The American Professionals are led by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chuck Lindo, a St. Louis native a who grew up playing in punk and noise pop bands. He founded the American Professionals in 2003 as a solo project, wanting to explore the more melodic side of his personality. After numerous personnel shifts, Lindo settled down with the power trio of Cheryl Hendrickson on bass and lead/harmony vocals and drummer Adam White. The first album with the new configuration, We Make It Our Business, will be released on Jan. 14. Unlike many indie rock bands, the AmPros actually make a living as full time musicians playing and composing music, including TV jingles and commercials, as well as licensing tunes to Nickelodeon shows like "Zoey 101" and "Drake and Josh." The band headlines Bottom of the Hill tonight, Dec. 26; before that, Lindo spoke to SF Weekly from the band's corporate headquarters. The American Professionals also perform at Bottom of the HIll on Jan. 29 to celebrate the release of We Make It Our Business.
How/when did you get to San Francisco?
We rolled into this place in a U-Haul box truck in the late summer of 1991. My band, The Nukes, got a new guitar player and his one condition for joining was that we move to San Francisco so he could be with his girlfriend. Being in our early twenties and full of hope and infinite resilience, we agreed. The couple split up after we got here, but we stayed. I fell in love with this place. Being able to wear a leather jacket in August has never grown old.
When you founded the American Professionals in 2003, did you consciously take a new direction? How long did it take to find like-minded musicians?
I never finished a song of my own before the AmPros. Once I left the Nukes and got a little distance, my latent inner popster took over and I wrote a bunch of songs. I did a few shows in the late '90s with various lineups cobbled together with friends from other projects. I played either bass or second guitar. I just grabbed who was available. It was wonderfully cathartic to shed my uncomfortable punk rock skin. The band is my attempt to scratch that impossible-to-reach itch. Up until recently, it has been almost entirely a solo project, so I was free to, or doomed to, contort myself in whatever manner I saw fit to do so.
What do Cheryl Hendrickson and Adam White bring to the table?
Cheryl has been the bass player for a number of years, but it was only a couple of years ago that she dove into writing songs. It was like "I'm going to write songs now," and she just started coughing these things up, pretty much fully realized from the get go. She's played music most of her life, so I guess you could say she'd been paying very close attention. It's funny to think how long these things have been knocking around in her head, waiting for an outlet. We met Adam and roped him in to playing on We Make It Our Business. He did all 11 songs in one day, a few of them in one take. Being in a band with Adam is like being on a team with a pitcher that throws no-hitters. We don't talk about it. He's like that. He's that good.
You, and/or you and the band, actually make a living making music, but you're still an indie outfit. How did that happen?
I still don't exactly know. Nickelodeon approached me to license Faking It, the first record I made as the AmPros. I'd set up a publishing entity for the music I collaborated on in Actionslacks, one of my early bands, so I had all my ducks in a row. It was a blanket license for the whole record for Britney Spears' sister's show "Zoey 101" and "Drake and Josh." I signed on, but didn't think too much of it at the time. I'd been getting occasional small ASCAP checks for some of the Actionslacks stuff, but about eight months later, BAM!, some fatties rolled in, all from that Nickelodeon thing. They kept coming every quarter for quite a while. It helped me set up my business and fund more band recordings. It's not robber-baron money or anything, but it certainly helped keep things going.
I also wrote a theme song for the band when we were living in Los Angeles (2003-2007). I thought it was funny. Not too many bands have a theme song these days, and I think that's a shame. Where would we be without the Monkees' theme and "The Proud, The Few, The Descendents?" Cheryl was working at CBS radio and she played the theme song for a friend of hers there, Barry Funkhauser. He asked if I could do that kind of thing on command and she said, "Of course!" He passed me on to the creative director there, Rich Boerner, and he hired me to come up with about 40 little pieces of original music for ID jingles. This was right when Howard Stern moved to Sirius and left a big, gaping hole in a ton of stations' programming. Most of them flipped to a Free FM format, and they needed ID content, pronto. So that's how I got my start, rather abruptly.
"Can you do this?"
I just had to make it up as I went along.
How would you describe the music of the AmPros?
I started out wanting to sound like the Descendents playing Cole Porter songs, but that's not what came out. We all love backing vocals, crunchy guitars, and tight song structure. I'm drawn to well thought-out melodies played over clever, surprising chord changes, blasted out through Marshalls, but there's a quiet side to us as well. Cheryl's a huge Elton John fan and I can't exorcise my love for 70's singer/songwriter Laurel Canyon/Troubadour stuff. My parents were older than the parents of most of my friends, so my taste is pan-generational. My dad exposed me to all the greats of the 1930s - 1970s. There was copious Sinatra from my mom; Gershwin and Cole Porter from my sister Nancy; Beatles, Neil Young, and Motown from my sister Sue; and I lapped up everything my closest brother John got into: Cream, Depeche Mode, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd. In my late teens, I discovered the Dead Kennedys and West Coast punk like The Dickies and Fear and alienated my St. Louis Mustache Rock friends. Over the years, we've gotten simultaneously tighter and more combustible. Our quiets are quieter and our louds, louder. We're all over 40 and don't wear fanny packs or play Dead covers. We're also a husband- and wife-fronted band, but we manage to keep the onstage fights and gurgling resentment to a minimum. Sometimes we play it up for comedic effect. Someday we're going to have a cover band with another couple and call it "The Bickersons." It'll be huge.