grab all the brass rings mentioned above - all in less than two years together.
"We all love melodies," says bassist Ethan Mentzer. "If I can't sing it, I'm not crazy about it. I like songs that are so damn catchy that you wake up in the morning with them in your head. When I started playing the guitar at age 12, I wanted to listen to music where you could really hear the guitar - bands like Green Day and Weezer and Stone Temple Pilots became my favorites, so when the direction of this band started going towards rock, even though the songs were pop, it only felt natural."
Greetings From Imrie House collects 11 timeless power-pop confections, odes to both the good, clean and naughtily winking sorts of fun. They capture the former in the sunny tones of the artfully sleek first single "Just The Girl," and the shimmering "Catch Your Wave" (which layers Beach Boys-styled harmonies atop a contagiously jittery new wave melody) and dive into the latter on the young lovers lust-fest "Friday Night."
The quintet - none of who is older than 23 - stands out from the current pop pack on several levels. First, there are those snappy suits (a look that dates back to the days of playing mod covers during off-time at Berklee). The more important distinctions, however, come in the aural realm - in the ringing five-part harmonies that vein just about every song, and in the alternately peppy and atmospheric keyboard parts contributed by Ben Romans.
"I'm a keyboard player trapped in a guitar player's body," he laughs. "I think it's almost comical what we do with keyboards, maybe a little off the wall. It may shadow a band like The Cars or something and we're aware of that, but in the making of this album, we got introduced to a lot of really cool stuff from around 1977-82 that we really weren't aware of before."
Quick learning and stellar instincts earned The Click Five - originally known as The Click - the endorsement of several musicians who were active during that golden era, notably Paul Stanley of Kiss, who co-wrote the strutting "Angel to You (Devil To Me)" with Romans, and Elliott Easton of The Cars, who blazes through the guitar solo on the track.
"We went to see Kiss the day before Thanksgiving of 2003 and then we got to have Thanksgiving dinner with Paul, which was an experience in itself," recalls Romans. "Paul and I sat down to write and it went amazingly well. He taught us a lot about being onstage and about songs - a lot of people forget that someone like Paul Stanley doesn't just write Kiss songs."
The Click Five's members learned a lot about songcraft while playing in a wide variety of high school bands, shifting from covers to originals and from style to style. The core of the band solidified under the roof of the apartment building that lends its name to their debut, a place that Romans remembers as "a rock and roll frat house" with a dozen residents, intermittent heat and a lobby adorned with a huge replica of The Who's logo.
While they were all in different bands at the time, they gravitated towards each other after discovering how huge a swath of musical common ground they shared. And even some they didn't- as guitarist Joe Guese remembers, "We had to study a lot of jazz at Berklee, and while it's a noble style and I certainly learned a ton about the technicalities of my guitar playing, we all really wanted to play music that just gets people out of their seats." The only missing piece was a frontman - a problem that drummer Joey Zehr thought could be solved by recruiting childhood pal Eric Dill, who'd just finished a stint at Purdue University.
"From day one, we decided that this band was going to be our lives - priorities number one, two, three and down the line," says drummer Joey Zehr "I don't even think we realize how successful we are at this point simply because our method of operation was to have a huge goal but then achieve hundreds of small goals to get there."
The band cut its teeth on Boston's notoriously tough club scene (including a three month residency at the legendary Paradise rock club), promptly winning over tastemakers who put them on arena-sized bills with acts like Alanis Morissette, Rod Stewart and Fleetwood Mac. "I was a little worried when we were booked to do those last two," admits Romans. "It was for people my parents' age, but it went over great. I guess a lot of the older folks thought it reminded them of something from their past."
They fared just as well when they played a one-off show with teen sensation Ashlee Simpson - who later tabbed them as one of the opening acts on her 2005 North American tour. "That audience is very young and enthusiastic," says singer Eric Dill. "What's cool is that they're looking for reasons to like you, not reasons to be aloof."
Produced by Mike Denneen (Fountains of Wayne, Aimee Mann, Letters to Cleo), Greetings From Imrie House opens the door to 11 inviting reasons to be fond of The Click Five - from the soaring balladry of "I'll Take My Chances," to the sensual throb of "Resign" and the starry-eyed pining of "Pop Princess." And to prove those pop history lessons stuck with 'em, they even include a cover of the Thompson Twins favorite "Lies," which would make any new wave fan proud.
"That's the song that probably got us to turn in the direction we're in now," says Romans. "We were almost kidding about it, saying 'let's pretend we're in New York in 1978,' but then we realized it's a really great song. Working that out helped us stop worrying about being the coolest band in the world, and to just start trying to be the best."
Eric Dill - Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Joe Guese - Lead Guitar, Vocals
Ethan Mentzer - Bass, Vocals
Ben Romans - Keyboards, Vocals
Joey Zehr - Drums, Vocals
(Bio courtesy of Atlantic Records)