The very first booth on the left at Quinton's Bar & Deli in Lawrence has a special place in Eric Melin's heart. Surprisingly, Melin's feelings have nothing to do with the amazing soup in a bread bowl, which is set before him, or with the restaurant's notoriously hot waitresses, who keep checking in every few minutes.
"This is the same booth where I told the guys in Kill Creek that I couldn't drum for them anymore," Melin explains to two of his bandmates — guitarists and singers Cameron Hawk and JoJo Longbottom — over food and beers on a Sunday afternoon. "I played with them for about a month and I always loved their music, but I told them that I was going to join this new band called Ultimate Fakebook."
What happened next is now a bit of Kansas music history. While Kill Creek went on to become one of the best bands no one ever heard, Ultimate Fakebook gained (and eventually lost) a major-label deal and grew into a regional touring sensation that — along with such bands as the Get Up Kids and Shiner, to name just a couple — helped put Manhattan, Lawrence and the Midwest in general on the mid-'90s indie-rock map.
But that was more than a decade ago. Today, the oldest member of the Dead Girls (formerly Dead Girls Ruin Everything), which formed after Ultimate Fakebook's demise in 2003, is just a few years shy of 40, and the band (rounded out by former Fakebook bassist Nick Colby) isn't touring heavily or seeking big-label deals. And really, they're all pretty much OK with that.
"We're not really a part of the scene anymore," Melin says.
"We don't mean that in an elitist sort of way," Hawk adds. "There are a bunch of bands around town that we love to play with, but we just don't do a lot of networking."
"I'm not in my early 20s anymore, and I don't want to just do rock," Melin says. "I'm a little too old to go out all the time."
Melin's not the only one with a full plate. Longbottom attends grad school, Colby and Hawk work full-time jobs, and Melin recently quit his job to focus full time on his other passion. With former Fakebooker J.D. Warnock, Melin does film reviews for his Web site, scene-stealers.com. ("We're the rock-and-roll Siskel and Ebert," Melin jokes.)
Busy schedules partially explain why the Dead Girls haven't released a new album since the band's hook-fueled power-pop debut, 2006's What a Perfect Ending. But the absence of an immediate follow-up disc doesn't mean the band hasn't been readying some sugary new gems for mass consumption. In 2009, fans will see not one, not two, but three new releases from the Dead Girls. Hair Trigger, an EP, comes out February 3; Te Quiero, a second EP, hits May 5; and Out of Earshot, a full-length, is being spit-polished for a fall release.
"The last album was us discovering what the hell our sound was," Longbottom says. "This new one is more cohesive than any album I've ever been involved with before."
The recording process also has wreaked havoc on their release schedule. It's no surprise that the albums still aren't ready to go after they had to record in the middle of winter in a room with no heat, after five nearly finished tracks were wiped out by a studio intern, and after a dead hard drive took out another song.
"The good thing is, everything we had to redo was improved," Longbottom says. "I still have an unmixed iPod version of those lost songs, and when I listen to them now, it's a godsend that we had to start over."
And what, exactly, do these new songs sound like?
"It's Beach Boys vocals with Thin Lizzy guitars," Hawk says. "The [full-length] record's supposed to be an experience. I mean, you don't put Abbey Road on and hit shuffle."
"The fans have been really receptive to the new music at our shows," Melin says. "We're only playing two old songs live — "What a Perfect Ending" and "Hot Blonde" — so they're hearing a lot of new stuff."
With new music on the horizon, the band got a chance to take care of a small problem they had faced since the band's inception: its crappy name. After toying with some complete overhauls (Key Losers and Bright Hammers both made the short list), Dead Girls Ruin Everything simply opted to shorten what they already had.
"Eventually we decided, why not just be the Dead Girls? That's what everyone calls us anyway," Melin says.
Despite the new name and new material, the Dead Girls aren't in any rush. What was once a serious business now seems to be more of a hobby — albeit a very prolific one.
"I think we're all concentrating so hard on the fun part of music, no one focuses on the business end," Melin says.
"Of course, we'd love to do the band full time," Longbottom adds. "But I'm not going to cry in my soup if I never get to meet David Geffen."
Good thing, too. Nobody wants to waste a good bowl of soup.