"We got drunk and called in sick whenever we felt like it!" exclaims the refrain of "Working Part Time" from the Henry Clay People's For Cheap or for Free. It's a song about bumming from friends and loved ones, sleeping on mattresses in the back, and running away from anything resembling a steady job. While it may be a love song of a very ignoble sort, it could just as easily be read as an ode to the hardscrabble days of getting a band together.

The Henry Clay People—named after a failed presidential candidate—make heartland rock, minus the flag-waving. Bob Seger would never claim to be "Living in Debt," and John Mellencamp wouldn't dare say, "Rock and Roll Has Lost its Teeth." The Hold Steady have attempted their own brand of postmodern, blue-collar rock, but their irony-laden songs are populated by archetypes—Joycean rogues and damsels in distress. Henry Clay frontman Joey Siara doesn't write in the third person, and his self-destructive worldview is as unvarnished as that of Isaac Brock.

"The classic-rock thing has always been there for me," says Siara, who formed the band with his brother Andy. "My dad is a big classic-rock dork." Raised in Whittier, California, the Siara brothers tried their hand at Descendents-style punk before embracing an older sound. "When you're younger you resent the music your parents like. But eventually you come around full circle and end up doing what you thought—you swore— you would never do."

Siara's vocal style is closer to Stephen Malkmus than anything from a '70s rock block, and the band's boozy bonhomie is more Replacements than Faces. The lineup, which once swelled to seven, has been streamlined to four, with the new rhythm section of Mike Hopkins and Jonathan Price nabbed from fellow LA band I Make this Sound. After a breakout appearance at SXSW, the band is poised for a larger audience. It makes perfect sense: For Cheap or for Free is crammed with excellent songs, and the Henry Clay People's sound has the potential to reach every brand of rock fan, from indie snobs to rock classicists