Koufax trades in playboy lifestyle for ‘domesticated’ living in Lawrence

It’s a cold winter day in New Jersey, and the new Koufax lineup is navigating its way through the state’s labyrinth of interstates and missed exits. The band is heading home after a show at The Mercury Lounge in New York.

From his perch behind the wheel of the tour van, singer/guitarist Robert Suchan is counting ribbons on the highway — “Support Our Troops” mostly, but also some for Breast Cancer Awareness, AIDS Awareness, etc.

“This ribbon thing — it’s getting out of hand,” muses the easily annoyed frontman, who spent a good portion of last year canvassing Ohio for moveon.org, futilely trying to turn the state blue.

If the Koufax van did have a ribbon, it might display a title from the band’s most recent album “Social Life” — perhaps “So Long to Good Times” or “Simply Passing Time.”

Or, if they really want to tempt fate, “Call the Cops.”

“We’re gonna get pulled over in Missouri for not having a ribbon,” Suchan frets. “I’m actually worried about that.”

Kanned goods

Koufax is heading home — to Kansas — for the first time.

Suchan is one of Lawrence’s newest transplants, having ditched the “wretched” confines of suburban Toledo, Ohio, in favor of Mass. Street’s bounteous riches.

Rob Pope, left, Robert Suchan and Ryan Pope are Lawrence rock act Koufax. Suchan recently relocated from wretched Toledo, Ohio.

“I definitely don’t like Kansas, and I definitely don’t like Missouri,” he says. “But Lawrence — it has to be the hippies or somebody that was on the way to San Francisco and was like, ‘(Expletive) it, this’ll work.'”

“The town is like an enigma; I don’t understand its location for what it is. There’s as much culture here as like an Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

Koufax’s presence should juice up an already healthy local music scene. The band, which released two albums for Vagrant Records, has drawn comparisons to groups as diverse as Electric Light Orchestra, Supertramp and Elvis Costello and packs a keyboard-heavy power-pop sound that has drawn numerous rave reviews from otherwise critical publications.

Suchan says he first glimpsed Lawrence’s supportive local music scene while recording demos in the area last summer.

“We saw Ghosty play at The Bottleneck and it was packed,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ Normally, people are like, ‘Oh, they’re just from down the street, who cares.'”

For Suchan, Lawrence’s vibrant downtown nightlife far eclipses Toledo’s, which basically consisted of “the same 15 kids” coming to the few shows the city did draw, he says.

“There’s seriously so many shows every night (in Lawrence),” he says. “It’s almost like a large city. You’re like, ‘De La Soul tonight, Hot Snakes the other night — every night there’s something going on.'”

The plethora of entertainment options hasn’t swayed Suchan from his main priority, however: making Koufax’s third full-length album at Eudora’s Black Lodge Studios.

“At this point we’re just going to be half-the-week domesticated homebodies wearing slippers and reading the newspaper and drinking tea,” he says. “Before, every time I’d be here for like a week or two practicing or recording stuff, we were always in like full-on Playboy mode.”

Younger bodies

Since he started working on the album last summer, Suchan has been working with The Get Up Kids’ Rob and Ryan Pope on bass and drums, respectively. The Pope brothers also joined Suchan and Koufax keyboardist Jared Rosenberg for a Jackpot show earlier this month and recently embarked on a short tour that culminated in a showcase for some prospective labels in New York.

Ryan Pope, left, Robert Suchan and Rob Pope form the Lawrence rock act Koufax.

The seasoned Pope brothers might just be the free-agent pickup of a lifetime for Koufax, which has cycled through nearly a dozen other members in the band’s five years of existence (Harry Anderson of The Golden Republic and John Cruz, formerly of Proudentall, also put in stints).

For the Popes, the decision to join Koufax was simplified by the fact that The Get Up Kids — fresh off worldwide tours to support their fourth album “Guilt Show” — were on extended hiatus as singer Matt Pryor tended to the birth of his second child and pursued his “side project” The New Amsterdams.

Lest anyone interpret the brothers’ new gig as a sign of the Kids breaking up, Rob says the act will soon be practicing for some local shows in January. Whether he and Ryan will remain as full-time members of Koufax remains to be seen.

“It depends on once the record is finished, what kind of opportunities are there,” he says. “It’s fun to be playing with them. They’re just old, old friends that we’ve always liked being around.”

The new Koufax lineup marks the full-circling of a friendship that began in 1997 when the Popes met Suchan while touring through Ohio.

With: The Arcade Fire, ConnerWhen: 10 p.m. WednesdayWhere: Jackpot Saloon, 943 Mass.Tickets: $6Ticket info: 832-1085More information:www.lawrence.com

Impressed with his songwriting talents, The Get Up Kids brought Suchan’s band The Leftovers along on a European tour. A couple years later, they helped sign Koufax to Vagrant Records and hired the group to open a series of tours.

“I’ve always wanted to play with these guys,” Ryan says. “Rob (Suchan) was wanting to make a record. I play drums; Rob plays bass; we own a recording studio — there you go.”

With Rosenberg temporarily relocated to Lawrence, the band now has all of its members living in one city for the first time ever.

“The idea of being able to practice a lot and just haul our stuff down the road and play a show is pretty incredible,” Suchan gushes. “Especially as people get older, it gets trickier to convince people to rough it and leave whatever they have going.”

Good times, good times

Koufax’s show Nov. 6 at The Jackpot Saloon was its first with its new lineup. The Pope brothers locked in faithfully to the “Social Life” songs and propelled the band through an energized set of new material.

“It was definitely rough, but that’s what first gigs are for,” Suchan says. “I think our next one will be 10 times better since now we’ve played a few shows together.”

The band will hit the Jackpot again when opening for The Arcade Fire on Dec. 1, then return to Black Lodge for a month to finish the record.

“We’ve known each other for years, so we know what we’re getting into,” Rosenberg says. “Even if it’s not the ultimate success story, we’ll have a good time.”

In the meantime, Suchan will be doing his best to laugh off the post-election depression syndrome that’s been hounding him for the past couple of weeks.

“Satire is like the only way to stay sane at this point — you can’t believe this is real life,” he says. “Ohio really (expletive) it up. You can blame me for not canvassing enough houses.”