The way guitarist Chris Brewer puts it, he and the three other original members of southern Maine-based band GinLab (Adam Chick on keys, Kevin Hardison on bass and Ryan Lamb on drums) were like savages before the met their lead singer, Tyler DeVos. They were playing music together for fun. They were pondering the idea of writing a prog rock style “Super Mario Brothers”-themed EP, which, while endearingly nerdy, would in retrospect have been not such a great idea. Then DeVos showed up about a year ago, back in Maine after a stint in Michigan, responding to a Craigslist ad the foursome had posted looking for a singer.
“The story at this point sort of takes the shape of Tyler finding us in the wilderness like a missionary and teaching us how to use forks and wear pants, but it’s actually more about consensus and compromise than that,” said Brewer, who is based in Brunswick. “We needed him to beat the prog ideas out of us, and he needed us to beat the singer-songwriter claptrap out of him. The beatings continue.”
According to DeVos, once he joined the band things changed dramatically. Things tightened up, and DeVos contributed ten of his own songs. By his own admission, he’s an opinionated guy, and isn’t afraid to make those opinions known – but the same is true for the rest of the band, which means that the process by which GinLab writes, rehearses, records and performs can sometimes include as many arguments as it does actual progress.
“A GinLab rehearsal isn’t always a very comfortable place to be,” said DeVos. “I’m the kind of person that always tries to usurp the creativity, and everybody else tries to scale it back, slow it down, take their time with it. It’s an agonizing process, but it means that we really put our time into making something we’re happy with, something we’re passionate about. We’ve developed a rapport where open animosity is OK, if it means we get stuff done.”
That diversity of opinions and musical tastes lends to a slowly evolving sound, that’s moved far away from its prog rock-influenced beginning. Although according to Brewer, drummer Lamb still flies the prog flag, and it’s a good thing – subtle flourishes like that give the band’s expansive sound ever more depth. On two EPs released so far, “American Heroes” in May 2012, and “Abandoned Homes” just a few weeks ago, GinLab shows its steady growth as an ensemble.
The four songs that make up “Abandoned Homes” range from the light indie pop of “Where Did I Go Wrong?” to the EDM-flavored electro track “Glaciers;” from the darkly comedic “Party Girl” to the wistful, pretty “Here We Are Now,” featuring guest vocals from Portland songwriter Amanda Gervasi. It’s shot through with a variety of influences, like the clever wordplay and melodies of Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, the arch drama of the National, or the simmering electronic soundscapes of Radiohead. Chick’s unique synthesizer lines and DeVos’ expressive baritone make them stand out from the rest of the Maine indie rock crowd.
As Brewer says, GinLab has a little bit of everything going on. DeVos is a singer-songwriter first, while Hardison loves John Entwistle’s bass playing for the Who; Chick is the one who likes video game music, and Lamb is the one who loves prog rock. Brewer says he likes “English post-punk sad bastard music.” Brewer, Chick and DeVos all share songwriting duties.
“We have three songwriters in GinLab, and because of that the styles of our songs tend to swing around,” said Brewer. “The darker stuff comes from me, the more synth based stuff from Adam, and Tyler tends toward the more upbeat and traditional, and he manages to exploit any hooks that me or Adam might have accidentally included.”
“Abandoned Homes” also works as a kind of teaser for a full length album the band is readying for a late spring/early summer release. The five have been working on it for the better part of six months, holed up in their home studio. As DeVos said, everything the band does takes a while, and incurs some hurt feelings and anger along the way – but the end result is something all five members can get behind, and that sounds like nothing else Maine is currently producing.
“I think there’s a level of self-awareness among all of us that is crippling at times,” said DeVos. “But it’s also what makes us make good music.”
GinLab will perform on April 13 at Rock City Coffee in Rockland.