Even on a Sunday night, Utopia Studios a sprawling warehouse full of practice rooms tucked away in a neighborhood near Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital is bustling. Disparate sounds float through the hallway, ranging from soulful, silky harmonies to the muffled riffs of a Nirvana cover.
Down a flight of stairs to the dank, echoing basement level is where to find Shame Club, which shares a practice space with equally bombastic local rockers Victoria. Accordingly, the cramped room is packed with, well, stuff: Posters from past shows from both bands are tacked on the walls which are splattered with primary-color paint and covered in dirty yellow soundproofing and gear litters nearly every nook and cranny.
The huge stack of Marshall amps leaning against the far left corner hints at what the four members of Shame Club vocalist/guitarist Jon Lumley, bassist/vocalist Eric Eyster, guitarist Andy White and drummer Ken McCray specialize in: rock & roll that's loud, fast and classic. Period. No irony, no pretentiousness, nothing flashy: Just eardrum-bleeding, melt-your-face-off, riff-heavy rock.
"A lot of bands that are playing rock & roll are doing it from a different perspective [from us]," Lumley says. "From like a party-real-hard perspective, or a punk-rock thing or something. We just want to play guitar." He laughs. "We want to play drums real loud."
White adds: "I used to tell people we sound exactly like ZZ Top but I don't think that's 100 percent accurate."
The rest of Shame Club whose members good-naturedly laugh and pick on each other like brothers during the interview then tries to clarify and classify its sound.
"I'd say we're like hard rock, with kind of a Southern tinge to it," Lumley muses. "Or, like, classic rock, hard rock." Others chime in with the phrases "actual classic rock" or "modern classic rock."
What about "neo-classic rock"?
"Neo-classic rock, that's awesome," Lumley says, musing again. "What's the 'neo' in geology? Neolithic...neolithic rock."
All classification aside, Shame Club's smoldering new album, Come On, encapsulates all of these descriptors and more. While there are plenty of Zeus-like riffs and raucous dinosaur rumbles to match Lumley's soulful, copper-plated vocals, On is pleasantly diverse. It's like a sequel to the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, or a really great classic rock station where the DJs have an encyclopedic knowledge of music history to impart.
The mellow "Can You Feel It" has a meandering, twisted-staircase guitar solo that matches its psychedelic stoner-ballad atmosphere, while the acoustic instrumental "Alicia Circles" burbles like Led Zeppelin's hazier moments and "." (yes, the song's title is a period) features fuzzy, sprawling guitars that unfurl like vintage Dinosaur Jr. And if the wailing harmonies and sinewy swing of "I Just Want You To Be Free" sound a great deal like Lenny Kravitz, well, don't be alarmed: Lumley says Shame Club was going for a Sly and the Family Stone-style "R&B soul-groove thing."
The band headed to Norman, Oklahoma, over three separate weekends to record On with Carl Amburn, who's also worked with locals Riddle of Steel and the Bureau. Shame Club took more time to both write and record its newest songs, which explains why On sounds so polished and fully formed, without losing any grit. (In contrast, Lumley spent a whopping five hours doing vocals for 2004's Volume.) But each man can't say enough good things about the care Amburn took with their music and all rave unequivocally about his talents as a producer.
"We play loud as fuck," White says. "We like how our amps sound loud as fuck our drummer plays loud as fuck. You need somebody who knows what they're doing, knows how to mic the shit, and how to record a loud band like that. The first record is good, the second record is good this sounds way better because Carl was way better at his job."
On is also Shame Club's first album with drummer McCray, who joined the band in fall 2005. The band's been around in various incarnations since May 2000, although Lumley is the only original member; White came on in mid-2001 and Eyster joined the year after. Shame Club has likely survived longer than most local groups because it's never really fit into any of the local scenes (rockabilly, indie, garage, Point, etc.). This is almost an area of pride for White.
"Honestly, we kind of are so gimmick-less that we've locked ourselves into a corner," he says. "But that's awesome we are unique and are aware that we're doing something that's original. We do challenge ourselves not to write songs that have been written before."
This confidence sometimes grates on people who misconstrue Shame Club's self-confidence as arrogance.
"I can tell you exactly why people hate us," Lumley says. "If there's anybody out there that hates us, it's my fault." Everyone laughs. "I'll own it, I'll wear it on my sleeve, I'll tattoo it on my face. It's because I'll tell anybody how good we are, because I am so fiercely proud of what we do."
McCray interjects dryly: "Thanks a lot for making people hate us."
"Sorry about all that, man," Lumley says lightly. "It hurts you guys...that's the only thing I feel bad about my pride in this band. I'll tell anybody that we're good."
But this attitude would only be arrogant if it were false and, unfortunately for haters, Shame Club backs up its claims with talent. After all, not every band has had multiple shows shut down because of volume, or had a show halted when a drum monitor caught on fire because the band was supposedly too loud. And just ask anyone who saw Shame Club covering the songs of Deep Purple at Off Broadway during September's An Under Cover Weekend: The product of several months of rehearsals, the wall-of-sound performance was monstrous, precise and yes, loud as fuck.
"Who wants to go to show and you can stand at the bar and talk to your buddies?" Lumley says. "When I go to a show, I want the entire room to be completely saturated with sound. I want it to be a physical sensation. We want you to walk out of it feeling like you've just had a very gentle massage. All over."
The band's constant references to its music's loudness send up warning flags, but Shame Club isn't being self-conscious. In fact, McCray pinpoints the heart of the band's identity: authenticity.
"It's heart and soul, and there's no shtick," he says. "When you see it, it's real, that's it."
There's no irony. So many bands that play classic rock are doing it ironically.
"And they've got headbands, you know," Lumley says dryly, referencing the hipster fashion trend. "I'm not good-looking enough to make this cool, unless the songs are there. I'm not charming enough to make you laugh..."
McCray interrupts. "That's true." Everyone laughs.
Lumley continues, laughing himself. "...unless the songs are cool. This is it. This is what I want to do. This is what we want to do."