Though still in their mid 20s, the men of Stereo Deluxe bring a veteran's perspective to their game.
They've been an active band for more than a decade, dating to their middle school years on the Southside. And as they gratefully point out, they've been schooled in the art and business of music by local elders like Mark Moran, a pillar of Hoosier power pop, and brothers Marc and Eric Klee Johnson of Indie 500 Records and The Pop Machine recording studio.
Having learned much about recording, performing and marketing with their self-titled 2006 debut album - which was produced by Moran and praised by local critics - Stereo Deluxe is taking an even more deliberate and strategic approach to launching its sophomore effort, When the Party's Over
"We didn't want to rush the record," says Jay Elliott, the band's gregarious frontman and chief songwriter. "I think we've got all the pieces in place."
The album was essentially finished a year ago, but rather than releasing it, they spent the rest of 2008 road-testing the new material from St. Louis to New York and most points in between. With the new disc hitting stores on Tuesday, SD is playing local release shows Friday and Saturday, one for the 21-plus crowd and another for underage fans. Commerce is not an afterthought: A coupon on their Web site offers a buck off the $7 cover charge; the new disc will be available for $7.
Known for its methodical rehearsals, the band maintains a dedicated office space at the home of drummer Matt Hogan. Publicity is handled through national promoter Live-360. Shows are already booked throughout the spring and into the summer, reprising last year's Midwest and East Coast travels. Some of the new songs have been previewed on X103, and aside from retail outlets, the album will be available for download through iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon and other sources.
In other words, they're not leaving much to chance.
"That was one lesson we learned from the first record," bassist-vocalist Luke Schneider says. "We couldn't really maximize the impact of it."
Co-produced by the Johnsons at The Pop Machine and released on Indie 500, When the Party's Over
showcases the essence of the band: a group of lifelong buds who developed an organic sound based on their particular mix of personalities and tastes, rather than recruiting through classified ads and pursuing a calculated formula.
"We never sat down and had that conversation," says guitarist-vocalist Ben Tatum. "When we started, it was really just an excuse to hang out with our friends."
The band's current sound suggests a broad, intergenerational range of influences, without settling on any particular retro shtick. Their lineup - which won the $10,000 top prize in the 2005 Indianapolis Battle of the Bands - is the conventional dudes-only quartet of bass, drums and two guitars. The players came of age in the era of Green Day and Nirvana, but thanks to Indiana radio, they also were thoroughly steeped in the classic rock of the '60s and '70s.
One reference point, at least for old-timers, would be such bands as Cheap Trick, Big Star and the Raspberries, who married crunchy power chords with British Invasion melody. A more recent comparison might be the perky abrasiveness of Weezer.
The Stereo Deluxe guys don't mind being closer to the mainstream than their trendier indie peers. In an era of niche markets, this band aims for broad appeal. Why be content with less?
"Either you're unlistenable to the guy who works on the assembly line, or you're unlistenable to the guy who works at the record store," says Elliott, who hopes to dodge that dichotomy. "You don't have to be in the mood to hear some new band, or some avant-garde thing, in order to like Stereo Deluxe."
In making the new record, one goal was to capture a consistent sound reflecting the band's live performances. They spent the summer of 2007 recording home demos, and then rehearsed and honed the material with the Johnsons before recording in the studio. Most of the basic tracks are first takes.
"Ben used the same guitar through the whole record; Luke used the same bass," says Elliott, a gymnastic vocalist with a mean falsetto. "That made it easier for us to focus on the performances."
The first cut, "Misery," opens with a squeal of feedback and a mid-tempo grunge riff that leads to a surprise chorus of '60s pop heartbreak: "Misery, misery, that's all you've ever given to me."
The title track, "When the Party's Over," has all the hooks and melodrama of an Elvis Costello breakup anthem, though it is instead a first-person account of overindulgence, highlighted by a harmonized dual-guitar solo.
And the first single, downloadable free on the band's Web site, is "Southside Stomp," an anthem of civic pride from four Perry Meridian High School graduates. It begins, appropriately enough, with a Southern boogie guitar riff, and it erupts later into a shout-along party chorus.
"We're claiming the Southside," says Elliott, who hosts a Tuesday night open stage at Lizards pub on Madison Avenue. "We've been here our whole lives. I like my people on the Southside."
The album's heaviest moment sonically and emotionally is "Anything," a lament about lost youth:
Back in the day, man, when we were young kids, we were having a ball
Prayin' that summer didn't turn into fall
Now we've got day jobs and deadlines and desktops and bosses to please
Nine-to-five living's got me down on my knees ...
I can't feel anything the way it used to feel
Nothing is real to me, real like it used to be
And I'd give anything to beat like the heart of a child
That's certainly a world-weary view, coming from a 24-year-old.
But again, these guys have been at it for a while.
For more on the band (and that free download of "Southside Stomp" with registration), go to http://www.stereodeluxemusic.com.