Higher Power

Cincinnati’s Electric Citizen aims high and hits heavy with its sophomore album, Higher Time

click to enlarge Ahead of its second album release, Cincinnati’s Electric Citizen is currently touring Europe.
Ahead of its second album release, Cincinnati’s Electric Citizen is currently touring Europe.

T

he more things change, the more they stay the same, as the old saying goes. If you put any stock in the wisdom of platitudes, that one in particular holds some sway in Electric Citizen’s story. The Cincinnati-based group — the brainchild of Ross and Laura Dolan — has achieved a great deal since playing its first show in 2013, touring worldwide and releasing 2014’s debut full-length, Sateen, and its imminent follow-up, the thunderously heavy, melodically nuanced Higher Time.

Along that path, the band has maintained important consistencies, particularly the presence of locally-based producer Brian Olive. His studio expertise helped define and channel the band’s live power into the group’s first two official recordings.

The wire walk of following up a well-received release like Sateen is as timeless as Rock itself, as musicians must somehow replicate a successful album’s bottled lightning while expanding and evolving. The Dolans wanted to remain true to their core sound on Higher Time, but also explore new horizons, something they discussed extensively with Olive before the sessions.

Electric Citizen's video for Sateen's "Light Years Beyond":

“Brian’s a great dude,” guitarist Ross Dolan says. “He’s experienced, and he knows we’re not going to lay down the same album. And we trust him. He’s not going to keep quiet; he’s going to be like, ‘Let’s see what we can do with this vocal melody,’ or ‘Maybe start that guitar solo slow and then get fast or finish it high.’ ”

“He has great instincts,” concurs earthy-yet-ephemeral vocalist Laura Dolan. “He can hear something and know exactly what’s missing. That’s why we love working with him. To have your really good friend also have a phenomenal ear for music, how do you get that lucky? But we did have those conversations. I said, ‘Brian, I don’t want you to let me get away with anything in the studio. I want this to be the best thing I can put forth, and I’m asking you to push me as hard as you want.’ I don’t think we had that conversation on the first album.”

Higher Time track "Golden Mean":

There have also been some significant changes for Electric Citizen since Sateen. The biggest shift came with last year’s departure of original bassist Nick Vogelpohl and the addition of former The Dukes Are Dead/KillTones four-stringer Randy Proctor. What the band lost was the intuitional relationship between Vogelpohl and drummer Nate Wagner, friends since high school and former rhythm section for local outfits including the Lions Rampant. What they gained was Proctor’s diverse and extensive musical experience and a fresh perspective on their own music.

“Randy and I were acquaintances; I’d seen him play with The Dukes Are Dead,” recalls Ross. “I’m a big fan of bass players and drummers, so I tend to look at them first. Randy played with his fingers (instead of a pick), which is huge for me. For our type of music, I like old-school playing with your fingers. I didn’t see Randy for a couple of years, then he was in The KillTones, and I was like, ‘Randy’s gotten really good.’ ”

With Vogelpohl’s college graduation and impending wedding, he naturally felt the need to pull back on his commitment to the band, which unfortunately coincided with Electric Citizen’s need to ramp up in order to capitalize on the success of Sateen and the profile the band had earned on the road opening for Pentagram, The Budos Band and Fu Manchu, among others.

Although Proctor was an immediate fit — he arrived at his audition knowing all the band’s songs and played his first show a week later — there was some trepidation about the change.

“Randy jumped into the deep end and just started swimming, and thank God he did because we were kind of at a loss as to how to move on without Nick,” Laura says. “Finding Randy was the perfect situation for us. We didn’t miss a beat.”

The big question was whether Wagner and Proctor would click as a rhythm section. Electric Citizen’s almost constant road presence since Sateen’s release had made it a tight unit, and its strength faced its first test with this fundamental alteration.

“Nate would know what Nick was going to do,” Ross says. “If Nick was doing a run, Nate would know when he was coming back into the song. I was definitely worried about that. I had a serious talk with Nate, like, ‘I’m really counting on you to be as open-minded as you can with Randy.’ And they just gelled.”

There is a melodic touch and an almost Pop-like swing to much of Higher Time, which is similar to Sateen, but different in an organic, unforced way. The Dolans didn’t change their writing approach, and the new album was almost completely written when Proctor arrived, so the differences in Higher Time are subtle and show a natural progression, a by-product of the band’s steady touring regimen and the members comfort in the studio. (Collin Dupuis, Olive’s friend and colleague from Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio, mixed the album.)

What hasn’t changed is the band’s concussive musical presentation, a blend of the members’ love of Black Sabbath and Pentagram, but a unique personal translation of those influences. Electric Citizen plays at a pummeling volume on stage, but never at the expense of the melodies they work hard to achieve in the studio.

Watch Electric Citizen's full performance from German TV show Rockpalast's concert broadcast late last month here.

“We’re not so loud that it hurts. We’re a good loud,” Ross says. “To get people’s attention.”

“That’s one of the advantages to heavy music,” Laura says. “You command (the crowd’s) attention.”

“And I feel like I don’t stress this enough — our music is not for a select group of cool kids,” Ross adds. “You know, the Doom genre is only for Doom fans, and it’s not going mainstream. I want my music to be for everybody.”

“A lot of our favorite bands are like that,” notes Laura. “We love The Beatles and David Bowie, and that’s phenomenal music, and it appeals to everybody. Mainstream is kind of a dirty word, but we want to be accessible.”

In that context, consider Higher Time to be Electric Citizen’s all-access pass to whatever comes next. The band, which has added keyboardist Katie McGurl to its touring lineup, is currently in the final stages of an extensive European tour opening for Wolfmother and material for a third album is already in the works.

From the start, Electric Citizen’s trajectory has been upward and onward; Higher Time seems less like a prophecy and more like a promise.


ELECTRIC CITIZEN (electriccitizenband.com) plays May 21 at Northside Tavern. More info: northsidetav.com.


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