Andre Francois, Craig Friday, Robby Hartis and Zack Irvin had previously kicked around the local punk and hardcore scenes.
But it wasn't until they came together with singer-songwriter Erika Blatnik in the Charlotte rock band The Lights, Fluorescent that they found the kind of chemistry and passion that many musicians search for their whole lives.
"Andre and I tried five different concoctions before this," says guitarist Friday, 32. In Via, they'd played a handful of shows with singer-songwriter Blatnik, whose delicate folk and rapid-fire singing style would prove the right juxtaposition for their interweaving metal and hardcore guitars.
"I'd never played in a band and I was almost too shy to say I was interested," says Blatnik, 22, a student and waitress. Yet the three of them instantly clicked with bassist Hartis and former drummer Irvin.
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It was the right time for Hartis, who'd recently lost his father (a subject he tackles in the song "Bluejay") and Francois, who'd weathered a rough breakup that led to selling his musical equipment.
"We both really needed something to take our minds off of stuff," says Hartis, who often can be found working the door at Tremont Music Hall near uptown. "Instantly, I was in love with it."
Things moved quickly for the prolific quintet, which played numerous live shows and recorded its first EP, "Neotony," within its first four months. Even early on, songs like the insistent "Mr. Pretender" and the waltzing "So Sweet" had audiences shouting along.
The Lights, Fluorescent manages to write catchy songs with pop hooks that listeners can latch on to without adhering to typical arrangements and repetitive verse/chorus/verse structure.
"You want the lyrics to tell the story, and building with verse/chorus/verse, you end up repeating a lot of stuff. When you read a book, you don't read the same chapter over and over," explains Francois, 30, who often crafts his guitar parts to complement Blatnik's lyrics with Friday, Hartis and new drummer Nick Sullivan, 26, following suit.
The band rarely turns down a chance to play and continues to evolve, with an increasingly eclectic catalog that tackles life, death, suicide, addiction and other heavy subjects. They're an adventurous bunch musically, and they share in the creative process equally.
"We don't want one person running the show because all the songs are going start sounding the same," says Francois. "With everybody's input - that's how we get the nontraditional stuff."
"Sometimes that can be fantastic, and sometimes that can be a disaster," says Friday, laughing. Echoes multi-instrumentalist Blatnik: "We're all speaking our minds, so all of our creativity is put in there."
This past summer, the band - whose members all also juggle school and day jobs - embarked on its first East Coast tour. ("We came back like a family," says Hartis, 30, of the 10-day jaunt.) The group is currently shopping its second EP to labels, and hopes to hit the road again in 2010.
And quietly, The Lights, Fluorescent's fan base is growing - thanks to fans like this:
"They have a unique sound that derives from some of the best of rock from the last 50 years," says Cliff Homesley, a 49-year-old Mooresville lawyer who estimates he's seen them eight times. "I try to take other people to see them. If someone wants a point of reference, I say post-punk with influences of progressive rock and heavy metal."