Pop rocks sweet tarts

The Wax Models

Jen Scaffidi, Dan Ruby, Tim Prentiss and Jason Kellner are influenced by musicians like Paul McCartney (in Wings not The Beatles) and The Kinks (songs like “Waterloo Sunset” not “You Really Got Me").

Jen Scaffidi, Dan Ruby, Tim Prentiss and Jason Kellner are influenced by musicians like Paul McCartney (in Wings not The Beatles) and The Kinks (songs like “Waterloo Sunset” not “You Really Got Me").

Photo By David Robert

The Wax Models perform May 22 with The Service Group and The Red Lights at Reno Jazz Club, 302 E. Fourth St.; and June 10 at Zephyr Lounge, 1074 S. Virginia St.

The Wax Models are a pop band. They play pop music. Not “pop” in the sense of “popular"—which they aren’t—but “pop” as in, “la, la, la! la, la!” It’s catchy, jaunty music that emphasizes songwriting craftsmanship and an ensemble-oriented sound. The Wax Models rely more on harmony and melody than rhythm and riffs. There are sophisticated harmonic progressions and three-part vocal harmonies, but everything is done in service to the songs—not to the service of egos that need the gratification of conspicuous displays of musical virtuosity.

In a lot of rock music, the focus is on an individual singer or an instrumentalist—often a lead guitarist. But The Wax Models place the focus right where it ought to be for any kind of pop music: the songs.

“But we like to rock,” says singer-songwriter-guitarist Timothy Prentiss.

“Yeah, we rock,” agrees singer-songwriter-pianist Dan Ruby, somewhat unconvincingly.

The band has an impressive pedigree. Prentiss played in The Halfway House Band, Sophie and The Probiotics and Crushstory. Ruby played in Rockmachine, The Halfway House Band and Crushstory. Singer-bassist Jen Scaffidi played in The Spark, The Twilight Project and Crushstory. Drummer Jason Kellner played in the Atomiks, somehow managing to avoid ever playing in Crushstory.

The pop-music idiom within which The Wax Models operate was established in the 1960s, and the band is certainly indebted to its forbearers—The Beatles, The Beach Boys and so forth—and equally indebted to new-wave acts like Elvis Costello and the Attractions. But The Wax Models don’t really sound like any of those groups.

Furthermore, the “la, la, la” description above is misleading; it implies lyrical inanity and a saccharine sound. The band’s sound is musical and melancholy, never glossy or sugary. The lyrics are often written from the perspective of the Elvis Costello school of bitter, jealous lovers.

The two principal songwriters, Prentiss and Ruby, are both uniquely idiosyncratic, and their two styles compliment each other well.

Ruby’s songs are more pastoral and tend to be slower. He cites The Zombies and Paul McCartney ("But Paul McCartney in Wings, not The Beatles …") as inspirations. He jokes that all his songs are about “either fucking or not fucking,” a glib way of saying that they deal explicitly with adult themes and relationship issues. The song “New Geography” has lines like “Get off of your ass and shake it/I’ve got better things to do with my time/I like you best when you’re naked/I’ve got better things to do with my time” that make even coquettish bassist Scaffidi exclaim, “Oh—that made me blush.”

Prentiss’ songs are a touch more rocking and are, as he says, about “being a disappointed and disappointing human being, and that sometimes involves not fucking.” He points to The Kinks as a major songwriting influence (the bittersweet lyricism of “Waterloo Sunset” rather than the proto-punk riffing of “You Really Got Me"), and he’s able to turn a phrase, in a song like “On My Feet,” just as nastily as Ruby: “If your old friends were to see you now/They’d just pull out their eyes/See how cruelly it is/I’ve cut you down to size.”

Pop music, unlike rock music, is usually more of a studio product. Good pop songs are like friends that one turns to in times of loneliness and despair. Pop music is one of life’s greatest solitary pleasures. However, that said, The Wax Models are a live band.

“Our songs aren’t sacrificed by playing live," says Ruby, "because we use the same arrangement that we would for a recording: electric piano, one guitar, bass and drums. We’re not a band that needs to make boring songs interesting with flashy arrangements."