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By Lauren Wise
When I was fresh out of high school, I took off on a pilgrimage to Berkeley, California, the punk rock mecca of the early '90s. While that was a hell of an adventure, my post-grad exploits ain't shit compared to what the five Gilbert High School grads in the band Lydia have done since they walked. My mission was to observe the music that engulfed my life, whereas the Lydia kids have made a beautiful album, been signed to a record label, and are regularly touring around the country sharing their music with appreciative fans like me.
I met guitarist Steven McGraw, 18, vocalist/guitarist Leighton Antelman, bass player Evan Arambul, drummer Loren Brinton, and pianist/vocalist Maria Sais de Sicilia, all 19, at a Filiberto's in Gilbert, the locale chosen largely because it's where they negotiated their record deal with local HourZero Records proprietor Tim Harmon, 24, who was there with the band.
Not only are these recent high school grads signed to a label with national distribution, their new HourZero record, which comes out next month, is one of the most startlingly pretty and compelling song collections I've heard from a local band of any age. This December: It's One More and I'm Free won't be available until the record release party next month, but you can preview four of the tracks at www.myspace.com/lydia.
If you frequent bars to get your local music fix, you probably haven't seen the teens in Lydia; because of their age, they rarely play anywhere you can get a drink. But HourZero's Harmon and I aren't the band's only fans old enough to imbibe. Lydia impressed the folks at Atticus Clothing (the gear label started by blink-182's Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge) enough to be included on its third compilation CD, Dragging the Lake 3, alongside artists such as Death Cab for Cutie, blink-182, The Bled, Taking Back Sunday, Funeral for a Friend, and other luminaries. And last Wednesday night, the band filmed live footage at Neckbeard's for an upcoming Atticus DVD compilation.
The Atticus connection sounds like sheer providence, to hear the kids tell it. Brinton, Lydia's drummer and de facto spokesperson, explained that a friend of theirs entered their demo in a contest that Zumiez, a skateboard chain with a location in Fiesta Mall, was sponsoring. The prize was opening for Sum 41 at the Mesa date of the Zumiez Couch Tour last year.
"We won the statewide [heat] and got to play with Sum 41 -- that took us to the national [heat]. We won that, too; then they let us record a track for the compilation," says Brinton. Now the band is sponsored by Atticus, the first unknown artists, and effectively the brand's amateur team. Prior to the Neckbeard's show and shoot last week, Atticus was pimping the gig on the front page of its Web site.
Lydia also recently finished its first tour, which included a stop at the 2005 Zumiez Couch Tour opening for Coheed & Cambria in Boise for thousands of kids.
The Lydia sound is airy and atmospheric, with ethereal vocals from Antelman and Sais de Sicilia coaxing the spacy melodies along. These artists have an intimate knowledge of their instruments' subtleties; their arrangements are intricate and delicate. There's certainly the occasional rock-out interlude, but Lydia fits easily beside bands like the Gloria Record in terms of ambiance and orchestration.
Lydia's collusion with Harmon and HourZero seems written in the cards as well. HourZero's already had a lock on some of the best young post-punk and emo bands around the Valley, releasing Greeley Estates' DVD, Scary Kids Scaring Kids' After Dark EP, and records by the Pilot Episode, Mourning Maxwell, and For the Record, among others.
Harmon was at a Before Braille and Scary Kids Scaring Kids show where Lydia was opening last year, but spent Lydia's set outside talking to people from the other bands. When he paid his cover, the door person didn't have change and instead wrote "I owe you three bucks" on a CD from a stack sitting nearby, which happened to be Lydia's demo.
"I heard about the Sum 41 show somehow and thought, 'Wow, who is this band?'" Harmon tells me. "I listened to the demo, and right after that I heard about the whole Atticus thing. So I started talking to the band, going to their shows, and put them on one of my release shows in October. From there we started working together."
Brinton refers to Harmon as a sixth member of Lydia -- "He plays finances," the drummer jokes. In any case, Harmon has a stellar debut on his hands when This December drops next month.
The album's recording was fraught with difficulties, due to the initial recording being done in a local studio franchise where there were different engineers every day, who didn't know what the hell they were doing. They had to sign a contract that Harmon says prevents them from badmouthing the studio by name, but after being frustrated with the results, Lydia subsequently took the tracks to studio whiz Cory Spotts, who did some retracking and mixed the album that Harmon's due to release.