By Allison Babka
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Calling deathray "this weird bastard stepchild of late-'60s music and '80s synth-pop," vocalist/keyboardist Dana Gumbiner proves he has a pretty good handle on what his band is about. Pop classicists at heart, deathray channel the Fab Four and friends but do so by way of the Cars and other denizens of the skinny-tie era. "When we talk about pop music, we're talking about the Beatles, not Britney Spears," Gumbiner says.
Judging by the Sacramento-based band's self-titled debut album, they must talk about it a lot. "When I joined the band, Greg (Brown) and Victor (Damiani) turned me onto the Zombies, their Odessey & Oracle album," Gumbiner says. "My mind was just blown by that. We'd also been listening to a lot of early Kinks, acts like that."
That may surprise fans who know that guitarist Brown and bassist Damiani were once members of Cake, whose ultracool breakthrough hit, "The Distance," was penned by Brown. For deathray, Gumbiner says, "We made a conscious effort to write for this band, even though we weren't really sure just what this band was at the time. But I think Greg and Victor were feeling that what we had was important enough to try something new, even if it meant turning their backs on their newfound success."
After Brown finished his second stint with Cake, he hooked up with Damiani (who'd also left the band) and Gumbiner, whose previous group, Little Guilt Trip, shared a home base in Sacramento and had toured with Cake. Drummer James Neil came on board just before the recording of the album, though Third Eye Blind's Michael Urbano is heard on most of the tracks. More recently, keyboardist/guitarist Max Hart was added to the group.
For songs like "My Lunatic Friends," "Now That I'm Blind," "Happy New Year" and "10:15," Gumbiner says, he and the band have drawn on their own experiences but hope to keep things from getting too confessional. "I've been guilty of having that autobiographical perspective maybe too often with certain songs. But for me, most of the album represents a hodgepodge of emotions and metaphors pointing to different scenarios, sometimes from my life, or maybe my friends' lives. We're going for something more associative, and hope that people find some meaning of their own within that. I don't have any pretensions to try and change people's lives with my lyrics, but I do hope there's something they can relate to."