VIDEOS: The Like dodge a breakup and revamp their image with ‘Release Me’
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Two years ago the Like were heading nowhere, and a sophomore album looked unlikely. The band spent much of 2007 working with a noted producer, only to see the completed work never appear on the Interscope Geffen A&M release schedule. A breakup seemed a safer bet than a comeback. Signed straight out of high school, the band’s 2005 debut “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?” arrived with a bevy of hype, but sales were tepid, and the media focused largely on the backgrounds of the band members. So let’s get that out of the way: The father of singer Elizabeth “Z” Berg is well-known A&R man/producer Tony Berg, and drummer Tennessee Thomas hails from prime rhythmic lineage, as her father Pete has long been associated with Elvis Costello.
It’s not a topic the band is excited to discuss. “At this point, it’s wild that people are still talking about that,” Berg said. “There’s lots to talk about.”
She isn’t kidding. The Like finally returned after a five-year absence this week with “Release Me,” an album that marks a significant change in direction from the glossy pop-rock of the band’s debut. Working with Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson, the Like have reemerged with a simpler, dirtier and tougher sound. The album is packed with 1960s-inspired girl group confidence, colorful organs and Berg’s sweetly scuffed-up vocals.
If you happen to be one of the 21,000 people that Nielsen SoundScan counts as buying the Like’s debut, forget it. You’ll likely never hear those songs again.
“It’s not like there’s a demand for it,” Berg said. “People aren’t screaming out our old songs. And truly, this is such a different band. To think about singing my lyrics from that time is weird for me. We would have to totally rearrange those songs. I don’t know if I want to look back.”
The Like of “Release Me” is a more streamlined, direct band. “When we made this record, I think we figured out our sound,” Berg is quoted as saying in the above video. “We created the concept of what this band is.”
And it likely wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Ronson. As detailed in Thursday’s Calendar, Ronson not only helped the band reshape its sound, but acted as the Like’s savior. A meeting between Ronson and Thomas led to an ill-fated romance, but also gave the Like a second chance.
“I ran into Tennessee in London in September of 2008,” Ronson said. “I asked her what was up with her band. Her shoulders slumped, and she said, ‘We did this album and the label shelved it.’ I always thought that as a band they haven’t tapped their potential. They were girls who could play their instruments and write good songs, and their records didn’t reflect that.”
With a new a sound and a new album, the Like, now a four-piece with keyboardist Annie Monroe and bassist Laena Geronimo, has also been busy reshaping its image (Monroe and Geronimo joined after “Release Me” was recorded). Though it didn’t make it into Thursday’s piece, founding member Charlotte Froom, who left days before the band recorded with Ronson, reflected on how the band had been perceived in the past.
“There were a lot of labels placed on us because we were girls, and apparently our dads are famous,” said Froom, whose father Mitchell is also a record producer. Today, Froom is taking classes at Santa Monica College, recording with Taylor Locke & the Roughs and eventually plans to get a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
“From the outside, it came off that we were privileged,” Froom said, “and that our success wasn’t based on merit and hard work, but we put in so much.”
Geronimo has been working to change how the band is viewed on the local scene. She booked the band’s May residency at the Echo, as well as gigs at the Smell and Eagle Rock Lanes.
Said Geronimo: “When I heard these songs and met the girls and started playing, it was like, ‘Let’s break down those walls.’ I’ve kind of created this anti-hater campaign. I met their friends and they met my friends.”
Added Berg: “We developed so much prejudice from people as if we were successful in any way. Except we weren’t successful.”
And just how far removed is the sound of “Release Me” from the Like’s unreleased album? Ronson discussed the changes, and his thoughts are in the Calendar piece, but a take from the Dap-Kings’ Homer Steinweiss had to be trimmed for print. The band recorded “Release Me” at the Dap-Kings’ Brooklyn studio.
“I heard some of the earlier demos, and wow, it sounded a lot different,” Steinweiss said.
“They were the same tunes, but cleaner,” he continued. “There was more of a ‘90s girl group sound. Rather than old-school guitar fuzz, it had a modern overdrive sound. It was clean. I heard them after we recorded the band, and thank God they hooked it up here.”
Videos: (top) The band discusses “Release Me,” and members Annie Monroe and Laena Geronimo make their introductions.
(bottom) The band performs the title track from the album. Both were recorded at the acoustically-challenged concrete block (we say that lovingly) that is downtown club the Smell, where the Like rehearsed before its tour with the Arctic Monkeys last year.
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