I lost count of how many unnecessary belts Ben Clark had fashionably strapped around his hips at number three, a black studded number. I would've kept counting, but before I could even say hello, Clark (AKA Ben Lashes), lead singer of local power-pop outfit the Lashes, whips out a fresh bouquet of bright-red tulips and a box of chocolate truffles. "I don't have a Valentine's Day date, so you get to be my valentine," he says with a smile while removing his sunglasses and brushing a mess of dyed-black hair out of his eyes.

His gentlemanly behavior differs from the first time I met him, when he overenthusiastically shook my hand, flashed a cocky grin, and declared, "I'm not the asshole everyone has told you I am." At the time I laughed slightly while thinking, "What a presumptuous asshole!" Presumptuous or not, though, he was right. I had heard he was a jerk. Because love them or hate them, the Lashes—Clark, guitarists Scotty Rickard and Eric Howk, bassist Nate Mooter, drummer Mike Loggins, and keyboard player Jacob Hoffman—are one thing the Seattle music community loves to talk about. And while the overactive rumor mill might tell you everything else about the band members, what most neglect to mention is the fact that they're a band at all. Oh, but they are, and they've caused quite a stir.

"People are always going to call bullshit on you no matter what," says Clark. "If people want to find reasons to call bullshit on you, they'll find a reason. There are some bands that look dirty and play pop songs, and some of those bands are artists who have money. Everyone's eager to call bullshit on us because we're a rock-and-roll pop band who looks dirty, too, but we're like, 'No, really, we're dirty! We have no money!' All of us are going for broke with this. We're living it and we know we're a legit band who's doing it for the right reasons. I don't really care what some guy with a blog has to say."

The band's timeline goes like this: Clark formed the band in 2000. In 2003 they released a 7-inch on Sonic Boom Recordings. With the exception of flying out to a few music showcases, including CMJ and South by Southwest, they only played local shows. But Lookout! Records managed to hear them, love them, and sign the band in 2004, quickly releasing The Stupid Stupid EP. Still, lacking the funds to do much else, the band continued to play around the Pacific Northwest, with the occasional trip down the West Coast.

Not too long after signing with Lookout!, though, the Lashes received a call from Columbia Records. The band flew to New York, played to a room full of industry suits (no, really), and inked a major-label deal in 2005, still without much of a tour or even a full-length under their multilayered belts. Excited with the developments, the band waited, with finished record in hand, for a release date. Then they waited some more. They waited, in fact, for a year.

"It'd be great to paint it as some picture of good versus evil, the Man versus the smart-ass punk band from Seattle, and to some extent it was that way," says Clark of the record-release delay. "There were people at the label that didn't really understand our band, and that definitely got in the way. A lot of those people got fired, and all of a sudden we had a bunch of people that totally believe in it. That helped."

Finally, Columbia released the Lashes' debut full-length, Get It, on Tuesday, February 21. The album gleams with bouncy keyboards, thick hooks, and a radio-friendly finish. It still boasts an attitude, a dirty swagger, but mostly it's power pop for the masses. And Clark doesn't care what flack he might get for it.

"I know people are either going to love me or hate me, I'm that kind of character. People are going to not like or like it, and that's okay. Anything that anybody cares about or anything that does something that gets a reaction, that's the stuff that makes it," he says, flashing that cocky grin again. "If no one really cared, if no one was talking about it, where's the fun in that?"

megan@thestranger.com