Wayne is from Birmingham. Based on their mesmerizing debut album, Music on Plastic, you might just as easily assume they are from Birmingham England, as their actual home state of Alabama. The four-man group has crafted a multi-layered, 13-song tapestry that invites comparison with the work of such esteemed Brit-poppers as Coldplay and Travis, not to mention fellow domestic dream-weavers like R.E.M. and the Jayhawks.
Their ace in the hole is the songwriting of singer/guitarist Rodney Reaves, who wrote every song on the record. Reaves is a typically laconic, self-effacing Southerner who just happens to be a brilliant songwriter. His songs are artful, poppy, hypnotic and accessible, unfolding in bright, tuneful layers of sound. Songs like the upbeat, strummy "Whisper" (the first single), the pensive, charming "Letterbox" and the sweet, shivery "Be This Way" glisten with fresh melodicism and euphonious arrangements.
Great songs, solid harmonies, chiming guitars and a solid, melodic rhythm section add up to one of the most unassumingly exceptional albums of 2002 - a subtle yet undeniable album that will insinuate itself into your psyche, given the chance. "It's one of those albums you can put in and just let play, and it takes you places," says guitarist Michael Swann.
That was precisely Wayne's intention, and one reason they were able to achieve it is their mastery of the studio. Wayne may be the only band on the planet that literally built the studio they record in from the ground up, with sheetrock, hammers and nails. Their longtime producer and engineer - Jason Elgin, who has worked with Collective Soul, among others - is the owner of the Birmingham-based Syncromesh Studios, a first-class recording facility. When he decided to build a studio, he recruited his pals in Wayne to assist with the hard labor. Reaves, who has a background in construction, had a big hand in the building's demolition and conversion. His father, an electrical contractor, wired the place.
Architecture and construction seem appropriate metaphors for the approach Wayne took when it came time to cut their songs in the newly completed studio. At Synchromesh, they could experiment and polish ideas without worrying about an expensive clock ticking. From day one, the studio has been their home away from home. "It's like going to a clubhouse and hanging out," says Reaves. "There's a cast of great people from bands around town who hang out over here. It's just a nice environment - a big community, so to speak." Thus was Music on Plastic born, its recording funded by a publishing deal Reaves had landed with EMI. When the group began shopping the disc, TVT eagerly stepped in and signed Wayne.
The band members admit to having influences - at the top of Reeves' and Swann's lists are Neil Young and the Beatles, respectively - but more important to Wayne's overall aesthetic has been their study of the way albums are produced. "We listen to the way people do records," Reaves explains. "Sure, we've got favorite bands, but we really like to listen to how records are made and who actually took the time and cared about what they did and how well they pulled it off." Radiohead's OK Computer was a big one for them. "We tried to figure out how they did things and for what reason," says Reaves. "That album was amazingly inspirational," Swann adds.
Their informal seminars in Production 101 served to help Wayne find their own voice in the studio. "From the start, one of the things I've always liked about Wayne is the fact we weren't trying to sound like anyone," says Swann. "We'd come in, Rodney would play a song, and we'd start playing along and come up with our own parts. That's how it developed. There was no preconceived notion of what this band should sound like, and there still isn't."
Wayne formed in 1997 around the nucleus of Reaves and Swann. Reeves took up guitar in his late teens and began writing songs soon thereafter. They've played clubs in Birmingham - where they've developed a loyal following of "Wayne-iacs" - and around the Southeast. But much of their energy has been directed into capturing the mercurial magic of Reaves' songs in the studio. They are, they'll readily admit, perfectionists, working tirelessly on a piece until they've bottled the lightning, so to speak. "We take turns, basically," says Reaves. "If I'm worn out, Michael and Jason can breathe life into what we're working on at the time, and vice versa. So it always goes around until the kinks get worked out as much as possible." The level of devotion and commitment Wayne bring to their songs is refreshing - as is the entirety of the entrancing Music on Plastic.