By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer
"How has your life changed since your band signed to a major label?" It's a question Joe Hedges has been hearing for almost two years, ever since July For Kings signed with MCA Records in March 2001.
"For the longest time, it was, 'Well, it's exactly the same,' " he says with a laugh and a winter-cold sniffle.
It took a year and a half and a name change (the group was called Swim) before the band's debut was finally ready for release on MCA. The disc, called Swim in honor of the old name, came out in November. The group's lead singer and songwriter says he's just starting to have new answers to the old question.
"Recently, things have finally started to escalate a little bit," he explains.
JFK has been doing short tours, appearing in cities in which the group's debut single, "Normal Life" has garnered airplay. The band recently returned from Las Vegas, Phoenix and Memphis, before heading east for the tiny town of Clifton Park, N.Y., and Manchester, N.H.
Tonight, JFK has a homecoming at Bogart's.
"It's one of the best nights of the year to plan on something like that," he says. "It's Christmas break and kids are home from school and college and everyone's been cooped up with their family all day on the 25th, so they wanna get out."
The band mates - all in their early 20s - don't have to look too far back to remember what that's like. The quintet got its start in Middletown, where Mr. Hedges and some childhood friends, Travis Delaney (guitar) and Sam Dobrozsi (drums), formed a band in high school, bringing in bassist Jason Morgan and, shortly after graduating, adding the versatile T.J. Miller on guitar and cello.
The band's emotional, driving mix of rock with pop touches earned them a huge local following at such clubs as the Mad Frog in Mount Auburn. The MCA contract was signed, coincidentally, on the same day Swim received the Favorite Band Cammy, an Enquirer readers' award.
Mexico and Middletown
Lately, JFK has begun to feel like more than a local band, even a favorite one.
"It's been sort of surreal," Mr. Hedges says. "I always dreamed about going to another city and having people know the words to a song that was written in Ohio.
"It's just so cool to see things working on that bigger scale, getting e-mails from Mexico or Europe, that's exciting to me. It's finally growing beyond the region."
But he and the rest of the guys remain homeboys at heart. They like the current pace - a few weeks on the road, then time back in Middletown.
"I think that's kind of kept everybody sane," he explains. "We go home to our families and girlfriends for a few days, then getting back out on the road is a blast. It's a really nice ebb and flow."
Next year, JFK will release its second single from Swim, as yet undecided, and the album will receive wider distribution in Europe. Opening-tour slots here in the States are being considered with Collective Soul, Sister Hazel and SR-71.
But even with the pressures of a major-label deal and national tours, the high school buds are still buds, an important thing to Mr. Hedges.
"It's as good or better than I had hoped for, as far as all of us remaining friends."
If you go
Who: July For Kings, Blue Karma, Saving Ray and Coping With Ignorance
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Bogart's, 2621 Vine St., Corryville
Tickets: $7 at the box office
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