If the Rock Star Thing Fails, There’s Law School


She’s studious enough to get accepted to law school at age 20, savvy enough to steer an obscure pop group briefly into the limelight and smart enough to pen lyrics that affect critics and fans alike.

But when Elizabeth Elmore’s band, Sarge, broke up in 1999, devoured by its own ravenous personalities, she reacted like the small-town Midwestern girl she is. “I got all melodramatic and angst-ridden,” she said recently. “I was 23. The band was my life, my family. I was horrified.”

Just over two years later, with Northwestern Law School again on hold, Elmore has regrouped. The self-titled debut album from her new Chicago-based quartet, the Reputation, is due in two weeks from the indie label Initial Records, and the band plays three shows in the Southland this week, starting Sunday night at Chain Reaction in Anaheim.


“I’m feeling much better now,” Elmore joked on the eve of a three-week, do-it-herself tour of the West, but anybody who scrutinizes her latest work might wonder.

In her new material, Elmore professes to be spurned, burned, cast out, reviled and simply benumbed by recurring relationship wars. Amid punky guitar bursts and simple melodies, she purges, asserting her independence, pricking mindless partyers and straddling the line between spiteful and contrite in “The Uselessness of Friends.”

Any residual vitriol points to her experience with Sarge, which seemed poised to emerge from the indie masses after its second album, “The Glass Intact” (1998). By year’s end Rolling Stone and Spin magazines christened Sarge a “hot band,” acclaim for which Elmore was not ready.

She recalls playing a coffeehouse in Gulfport, Miss., in 100-degree temperatures. “In front of 15 kids,” she said. That night she learned via e-mail of a glowing review in Spin, “and I just kind of shut down. I couldn’t quite accept that what we were doing was worth all the attention.”

As the band soldiered on into 1999, neither could her friends in indie circles. “I got vilified behind my back,” Elmore said. “‘Why the heck was she in Rolling Stone?’ ‘What did she do?’ I got lucky. I know I got lucky. Yes, I know a lot of it was because I was a girl. But people thought my head was so much bigger than it was.”

It took a certain self-possession to survive--after all, she was conducting most of Sarge’s business (she booked the entire Reputation tour, and did some of her own promotional work), as well as juggling other responsibilities.


Said Reputation guitarist Sean Hulet, who knew Elmore then: “How many people can say they’re going to law school, playing in a touring rock band and trying to work too? Oh, and she likes to have fun.

“Elizabeth is very tenacious, and it’s one of those traits that can drive you crazy until you get to know her.”

A demure Elmore might not have made it out of her one-stoplight hometown of Rochester, Ill., let alone bounced back from her band’s demise. But after a year and a half of hitting the law books, she dipped her toe in the icy waters of solo touring before hooking up with Hulet, bassist Joel Root and a rotating cast of drummers.

The Reputation’s pop/punk novellas, told through Elmore’s jaded-choirgirl vocals, are more polished than the songs that earned Sarge its press in ’98. Whether the Reputation can distinguish itself, Hulet says, might depend on how the band gets pigeonholed.

“We tour with the punk and indie set,” he said, “but we’re not angular and fashionable enough to be an indie band and we’re not hard-core enough to be a punk band.”

So they are a pop band with an attitude--Elmore’s.

“I’m sure that when I’m 40 I’ll look back and say, ‘I was a bad 22-year-old,’” she said. “But now I’m a lot more laid-back and even-keeled. And I know people need a little break from me sometimes.”


The Reputation, Local H, Chevelle and Burning Brides play at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim. Tickets: $10. (714) 635-6067.

The Reputation also plays at 8 p.m. Monday at Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake, (213) 833-2843; and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 469-5800.