The Lashes used to think of themselves as Seattle's most-hated band. Paranoid? Perhaps. But they were certain that some (perhaps even many...

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The Lashes used to think of themselves as Seattle’s most-hated band. Paranoid? Perhaps. But they were certain that some (perhaps even many) around town thought of them as arrogant, imitative, lightweight and not all that talented.

Yet lately, they’ve had people they are sure are Lashes haters shake their hands and offer congratulations. Strange, what signing with a big label can do.

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In a group interview at the Cha Cha Lounge, the unofficial headquarters of the Seattle music scene, Ben Clark is getting emotional, as he often does, talking with a mixture of hyperactive pop-goofiness and sincere, intense feeling: he takes pop music very seriously, almost as a spirituality. He worships the Beatles, and looks like a cross between John Lennon and Robert Smith.

Scotty Rickard is quietly sipping a whiskey-on-the-rocks, clarifying a point here, adding a modest, self-deprecating comment there, smiling shyly behind a couple days’ beard. Nate Mooter is slamming pints of Rainier, climbing out of a booth for refills, seemingly already bored with the topic of conversation, even if it’s a pretty personal one.

This is the Spokane-to-Seattle base of the Lashes, a pop-rock band that in two years has gone from the most-hated band in Seattle, to signing with Columbia.

This time last year, the six Lashes (guitarist Eric Howk, keyboardist Jacob Hoffman and drummer Michael Loggins are the others) were limping along Interstate 10, having scored a spot at the South By Southwest music festival, but possessing hardly any money for the trip. A show in Phoenix that they expected to generate some road money was a disaster.

At rest stops, bass player Mooter would coyly ask how old the corn dogs and burgers were, explain his bands’ dire straits — “He never came back with less than a couple corn dogs and chips,” said Clark. They arrived in Austin tired, hungry and hot. “We were walking around in our underwear.”

That night, they had their show, one of 1,279 bands that would play around 50 venues at the 2004 festival.

Someone from Columbia, Greg Dobbs, happened to catch the set. He liked it. The band staggered back to Seattle, wondering if anything would come of it. “We’ve seen enough VH-1 ‘Behind the Music’ to know how much smoke gets blown at you.”

After “a four-month process where we didn’t know what was going on,” the Lashes were in New York, this time for the CMJ music festival. Other labels were by now interested. Columbia set up a showcase in its high-rise offices, and soon after the Lashes became Columbia artists, with the label planning to release a Lashes’ full-length in the coming months.

The Lashes recorded last fall with John Goodmanson, a Seattle producer who has done studio work for Blonde Redhead, Hot Hot Heat and the Wu Tang Clan. A few weeks ago, the Lashes went to Los Angeles to do a final mix with Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, Dave Matthews Band). “The record is done,” says Clark.

Punk legend Steve Jones got an advance copy and has been playing “Sometimes the Sun” on the “Jonesy’s Jukebox” show on L.A. station Indie 103.1. “Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols,” Clark says, somewhere between glee and shock.

Crazy things like this can happen when you’re with a major label with connections galore.

Looking back on 2004, Clark can hardly believe what happened. “We went from an unknown to a talked-about band in about a month.” Earlier last year, Lookout Records helped spread the word by releasing the Lashes EP “The Stupid Stupid,” and Clark felt his journey from Spokane to Seattle, with all its ups and downs, was given the official stamp of approval. He had graduated from high school in 1997, moved to Seattle in 1999 and was followed soon after by Rickard and Mooter.

“Most of us dropped out of college because of music, and we all had terrible jobs that had the right schedules to practice. … We didn’t mind living four to a two-bedroom apartment — that was just part of our romanticized rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.”

Since signing with the major label, he has afforded himself few luxuries: “I bought some pants and a pair of shoes.”

He started the Lashes in 2000, and since has been firing and hiring members like a punk Donald Trump. There have been close to 20 members of the Lashes, and 10 drummers preceded Loggins. “We call him ‘No. 11,’ ” says Mooter.

Clark now feels he has the six Lashes he wants. It wasn’t always like this, and with so many members coming and going, there were some ragged nights.

“We used to be the worst band in town, now we’re great,” Clark says, without a hint of irony. “I wouldn’t give up any of the bad shows.

“There were times when a lot of people hated us — there was stuff scrawled on bathroom walls all around town about us. But since I’ve been a kid I studied pop music as an art form, and I know great bands have always been completely loved or completely hated.”

The Lashes play a hometown show at Georgetown’s Studio 7 tomorrow (8 p.m., $7). It’s an all-ages show, and the lineup also features Idiot Pilot, the young duo from Bellingham that recently signed to Reprise Records.

Neumo’s celebrates its first-year anniversary this week, and the Capitol Hill rock — and Saturday-night hip-hop — spot has another strong string of bookings.

The Georgia veteran grunge-pop band Collective Soul and new band Low Millions (singer Adam Cohen is Leonard’s son) play a sold-out early show on Saturday night, followed by the usual “Yo Son!” hip-hop dance party (10 p.m., $6 before midnight, $8 after).

Retiring local legend Kim Warnick, best known for her Fastbacks work and most recently part of the rising band Visqueen, will be honored with a free show featuring many of her friends on Sunday (8 p.m.).

Helio Sequence, a powerful electro-psychedelic rock band from the outskirts of Portland, and Seattle’s electro-rock-jazz outfit FCS North play Neumo’s on Thursday (10 p.m., $10).

Mon Frere, the Mountlake Terrace pop-punk trio, plays at the Old Fire House tonight (8, $6). Schoolyard Heroes, another promising young trio, also will play at the Redmond all-ages venue.

The hilariously creative underground rapper Sage Francis tosses out “Gunz Yo” and other wild, insightful rhymes from his “A Healthy Distrust” record at the Showbox on Saturday (8 p.m., $15, all ages).

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com