Ludo hauls its instruments into the small, cement-walled practice room at Utopia Studios and closes the door against the sound of the grunge cover band playing down the hall. Tonight is one of its few opportunities to practice before the big release date. You're Awful, I Love You was recorded nearly a year ago, and the band is sorely in need of a refresher.

"Does anyone remember how 'Topeka' goes?" Volpe asks. As the song's soft opening bars start to fill the small quarters, Convy reaches for the cell phone that he keeps handy on top of his Moog. He has a new text message. "Just got confirmation from the station in Manhattan," he says. "It's in rotation."

Moog player Tim Convy
Moog player Tim Convy
bassist Marshall Fanciullo.
bassist Marshall Fanciullo.

Drew Bartlett, a DJ in Manhattan, Kansas, downloaded the MP3 of "Love Me Dead" and introduced it to his bosses at the Top 40 station, KACZ (96.3 FM). He's known the band since he was a student at Kansas State. "We played the hell out of them at the college station," Bartlett says. He also hooked Ludo up with its first Top 40 interview and live set. They still seem down-to-earth and grateful for a chance to play, he says. "I've seen other bands at the level they're at. They can be real dicks sometimes."

Convy says he cultivated relationships like the one with Bartlett because he knows what it's like in the trenches. At the Blue Note in Columbia, he restocked soda on Wilco's tour bus and did laundry for the Kottonmouth Kings. "There were a lot of bands my bosses at the Blue Note would go the extra mile for — even if they weren't bringing a lot in — because they were nice guys."

As corny and Midwestern as it sounds, Ludo's role model was the fabled Little Red Hen, who managed to bake bread (grew the wheat, milled the flour, kneaded the dough) when none of the other barnyard animals would help. "We were just like, 'You're missing out, you're gonna want some. The bread is gonna smell so good,'" Volpe says. "When people see you kneading the dough and putting it in the oven, they're like, 'Hey, this is gonna be good.'"

View outtakes from Ludo's photo shoot.

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