DENTON, TEXAS — Dwayne Ray, 42, is known for performing in Denton bands including the Jackson 8, the Denton County Revelators — a band “spreading the word of Denton County” — and the Savage Beatles, a Hamburg-era Beatles band. Most bands he’s played in were started with, or by, his best friend Josh Prisk.
But Ray and Prisk, decidedly tired of hearing music lacking strong melodic structure, started a ‘70s-inspired power pop band called The Speedlights, which is set to release its first LP in early 2017. The band also consists of Jess Boyer and Tony Greene.
Ray met the fellas while playing in a cover band called the Voodoo Honkeys while attending high school in Palestine, Texas, in 1992. Greene had been leading a techno pop keyboard band and Ray recruited him to provide the drum beats for that Voodoo’s songs.
“Someone said Josh was a fantastic drummer. He was walking outside of band hall one day and he gave me his phone number,” Ray said. They later started another band together called the Mojo Filters.
After moving to Denton, Ray played with his “first real band” called the Jackson 8. It was started by Prisk’s ex-wife Nazli and later featured Prisk, Ray and Ray’s wife, Mariel Tam-Ray.
“It was totally a married couple band and we loved it,” Ray said. “It was my first band that really had any success.”
Ray also joined Prisk’s band Switchblade Razors, a surf rock band, which includes bass player David Stone. The band continues to perform and write music — though infrequently because Stone lives in Arkansas, Ray said.
In the past few years, Ray hasn’t written much music for himself, he said. Ray works during the day and takes care of his two young children at night after Mariel leaves for work. But his children are approaching ages where they can soon stay with a babysitter or a friend for the evening while her performs shows, he said.
Ray breathes power pop. He’s active in several specialty Facebook groups and even bought himself a copy of Bomp! Magazine’s special power pop edition, published in March 1978, for his birthday last year. He easily recite quotes from within its pages, finding them inspirational.
“I wanted to write songs again that I felt were personally worth listening to,” Ray said. “I go to many shows and I’ll see four bands and not one single song will stick in my head.”
He wants his music to be catchy, “like ‘Oh I want to be with you,’ you know, The Raspberries,” he said before he started singing the chorus to Wanderer News.
“Bands now, [particularly power pop], are a little lighter or wimpy. It sounds more like people trying to be The Beatles,” Ray said. “I like The Beatles but when somebody sounds like the Beatles, I actually kind of hate it.”
Ray hopes to bring the edge back to power pop, “because otherwise it’s just pop.”
“People don’t care about having an amazing chorus anymore. That’s fine as long as they’re having fun because that’s ultimately why you do this,” he said. “But I see them and I think, ‘Are they bored?’ Because I’m bored. They’re not singing with any emotion. They’re not looking at anybody. The songs are boring.”
But Ray said he doesn’t think wanting to write a catchy song is selling out.
“Tom Petty had a documentary in which he said, ‘Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus,’” Ray said. “Think about how many Tom Petty songs you know. There’s a lot, because they’re catchy, and American Girl is a great example of a power pop song.”
Pete Townshend, the lead guitarist for British band The Who, coined power pop in a 1967 interview with NME magazine while referring to pop songs that had large powerful parts and crashing chords. People already playing that style of music caught on and started calling themselves power pop.
But Ray said power pop isn’t a singular thing. Some bands are glam rock, some are classic rock or neo-classical rock. Some may consider themselves mod-rock or alternative rock, or punk or metal.
“Nobody would ever call Thin Lizzy a power pop band,” Ray said. “Even the Ramones songs are power pop.”
The band is set to release its first full-length album, tentatively titled “All The Reasons Why,” early next year after it was postponed for studio scheduling conflicts. The album will be recorded at Cool Devices Studio and takes its name from a line in the band’s song “Out of Sorts.”
The 10-song album will include previously unrecorded songs “Try To Forget You,” “What’s It Going To Take” and “She’ll Be There.” The other seven songs are new, written within the last month. Ray is expecting to do a big single push for their song “Blame it on the Stereo” before the album comes out.
Ray, who said he has never stopped buying vinyl, hopes to distribute the album on CDs, vinyl and cassettes.
“For me, records have never not been popular. I’ve never not had records,” Ray said. “Even through the ‘80s, I kept buying Cheap Trick records. Records have always been a part of my life.”
The new album may sound a little different than the EP, Ray said. The band has added an electric drum pad and keyboards to some songs and is significantly reworking its song “She’ll Be There.”
“We’re adding more of a Cars type vibe to the album but we probably can’t do the keyboard lines live,” Ray said. “Now ‘She’ll Be There’ is punchy and dynamic and sounds more classic power pop, like the Shoes.”
The Speedlights also played an adapted version of “I’m Still Waiting” for upcoming film “Bloody Spiral,” which filmed at the now-closed Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton.
“The extras were acting like it was the most awesome song they ever heard. I think they really started to believe it after a while,” Ray said. “Hopefully they’ll all go home and look us up. That’s the power of a strong chorus.”
BONUS: Check out Ray’s power pop playlist on Spotify below.