The California rockers play the first single from the recent "Pick Up Your Head" exclusively for RedEye at Subterranean.

So few great hard rock bands exist anymore that Middle Class Rut would sound refreshing if they weren’t so damn powerful. Rather than a cool breeze, the Sacramento duo—which recently expanded to a quintet on stage—is more like an entire trough of freezing water blasted at your face. It’s a wake-up call.

The group’s recently released “Pick Up Your Head” moves forward from 2010’s under-heralded “No Name No Color,” as the new record finds singer/guitarist Zack Lopez covering more varied lyrical and melodic material, while drummer Sean Stockham continues to drive the music with both force and precision. Here’s hoping the band continues to rise—as Lopez says, “We’ve spent so many years being the band that is trying to gain everyone else’s fans so you just [bleeping] climb the ladder. You win 20 percent of every audience, hopefully, and come back around.”

On the release day for “Pick Up Your Head” before the band’s first show of the tour, Lopez, 32, and Stockham, 31, talked at Subterranean about the challenge of performing with a keg on stage, the delay leading up to the sophomore record and why the band is like a “club” requiring advance knowledge before joining.

In concert: Aug. 22 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre

Watch above: Middle Class Rut performing “Aunt Betty” exclusively for RedEye at Subterranean

How do you feel like your live show is different now? If someone saw you at SubT in ’08, what will they get that’s different now?
Zack Lopez: Oh my god.
Sean Stockham: Any time we’ve been on the road for a couple weeks, two weeks, we start to feel really good. It doesn’t matter what year or how many people are in our band: The first few shows are always going to be kind of rusty. But you go from doing nothing and then you try to go sprint for five miles and obviously you feel tired. Obviously, we have more people in the band. That’s going to be the biggest difference. Might be a little bit less spastic than it was before.

Why was it spastic before?
SS: I don’t know. [We were just] younger …
ZL: [It was the] first tour that we’d ever been on as two dudes. It was a good time, but it was definitely a different time. I’d be amazed if there was someone who was at the show tonight that was at that one.

What makes you say that?
ZL: It was part of a five-band tour. We probably played at 6:30 or something to maybe 20 people. We remember this venue. Every time we come here, he goes, “Remember that one time we played …” and we never knew what it was called, and now we’re here.

Are you looking forward to not getting as many comments about, “Wow, I didn’t know you were only two guys!”?
SS: Actually, it’s nice to not get that.
ZL: But now it’s just as many comments on the other side. [Shrugs] Now there’s five. You just can’t [bleeping] win.

I know the keg is part of the tour because of the sound it makes, but do you bring it everywhere, or when you arrive at a venue do you say, “Hey, do you have a keg?”
SS: No, that would be smart, but we just went over to London and we weren’t able to bring one so we had to actually go and find one.

How did you find it?
ZL: We had our [tour manager] and we said, “Hey, we need an empty keg.” He said, “I got you covered.” We’re like, “Really?” We showed up and there’s a [bleeping] keg waiting for us. [Laughs]
SS: And then somebody kind of complained about it. Like, “I don’t know if it’s really that cool.” And he’s like (in British accent), “I had to drive 50 kilometers each way to get it.”

As a big fan of “No Name No Color,” I was waiting a while and wondering when the new record would come. Did you get a sense of people getting impatient for it?
SS: Like two years ago.

What can you say to people who ask, “What took so long?”
ZL: I feel like people were definitely waiting for something, and maybe we were waiting too. And then we toured and toured and toured and then eventually it was almost like people were starting to give up on the idea that we were—three years in this day and age is like a [bleepin’] lifetime. People move, we move –

Did you feel pressure to crank something out faster?
SS: No, we must not have. Maybe had we felt pressure we would have done something quicker. We felt pressure to keep staying on the road and drag out the first album cycle. And the funny thing is we had a lot of music a year and a half or two years ago, and that’s just how long it takes to get things released.
ZL: Yeah, even this record, we’ve been sitting on it. We finished recording it in the end of September. It got finished getting mixed in January. Then you just wait wait wait. It takes a [bleeping] long time, man.

Does it ever amaze you guys that there’s not much out there for people who just want solid hard rock these days? Do you feel that absence, or are people missing the good stuff besides for you?
SS: I think there’s less of it now than there was. A lot of the hard rock bands have moved away from their own kind of music.

Who are you thinking of?
SS: I don’t know …
ZL: It definitely feels less cool to be a heavy band in the eyes of the mainstream. I don’t think people are rushing to, “Let’s go sign a heavy band.” If you listen to the radio, it’s not what is happening. Maybe that’s just the way we feel on the west coast. I think when we come more to central parts of the country it feels like maybe heavy music’s still pretty big.

But there’s a lot of stuff around here that falls into that middle-ground sludgy sound where it’s not interesting; it’s just thick. Whereas with you guys, there’s smart composition there besides for being kickass.
SS: I think we’ve always found ourselves stuck in the middle of those two worlds a little bit. Of the more interesting, eccentric alternative music and the heavy—
ZL: Straight-ahead--
SS: --dumb, heavy music. We’re probably somewhere right in the middle.

It’s awesome you guys have been playing since seventh grade. Can you tell me about the early gigs? What was it like the first time you jammed?
ZL: The first time we ever played a show was at his junior high.
SS: That first one? “Hot Summer Nights.” Is that--
ZL: We played a dance called “Hot Summer Nights.” It got pretty crazy. There might have been a pit.

Were you playing the usual junior high dance songs?