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Rock/Pop

Luder than hell

Is this the prettiest stoner rock band in history?

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Published 2/24/2010

The nature of the working relationship between the four members of Luder became apparent when this interview was being arranged. A simple request for a day, time and location was met with a barrage of contrasting e-mails containing all manner of snipes and digs — some amusing and some, frankly, uncomfortable. For many bands, this level of apparent animosity could spell the end of a musical endeavor. For Luder, however, it's all just fuel for the band's dark and murky fire.

To call Luder a local "supergroup" would probably be a vast exaggeration. Nevertheless, the members do have rich pedigrees. Guitarist Phil Dürr was a member of Big Chief, Detroiters who threatened to gatecrash the Seattle alt-punk-grunge party in the early '90s, signing to Sub Pop Records ... and then gloriously self-destructing at their creative peak. Drummer Eric Miller has played with such notable local (and near local) stoner bands as Walk on Water, Novadriver and Five Horse Johnson. Outspoken guitarist Scott Hamilton is more commonly known around these parts as the owner of underrated area label Small Stone Records, which helped launch the careers of Whitey Morgan & the 78's, the Glasspack and Halfway to Gone. Finally, there's singer-bassist Sue Lott, formerly a member of Slot, alongside her late husband Billy Rivkin, who died of cancer in 2004. Slot, for those in the dark, was a great band, and Rivkin was a supremely talented guitarist. Which is to say that none of Luder's members are, um, spring chickens — those enthusiastic for a two-year U.S. tour in a crap van. Nope. Also, there's a streak of cynicism that runs through the band like a dirty vein, and it only helps its brand of rock 'n' roll, adding a sense of foreboding and a bitter shadow that, in the cold light of day, gives the band an almost gothic leaning. 

Hamilton agrees with the assessment, saying that his band is "technically 'alternative.' There's classic rock, there's stoner rock and there's gothic rock in it." Lott, however, goes one better, referring to Luder as "Grunge-gazer or Portis-heavy."

The group's debut album, Sonoluminescence, landed late in 2009, making it perhaps the last great local record of the last decade. It's a tremendous achievement — dark and pretty, yet thick with the sort of stoner licks that'd make the Clutch guys cry in their ale. This is stoner rock ... meaning, you can easily get stoned to it. As far as aesthetics go, though, they're hardly "stoner." For one thing, the three men in the band are relatively hairless. What's more, there's an actual — gasp! — chick in the band, who appears, you'll note, to enjoy the company of these three dudes. Hamilton, who refers to stoner rockers as "fat dudes wearing black T-shirts drinking beer in their mom's basement," laughingly adds that Luder might even give the average stoner rocker a hope of getting laid! 

For the Small Stone head honcho, the switch from sideman to band guitarist has been slightly odd. "It's weird for me because, for 99 releases on the label, I sat on the sidelines, aside from going into the studio and doing weird feedback guitar noises," he says. "It's also really weird because, prior to this, my main instrument was the drums. That was something I put away when I started the label, though, and didn't want to pursue anymore. So I was listening to '90s rock when I learned to play guitar  — to the Verve and the Smashing Pumpkins. I'd learned to play drums to Aerosmith and the Who, though, so [those diverse elements] have made for a kinda fucked-up thing."

Lott, meanwhile, has only been in two or three other bands, but still acknowledges that this one is "different." "Slot was very self-contained," she says. "There wasn't a lot of discussion. Everyone did what they were going to do. It was just my husband, my little brother and me, for the most part. This is not that. It's not bad and it's not anything worse than that. But it's different."

Nevertheless, Dürr, one of the most underrated guitarists in Detroit (no shit), is very comfortable with his new surroundings. "It's pretty much like every band I've been in," he smiles. "With Big Chief, we never told each other what to play. In Variac, we never told each other what to play. Same with Giant Brain. I don't know if that's just the way I am, but I like to react to stuff, so this is really comfortable. When stuff starts gelling, that's when I get more grumpy and the German in me comes out. But I absolutely adore this record and this band. It seems really organic to me."

For drummer Eric Miller, though, the process of recording with a band that likes to plan little and fly by on the seat of its worn jeans was invigorating if unusual at the outset. "Structure isn't a bad thing, but the bands that I've recorded with before, like Novadriver and Walk on Water, had songwriters," he says. Luder is a lot more improvisational. "That's why this has been such an amazing experience for me."

Lott says. "I live for the mistake," she laughs. "Sometimes, you have to set up a really precarious situation. You have to push a boundary here and there, and be prepared to go in and say, 'You know what? That's embarrassing! But what the hell. So what? I don't care.'" The singer takes a sip from her glass, pauses to reflect, and then adds, "This is the first record that I've been on that isn't toe-curling in some places."

She recalls the recording process as being "a really unlimited recording session. I didn't feel like anybody would put the brakes on anything. Nobody was saying, 'We're going to have to take five or six minutes out of this song.' With Slot, we released a lot of EPs because we had to go out on the road and we had to have something to sell. So we would record five or six songs within our budget. We're absolutely not thinking like that with this band.

"The path that bands used to be forced down is no longer interesting to me," she continues. "Things are totally different now. You used to be able to book your tour from your phone, basically. Now, you have to go out on the road with another band or do it through a booking agent. You have to actually pay to open for people now. I'm done with that. If you don't want us, fine. I'll just stay home and eat."

In short, Luder is a tremendous band with a breathtaking album under its belt. But it's obvious from talking to them that this is a band that scoffs at the idea of bending over backward to "make it," or whatever that means anymore. After years of broken promises and lost hope, the quartet will only do things as they see fit. And the fact the guitar player actually owns their label means that they don't have to pander to anyone. If you don't like 'em, well, then fuck it. They're way beyond caring. Go listen to someone else.

Before MT leaves the band, there's one mystery left. What, on God's green earth, does Luder mean? 

"It's a German word," says the German-born Dürr. "It can mean anything — from a pesky child to a whore to a pest like a mosquito or, really, anything in-between. It can mean something sexual and dirty as well. It all actually depends on the tone of your voice when you say it, and the context. But to simplify, if you call somebody 'a luder,' you could be calling them dirty ... or alluring."

Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. With Sponge and more. Luder's debut album, Sonoluminescence, is out now on Small Stone Records.

Brett Callwood is a music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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