Indy natives now national sensations

Radio Now Santa Slam with Pussycat Dolls, Howie Day, The Click Five, Hope Bartlow, The Veronicas and Nikki Flores

Wednesday, Dec. 14, 7-11 p.m.

Pepsi Coliseum

Tickets: $35, $30 and $25 through Ticketmaster The Click Five December is a flurry of frenzied activity for the staff of Radio Now. It is one of precious few times a year that we have a main focal point — something on which to settle our respective, typically ADHD-hampered minds. The annual Santa Slam affair is our station’s version of Christmas Spirit. We rally around it like an open bar in Broad Ripple on a Saturday night (or, more specifically, a tapped keg backstage), dispensing well wishes and peace on Monument Circle for the coming new year. The show is a staff favorite, and made special for that reason alone.

This year, however, there is an air of anticipation in the building. We are proud peacocks, indeed, for we are not only bringing a chart-busting, nationally-renowned, groupie-inducing act in to perform — we are bringing them home.

Little more than a month ago, I was hovering just inside of The Click Five’s dressing room at the Rosemont Theatre in Illinois, waiting for the commotion to die down enough for an interview to happen. It was a small space, just off of the “Green Room” (which is apparently the Rosemont’s exaggerated description for a large, open area where backstage guests perch on uncomfortably hard couches and watch a television that, by all indication, is permanently set on Telemundo), and hardly glorified, but the boys didn’t seem to mind. It would never even occur to them to be pretentious. Their cheeks were flushed with a post-show glow and they dove excitedly into the spread that was haphazardly arranged on a table in the corner. Lead singer and Indianapolis native Eric Dill paused and laughed as childhood friend Joey Zehr bustled into the room. The dull roar of infatuated fans could be heard through the walls and the persistent thumping of anxious hands against the door ripped through the room.

Dill and Zehr shook their heads and exchanged looks, as if to say, “Man, how did we get here?”

Keep in mind that, despite the fact that The Click Five is often hailed as an “overnight sensation,” the dream has been a long time in the making. They have worked their cute little butts off for this day (don’t worry, gals — there’s still enough left to grab, if you’re so inclined), and two-fifths of the foundation for the highest debuting new rock act of 2005 was being erected here in Indianapolis nearly a decade ago.

It’s easy, when you observe the two, to imagine what they must have been like in their younger, more “raw” years: extremely driven, ridiculously energetic and exuding the same unapologetic charisma that they do today. Personality is a key ingredient in The Click Five formula, and each member wears his unique disposition as handsomely as he wears that au courant suit that drives the girls wild. Our Indy boys contribute significantly to this delicate balance of character. Dill, at first glance, might strike you as a rather somber individual. He is outwardly focused and severely intelligent. A brief exchange of words, though, is all it takes to reveal the sharp wit that lurks there, and his microphone coaxes that frontman magnetism right out of him.

Zehr is a tornado of energy at the other end of the personality spectrum. He is tireless, he is here, there and everywhere before you can even blink, and when he’s on stage, that unbridled vigor fuels his drumming. In short, he brings it. Hard-core.

Both are savvy businessmen. In their not-so-distant youth, they were part of a local group that called itself Panagia. Dill formed the band in 1996 with some of his Brebeuf Jesuit schoolmates, and when the group underwent a change in lineup the following year, Zehr came on board. Confident that they’d tapped into a magical chemistry, Panagia recorded demos at TRC Studios and immediately took their inimitable brand of rock straight to the Emerson Theater stage. Marketing skills were honed (they sold cassettes of their music and logo-emblazoned T-shirts at shows), ambition fed the creative monster and musical experimentation was the name of the game at Dill’s home, where practices were held.

“The true hangout was the Dill household,” he says. “It was where we convened to make music, play games and have fun and, of course, eat Papa John’s and drink our Cokes.”

Mr. and Mrs. Dill are obviously terribly patient parents.

Panagia’s run wound down at the end of high school. Zehr packed up and headed off to the Berklee College of Music, and Dill moved north to Purdue, where he formed his second band, Animo. The personal connection between the two friends remained intact, despite the distance, and Zehr frequently found himself behind the drums of Animo for Boiler Gold Rush shows and frat parties. Neither knew at the time that they were mere months away from being the next big thing. In 2003, Zehr joined up with a group of classmates in Boston, and Dill, waiting a table at Bazbeaux, got the call that changed his life.

“I have always thought, if I’m gonna have a band that’s going to be big, I want Joey to be on the drums. And one day, he calls me out of the blue. He tells me that he’s in a band and they need a lead singer … that the guys are very good and that they’re going to try to get a real manager, get signed and ‘make it.’”

Two years later, Dill, Zehr, Ethan Mentzer, Joe Guese and Ben Romans have, indeed, “made it.” Since March of this year alone, The Click Five has opened for Ashlee Simpson and Ryan Cabrera. They have performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel Live and Live with Regis and Kelly, among other shows, and they’ve played Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Christmas in Washington. There is no doubt about it — they are on the fast track to global domination.

But even with the millions of adoring girls under their thumbs and the world at their fingertips, Dill and Zehr embrace their Midwest roots. Indianapolis is their home, and we are more than happy to bring them here so that you, in turn, may embrace them.