Hammering it home

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There's a new Lovehammers track, "Casualty," that goes like this: "Persistence. Resistance. One man can make a difference."

You can say that again.

In one year, Lovehammers frontman Marty Casey, 32, forever changed his life, and the lives of his three bandmates and best friends: bassist Dino Kourelis; Dino's brother, drummer Bobby Kourelis; and guitarist Billy Sawilchik. Never mind that Marty's been in the band since he was 14. It only took what he calls "a pretty massive 2005" to finally set things in motion for the group's long-awaited break.

Last February, Marty participated in an open audition/casting call at Lakeview venue Schubas for "Rock Star: INXS," a reality show created to help INXS replace its late lead singer, Michael Hutchence. The prize? Fronting a multiplatinum, international arena rock band.

Hometown hero Marty ultimately placed second to Canadian bad boy J.D. Fortune, 32, but Marty says he received an even bigger prize: the support of millions of viewers.

Finishing as fan favorite and runner-up meant Marty and the band had plenty of offers to field; the group eventually decided on manager Doc McGhee (KISS, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi) and Epic/Burnett Records.

In a phone interview while touring California, Marty told metromix that another of the highlights of the past year was "not winning the gig with INXS, but getting asked [by INXS to open] the world tour at the ['Rock Star: INXS'] finale."

He says, though, things didn't always look like they'd turn out quite so well.

"I think the toughest point was when you are done with the show and you're living in seclusion and being really catered to, and then the next day they just put you out back on the street," Marty says. "You have nowhere to go.

"I was just in L.A., sitting on the curb with my five boxes of stuff, not really understanding what the future might be like. There were a lot of unknowns, which is very exciting, but it was also a little nerve-wracking, because you didn't necessarily know if anything was going to happen, and if that was the end of the trip. It was a little scary there."

That reality check gave Marty a moment to reflect, and he gravitated toward doing what he says he does best: writing songs. Days later, he met up with Mitch Allan, songwriter and singer from the band SR-71.

Marty and Mitch hit it off and, in a matter of hours, they penned "Casualty," which went on to become the first track and only new song on Lovehammers' self-titled, major-label debut, "Marty Casey & Lovehammers" (Epic/Burnett).

"The lyrics were about what I had been through on the show: persevering and not giving up, not being a victim," Marty says.

To avoid falling prey to a 15-minutes-of-fame scenario, Lovehammers went straight to work and, in about two months, recorded an album of edgy rock tracks, including the hit single "Trees," made popular on "Rock Star: INXS."

Though the band is no stranger to recording--their self-released albums have sold more than 25,000 copies--working with a major label provided the chance to rework existing songs with a more polished sound.

"I really love 'Clouds' because I think it's got some really mysterious feeling to it, and it gets me every time," Marty says. "And 'Eyes Can't See' just absolutely tears it up. That's probably one of my favorites; it's just a really bold recording, and it turned out so much better than I even expected."

Marty says the tour with INXS is also going better than anticipated. "When we show up, the crowd's 95 percent there and, from the first song on, they're into it. We're really blown away."

Due to Lovehammers' long-standing Chicago presence, loyal fan base nationwide and dedication to fans, Hammerheads across the country are buying tickets to multiple concerts in order to show their support. Days into the tour, one girl followed the tour bus for two hours from L.A., just to get an autograph, Marty says.

Even INXS guitarist Tim Farriss is a fan. "We love 'em," he told metromix in a phone interview. "They're great, and I think they're having the time of their life at the moment."

And what does Marty think about his "Rock Star" rival, J.D., and the new INXS? "I think they slam," he says. "I think they made the right choice; I think J.D.'s working out well for them."

Unfortunately, things aren't so smooth right now for J.D. INXS rescheduled three of this week's Midwest dates so the singer can recuperate from bronchitis.

With two days off before the tour resumes Saturday at the Chicago Theatre, Marty contacted metromix to say the boys are back in town.

Tonight Lovehammers returns for a special headliner show at Joe's Bar, where Marty's bandmates cheered him on last summer with "Rock Star" viewings that became known as Marty Parties. This time, the man of honor's attending.

It seems fitting Lovehammers should come full circle to perform as a complete unit at the very place where they watched--with hundreds of fans-- to see their fate decided.

"There's so much excitement around and so much positive energy that we're really all walking on water right now," Marty says. "Our heads are in the clouds, and we're trying to just work, work, work."

"Won't stop till I have it all. Persistence. Resistance. One man can make a difference," Marty sings in "Casualty."And make a difference he did.

Karen Budell is the metromix nightlife producer.Originally published Feb. 2, 2006.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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