"Rock and Roll Dreams" is the title track and the first song on the second effort from Charlotte rock 'n' roll zealots Temperance League, but it sounds like the end.
In his rich warble, singer Bruce Hazel conjures the unrepentant sound of a more famous Bruce. He sings of his hopes for a life lived through rock songs, and then he slowly lets them go. The piano chimes gravely, and back-up singers form a ghastly choir. "We all grow up," Hazel admits. "We all grow old." During the chorus, he offers his bitter conclusion: "Don't want to hang up my rock and roll dreams. But I will, just as everyone has." Hazel sounds exhausted.
"I guess it's best to just admit the truth right away," Hazel says from his Charlotte home about a week after the album's release. He chuckles, sounding very little like the song's broken-down idealist.
Like many songs on the new record, "Rock and Roll Dreams" deals candidly with the hard realities of playing in a less-than-famous rock band while staring down middle age. Hazel is 41. Guitarist Shawn Lynch, who sits beside him now, is 40. They've spent most of their adulthood playing with groups that have occasionally flirted with success but never broken through. A feeling of defeat can't help but creep in from time to time, but they're nowhere near giving up. They say they're having more fun than ever.
"We're always texting each other or sending each other some record that we've heard or something that we've thought of from our past that the other might like," Hazel says of Lynch, his closest creative ally. "We've always just gotten together over beers and talked about rock 'n' roll. We have that same kind of kinship with the rest of the guys, but for some reason, Shawn and I start the conversation."
Temperance League coalesced about four years ago. Hazel wrote the songs that sparked the group by himself, performing them live with a loose collective known as Some Volunteers. Many of those musicians joined him for a series of benefit concerts where they covered songs by beloved icons—The Rolling Stones and The Kinks, Big Star and The Replacements. The League's music drew heavily from those rock 'n' roll touchstones.
Bolstered both by Hazel's redemptive baritone and tambourine-smacking charisma and Lynch's streamlined guitar approach, the League grew quickly into one of the region's better live bands, touring up and down the East Coast to refine their chops.
"We enjoy it, and it's easy," Hazel explains. "It snaps itself into place because we do have all that history to draw from. We know everybody's personalities and what part they play in the band. We know each other's skills and strong suits. That's why we look forward to doing it and continue to do it."
But they took their time when it came to recording, working fitfully through unsatisfying sessions before they found a fitting producer in Mitch Easter. Lynch used to play bass for the Let's Active veteran, and his punchy sense of dynamics suited the band well. Still, last year's self-titled debut was uneven, with Hazel—a livewire on stage—struggling to connect the same way in the recording booth.
They don't have the same problem on Rock and Roll Dreams; the songs erupt with passion and doubt. "Unrelenting" hurtles forward with an insistent rhythm and buoyant theme, and Hazel counters desperation with commitment: "This is all I know," he cries, "and it's unrelenting! I won't let go!"
Rock and Roll Dreams is full of uncertainty, but it's ultimately an album of conviction. Only one member of Temperance League has yet to turn 30. Their second-youngest member recently became a father. The pressures of life continually threaten their musical dreams. But Hazel pledges allegiance to a dictum attributed to Charles Bukowski: "Find what you love and let it kill you."
"After we made the record and listened back to it, that quote kept popping up in my mind," Hazel recalls. "That was the best way I could describe it. Something's going to kill you eventually, so it might as well be a love. That's what Rock and Roll Dreams is to me."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Young enough."