Ted Leo and the Pharmacists at Skully's
"Few people have had the unfortunate experience of having two venerable American punk independent labels fall apart underneath them," Ted Leo said.
But that's exactly what happened to Leo, the plucky, political pop-punk frontman with spastic vocals and a heart of gold.
He and his band The Pharmacists put out three glorious albums on Lookout! Records, former home of Green Day and Screeching Weasel, before the label shut down in 2005.
Leo regrouped by signing with esteemed indie tastemaker Touch and Go, known for a diverse slate that ranged from Big Black to TV on the Radio. Leo only managed to release one record on Touch and Go before it ceased releasing new music.
Leo has always been a staunch advocate of punk's traditional do-it-yourself ethic and is vehement about not aligning himself with corporate America. Hard times in the independent record business and the music business in general haven't shaken Leo from his stance - though Matador Records, which released his new "The Brutalist Bricks," is about as big as indies come.
"There's no way I ever want to sign on with a major label," Leo said. "I don't like the way that music is treated in that world, and I don't really believe that they could do anything for me."
Still, Leo said it's becoming harder and harder to carve out a career in music without compromising his principles by, say, getting a sponsor for his tour or selling one of his songs for a commercial.
"I write songs about things that I care about," Leo said, "and I don't want to see things that I care about turned into a soundtrack to sell things for some massive corporation."
His rampant idealism plays out in his lyrics. "I'm so sick of cynics, and I want something to trust in," Leo sings on the new "Ativan Eyes."
Lest readers think Leo is rigid and humorless, consider his recent cover of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" or his off-the-cuff medley of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" during an acoustic performance several years back.
"I think about a lot of serious stuff, but it's one of those things where I think people who are political artists often get painted with the serious brush too quickly," Leo said.
"People assume you're just going to be some dire prick who hates the world. But it's actually because you love the world. Along with loving the world comes loving pop music."
9 p.m. Saturday, July 10
Skully's Music Diner, Short North