Recent advances in home recording technology have turned album-making into a surprisingly affordable endeavor for millions of musicians who would never have set foot in a traditional recording studio. For listeners, there are obvious pros (there are many more great albums being made that otherwise would never have seen the light of day) and cons (the same goes for horrible ones) to the democratization of melody molding. For Joey Ryan & the Inks, a quintet whose winning take on sunny power-pop finds them rapidly rising on the local scene, the biggest problem with having a home studio appears to be managing a surfeit of compelling melodic ideas. Dennis Lane, the group's sophomore outing, named in honor of the moniker bestowed upon frontman Ryan's basement recording studio, shows that, in the right hands, home-recorded albums can reach the same stratospheric heights as far costlier professional-studio concoctions.
"It's dangerous for me because having the studio in my basement means I can go down there when even the littlest inspiration strikes," admits Ryan, surrounded by his bandmates post-practice at a northeast Minneapolis watering hole. "There have definitely been times I've gone down there and had a little bottle of Jameson with me and before you know, it's four hours later, I have 16 backing vocal tracks, and things have gotten very out of hand pretty quickly."
"The trick with the home studio is not venturing too far down paths that might be cool to us but ultimately just bog down the songs," admits guitarist Chris Mitchell.
"With 'Jester in the Wind' we literally ran out of tracks," says drummer/band engineer Ryan Mach, grinning sheepishly. "The computer couldn't go any further."
While Dennis Lane may have taxed hard drives, it's remarkably easy on the ears. Built using the same bubblegum-classic-pop-meets-imagistic-melancholic-heartache template as the band's debut, Dennis Lane is such an infectiously catchy album that it takes multiple spins for the urge to head-bob to subside long enough for the careful craftsmanship to become apparent. Many of the primary musical ingredients are instantly familiar—fun-loving Thin Lizzy-ish guitar-monies, a bit of barbershop-quartet backing vocal action, spritely Summerteeth-ish keyboard runs—but they're cooked up in a distinctive manner that ultimately constitutes a refreshingly idiosyncratic pop platter.
"We're never worried about how original—or not—we sound," claims Ryan. "We don't go into the process of writing or recording and say, 'Let's try and mimic so-and-so's style.' At the same time, whatever ends up happening is fine. So while I don't necessarily hear it personally when we've been compared to people like the Beach Boys, I only consider it a compliment to be mentioned in the same sentence as that kind of talent."
"The only time [a lack of originality] becomes a problem is when the melody Joey comes up with is actually unwittingly verbatim from another song," offers Mach, half in jest and clearly reveling in ribbing Ryan on the record as his bandmates crack up around him. "There's a guitar part on the first record that we felt was straight off Natalie Imbruglia's [1997 soft-pop megahit] "Torn" that I was kind of worried would get us sued. If the influences that get us excited about playing music come through that's fine, we're proud of those. We're not worried about rewriting the book."
After a knack for crafting earworm melodies, the band's defining trait appears to be carefree camaraderie. Despite an upward trajectory that's placing them in increasingly enviable positions—they're one of the local bands to nab a coveted slot alongside big names like the Flaming Lips at this year's inaugural Soundtown Festival—the band members don't have stars in their eyes so much as tears from laughing too hard.
"We kind of thrive on that balance of taking it seriously but not too seriously," claims Mach. "We all feel like we can suggest our own ideas and be very loose. I think that if the band works, then that's why. We tend to err on the side of not really caring what other people think because we can do this relatively cheaply and frequently and play music we love."
"We keep it light but we do have conversations about where things are headed," admits Ryan. "The problem keeping us from having the whole 'take it to the next level' talk is partially a complete lack of understanding of how to do it [laughs]. We do everything ourselves, from press to booking to recording—we're kind of in our own little world. Wherever that's taken us so far has been good. It hasn't encroached on the fun we're having."
If there's any justice in the indie music realm—admittedly an iffy proposition at best—then Joey Ryan & the Inks' little world is about to get a whole lot bigger. One thing's for certain: They won't be losing any sleep over what comes next.
"I was 30 years old before anybody wrote about music I was involved in or I heard an album of mine on the radio," admits bassist Matt Mitchell, the elder statesmen of the band. "Where we're at as a band now—playing shows that people actually come to, being written about locally—I mean that's the stuff dreams are made of. Anything more that happens for us at this point is gravy."