Cameron Hawk and JoJo Longbottom always look a little surly, even when they're in a good mood. The two have played in bands together for the past 16 years, since they met in high school in Manhattan, Kansas. With all that time invested in the local music scene — including the nine years they've spent as half of the Dead Girls — Hawk and Longbottom have earned the right to be as grumpy as they want to be.
Still, the two are in relatively high spirits as they split some nachos at Fric & Frac on a chilly Wednesday night, ready to discuss Fade In/Fade Out. The album was completed in January and released digitally on Bandcamp in February, but it wasn't until September that the band had the hard copies in hand and a CD-release show on the books.
Fade In/Fade Out is the third album by the Dead Girls, in which Hawk and Longbottom share guitar and lead-singer duties, with Nick Colby on bass and Eric Melin on drums. The band still describes its sound as "guitar-driven power pop," and Fade doesn't disappoint on that front. But that label doesn't quite do justice to the new music. "Find Your Way Back to Me (Oh My Soul)" uncovers a talent for gentle, old-fashioned folk, while "Naysayer" and "The Beast Inside" recall early 2000s Guided By Voices. Throughout, Fade has the polished feel of a band confident with its voice.
"We did a lot of more mature guitar sounds and a lot of different chord changes," Longbottom says. "There's a lot of experimentation on this record and pushing the limit in certain ways. Songs ended up being more subtle. We had a distinct plan when we went into this one. When people come see us live, they come expecting an energetic live show, but on the album, there are a lot of soft, acoustic, more mellow things."
Longbottom, dressed in a red Chiefs sweatshirt, says this with the intense glare of a linebacker. Some 15 minutes go by before he cracks a smile, though he and Hawk have bickered good-naturedly the whole time, two cynical music nerds debating just who was the most successful power-pop band of the 1970s. This, you imagine, is how many band practices end up.
The Dead Girls hold an interesting position around here, having gotten started at the height of what the band's members say was a golden age in local music. This was before the Get Up Kids broke up — and here there's another argument as to whether that was truly a golden age — and since then, other local bands have risen and fallen. The Dead Girls have endured.
"We're old, jaded bastards," Hawk says with a laugh. "We started playing in Lawrence when we were 16 years old, and we were so wide-eyed, like, 'This is awesome!'"
"We hit the road when we were 18, and we definitely had the goal in mind to be a rock band and make records for a living and play music," Longbottom says. "The only way that goal has changed is that I don't want to make records for a living, but I want to make records while I'm living."
With Fade finished nearly a year ago, the Dead Girls have been gathering material for the next album. They're in no hurry, though. The four veterans are content to leave feverish industry pressures to others.
"We're not entertaining any idea of success," Hawk says. "We've all got full-time jobs, and we like our lives. We like being able to say, 'OK, today we're gonna chill and hang out with our friends or family, and tomorrow we're gonna work on music and it's going to be fulfilling.' Just because we're in bands, it's not necessarily going to be our whole identity."
"All I really care about is putting on music that I can be proud of," Longbottom says. "Hopefully that comes with an audience, and I think if you're passionate about what you do, then people come around. They see that and they enjoy."