When Gone for Good drummer Josh Lecce was killed in a car accident in May 2009, the Norwich band was wrapping up work on their debut EP, "The Bright Lights." For all the understandable reasons, the surviving members - guitarist/vocalist Nick Johns and bassist/vocalist Ryan Perkins - put the project on hold.
They simply couldn't face the memories and speculations about "what might have been" that would rain down simply by hearing the tapes.
"I couldn't listen without crying for maybe five months," Johns says. "If I was really drunk, I'd think I could do it - then I'd hear about half a song before ripping the iPod out of my ears like a scene in some corny movie."
"Eventually, it just happened that I could hear it again," Perkins says. "It definitely didn't happen for a while. At some point, it wasn't bumming me out as much as I was remembering the good things. The fun we had making it. It can be a half-and-half deal, but it's getting better."
Time's ability to heal might be variable in its clichéd accuracy, but music's ability to make things better isn't up for debate.
With finishing touches by Perkins, Johns and engineer Alan Douches (Aerosmith, Ben Folds, Sufjan Stevens), "The Bright Lights" is officially finished and, as of this week, available in download form at http://goneforgood.bandcamp.com.
The band is still raising money to press actual EPs, and in that spirit, Gone For Good - with new drummer/old pal Gene Miller - plays tonight in New London's Oasis Pub. They're opening for Brooklyn's the Art of Shooting and headliners the Suicide Dolls.
"It's good to have it out, and the early reaction has been great, which is very gratifying," Perkins says. "In one way, taking all that time off was interesting because, for us, anyway, we'd played and rehearsed those songs a thousand times before we started the recording process. In the studio, you play them over and over - and ultimately you sorta get emotionally removed from it all. And then you hear it all that time later, and it's suddenly fresh again. You remember how good it was all along."
Indeed, "The Bright Lights" is a shimmering slice of Gone For Good's melodic, harmony-speckled, myriad-influences rock. Depending on one's own "musical era," the sonic reference points are generational but damned solid: Weezer, Cheap Trick, Queens of the Stone Age, Green Day, the Kinks, early Bowie, the Doors - and, of course, the Beatles. From the sledgehammer grind of "Better Time" to the ironic and irresistible title song and the rockabilly groove of "Dinner Date," every damned tune sticks to you like the favorite flavor from a melting snowcone.
"Frankly, I don't listen to any new music, and I have no interest or idea in what's going on today," laughs Johns, the band's main songwriter. "I'm way out of touch with what's going on musically today - and to be honest, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I'm the biggest Beatles fan you could ever possibly meet."
Both musicians say that abandoning the project was never an issue; they always knew that they'd release the EP at some point - and not just as a tribute to Lecce or because, as they comfortably believe, he would have wanted them to carry on.
"The thing is, we really like those songs. When Josh was alive and we'd listen to the playbacks, we'd laugh because we thought it sounded so great," says Perkins. "I mean, we all played together for years, and we were all committed to writing songs that we would want to hear on the radio. Good melodies, good energy …"
Eventually, listening to "The Bright Lights" - and the goal of actually releasing it - became a cathartic process. Simultaneously, the idea of continuing the band with a new drummer gradually became something that wasn't painful to consider. For one thing, Johns and Perkins started playing together, and a batch of new songs began to emerge. Also, another old friend, drummer Gene Miller, stepped in and has filled the role comfortably and capably.
"Ryan and I started writing songs again, and they were good," Johns says. "We wanted to start playing out, if only to be able to afford to finish 'The Bright Lights.' And Gene felt bad about our situation. Gene and Josh knew and respected each other, and he wanted to help us out."
When rehearsals started clicking and even more material poured out, the idea that Gone For Good was, in fact, not, became a welcome reality.
"We're so lucky to have Gene," Perkins says. "It's worked for all the right reasons. Josh was a wonderful part of our lives and our music. If it had been me or Nick instead of Josh, the reality is that the other two would carry on and make music."
After tonight's show, the band will continue to raise money to press "The Bright Lights" and celebrate the future. In September, they'll re-enter the studio and begin to record the next chapter in the band's legacy.
"The songs are still melodic and it's still us," Johns says, "but it's much darker, too. I've changed. Things like this absolutely change people, and sooner or later you learn that. We definitely don't worry what other people will think about it. You only have a short time to express yourself."