Still Beating
Keeping time with indie-rock drummer, actor and Southampton native Greg Lyons
by Bill Donahue

Greg Lyons is living the life most teenagers and college kids—and, let’s be honest, most responsible adults—always envisioned for themselves: cutting tracks in the studio and touring the world’s concert halls as a professional musician in a steadily ascending indie-rock band.

Raised in Southampton, Lyons has since moved to Los Angeles to nurture his career as a drummer in Eastern Conference Champions, or ECC for short. The indie-rock trio, which has enjoyed its share of major-label success, released an acoustic EP called “Akustiks” in late 2010 ahead of a forthcoming full-length album, titled “SPEAK-AHH.” Lyons says the EP was “mainly just to let people know we’re still alive and tide them over till the [new] record comes out.”

ECC’s notoriety has multiplied in recent months, stoked by audio appearances in TV shows and on movie soundtracks, most notably “Twilight: Eclipse,” the latest film based on the epic—and epically popular—series of young-adult novels about teenagers, vampires and werewolves. The “Twilight” association in particular has helped ECC earn critical and commercial acclaim—the soundtrack debuted at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard 200—and also reach a new, rather ravenous fan base.

In addition to touring, recording and other aspects of his music career, Lyons has also crossed over into the world of acting. He played Jack in 2008’s “The New Year Parade,” an award-winning drama shot in and around Philadelphia by another local luminary, film director Tom Quinn, now available on DVD. Lyons took a break between jam sessions to talk with Suburban Life about life on the road, where to find a good cheesesteak in L.A. (“You can’t,” he says), and his prospects for more screen time in the near or distant future.

Q: You’re living a life most people dream about—a rock star. What’s it like?

It’s all smoke and mirrors. Things are going well. We’re still working our [butts] off trying to make rent. Josh [Ostrander, one of ECC’s co-founders] and I have been playing together for the last 12 years, and in the last two we’ve been experiencing the most success we’ve ever had. It’s been really good, but we’re not resting on our laurels. When something hits, we want to keep the momentum going.

Your songs have been used in movies and TV shows, the most notable being “Twilight: Eclipse.” What about your songs makes them good complements to existing works?

We definitely got lucky. We experienced success with film and TV. We did the whole major-label debut, and now we’re releasing our own stuff with our own publishing company. We were in “Friday Night Lights” and “Melrose Place,” which was great, and the “Twilight” thing was really good for morale. … We definitely gained a lot of new fans. We’re not a “Twilight” band per se, but [the soundtrack] opened people up to different types of music. We were very excited to get the spot, but we saw it as not something that’s going to make or break us but as something that’s starting the fire for us.

Tell me about the upcoming album, “SPEAK-AHH.”

We’re almost done. We’ve got a few little tweaks to make in the studio, a couple more tracks to do, and a couple of editing things and then we’re done. We’re looking for a late-April release. … It’s a lot of different tunes, and as a band we’re going places that we haven’t gone, doing new things we’ve never tried in the studio before. It’s another path or another evolution to ECC.

You’re not the first musician to also get into acting, but I think you’re probably one of the first from our area, with Tom Quinn’s “The New Year Parade,” which was shot in Philly. How did you make the transition from drummer to actor?

Tom Quinn asked me to try out for this movie, at the time when ECC was getting started. Just for fun I said, “Yeah, I’ll try out.” I got the role. I never acted before but did it as an experiment, thinking no one’s ever going to see this movie. To shoot it, it took a few years and then, boom, all this good stuff happened. I never thought I was going to be an actor, but I’m very proud of that movie. Tom Quinn, who wrote and directed it, is also from Bucks County, and he poured himself into it. … He deserves every good thing that came out of it.

Should we expect to see you in any future film releases?

Maybe Tom’s next movie. It definitely opened my eyes to something new. I was scared and nervous in just about every scene we shot, asking Tom afterward if I sucked, but then I started getting more comfortable. I would do it again.

How do you like living in L.A. compared to the Philly suburbs?

Philly had a great scene when we left and it’s gotten 10 times cooler since then. Coming out here [to L.A.], there was no real reason for it; we wanted a change. I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area; we had just gotten a [record] deal, and it was the best time to move if we were ever going to do it.

It took some getting used to being out here, but we love it. It’s been good for our productivity; it’s usually sunny out so it lets you get some [stuff] done. … The weather is the biggest difference—that and you can’t find a decent cheesesteak or soft pretzel out here. When the Phils or Flyers come to town, we always go to the games in our jerseys.

When you do get back home, what are one or two places you have to go to when you’re in town?

We get home a few times a year. I was home for Christmas, and the band was in town in July for some shows in New York and Philly and Bucks County. We’re hoping to be back sometime in May when “SPEAK-AHH” comes out. … If it’s in the wintertime, we’ve got to go to a Flyers game, and in the summer we see the Phils. Then there’s Steve’s Steaks—I always go there. I miss just cruising into a Wawa any time of day or night. We’d be in Kansas driving late at night, thinking everything would be all right if we could just find a Wawa.