A band undergoing line-up shuffles is nothing new in the music business. But Epic Hero has brought in so many new members since its formation in 1999 that it's a wonder the band has managed to maintain a tight sound, let alone become one of the hottest young bands in Minneapolis.
But if life is about change, and music is about life, the line-up turnover has given lead singer/guitarist Justin Milbradt, 23, more grist for the songwriting mill. Epic Hero, who will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Exchange in Crosslake, is putting the finishing touches on its second album, recorded at Minneapolis' Echo Bay Studios and produced by Semisonic lead singer Dan Wilson. It's tentatively slated for a September release.
Milbradt and recently-wed drummer Dan Deurloo, 25, are the only remaining members from the line-up that recorded 2001's "A Brighter Mess," a catchy, bluesy album. In the following year, Kris Hoover took over lead guitar duties and Brad Bivens, 23, stepped in on bass. When Hoover joined up, Epic Hero -- originally conceived as a Christian group -- fully embraced rock 'n' roll, leading to live favorites like "End of the Line," already a hit on Drive 105 in the Twin Cities.
Recently, Hoover left the band on good terms. But it wasn't the end of the line for Epic Hero. Ben Gowell, 23, is the new lead guitarist, bringing in more of a Brit pop style. (However, Jeremy Messersmith will fill in Saturday because of Gowell's obligations with another band.)
"Kris Hoover had a very '70s rock flair, he was very much a rock star," Milbradt said in a recent chat on his cell phone as he ran errands in Minneapolis. "Ben brings a sense of melodic sparseness. He pops in when he needs to; he's an amazing rhythm player."
Hoover's influence will still be felt on the album, as he co-wrote tracks like the rocking dreamer "One Fine Day." Still, Gowell's Radiohead-influenced approach will definitely make a mark. Milbradt said "Stay Awake," in particular, will surprise longtime fans.
"'Stay Awake' is a grand departure," he said. "It's a lot darker and more 'out there.'"
The influence of Semisonic's Wilson also will be felt.
"He understands a lot about songwriting," Milbradt said. "The last producer didn't have much rock band experience. Dan communicates with us better and he really believes in helping artists, especially in the Minneapolis scene. He's an all-around great guy."
If you go
Who: Epic Hero
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Exchange, Crosslake
Web sites: www.epichero.com, www.exchangeniteclub.com
On the signature song from "A Brighter Mess," Milbradt sang, "I wanna be a rock star/And buy a house in Beverly Hills." But his lyrics, while still catchy as heck, have gained greater depth for the new album.
"The songs reflect our lives on a day-to-day basis," he said. "On the previous record, we said, 'Let's try to be rock stars.' That never goes away, but now we are saying, 'Let's write something people can identify with.'"
The new album doesn't have a name yet (feel free to suggest a title to the band, as it has been driven nuts trying to think of one), but it already has a theme: Desperation, along with that irresistible feeling of hope that surfaces during every bar gig that goes well. Epic Hero understands that playing bars -- where dartboards and suds are sometimes bigger attractions than the band -- is a reality of climbing the music ladder, but they are anxious to move to the next level.
"I hate selling alcohol for a living," Milbradt said. "But I've slowly embraced the idea of being the artist and also the party. I like the idea of being accepted on different levels, as partiers but also for the messages in interesting rock 'n' roll songs. I think we got to a point on this record where we can be more selective (about where we play). We've already stopped playing the shows that tear us up."
Last fall, Epic Hero climbed a key rung of the ladder, taking the stage at Minneapolis' music Mecca, First Avenue, opening a sold-out Semisonic show.
"It wasn't the most people we've played in front of," Milbradt said, citing an opening gig for, oddly enough, the country band Rascal Flatts. "But it was definitely my favorite show we've ever played. Playing with Semisonic and being on the First Avenue stage in my hometown is amazing. I have a lot of Minneapolis pride."
The band has also crossed paths with Twin Cities legends Soul Asylum, be it an opening gig or just running into them in St. Cloud's Red Carpet Bar, which happened recently.
"They'd had quite a few and they hopped up on stage and we jammed," Milbradt said with a laugh. "They did some horrible renditions of 'Sweet Home Alabama,' but it was a lot of fun."
While Epic Hero has enjoyed the responses it's gotten at shows in California and Ohio, band members are proud to be from Minnesota. Milbradt promises that when the new album is completed, they'll hit all their Minnesota haunts first to get the album to their most loyal fans.
"We've had success in other places quicker, but people from Minnesota are the warmest, most dedicated fans," Milbradt said.
mp3s of Epic Hero songs can be found on the Web at www.epichero.com.
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