E-Maginary Idols

While we were writing our new record, we were playing these major-label showcases and listening to quite a lot of concept albums, says Tender Idols vocalist Ian Webber. It makes sense, then, that the underlying theme of Distressor, the group's national debut, is Webber's struggle with the music industry.

"It's like an S.O.S., really, " the British-born Webber says. "I didn't like the idea of signing with some big label that would splinter off into various companies, so we were very careful."

Last year, a lifeline from New York-based E-Magine Entertainment ended Webber's distress. "They saw us play at the Variety Playhouse and liked what they saw," he says. "The thing about them is they are indie, yet they have great distribution." The company stepped in and re-released the Idols' debut album, Step on Over, last year.

"Now, for the first time, we don't have to put every expense on our own credit cards," Webber says. Label support allowed the band to record at their own pace with noted producer Gavin Mackillop (The Church, Toad the Wet Sprocket). "We trusted him. He worked with a ton of bands in Britain in the '80s before moving to L.A., so he worked out great for us."

The result is a tight, 14-song collection of edgy guitars backing Webber's dramatic, often snarling vocals. "We had the luxury of time," says Webber. "We could stretch out a bit. If a song felt right we could take it to its logical conclusion." Retaining their signature twist of American rock meets the British Empire, the prog-pop of Distressor features the Idols' aggressive approach with room for sonic experimentation.

"The last record was basically just three-minute pop songs," Webber concludes. "This time, we felt comfortable letting each song flow, and if it went on for six minutes, then whatever."

The Tender Idols play Thurs., April 5, at EarthLink Live.??