In the basement of Devil To Pay drummer Chad Prifogle's Eastside home, the members of the band arrive, one by one, with their gear. The artwork for their second album, Cash Is King, has just arrived and each band member weighs in with an opinion.
The disc, a 14-track neo-concept album, represents a rebirth and renewal for the hard-rock band, which has known both triumph and trying times in its few years of existence.
They won a cash prize and a new van a few years back at the Patio Battle of the Bands - only to have the van break down, permanently, while the group was on tour.
They released a highly acclaimed album on Benchmark Records and received some national radio airplay - only to have the label go out of existence.
The band's trademark sound of gloom and metal was altered in 2004 when guitarist Rob Secrist left the band and was replaced with Bob Bridges, known for his work with the landmark instrumental band Virgil.
Any or all of those things might have doomed a lesser band - but, then, Devil To Pay has always been about beating the odds and persevering no matter what else happens.
While chatting up the album in an interview, the band seems blithe about what they've been through, displaying a devil-may-care attitude befitting the group's name.
"We don't really have a good reason for not putting out a record in the last two and a half years, do we?" Steve Janiak asks.
"Well," Prifogle offers, "we did go through a lot of hardship."
"A lot of hardship, yeah," Janiak agrees. "But we found Bob. That's the big story of this band."
In fact, the melodic, almost tender edges of Bridges' guitar work has brought Devil To Pay's music to an entirely new level. There are plenty of hard-rock bands out there who sing songs about the apocalypse, but none combine the jagged edges of discontentment with the ethereal quality of Bridges' guitar. It's like sandpapering a bloody knife.
A longtime friend of the band, Bridges wasn't even playing music when he was asked to join DTP. "It's been a refreshing addition to my daily routine," he says. "We clicked immediately. The dynamics have been right and we have that cohesiveness."
"It's cool with the songwriting, too," Janiak says, "because the elements of Virgil that I always liked, I could hear in my head when I wrote the songs. I look forward to the next album."
No stranger to sweet melodies himself - Janiak has headed pop/rock bands, such as the legendary Pub Sigs - the addition of a softer sound has strengthened the band.
Make no mistake; you won't find any songs about bunnies or rainbows on the new DTP album. The leadoff track, "Kill Everything," sets the tone with an assault of noise and chaos. "The road to the promised land is paved with shadows and bones," Janiak sings, and you believe him.
"As the title would imply, in an imaginary world, if you could lay everything to waste, choke the next guy, you would," Janiak says. "But nothing's absolute or concrete. It's more thematic. I try to stay away from storytelling but I try to be more ethereal. Sometimes, I don't know what I'm writing when I write it, but later I might be able to apply it to a couple of different things."
Elsewhere, on the upbeat "Shake Hands With Death," Janiak sings, "I wish that I could lie / But thanks to the great equalizer, everyone must die."
This is heavy music at its finest, filled with rage and despair. Yet, for all its posturing, the album ends up being uplifting, even as it describes the swirling abyss. The music itself is so alive, so life-affirming, that it makes you not want to believe the gloom and doom of the words.
"This album has all different kinds of moods, like a seven-layer burrito," Janiak says. "I'm singing about the different ways people describe death. 'The Mountain Comes To Me' is about when I was in the hospital and out of my mind," referring to a serious illness Janiak suffered a few years back.
It's somewhat of a departure from the band's first album, which was influenced by the doom rock and stoner rock of Queens of the Stone Age and similar bands.
"When we started the band, the impetus could be seen as that whole stoner-rock scene," Janiak says. "We always said we were doom rock, but we're not doom-metal, which has a specific feel to it. We ride that hard line between rock and metal. A lot of times, we can get people to dig the band if they're into hard rock, but not if we're too serious about the metal. But now, more of our own influences are coming out, individually. You can hear - dare I say it? - some grunge in some of the riffs. But it's still the late '70s sound we all love."
One recent review, in fact, compared the band to the post-grunge icons Failure. "I thought that was odd, but also awesome," Bridges says. "It adds another dynamic to the band."
"All of the doom bands seem to have pigeonholed themselves," says bassist Matt Stokes.
"I never wanted to be a doom band. I never wanted to be in a stoner band," Prifogle says. "I mean, I love Black Sabbath. I learned how to play drums listening to that stuff. That stuff is always in my head. But I never want us to get pigeonholed into one category. I'm proud to be listed in the doom category, but we listen to so much stuff that I don't think it's a good label. We're not necessarily a stoner-rock band."
"Well," another band member says, "we are stoners and we do rock." The others nod in agreement.
"Sometimes people throw out a Soundgarden reference or an Alice in Chains reference and that's good, too," Janiak says, adding that they've played gigs alongside new-metal bands, adding to their audience base.
Janiak recalls a conversation he had with a music-industry type a few years back about the Pub Sigs. "He was, 'What do you play? Do you play rock, do you play pop?' And I said, 'We play whatever we want to play.' And he said, 'That'll never sell.'"
It's a different situation with DTP, he says. "We have a goal. We have a band name that's kind of mean, and there's only so much we would want to put out under that name. It helps make [the sound] more defined. It's easier to tell whether you like us or not without going from track to track."
Devil To Pay has always been about taking their message to other markets, not being content to be the hard-rock princes of Indianapolis. They've played around the country and plan a punishing series of dates to promote the new album - every weekend through the summer, basically.
After their CD release show at the Melody Inn on Friday, they're off to Chicago the next night for a gig at the Pontiac Cafe. Networking and trading shows with out-of-state bands has been the key to their touring successes.
"I've never been in a band that's been as focused as this one on every single detail," Bridges says. "The artwork. The album. Playing shows out of time. It's a new thing and it's a lot of fun."
"I didn't realize that until we won that $10,000 [for the Battle of the Bands] that we could go out and get around the country," Janiak says. "I think there was an imagined obstacle about what we could or couldn't do. But once that door opened, we got this drive. We've got to get out of town. We've played 73 shows in Indianapolis. Our CD release will be the 74th show. We want people in other cities to hear us."
And with an exciting new album, a rededication to the band and their strong work ethic, Devil To Pay is poised and ready to do just that - again.