Eric “Mean” Melin is a real musician — but it’s air guitar that might make him a star 

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"It was pretty obvious that I was born to be a drummer," Melin says. "Even though I want to be in front. I want to be the lead singer, but I can't sing. I want to be the guitar player, but I can't play guitar."

He saved $100 and bought an old five-piece Ludwig 1969 gold sparkle kit. He joined his first serious band, Truck Stop Love, after graduating from Olathe North High School in 1989 and moving to Manhattan, Kansas, to attend Kansas State University. Truck Stop Love tapped into the fuzz of Dinosaur Jr. but added rockabilly and country to the mix.

"None of us knew what we were doing," he says. "We were literally drunk every night. A bunch of long-haired guys wearing flannel shirts. You can imagine the stereotypes. We were out of control every night."

He quit K-State after two years so he could play with the band full time. It signed to Scotti Brothers Records, home of "Weird" Al Yankovic and Survivor, and released an EP in 1993.

Recording that EP with Joe Chiccarelli (who would go on to produce indie heroes the Shins' 2007 album, Wincing the Night Away), Melin let his ego take over. He says he made the label fly his "shitty drum set" to the studio in Santa Monica. He didn't realize that when recording, he was supposed to use nice instruments because he was making something that would last forever.

"I was so dead-set on not selling out," Melin says.

Chiccarelli humored him and set up the drums.

"We did the first track," Melin says. "He said, 'Come into the studio and listen to it.' He played it for me, and it sounded like shit."

"Can we put the real drums up now?" Melin remembers Chiccarelli saying.

"That's how green I was," he says. "We didn't know what the fuck we were doing."

Two years later, they put out a full-length. How I Spent My Summer Vacation was co-produced by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and sound engineer Jeff Powell in the Memphis studio where Big Star had recorded all of its albums. It was, Melin says, "a really big fucking deal for us because we're big fans of Big Star. I'm really proud of that record."

But Truck Stop Love broke up around 1997. Melin went on tour with Lawrence's Kill Creek but didn't see the band going anywhere. When the Kill Creek tour ended, he joined Manhattan pop-rock kingpins Ultimate Fakebook.

"It was like starting all over, from the ground up," Melin remembers. "It was brutal. Shitty shows. ... But the music was amazing, and I knew we were going to get somewhere."

The band released albums on Lawrence label Noisome, won an ASCAP competition and threw its winnings into radio promotion. This led to a spot on the CMJ Festival, and the band toured with the Get Up Kids. Epic Records noticed and signed the group in December 1999, and Fakebook's first album was out by July 2000.

But Epic dropped the band in 2001 when a new vice president took over at the label and cleaned house.

Still, Melin never had to worry about money. Despite the loss of the Epic contract, the band was a full-time job, turning out records on independent labels and touring with MxPx and Nada Surf. Eventually, though, it split up, too.

Melin went to work at a dog-food factory. And he went back to get a film degree at the University of Kansas in 2004. About the same time, he and J.D. Warnock started Scene-Stealers, a cable-access movie-review TV show in Lawrence, doing 11 shows before turning it into a Web site in 2005. He also helped start his latest band, the Dead Girls.

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