POTENTIAL ENERGY Lock and Key spent years on the short list of bands capable of breaking out of Boston
Sometimes you just gotta eat shit. If Lock and Key singer/guitarist Ryan Shanahan had had his way, that would be the title of the band’s final salvo, the long-in-coming follow-up to the foursome’s full-length debut on the North Carolina emo label Deep Elm, 2004’s Pull Up the Floorboards. He didn’t. The new (and final) Lock and Key disc is a homonymous job, recorded on the band’s dime and released on a friend’s start-up label, Get a Life Recordings. “It’s funny,” guitarist Mike Vera admits of Shanahan’s proposed title, “but some of us just didn’t want it to be the name of our last album.”
We’re sitting at a table at the Silhouette Lounge in Allston as Lock and Key contemplate the days leading up to their swan song this Friday downstairs at the Middle East. It’s a moment that’s been a long time coming: last winter, after five-plus years together, the band decided to call it quits. And eating shit had something to do with that decision.
“We did so many basement tours, we were always what we called ‘eating shit,’ ” Shanahan says with a smile and not a hint of bitterness. “If anyone ever complained, we’d give him a hard time and tell him, ‘Sometimes you just gotta eat shit.’ It was sort of our mantra. And since this was going to be our last record, I felt like we could call it whatever we wanted. But Mike, being Mr. Serious, couldn’t handle it.”
“We snuck it into the artwork,” Vera offers. “It’s right there when you open the CD.”
The process of recording an album has broken up many a band. All that time spent in the close quarters of a studio can test friendships, and artistic differences have a tendency to arise over things like how loud the kick drum should be. But when Lock and Key went into Fenway recording studio New Alliance in late 2007, they’d already made up their minds. Shanahan had enrolled in a six-month certification program in sustainable design at Boston Architectural College — a career that will take him to Portland, Oregon, two days after the final show. And Vera was by then playing in two other bands: Where the Land Meets the Sea, with one-time Lock and Key drummer Nick Maggorio, J.T. Hargrove on bass, and Ryan’s girlfriend Nikki Dessingue playing keyboards; and, as the bassist, in the Cold Beat, with two ex-members of the Call Up, singer/guitarist Chris Amaral and guitarist Mike Shepherd.
“We’d spent a year or more writing what we thought were our best songs,” says Shanahan. “So we were like, ‘Fuck it, let’s record these songs and put them out somehow.’ ”
The disc plays to the band’s strengths: heavy, melodic punk guitars bolstered by burly backbeats (courtesy of drummer Keith Casella) and topped off with Shanahan’s half-sung/half-shouted vocals. It’s a Warped Tour–friendly sound that for years had Lock and Key on the short list of bands capable of breaking out of Boston, especially given how much time they spent touring. (Shanahan: “We toured as much as we could afford to, which turned out to be about six months a year.”) In fact, it was the promise of finally getting some payback that led to Lock and Key’s demise. As Shanahan recounts, “We sent a three-song demo out to a bunch of labels after we found out that Deep Elm, who put out our first EP and our first album, weren’t interested. And Victory Records responded.”
The Chicago label invited Lock and Key out to play a showcase, so the band hit the road. “It was the weirdest thing,” Shanahan relates. “They had us set up to play like three or four songs in a glorified practice space with a giant stage. It wasn’t a club or a bar . . . ”
Hargrove interjects, “It was like the kind of place Ozzy Osborne practices for a tour.”
“Yeah, it was just awkward,” Shanahan continues. “We didn’t really know what to do, so Mike and J.T. went on a beer mission because, well, somehow that seemed important. And by the time they got back, all the Victory people had arrived and they’re waiting. We were all so nervous, and they were like, ‘You guys are certainly the first band to ever bring beer here.’ I was like, ‘Is that a good thing?’ I think that sort of broke the ice a bit.”
Lock and Key got a tour of the Victory operation and words of encouragement from the label. “It was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, we definitely want to work with you,’ says Shanahan. “On the trip home from Chicago, we talked about what it would mean to be on the label and how it would be a huge step up for us. It gave us a taste of what things could be like. But it just never went anywhere. I let them know that we were definitely interested. But we’d decided that if Victory didn’t work out for us, then we were going to can it. It was either going to be that or nothing.”