After nearly a decade spent paying their dues, things are finally beginning to come together for the Indianapolis-based rock band The Common.
They recently earned a spot in the Benchmark Records Battle of the Bands, recorded an EP with producer Jim Kuczkowski of The Slurs and have become one of the city’s favorite bands due to their straight-ahead, no-bullshit rock and roll.
Lead singer and guitarist Jim Sizemore founded the band in Muncie in 1995 and is the sole original member. “We just wanted to get out there for the love of music,” he says. The original lineup played around Muncie to only limited success, however.
“We were pretty awful, to be honest,” Sizemore says. “I was just beginning to be a songwriter and we had a real Green Day/Nirvana sound going on.”
The addition in the mid-1990s of drummer Ryan Roberts, guitarist Mike Hayes and bassist Steve Hayes — former bandmates of Sizemore’s in a group called The Gloryhounds — gave the band its identity and a renewed sense of purpose.
“After that, we stopped mimicking everything that was going on and began to try to do something unique,” Sizemore says.
The current lineup of the band has been together long past the usual life expectancy of a Hoosier rock band. Sizemore attributes this to the group’s chemistry.
“I think for us, the band comes down to friendship first, and that’s the most important thing,” he says. “Getting together and jamming in the garage was just a good excuse to hang out.”
“We’ve never had a good reason to quit,” Steve Hayes says. “A lot of bands will get mad at each other or feel that they’re going in different directions or have set some lofty goal that they haven’t hit. That’s not us. We just enjoy hanging out with each other.”
“Even though we all have diverse musical tastes, we never have the classic artistic differences because if someone in the band has a different take on something, we try and incorporate it,” Sizemore says.
Sizemore sees the band’s current sound as “fun, energetic rock” and puts more emphasis on its live show than its recording projects. “Come out expecting a good time and to leave with a smile on your face,” he says. “We’re not trying to put anything big or heavy over on people, or reinvent the wheel by any means. We just want you to come to the club and enjoy it.”
Steve Hayes says, “Our big influences are the things a lot of people like — classic ’60s influences like the Beatles, Stones and Who. Then you add on the bigger-than-life arena rock acts from the ’70s and throw in stuff from the rock and roll underground of 20 years ago — people like the Replacements, Husker Du and R.E.M. Mix that up in a pot and that’s what we try to get across.”
He adds, “We’re moving into more of an indie-pop or classic pop sound like Cheap Trick or Superdrag, bands like that. Good songwriting over big guitars.”
At the band’s best, Sizemore says, The Common’s sound is “good pop songs with a lot of power behind them.”
The band gained a lot of attention and recognition for its role in the Phoenix Theatre production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2002. Local critics heaped praise on the group for its performance during the musical’s two-month run.
“It just made us really disciplined and gave us a stronger work ethic than we already had,” Sizemore says. “We felt, coming out of that experience, that we were just a rock and roll machine.”
Hayes adds, “You can’t slack in a theatrical production. You gotta put on a good show. You gotta do it every night and you’ve got to give the people something they like. People pay big money to see theater, so we went out every night, got into costume and got into our character.
“In some ways, I think we do that now. We try to put something up on stage that people are going to want to see as well as hear. Maybe it’s image, but a lot of bands just stroll on stage wearing whatever they rolled out of bed in that day. I’m not saying we’re up there looking like David Bowie or anything, but we put a conscious effort to give people their money’s worth, visually. That’s the biggest lesson we took out of Hedwig.”
Although they stand to win a $10,000 prize if they win the Sept. 30 Battle of the Bands at the Vogue, Sizemore said the band isn’t making any special preparations. They have been playing more shows lately and will hold a few extra practices.
“The Vogue is a bigger room than the Patio, and we’re trying to figure out ways to make us seem and look and feel bigger on that stage,” Hayes said. “I know that when I’ve gone to those things in the past, what I’ve always looked for is who seems like they belong there. Every band in the finals is good, but who looks like they belong on the big stage the most? That’s one of the things we’re working on.”
For more information on The Common, visit www.thecommononline.com.