The boys are back in town

Old-school Chico rockers return with reunion show and new album

The iMPS (from left): Scott Lehman, John McCall and Erik Morton.

The iMPS (from left): Scott Lehman, John McCall and Erik Morton.

Photo by Beckett Lehman

The iMPS perform Friday, Sept. 2, 9 p.m., at 1078 Gallery. The Loyalists and West by Swan open.
Cost: $7
1078 Gallery
820 Broadway

Bands like 28th Day, Trench and the iMPS have become part of Chico music lore, having made names for themselves some 30 years ago. Some of them—including the iMPS—are even still at it.

As drummer Scott Lehman— better known as Scotty Imp—puts it, his band has almost become this weird Chico urban legend. That’s not too far-fetched. For years, the iMPS’ 1998 power pop classic K.R.F.W. was the band’s only recorded document, aside from a sprinkling of 7-inches and demo tapes. Songs from that album—such as “David Bowie,” “Hill of Beans” and “Vegetarian Lesbian”—have endured as part of Chico’s soundtrack.

Despite lengthy gaps between shows and albums, and the fact that none of the band’s members live in the same city, the original trio has kept the band alive. Lehman has been in the New York City area for the past 15 years, while bassist Erik Morton calls Sacramento home, and vocalist/guitarist John McCall left Chico for Seattle a year ago.

“We never really disbanded,” Lehman said during a recent phone conversation. “John and I still talk pretty regularly, and we’d been talking a while about making a record.”

That talk has finally turned into something. This month, in conjunction with a rare gig in Chico, the iMPS will release their second full-length, There Goes the Sun, an album that smoothes out some of the rough-edged, scrappy adolescence of K.R.F.W. That’s not to say this is “dad rock.” There’s still plenty of bite in songs like the title track and “Throw It Away,” as well as immaculately crafted hooks, warm and fuzzy guitars, and Lehman’s in-the-pocket drumming.

There Goes the Sun was recorded in Lehman’s New Jersey garage, lovingly referred to as the “car hole” over the course of a couple years. Unlike K.R.F.W., which Lehman says was hammered out live at Chico’s Speaker Connection (the now-defunct Nord Avenue vintage-amp shop), the new record was labored over. The creative juices—and the opinions—were flowing.

“We got into it over a song … I think it was a fight over hand-claps,” Lehman recalled. “We’re passionate, because it’s important. But then we step back and move on.”

The dedication to the craft, and also the brotherly love, is no doubt a result of these three having known each other since connecting over Sonic Youth and Black Flag at Clovis High School some three decades ago. They formed the iMPS, began writing songs together and played shows up and down the West Coast. In 1995, the trio moved to Chico as a band and fast became local faves.

“We get each other’s jokes. We can finish each other’s sentences,” Lehman said. “You know what the other person is going to play before they even play it. It’s really weird.”

The initial idea for the new record was to simply document the boatloads of unrecorded songs floating around the band’s repertoire. What ended up happening was that McCall wrote a bunch of new songs.

“John knows how to write a really catchy song with very little effort—he writes songs while he’s cooking tacos,” Lehman said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

Writing songs is one thing, but keeping a band together when you’re dealing with strong personalities, family and living in different cities is another. Yet the iMPS live on. And that “urban legend” continues to morph into simple legend around these parts.

“I’m super proud of the way this turned out,” Lehman said. “We’re not doing this for shits and giggles—we take this seriously.”