Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Speedlights Blast Into The Past's Future!: Guitarist Dwayne Ray & Bassist Tony Greene Talk New Album Night Driver, "The Speedwives" & Reviving 1970's Power-Pop (The Witzard Interview)

"The Speedlights! Power-Pop Rock "N" Roll from Denton, Texas. Drummer Josh Prisk and guitarist Dwayne Ray have been playing in bands together since high school back 1992. And back then, they were in a band with bassist Tony Greene. Skip ahead to late 2014 when Josh and Dwayne were working together and in between bands, on a lunch break, they were discussing how Power-Pop had lost that 70's Rock edge a long time ago and decided to see if they could bring back that edge. A few days later, Tony happened to post a Rockpile - "So It Goes" video and Dwayne & Josh decided to ask if he'd like to join in on the idea. After a few practices, they decided they'd need some kind of lead/jangle-type guitarist and days later, the long-time UPS delivery driver at Dwayne & Josh's work, Jess Boyer, stops in and says, "Hey, do you play guitar? Do you maybe know someone who might be looking for a guitarist?" and BAM! he joined us that weekend! (Jan. 2015, at this point.) We believe in the hook! Every song should have a hook; multiple hooks are even better!" reads The Speedlights' charismatic band bio. Guitarist Dwayne Ray sent me a pre-release stream of their full-length debut, Night Driver and I was instantly hooked on their hook-based Power-Pop revival. If pressed, I would best liken their overall sound to The Gaslight Anthem meets The Cars with sonic embellishments reminiscent of fellow Power-Poppers Cheap Trick and Free Energy. Last week, I wrangled up guitarist Dwayne Ray and bassist Tony Greene for an impromptu Facebook Messenger Q&A, while waiting for my coffee table to be delivered. Here's a slightly edited and sonically embellished version of our Night Driver-centric conversation. The Speedlights' Night Driver will be released this upcoming Saturday, November 4th on CD through Jigsaw Records and cassette tapes on WIENER RECORDS.


Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Power-Pop Revival Supporter

Matt Horowitz: What's going on, Tony and Dwayne?

Tony Greene: Good morning, Matt!

MH: I'm off today to receive and assemble a coffee table lol. We can even do this this evening, if that's better for you guys?

Dwayne Ray: I'm good.

MH: I’m good.

TG: I’m good! We're doing it by [Facebook] Messenger?

MH: Yeah, right here... if that works for everyone?

DR: I thought it'd be better than email because it displays the messages in a line. I've done group emails [before] and you miss responses, while you are typing.

TG: Absolutely perfect.

MH: Yep, and it'll kinda be like a "real-life" interview in real time, except done on here!

DR: I just watched the 1980 Cheap Trick AMA's [American Music Awards] performance of "Ain't That a Shame"—fantastic!

MH: Alright, let's get started... when did The Speedlights start and how did you fellas initially meet?

TG: Dwayne, you got this one?

DR: Speedlights started November 2014 with a simple meet-up, but didn't start getting together 'til after holidays—Jan. 2015. Just the three of us [Dwayne, Tony & Josh Prisk], at this time.

TG: Dwayne, Josh, and I actually met way back in 1992. They were playing in a band that joined in on a bill that my Synth-Pop band had put together. Within a year, I was in their band!

DR: And Josh (drummer) and I have been in various bands together, since then.

TG: We've all just been fans of the genre all of our lives. The three of us have had other types of groups over the years, but we have a shared love of Power-Pop. My first favorite band was Cheap Trick back when I was eight-years-old, so it's always been there for me, LOL.

MH: Power-Pop is pretty damn great and under-appreciated these days! I love The Cars and present-day bands like Free Energy and of course, Weezer!

DR: I had The idea for starting this band up. I'll type it out in a bit here.

MH: OK, no prob. Take your time!

TG: Funny enough, the new album is definitely more influenced by The Cars. We've added some synths on Night Driver, where as there were none on The [Speedlights] EP. And most of those synth lines are very much influenced by Greg Hawkes. It's almost as if we've moved out of the late 70's and into the early 80's, LOL.

DR: We'll progress to Hair Metal later.

MH: The Cars are great and Ric Ocasek even produced the first few Weezer albums! But who's Greg Hawkes?

TG: He's the keyboard player from The Cars. We all have a mutual love for New Wave, so for our sound to progress in that direction was probably natural. But we have joked about what our next step will be. Post-Punk? Hair Metal, as Dwayne suggested? I'm thinking 1987-88 era Paula Abdul. Haha!

MH: I vote for Post-Punk covers of 1987-88 era Paula Abdul, myself!

TG: YES!!! "I'm Forever Your Gloomy Girl!"

MH: So, what was your initial idea when starting up The Speedlights, Dwayne?

DR: OK, so—I used to be extremely active on the Denton music scene—say 2001-2009. Playing several shows a week in various bands, running sound, booking, and housing touring acts. Then, I had my son and stopped and three years later, my daughter (my wife works nights, so I am home nights with kids.) During that time, I had a Hamburg-type Beatles group with Josh; we played like three shows a year for about three or four years. I was writing no original music since 2009.

MH: Wow, pretty awesome! So, before The Speedlights, it was almost all cover tunes, you mean?

DR: So, five years 'til the late 2014 Speedlights idea. I think Tony wasn't much either. Well '92 up through the 2009 stop, I was writing songs. How about you Tony? I meant I stopped in 2009.

MH: Yeah, how about you, Tony?

TG: As mentioned, Josh, Dwayne, and I were in what was essentially a covers band back in 1992-93. After I left the band, I started my own Synth-Pop outfit called Lollipop Guild, doing originals that could be compared with the likes of Depeche Mode and Erasure. That band then morphed into Except Europa, which became a bit darker and incorporated more Industrial and EBM [Electronic Body Music] elements. Once that group passed on in the mid-2000's, I really didn't do much at all. So. when Dwayne and Josh came calling with the idea for working together, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to be in a group with my two best friends.

DR: Josh was working the summer at my work on 2014 and we were talking about Power-Pop on lunch break one day and how though we dig later Power-Pop—it seemed to have lost the 70's Rock edge. Then we got all excited and decided to start writing tunes again. He had planned to play bass, at this point, so he could be upfront.

MH: Wow, awesome backstories, fellas! Now, what might you guys list as some of your greatest sources of inspiration and influence, while creating Night Driver?

TG: As for influence on Night Driver, definitely the Cars, as mentioned. But I would probably say that New Wave in general is probably the biggest influence for this album as opposed to specific bands.

MH: Perfect! Thanks, Tony!

TG: Thoughts on that, Dwayne?

DR: I'd say for me, The Cars putting out the 2016 Moving In Stereo compilation—I wrote several tunes after playing it at work several times.

MH: That is a very great Cars compilation!

DR: I've always dug The Cars. I was watching MTV everyday pretty much since it started 'til I moved to the country in '85 and switched to Much Music. Jess, by the way, wrote "After Tonight" on his own. "She'll Be There" and "Summer Nights," he gave me a bunch of lyrics and I wrote them to a tune.

TG: Funny you should mention Much Music, Dwayne! A lot of the Electronic Canadian bands are a big influence on me. Skinny Puppy, of course, but somewhat more obscure bands like Images In Vogue and Spoons might very well be influencing the next Speedlights album, especially, if our sound continues to progress to the mid-80's, LOL.

DR: [Jess'] biggest influence is Bruce Springsteen on writing.

TG: BUT, we've been slowly introducing him to other 80's stuff; so, he's coming around.

DR: Tony and I Facebook Message at work lyrics back-and-forth. So, much that it's difficult to remember who wrote what.

MH: "Messaging lyrics back-and-forth at work?" Now, that's a pretty interesting process! Now, what were The Speedlights' typical writing, recording, mixing, mastering, etc. processes like during the making-of Night Driver? Also, who produced the album? (I'll be back in 5!)

TG: Dwayne, wanna take that one?

DR: I've got two methods: writing with Tony and writing with Jess. With Tony, sometimes, it's lyric ideas first—or with "Blame It On The Stereo" and "Head In The Clouds," I recorded a complete demo of the songs without lyrics.

MH: Fair enough! Shall I move onto the next question? Anything else to add, Tony?

DR: "Try to Forget You," too. I recorded a complete song with only the chorus.

MH: Wow! Now, that's a feat unto itself!

DR: Tony wrote all the verse lyrics, then—Facebook Message'd [them] to me—and I then, recorded a demo. But Jess, he brings over a whole book of lyrics to my house. He writes all the time. We then, pick one and I construct a song around it, with his help, of course.

TG: We originally began recording the album with the guys from The Marked Men at Sound Devices (correct studio name, Dwayne?) and then, finished it up with a guy named Jamey Hurd.

MH: Huh, very interesting processes! That's a question I usually ask rappers and producers, so it's cool to get a different perspective on it!

DR: Cool Devices was the first studio ("Pawn Takes King" and "She's Alright") we kept from [those sessions].

MH: Moving on, fellas... how would you say The Speedlights' overall sound has grown and progressed since your self-titled 2015 EP?

DR: We live an hour apart—so, for band demos, I send Tony GarageBand demos and he'll then, record a separate bass and vocal track back to me. Tony?

MH: Have anything to add, Tony?

TG: Yes, Cool Devices! As mentioned, our sound literally is just progressing "into the 80's," as odd as that sounds. We all have many of the same influences, but each of some pretty diverse ones, too. Josh is really into Jazz and obscure New Wave of British Heavy Metal stuff. Along with Power-Pop and early Punk, I'm really into Goth, Industrial, and Post-Punk. So, there's no telling where we'll go from here!

DR: Josh got that drum pad, too—so, the EP was a bit more RNR Power-Pop and was heavy from me on content, since I had started it off. Night Driver there's only one song I wrote complete by myself.

MH: Wow, that's a pretty vast list of inspirations and influences! I can't wait to hear what The Speedlights do next! Cool, Dwayne! But what exactly do you mean by "RNR Power-Pop?"

DR: So, once we stared really mixing in Techno-Pop, Tony, and working man Jess, it became Night Driver. By the way, Jess is a night driver for UPS.

TG: Yep, on the EP, even the tracks that I wrote or co-wrote, Dwayne did the vocals, where as I sing lead on... four of the tracks on this album?

MH: Ah, OK! So, that's kinda where the title "Night Driver" comes from? Cool deal!

DR: Rock "N" Roll. You'll hear more of a 60's guitar solos and stuff on the EP. That's my bag.

TG: We had to get Dwayne out of his box, LOL.

MH: lol fair enough! Night Driver really does have all type of varying sonic influences and styles throughout and it's all blended together so well!

TG: Thanks!!! That's great to hear.

DR: We played Hot Springs in July and Tony and Jess road together—they said they were leaving to go back (five hours at night) right after the show! But I said, "well, Jess is a professional night driver. Before that, it was decided to be titled All The Reasons Why.

MH: lol nice! And that's where the title for the album came from? So, what made you chose "Night Driver" over "All The Reasons Why?"

DR: For me, it was right when I texted it. I was like, "oh, that should be the title!" I think about appeal. Would it sound cooler to say, 80's rocker dude voice: "man, when The Speedlights came out with Night Driver! That changed everything, man?" Other big influences are Cheap Trick, Big Star, and Nick Lowe (Rockpile, 1976-81.)

MH: Awesome! I like that, "man, when The Speedlights came out with Night Driver! That changed everything, man!"

DR: I generally think no one will care; however, if I post a photo of my kid—100+ Likes! New album info? Me and Tony and the Amy's like it.

TG: Ha! Yes, we're very popular with our wives... The Speedwives!!!

MH: Man, don't say that! Now, how did you guys manage to link up with Jigsaw Records and BURGER RECORDS subsidiary WIENER RECORDS to release Night Driver on CD/cassette, respectively? "The Speedwives" lol that's great!

DR: Tony and Josh are both married to Amy's. It's an [inside] joke on the song "Amy (Tonight)" from the EP. Jigsaw: I had sent Chris [McFarlane] the EP for his store and he really liked it and offered to put us out when we recorded again.

MH: And how about WIENER RECORDS? Isn't it kinda a DIY label imprint or something of that nature?

DR: Anybody can make WIENER RECORDS' tapes—they don't even know they are putting it out yet! I just need to send the art and stuff.

MH: Pretty cool! And how does all that work with WIENER?

DR: WIENER RECORDS: you just go to their site, choose how many tapes, and how many panels for the insert. Send the art and tunes.

TG: I think Dwayne's about eight questions behind. Haha. The album was mixed and mastered by Josh [and I's] old friend, Matthew Barnhart—at Chicago Mastering [Service]—he just did an album for Superchunk.

MH: You guys think we have enough here? did we cover everything? Anything I might have overlooked?

TG: Up to you, Boss!!

MH: I think that might be about it!

TG: Sweet action. Well, thanks for the interview, Matt!!! It was very cool for us to get to do it.

MH: Hell yeah! It really was fun! Thanks for doing it! Anything else you wanna mention... shows, etc?

TG: We do have our album release party coming up on November 4th at MASS in Fort Worth, Texas. Believe it or not, after that, we're actually going to start working on new stuff! We have several new tracks written that we haven't yet played together as a band, so even though Album #1 is not out just yet, material for Album #2 is already well in progress.

MH: Wow, that's crazy! Any plans for a tour?

TG: Only if we win the lottery, lol.

DR: I just sold the first CD to my customer that was here.

MH: Sold the first Night Driver CD!? Nice! Tell them to check out The Speedlights' interview coming soon to The Witzard!

DR: One interesting thing I didn't mention (but I had e-mailed you prior) was that just as we were starting the band—as a 3-piece—my daily UPS driver was in and asks if I play guitar and if I knew anyone looking for a guitarist—that he thought he was pretty good, but had never been in a band.

TG: And that's how we met Jess!

DR: See also: Thin Lizzy is so awesome! People need to listen to more than "The Boys Are Back In Town"—thanks.

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