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Berwanger to unleash ‘Exorcism Rock’ after a worthwhile delay

Berwanger is (from left) Jonny Phillip, Ricky Salthouse, Josh Berwanger and Brian Klein.
Berwanger is (from left) Jonny Phillip, Ricky Salthouse, Josh Berwanger and Brian Klein.

It took nearly two years, but Josh Berwanger’s band, Berwanger, is about to release “Exorcism Rock,” and the results are worth the wait.

“I’m really excited about it,” he told The Star recently. “It’s coming out just the way I wanted to. I’ve been part of a lot of good records, but as a whole, I feel like this is the best record I’ve been part of.”

“Exorcism” was recorded at Element Recording in Kansas City over a span of seven days with producer Doug Boehm, who goes back with Berwanger all the way to the 2001 recording of “Your Majesty” by the Anniversary, Berwanger’s former band. (Boehm mixed and engineered the album.)

They completed the album in mid-December 2014, and from that day on, Berwanger was determined to release “Exorcism” properly.

“I didn’t want to just put it out there and have that be that,” he said. “It had to be done the right way, or it wasn’t going to come out.”

So he hired a manager and started courting labels, with mixed results.

“We finished the record, then took a break from it for about five or six months,” he said. “Doug started mixing it. As we got good mixes, we started sending them out to labels.

“I’d hired a manager at the time, but he was managing the Replacements when they were doing their reunion, and that was so intense for him that it didn’t really work out. So I just took management into my own hands.

“We made a list of about 20 labels and sent it to 10 of them. The response was mostly like either, ‘Sorry, our roster is full,’ or ‘It’s really good; keep in touch,’ that sort of thing.”

As a stopgap, in October 2015, on High Dive Records, Berwanger released the six-song EP “Demonios,” a collection of punk-pop/rock and acoustic-pop songs — nothing like the impending sounds on “Exorcism.”

A couple of months later, Doghouse Records entered the picture.

“A buddy, Jonny Phillip, who played drums on the record, was in a band called Limbeck, who put out a record with Doghouse Records. (Doghouse) put out records by the Get Up Kids and Say Anything and Koufax back in the day, and Jonny said they were trying to re-brand their label and we should send our record to them.”

So he did. Negotiations started at the end of 2015. By spring time, a deal had been sealed.

“So we’ve been setting it up for almost a year,” Berwanger said, “but it was worth it. They were really excited about it, and the communication with them has been great. They’ve been working really hard for it.”

“Exorcism Rock” gets its formal release on Nov. 4. Fans of “Demonios” and “Strange Stains,” Berwanger’s inaugural full-length, released in 2013, will immediately notice a change in dynamics and a broader diversity in sounds.

“I started ‘Strange Stains’ in a basement, all acoustic,” Berwanger said. “When I was recording I wasn’t sure it would ever come out and frankly didn’t really care.

“But we put it out and started touring on it, and the songs on that record developed into faster rock ’n’ roll songs.

“So I started to write that way, as well. I had this sort of creative boost. I wanted to spend time making a really good record, a rock ’n’ roll record.”

“Exorcism” is a full-throttle rock record, but it sustains some of the strengths and charms of its predecessors: bright, catchy melodies, plenty of vocal harmonies. But it draws its sounds from different inspirations.

“A lot of my favorite records are records that take you in different places, lyrically and musically,” Berwanger said. “Like ‘Appetite for Destruction’ and ‘London Calling’: You have songs that are diverse and, lyrically, deal with different things — social commentary, politics, being in love. I really wanted to make a record that was somewhat of a journey.”

Berwanger will perform twice this weekend locally: Friday night at RecordBar, opening for Freight Train Rabbit Killer, then Sunday at the Eighth Street Tap Room in Lawrence.

The plan is to tour intermittently into December, including a Nov. 9 set at Mills Record Co., which will precede an Anniversary reunion show that evening at the RecordBar. Plans are in the works for a West Coast tour in 2017.

He will tour on the best album he has ever made backed by a label that loves it as much as he does, which makes the process and the wait worth it all.

“Two years seems like a long time to get something out,” Berwanger said. “Back in the day I would have said it is a long time, but I have a lot of friends in bands who record something and it doesn’t see the light of day for a year and a half to two years, the way vinyl is so backed up, the way you have to get songs and videos premiered three months out, getting holds on venues six months out. It’s kind of crazy.

“It will be three years since ‘Strange Stains’ came out, and you kind of get sick of playing the same songs all the time. Now we’re excited to play a heavy set of all new stuff and two or three old ones.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

THIS WEEKEND

Berwanger performs Friday night at RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd., opening for Freight Train Rabbit Killer. Show time is 10 p.m.

Berwanger performs Sunday night at the Eighth Street Taproom, 801 New Hampshire in Lawrence. Varma Cross opens at 10 p.m.

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