It's a stark contrast in weather while talking to Steve McGraw, guitarist for Gilbert indie-rock act Lydia. From New York City, where McGraw is enjoying the tail end of a lovely little storm that dumped snow all across the Northeast, he gets to hear all about another mild, sunny March afternoon in Arizona. McGraw and his band sure do miss the warm Arizona winter weather — and Arizona misses Lydia's mellow, heartfelt songs. But that nasty weather on tour is about the only thing going cold for Lydia these days. The band is in the midst of a nationwide headlining tour, one that has proved to be an enjoyable experience for the Gilbert sextet.
"It's nice to be able to play longer than 30 minutes," McGraw says. "We can actually deliver to [our fans] instead of playing in the opening slot and playing for 25 minutes."
Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe
Lydia is scheduled to perform Saturday, March 21.
Lydia's progression from contest winner to bona fide headliner has been pretty much textbook — with a little luck thrown in. In 2004, they won a contest that landed their song "Your Taste Is My Attention" on a compilation CD released by the skate-punk clothing label Atticus, a twist of fate that gave them enough momentum and notoriety to secure gigs on the Vans Warped Tour, Bamboozle Festival, and Zumiez Couch Tour. Some bands struggle to parlay an opportunity like that into a serious career, but Lydia showed no signs of slowing down, quickly signing with Arizona label Hourzero Records and releasing their debut album, This December; It's One More and I'm Free, in September 2005. The album made Lydia one of Arizona's freshest up-and-coming acts.
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Asked about the flourishing local music scene, McGraw demurs. Lydia hasn't been gigging around town in awhile, making their upcoming Clubhouse gig somewhat special to them. "Leighton [Antelman, lead vocalist and founding band member] and I started playing shows together when we were 12 and 13 — that was pretty much 10 years ago. [Because] we started touring, four or five years ago, it's hard for me to really comment on the scene since I'm so far removed from it."
One can't blame McGraw and the members of Lydia for being out of the loop when it comes to the Valley's music scene. Their band has been touring extensively in support of their two studio albums, their 2005 debut and 2008's Illuminate. The latter album has provided the band with a unique opportunity for their fans to come to the band's shows and, as described on the band's Web site, "illuminate themselves."
"Before this tour, we ran a contest [for fans] to submit original artwork inspired by the album," McGraw elaborated. "The picture that is on the posters we have out at venues right now is the winner of that contest. That's where the 'illuminate yourself' contest theme came from. We have some luminescent-type things to hand out at the concerts."
Listening to McGraw describe their interaction with fans provides a good idea why the band enjoys their level of success. It's the freedom; the power that they give to their fans, letting them customize what they think the band's posters should look like, thus showing what Lydia means to them. The rapport that Lydia has with fans is something Lydia actively encourages and participates in. They know that they are where they are now, the last band onstage playing that coveted encore, because of their fans. It's a humility that few bands in Lydia's shoes would possess, but one that the Gilbert rockers personify.