The Last Good Year's execution of their swaggering rock and roll in the live setting belies how long they've actually been doing it together.
Lead guitarist Josh Bucy and bassist Steve Byroad started playing together in college. Bucy moved away for a time, but they resumed their collaboration when he returned. He describes their first band, Eleanor, as more "U2y and anthemy," certainly a contrast to The Last Good Year's hermetic, face-planting style.
"We decided we wanted to play some harder rock and roll," Bucy says while backstage before a recent performance at Birdy's Bar and Grill.
Enter guitarist and lead singer Joe Doyel, who met his future bandmates through Byroad's girlfriend a few years ago.
"Ex-girlfriend," Byroad immediately clarifies.
"I only knew her through a friend," Doyel adds of the unsuspecting matchmaker. "We were hanging out at a bar, and I was hitting on her. Pretty successfully."
With Doyel in the mix, The Last Good Year quickly made their presence felt on the local scene. Alternative rock station X103 regularly plays them on its Sunday night Indy X-Files
"People definitely like them," says Kimberly Adamson, the station's promotions manager. "They have a very good vibe. They're one of the best local bands around."
The Don Stuck Band, fronted by X103 morning disc jockey Stuck, has shared the stage with The Last Good Year multiple times. "Our fans love them," Stuck says. "I think those damn guys have stolen some of our fans, as a matter of fact. They're that good."
"It was pretty great because it was one of those things where we were pretty much ready to go," Byroad says of their start. "We wanted to play some shows and had some songs in the works. We were missing that final piece of the puzzle. It was serendipitous that Joe showed up."
A mid-May show at Birdy's, which has them playing last after Autovaughn and Modoc, features rollicking takes of songs from their self-titled debut, recorded in Nashville, Tenn.
A group of hardbodies dances at the front of the stage to the beatastic "Road to Ruin." "Racecar Driver" sets the crowd on fire with its hard-charging groove. Even "Humbled," with its slower country flavor, blazes with a stomp that goes stratospheric at the end.
There's plenty of rock star posing, as each member hunkers into his instrument to ensure the melodies are lean and mean. Yet there's room left for expansive interplay.
The Last Good Year won a battle of the bands - the Battle of Birdy's - in 2007, after being together a little more than a year. "We weren't going to do it because we were so new," Bucy says of entering the competition.
Doyel says, "We felt like we were still figuring out how we worked together as a band on stage. We knew we liked playing together, and seemed to be getting a decent response."
Jay Elliott of Stereo Deluxe, the group that won the Battle of Birdy's two years prior, told them they were ready. The Last Good Year signed up at the last minute.
"The final night was unbelievable," says Doyel, who sports long, dark hair and a frontman's lanky build. "This place was jam-packed. It was definitely a highlight for us."
Their prize, besides all the added attention, was $10,000. Before the contest, The Last Good Year had gone to Nashville to record five songs intended for an EP. Thanks to their win and productive writing sessions, they returned to record six more tracks, enough for a full-length. Only one cut, the seven-minute closer "You Want it All," was hastily thrown together. But even that has an unusual story.
A storm rolled through while they were recording it. Their producer opened the windows and turned the mics all the way up, capturing some nice thunder sounds that the band incorporated into the mix.
"We brought it back to Indianapolis and let some of our friends listen to it," Doyel says. "The first thing one of them said was, 'Garth Brooks called. He wants his thunder back.'"
Even with the departure of their original drummer, The Last Good Year haven't missed a beat. Darren Rayl, an Anderson native who now performs session work in Nashville, was with the band while they were recording. He filled in on gigs and officially joined during their drive back from playing at this year's South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.
"We were good friends with Darren prior to this anyway," says Byroad, who has a bouncer's build befitting his instrument. "To have him as part of the band is even better."
So far, The Last Good Year have toured in earnest, playing regionally in markets like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Nashville. They've performed with artists ranging from Saliva to Jon McLaughlin.
"The hometown is where we want to put all our effort into," Byroad says. "I feel like we've been doing that pretty well the past couple years."
Another contest could once again drastically change their fortunes. The Last Good Year were named a top five finalist in Hard Rock's Ambassadors of Rock Battle of the Bands. Twenty-two Hard Rock Cafes in the United States hosted the competition. The Last Good Year won at the Indianapolis location.
Online voting for the finalists began May 26 at http://www.hardrock.com and lasts two weeks. The winner performs at Hard Rock Calling, a three-day festival in June at London's Hyde Park. The event will feature Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Ben Harper and The Killers.
"All the greats have been associated with that festival over the years," Rayl says. "It's pretty much the be all, end all of European festivals."
It would be a helluva stage for the band to showcase its crowd-pleasing brand of rock. Though members of The Last Good Year bring differing influences to the fold - including metal and indie rock - they all agree AC/DC have perfected the formula for songwriting and crowd rapport. If you're going to emulate anyone, that's a great starting point.
"We're not trying to break the mold," Byroad says. "We like writing rock and roll songs with catchy hooks and big choruses."
Bucy adds, "It's all about the big hook. We're all kind of windows down, fists out the window, singing along with the radio."
For more on the band: www.thelastgoodyear.com.