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Circuit re-wires musical formula

Call them indie, call them punk, just don’t call them emo — you just might catch a beatdown.

Hot Rod Circuit has been honing its brand of emotional power-pop since the band’s inception in 1997 and dodging the dreaded “e” word that perpetually follows emotive songwriting. HRC rolls into St. Petersburg’s State Theater on Tuesday.

But when the guys signed with Vagrant records midway through their career, they were signing with a label that was (and still is) the definitive emo label. These days, Vagrant is a force in the music industry. And that means the bands on the label’s roster are trying harder than ever to shake that pesky word in order to embrace a new audience.

“It definitely comes with the territory, when you sign with a label like Vagrant,” HRC’s singer, Andy Jackson, said. “But now hopefully people can start to realize that we are not really an emo band. It’s kind of offensive.”

The emo label probably didn’t hurt the band’s fan base any during the genre’s explosion in 2000, but as HRC’s songwriting ability matures (along with its audience), the “e” word remains a constant hinderance.

“We’re a rock band,” Jackson said. “We have been around for a long time, back when emo was just a word, then all of a sudden we’re labeled as that type of band. It weirds me out.”

They have noticeably progressed over the course of their three LPs. Jackson, Casey Prestwood, Jason Russell and Michael Poorman have fused their influences (Archers of Loaf and Dinosaur Jr. among them) with their own brand of personal lyrics and catchy songwriting.

The band’s debut album, If I Knew Now What I Knew Then, was a relentlessly throbbing ride. The 10 cuts of wailing power chords and seething lyrical delivery were an arresting imprint for HRC.

It was following the release of this album when HRC got its first significant gig, opening for The Get Up Kids.

Batting leadoff for The Kids would later become a crucial play in getting signed by the then up-and-coming label Vagrant Records.

If It’s Cool With You, It’s Cool With Me, HRC’s sophomore offering, showcased the members’ ability to write catchier tunes and better lyrics without losing much of the punk feel or unfiltered energy that is the band’s bread and butter.

The recent release of Sorry About Tomorrow marks a new chapter in the band’s musical direction.

“It’s not just about going into the studio, banging out some chords and making noise anymore,” Jackson said. “Songs used to just get thrown together; now we spend some time on them.”

The new album marks a change in HRC’s dynamic. There’s no more screaming and no more violent guitars. Now, writing lyrically structured songs and trying to achieve the band’s potential take precedence over simply rocking out.

“The Pharmacist” and “At Natures Mercy” are songs that exemplify the infectious indie-pop that the band’s sound has evolved into.

But it’s not in the studio where HRC shines — it’s on the stage.

“I think we have yet to capture the feel of our live show on a record,” Jackson said. “This time, we made a record that sounds really good, but in the end we go to play it live and there is just so much more energy.”

In concert, the band puts on an energetic performance in which guitarist Casey Prestwood’s antics, which include playing on top of the drum set or throwing himself to the floor to rip out a guitar solo, fuel the rest of HRC’s intensity.

If it sounds like the band members love the live aspect of playing in a band, they do — and they have the stats to prove it. These road warriors play a B.B. King-esque 250 shows a year.

“Well, we finally took some time off, which was really fun,” Jackson said.

Tuesday’s show at St. Petersburg’s State Theater comes in the midst of their first nationwide headlining tour.

“I’m really excited that we are finally getting to go out and do a headlining tour,” Jackson said. “Our first video comes out soon, too, so we are pretty happy right now.”

Jackson and his bandmates may be popping up in the vein of pop-culture soon–and they seem to know it.

“The current state of music is exciting,” Jackson said. “I mean, you turn on MTV and half the bands we tour with are blowing up.”

Contact Nick Margiasso at oraclemargiasso@yahoo.com