There’s no disputing Love Battery’s roots in the rich musical tradition of the Northwest.
An independent-label perennial for the past few years, Love Battery’s muddy guitars, vaguely poetic lyrics and melodic hooks are steeped in the prolific heritage they’ve helped shape.
Of course, nowadays, that could be a liability. With the Seattle Sound slipping deeper into cliche, Love Battery’s major-label debut, “Straight Freak Ticket,” arrives at a dubious juncture.
“People are always talking about backlash, but I’m not sure that’s a reality in our case,” says guitarist Kevin Whitworth. “What’s weird is that for reasons unbeknownst to us, the Seattle thing has never affected us in a positive or negative way.
“We always seem to have done our thing without paying much attention to that whole thing.”
Whitworth, going to great lengths to avoid using the word “grunge,” says his band worked hard to avoid flavor-of-the-month status.
“I remember when all the record people came in and signed every band in town,” says Whitworth, who chatted at the band’s recent record-release party in the Crocodile Cafe. “I’m glad we didn’t jump (to a major label) then, because now all those bands are being dropped.”
And while mentioning the “g” word today does more to elicit facial tics than record contracts, Whitworth concedes Love Battery is indelibly linked to a scene that fostered the explosive popularity of alternative music.
Jumping from the renowned Seattle label Sub Pop to the corporate fold of A&M; Records has its advantages, such as higher quality studio work and video shoots on location in Las Vegas.
“But we’re still in a situation where we’re worried about next month’s rent,” Whitworth says. “We have a lot of friends who are millionaires, they’re nice to us and play our tapes. But I really don’t think our music ever fit into that category.”
Love Battery’s list of friends stems from a musical pedigree that reads like an underground name-dropper’s fantasy. In the late ‘80s, singer Ron Nine led the acclaimed band Room Nine, while drummer Jason Finn played with Skin Yard. Bassist Bruce Fairweather was with Green River and Mother Love Bone, bands that later evolved into Pearl Jam.
But Love Battery isn’t relying on the past.
“Straight Freak Ticket” is a promising album, with songs that could give the band at least a taste of mainstream success that their colleagues have enjoyed.
“I hope we can take that next step,” says Nine. “I always felt that we made music that was accessible to a large group of people all along. It was just a matter of having the resources to have others hear it and be exposed to it.
“Hopefully, that will happen with this record.”
Make no mistake, “Straight Freak Ticket” doesn’t break new ground when it comes to what has spilled out of Seattle nightclubs and most alternative radio stations for the past several years. Recorded and mixed here last fall, the record is classic four-piece alterna-rock, more coherent than the band’s previous work thanks mostly to the experienced touch of producer Bruce Calder.
But the record maintains the band’s original vision of ambiguous intensity and never relies on predictable formulas, grunge or otherwise. Highlights include “Fuzz Factory,” a radio-friendly track that includes the band’s trademark flirtations with psychedelia, and the sultry “Straight Freak Show,” which features Nine’s endearingly lazy vocals.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s something that I’ll be able to listen to and be proud of years from now,” Whitworth says. “The fact that I can slap it in the tape deck now and think it’s brilliant is encouraging.”
Love Battery, scheduled for a series of dates through the summer in the United States and Europe, released three critical successes on Sub Pop. But they’ve remained somewhat obscure, despite a relentless touring schedule and an ardent fan base.
Now that the distribution and promotional strength of A&M; Records is behind them, Nine and Whitworth say they want to make it count.
“It’s definitely some of the best work we’ve done,” says Nine. “While we were doing it, we were really able to focus on the task at hand because we had the support of the record company. Before, we either had day jobs or we were on tour.”
And Nine says it won’t break his heart if they don’t become millionaires.
“Anytime we make an album, we’re interested in keeping our old fans and reaching new ones,” Nine says. “But we sure don’t want to overextend ourselves and achieve megastardom.
“Maybe it’s the Seattle-ized view but that whole megastar thing has been done and frankly, the people that have done it around here aren’t too happy with it.”