Sometimes it takes something besides ambition, hard work and determination to make a band happen. In fact, sometimes it takes a little less of all three.
"I think we were all pretty hellbent on being in a band or trying to make it," says Ian Metzger, frontman of Dear and the Headlights. "We were all just kind of wrapped up in it. I think we wanted to be stars or something at the time."
But it was only after Metzger had pretty much given up on the Phoenix group that things finally came together.
The story goes back to about 2002, when Metzger, guitarist/keyboardist Joel Marquard and guitarist/keyboardist P.J. Waxman got together and felt they could be a nucleus for a band. All they needed was a bassist and drummer.
"We worked so hard and we tried out so many people," Metzger recalls. "We probably tried out 15 or 16 different people over the course of, like, two years."
Frustrated, Metzger essentially gave up and moved to Los Angeles looking for a fresh start. Instead, he couldn't get anything going in music and ended up working 12-hour days, six days a week, delivering packages for DHL.
Metzger might have remained in that routine if it weren't for Chuckie Duff, who had recorded an early demo by the band. Duff liked it so much that he volunteered to play bass if the rest of the guys would give Dear and the Headlights another try.
So Metzger returned, actually located a drummer (Mark Kulvinskas), and recorded a new set of demos that netted the group a deal with Equal Vision Records. The label then sent the band into the studio with producer Bob Hoag to make its 2007 debut CD, Small Steps, Heavy Hooves.
"We just gave up and we stopped trying so hard," says Metzger. "We figured out that we just enjoy playing music and we were going to let that be enough, and all of a sudden we had a band."
These days, Dear and the Headlights sound better than ever with a new guitarist/keyboardist Robert Cissell (who replaced Marquard) and a second CD, Drunk Like Bible Times. While approachable and familiar, the album doesn't fit easily into any one musical category. There's certainly a strong pop element, as well as a bit of the quirkiness of bands such as Pavement. Songs range from the urgent pop of "Bad News" and "Carl Solomon Blues" to the stately waltz of "Willetta" and the gentle textures of "Parallel Lines."
So it may not come as a surprise when Metzger says the group approaches songwriting in an unpremeditated way, not unlike the manner in which it learned to steer its career.
"We just write what we like to hear," he says. "And most of the time it just ends up being us, so it just comes off a little bit quirky or something."