July 25 2012 12:00 AM

Cheap Girls celebrates five years in the Chevy van


Stepping into Ian Graham’s rental house on Lansing’s east side, not far from Kalamazoo Street, is a quick way to learn a few key things about the songwriter and Cheap Girls bassist-vocalist.

Even with all the blinds drawn to keep out the blistering summer sun, it’s evident what inspires the 26-year-old. A poster of the Lemonheads, a ‘90s alt-rock band, looks across an old sofa in the living room at a framed Woody Allen print. The dining room is piled with guitars, amplifiers, a four-track recorder, an old organ, and a computer playing an Evan Dando solo album. “Obsession” is the mood.

But Graham hasn’t seen much of his cozy abode over the past three years. The same goes for Cheap Girls guitarist Adam Aymor, 24, who shares the two-story home. Cheap Girls has all but taken over their lives.

“It’s really all I think about, or everything revolves around it,” Graham said. “It may even be unhealthy. One day I may regret some sides of it because even down to relationships and work, the band comes first.”

The indie-rock trio, which formed in 2007 and also includes 28-year-old drummer Ben Graham (Ian’s brother), has been on a seemingly endless tour across the United States and even ventured to Europe. Sometimes the guys stay out for two months at a time in their navy blue Chevy Express passenger van.

The rigorous tour regimen started not long after the band began garnering buzz for its 2008 debut LP, “Find Me a Drink Home.” The band plays its five-year anniversary show Friday at Mac’s bar.

While the band’s distinct sound, which Ian Graham often describes as “simple rock,” hasn’t altered much since the band’s genesis, he said they’ve grown in other ways.

“With each record they feel more comfortable,” Graham said. “Listening to the first record (‘Find Me A Drink Home”) there are things that bother me.”

It’s not the songs or the recording that give Graham pause. “We didn’t sound all that comfortable,” he said. “Maybe that’s some of its charm.”

Well-meaning listeners describe “Find Me a Drink Home” as “lo-fi,” and that makes Graham bristle. “We worked our asses off trying to make that record sound as best as possible,’” he said. “We’re always trying to get better takes, get better guitar tones, and try new things.”

Since the debut LP, the band has dropped two more full-length records: “My Roaring 20s” (2009) and its first national release, 2012’s “Giant Orange” on Rise Records. The new disc, recorded by Tom Gabel of Against Me!, quickly earned the Lansing-based band write-ups from Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine.

True, this band of 20-somethings has a lot of love for left-of-the-dial ‘90s rockers like Dinosaur Jr., but Ian Graham is quick to point out it’s not an intentional revival, as some writers have claimed.

“I don’t really mind the comparisons, but I’d say the term revival is kind of silly,” Ian Graham said. Yes, they listened to Lemonheads, Gin Blossoms, Superchunk and such bands in the formative ‘90s, but Graham and his bandmates have worked hard to craft their own sound.

With the landmark fifth anniversary approaching, Aymor said the band has only gotten tighter, both on stage and as friends.

“Now that we’re getting older and more mature, you don’t do as much dumb shit and argue about stuff like you did when you were 19 or 20.”

Those long hours packed in a van are gradually paying off, though Ben Graham said it was not “overnight” growth by any means.

“First time we played Brooklyn, there were 40 people there, maybe,” recalled Ben Graham. “Then we just kept going back, and each time there were more people. The last time we were in New York we were opening for Bouncing Souls in front of 1,600 people.”

It’s been that way pretty much everywhere they’ve gone.

“Boston, the first time we played there, I think about 13 people were there,” he added. “It kept slowly growing. Now the last two shows we’ve played in Boston have sold out.”

Scott Bell, a local show promoter and tour manager, has accompanied Cheap Girls on a handful of tours across the United States. “They’re different,” Bell said. “Ian and Ben actually are family, and they’ve played in bands together since they were like 12 years old or something like that. And they’ve known Adam for a long time, too. On stage they need less verbal cues. They’ve been synced up since day one.”

Another local music veteran, Cale Sauter, has released some Cheap Girls vinyl over the years on his Bermuda Mohawk Productions imprint. During that time he’s noticed a “wonderful and interesting cult of fans” growing around the band.

“They’re usually late-20´s or early-30-somethings who look an awful lot like the band members and obsess over certain lyrics and parts of songs, and the condition of the vinyl they purchase,” Sauter said.

While Cheap Girls are still promoting “Giant Orange,” the band is already working on tunes for the next album, a huge fall tour, and another European tour at the start of 2013.

“It’s pretty much 100 percent dedication,” Ian Graham said. “It pretty much revolves around us doing what we want to do. It’s one of the few things where I’ve had that luxury.”

Cheap Girls

Five Year Anniversary Show

Friday, July 27

w/ Screaming Females, Pity Sex

Mac´s Bar

2700 E. Michigan Ave, Lansing

18 and over, $8 advance, $10 day of show, doors at 10 p.m.