The Lawrence Arms
About The Lawrence Arms
Founded around the turn of the millennium, Chicago pop-punk trio the Lawrence Arms built their reputation on tenacity, innovation, and a rock-solid blue-collar work ethic befitting their Midwestern origin. Boasting two distinctive yet complementary co-vocalists in bassist Brendan Kelly and guitarist Chris McCaughan, the band hit their stride in the mid-2000s as part of the Fat Wreck roster, releasing two surprisingly detailed albums in 2003's ambitious The Greatest Story Ever Told and 2006's more aggressive Oh! Calcutta!, the latter marking their first and only entry onto Billboard's Independent and Heatseekers charts. After some time away, the Lawrence Arms resurfaced on Epitaph Records and made an auspicious return with the 2014 standout Metropole. Another six years would pass before they issued the similarly conceptual Skeleton Coast.
Kelly, McCaughan, and drummer Neil Hennessy were all veteran's of Chicago's punk scene in the '90s. After putting in time with bands like Slapstick, Tricky Dick, Baxter, and the Broadways, the three musicians came together as the Lawrence Arms in 1999, naming themselves after a former apartment complex where Kelly and McCaughan once lived. Eschewing the usual punk path of 7" singles and EPs, the band recorded and released their debut album, A Guided Tour of Chicago, that same year prior to ever playing live. Having already formed a relationship with West Coast label Asian Man Records from a previous band, the Lawrence Arms quickly delivered another album to the label, which released Ghost Stories a year later. A 2000 split-EP with New Jersey band Shady View Terrace introduced them to producer and engineer Matt Allison, who could go on to become their collaborator and producer for all subsequent albums.
The band's relationship with Fat Mike of Fat Wreck Chords began in 2001 and led to the release of 2002's Apathy and Exhaustion album. It was their fourth album, however, that launched the Lawrence Arms into their next phase. A concept album of significant detail and littered with so many pop culture and historic references that the band provided ample footnotes in the liner notes, it also signaled the emergence of McCaughan as full-time co-vocalist. Up to that point, Kelly's ragged rasp served as the Lawrence Arms' primary mouthpiece, though after 2003, the lead vocals were split more or less evenly between Kelly and the smoother, more melodic McCaughan. A 2005 compilation of rarities and B-sides from Asian Man served as a stopgap as the band readied their next outing for Fat Wreck. Issued in 2006, the faster-paced Oh! Calcutta! retained the melodicism and some of the ambition of their previous release and made a surprise run on the Heatseeker and Independent Albums chart. Over the next few years, the group remained busy touring and playing with side projects like McCaughan's Sundowner, and Kelly and Hennessy's the Falcon. They issued an EP, Buttsweat and Tears, in 2009 and celebrated their tenth anniversary with a hometown show at the Metro which was filmed and later released on DVD in 2012 by Fat Wreck.
After signing with punk legends Epitaph Records, the Lawrence Arms made a grand return with 2014's Metropole, another conceptual record with a dark-toned noir-ish feel to it. In 2018, nearly 20 years after forming, the band's entire catalog was honed down to an impressive 29-track anthology called We Are the Champions of the World. For their next studio album, the trio headed to Texas' Sonic Ranch, marking the first time they'd recorded outside of Chicago. Produced once again by Allison, 2020's Skeleton Coast was another conceptual album with a somewhat bleak and introspective tone. ~ Timothy Monger