After logging time on the local scene providing capable sideman duty in bands like The Exchange and Flin Flon Bombers, 25-year-old Joey Ryan found himself on his own two years ago, with a set of enviably catchy melodies bouncing around his brain but no way to bring them to life. That problem was solved after casual jamming with childhood friends evolved into a full-blown band, Joey Ryan And The Inks, a fighting-trim quintet with equal mastery of Brit-pop bounce and sunny Beach-Boys-copping harmonies. The group’s debut, Well, Here We Are Then, is a sumptuous slice of retro-pop that delivers the goods—propulsive power-pop with a caustic bent on “Shame On Me Once (Shame on You Twice)” and starry-eyed, finger-picked balladry on “By the Wayside.” Prior to his CD release show at the Triple Rock Social Club on Friday, Dec. 18, Ryan talked with The A.V. Club about forming his group, finding his own role at its front and center, and battling stage anxiety.
The A.V. Club: There’s a pretty strong classicist streak that runs throughout the sound of the album. Is it safe to assume you’re a big fan of ’60s pop?
Joey Ryan: Obviously every group is influenced by The Beatles, but I think throughout the band as a whole there’s a really large catalog of influences we pull from. Our keyboardist [Paul Flowers] is like a musical encyclopedia—play him any song and he can tell you who wrote it, who recorded it. It’s actually kind of insane. [Laughs.] When I was writing these songs I had certain groups in mind—The Idle Race, Electric Light Orchestra, the Everly Brothers, just real vocal-heavy harmony kind of music. I suppose there’s a bit of a Beach Boys vibe at points and I’ve had friends who say I sound like James Mercer [from The Shins]. Hopefully people hear lot of different reference points in our songs. It’s never fun being pigeon-holed, and I think we’ve managed to avoid that.
AVC: Most of these songs started as solo compositions that you performed acoustically around town. Did you always have a band in mind as the ultimate vehicle for delivering them?
JR: I got tired of the solo thing pretty quickly, but I was just starting to get my legs as a songwriter so I think it wasn’t an important time. I felt the songs were pretty good, but being a solo project it was really hard to have any confidence in that fact or any sense of objectivity about it. Pretty much from the moment I started playing with the other guys it clicked. Within the first month of practicing there was a totally new energy to the songs, and I knew we were headed in the right direction.
AVC: It must have helped the comfort level starting out to have known some of the guys dating back to high school.
JR: About half the group I didn’t really know before we formed the band, but I’ve known Chris and Matt [Mitchell, guitarist and bassist, respectively] for a long time. There’s really just always been a good vibe to the project. We started playing together not thinking much about it other than that we liked doing it—and that’s still the mentality, thankfully. Paul is good at keeping me in check and has a really good feel for when we’re doing too much—or not enough. It’s a full group effort and there’s really no ego involved, which is great.
AVC: Speaking of ego, although you’ve played in multiple prior local bands, this is your first time in the role of frontman and primary songwriter. Was that a big adjustment?
JR: It was actually something I struggled with a little bit in the beginning. Even now it kind of weirds me out a bit, as I’ve never really wanted to be in the spotlight. The only reason the band is called Joey Ryan And The Inks rather than some general band name is that at the time we were coming together, I was still alternating a lot between playing solo shows and performing with the band and it just seemed easier that way. The guys like the name, and there is sort of a cool tradition of names in that vein when you think of bands like Elvis Costello And The Attractions. I’m getting more comfortable with it as time goes on.
AVC: Being the leader of a band, guiding other people’s input to your songs, versus a sideman supporting someone else’s vision, is obviously quite different.
JR: That’s very true. I was only in the Flin Flon Bombers for a short while and my role was really just to get up there and play guitar and sing some backup. There was no pressure, and I had a blast whenever we played. There’s not as much freedom being up front and sort of in charge, having to handle all of the stage banter. Usually I try and wear a ridiculous outfit to make up for my lack of banter skills. [Laughs.]