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Tipping back a couple of longnecks in a typically dark rock club with the guys in Rock Star Club evokes neither the sense of glamour nor the aura of exclusiveness that their moniker might suggest. In fact, with cheap domestic bottles and pictures of newborns being passed around in equal numbers, images of block parties in non-affluent suburbs come to mind more so than concert halls packed with screaming fans and guitars.

If such a pedestrian gathering bothers anyone in the group, though, they're not saying so. For Paul Kasprzak, Chuck Tipton, and Eli Sabbagh (the daddy), it very well may be a long road to the top, but at least they'll dictate the detours. Their self-released debut, 1997's "America Needs Rock Star Club," spins an autobiographical tale of three "regular" guys from the musical hotbed of northern Indiana looking for chicks, cold beer, and, just maybe, a record deal. That they manage to squeeze a cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" into their song cycle hints at the twisted sense of humor that Rock Star Club pours into every offering.

Originally titled "Stressing The Positive" (a poke at a public relations campaign for their home town of Gary, Indiana), "America Needs Rock Star Club" is trailer park rock for the millennium: greasy, profane, and laced with hard hitting samples. Not rock songs in the classic sense, most of the tracks on the record never seem to follow through to completion. Even the more "traditional" songs like "I Luv U" and "River Of Bad Blood" test the listener's patience and sanity, all the while delighting in their creativity.

"Most songs, whether they're hard rock, country, or whatever, have a basic format," Kasprzak explains. "They have a verse, then a chorus, then a verse. I was thinking, 'Who the hell made the rules on that?' If I just want to write a verse, a chorus and then end it, then great." The results bring to mind a white trash version of Guided By Voices with Kasprzak's J. Mascis-like vocals laid over cheesy, metal intros and snippets of loosely related sound bytes.

If the band's reliance on a song cycle theme and chord repetitions stalls a bit from time to time, their marriage of hard rock and samples has established a signature sound that sets them apart in the Chicago rock scene.

"Our last band (The Young Lords) definitely specialized in the loud factor or 'Chicago sound'," attests Kasprzak in acknowledging the influence of bands like Cheap Trick and, more recently, Local H.

Crediting the seamless nature of the debut to a short attention span as much as anything, Kasprzak says, "(On 'American Needs...') what I wanted to sound like with the samples were records I've liked in the past. Like the Beastie Boys, White Zombie, and Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic.' As far as the recording, I wanted a nice flow throughout the record. So instead of individual songs, it's more of a collection."

While admitting that this unorthodox approach to production and songwriting can infuriate others, Kasprzak sighs, "I think it's kind of funny." What's funny, in fact, guides much of what the band does on stage, with their over the top ensembles and stage preening, as well as on record. Not surprisingly (especially in a group of lifelong friends), very little is sacred with Rock Star Club.

"With the band, it's kind of like we're in the eighth grade lunchroom," he laughs. "As far as with the humor with the band, we do, so badly, want to be rock stars. But we do it tongue in cheek with the leather pants and fog machines."

With "a ton" of new material written, Rock Star Club is looking to record one or possibly two more records in the near future. Currently talking with labels (after a couple of failed attempts in the past), the band is holding out hopes of some help with the costs and promotion.

Though not quite there yet, the three guys from Indiana may well be on their way to living up to their name; a goal they approach with a certain amount of caution. As Kasprzak jokingly admits, "(Being a rock star) would be a real hard thing to do. I mean, look what I look like on stage: cowboy hats and vinyl pants. It would be like being a completely different person."

Behm is a Chicago freelance writer.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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