Past perfect 

Heart in hand, Convoy revamps rock history

"You know, you're the first person that's ever gotten that."

Convoy's Jason Hill is impressed that someone has finally nailed the true meaning behind the title of his band's debut release, Black Licorice.

"It's what my dad used to call records when I was a kid -- I always thought it was a typical term," says Hill, the primary singer, songwriter and studio tinkerer in the Southern California band -- and easily its biggest talker.

Given that Black Licorice's packaging includes a photo of a small portion of Hill's 7,000-plus record collection, it's hard to believe, really, that no one has zeroed in on Hill's voracious appetite for LPs. But then, it's also difficult to fathom that, nine months after its release on Hybrid Recordings, Black Licorice remains an obscure delight -- one cherished by small pockets of critics and fans scattered across the country.

Embracing the past without ever sounding passe, Black Licorice is the best sort of revisionist pop-rock comfort food, doling out hooks and hard luck aplenty with comfy harmonies and an obsessive song-oriented approach reminiscent of the four B's (Beatles, Big Star, Badfinger, Beach Boys). Tracks like "Gone So Quick Tomorrow," "Here's Lookin' at You" and "Weekends" are heartfelt, gimmick-free nostalgia-mongering at its best, while "Loosen It Up" and the single "Caught Up in You" mete out Stonesy swagger without apology.

Convoy's founding members -- Hill, Brian Karscig (vocals, guitar), Robbie Dodds (guitar, vocals) and Mark Maigaard (drums) -- grew up in Poway, Calif., the same San Diego 'burb as pop-punk poseurs Blink-182. But they come from a different zip code musically. It's a perspective borne out of an almost fanatical reverence for the past and Hill's unwavering drive to measure up to his idols and make a truly timeless rock album. And great as it is, Black Licorice ain't it -- at least as far as he's concerned.

"We're gonna make the best album of the year," says Hill. "That's the plan."

Seems Hill might have to wait awhile. Released last September on Hybrid Recordings, Black Licorice dropped with an indiscernible thud when its struggling label could do little more than send the band out on the road to fend for itself. By Hill's estimation, Convoy has logged more than 90,000 tour miles since last June. "And that was in a fucking van," he says. "At least we're in an RV now."

With Hybrid supposedly rejuvenated and prepared to put some real promotional muscle behind Black Licorice, Convoy is ready to see this thing through to its conclusion -- whatever that might be.

"Press has been the hardest thing to get, because nobody knows who we are," says Hill. "But finally, things are starting to happen to us. This is our year."

Convoy's work ethic may be its most crucial asset in getting the word out -- especially given the band's sweaty live shows, where Hill's Joe Cocker-esque spasms and mutton-chopped charisma are the focal points. Indeed, just a few songs into Convoy's opening set at the Cotton Club in March, the audience of Bob Schneider fans had little trouble buying what the band was selling. While Hill's moves were nothing new, his enthusiasm was as honest as it was over-the-top.

On that night, Hill had to contend with his ex-girlfriend's inebriated little sister, who, at one point, grabbed a hold of his mic stand from the front of the stage and wouldn't let go. He handled the situation like an old pro, reclaiming it with a quick tug and a wide grin.

"All my family on my mom's side lives in Louisiana and Atlanta," Hill says of his Southern roots. "I have a soft spot for Southern women -- that's for sure."

Convoy plays Thurs., May 30, at Smith's Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave. TrancesArc and Southern Bitch open. 8 p.m. $8. 404-875-1522. www.smithsoldebar.com.

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