Lastditch

Two musicians find solace in a no-pressure last hope project, Inkwell.

A couple of years ago, Davey Pierce and Travis Adams found themselves sick to death of the band life. Sick of the endless, grueling, impoverished van tours. Sick of the sweat-soaked rehearsal spaces. Sick of the near misses with National Act status. Sick of putting everything in and getting just enough back to convince them to keep putting everything in.

So they quit the bands that each singer/guitarist had founded and fronted.

Pierce pulled the plug on his passionate, power-pop-informed Tallahassee act Believe in Toledo. And in Orlando, Adams folded My Hotel Year, an audacious rock act that had been balanced on the verge of emo stardom for several years. Many called the My Hotel Year split premature; the band had recently signed with and released an album on the well-regarded indie label Doghouse.

"I guess it was one of those final hopes, you know?" says Adams of the timing. "I don't know. It was one of those things where you're working so hard for so long that any little thing was one last breath for us.

"We were miserable, though," he adds wearily. "I know I was."

Adams was ready to give up music completely and relocate to Atlanta to look for work and an alternate creative outlet. Pierce, with whom he'd become friendly over the course of a few MHY/BiT joint tours, rang up with a final offer while he was packing his bags.

"We'd always talked about doing a side project," Adams says. "He was like, 'Come to Tallahassee on your way and stay for the weekend.' So I did, and we recorded our first record that weekend."

The result was last year's Chaos Reveals Rhyme, a collection of clever, edgy, yearning pop-rock songs that Pierce and Adams tracked entirely by themselves. The CD caught the ears of several industry types who had followed Adams' and Pierce's previous bands. The pair soon found themselves signed to Orlando-based modern-rock label One Eleven, an imprint that has the financial backing and distribution muscle of Warner Brothers subsidiary East West Records — and is owned by Brad Fischetti, who used to be a member of the boy band LFO. They were soon working on material for another full-length, the just-released These Stars Are Monsters.

And just like that, the duo found itself back living the band life, as Inkwell.

Things are a little different this time around, though.

For one, there's not really a band to speak of. Both men are multi-instrumentalists; they write and record without any additional players, producing their own material with some help from knob-twiddling co-conspirator Matt Malpaff. One listen to Monsters will quickly dispel any suspicion that the set-up might result in a processed, sterile, overly studio-ized sound — the disc's sound is small where it needs to be, but mostly it's big and warm, with layers of guitar, synths and harmonies.

If anything, the two-man-band format leaves more room for its personalities to showcase themselves. Monsters is full of eccentric little accoutrements, weird noises and unanticipated sonic accents, the sort of things that might get washed out of a traditional full-band democracy in the quest for unanimity.

When asked if he misses heading into the ol' jam room to hash out new tunes with three or four friends, Adams, who handles the bulk of Inkwell's lead vocals, is blunt.

"No," he says. "No, I don't.

"But Dave and I still kind of do that. He gets on the drums, and I get on the guitar, and we kind of envision the song. He has a lot of similar ideas to what I do, and I think he knows where I'm taking songs, which helps a lot. He lets me take it where I want to, then he fixes my mistakes."

Inkwell does utilize additional musicians when playing live, but that's another new wrinkle in the formula — the band doesn't play live all that often. According to Adams, not being pressured to tour was a condition of Inkwell's signing with One Eleven. Which isn't to say the band will never hit the road; as you read this, a five-piece Inkwell is out on a short jaunt featuring the more emo-riffic Mae and labelmates The Spill Canvas.

Adams and Pierce just didn't want to be obligated. In that sense, Inkwell really is sort of a side project. It's just a side project to the rest of its primary collaborators' lives. Adams, for one, is a full-time student with a day gig; he didn't want to have to quit another job (or interrupt his education) to go broke again trying to rack up some more record sales.

But Adams figures One Eleven owner Fischetti knew a couple of lifers like himself and Pierce wouldn't need much prodding in the first place.

"He wants us to [tour], but we signed telling him we wouldn't," Adams says. "But we are — and he knew we would. He told us 'I knew you would come around' as things started getting more and more press and excitement around it, and we got offered some cool tours.

"We don't really like the idea of touring, but there is still that little spark. So we're giving it our first little shot."

The important thing to Adams and Pierce is they don't have to do it. Or to do anything else when it comes to Inkwell, for that matter. They're making the music they like, the way they like, satisfying themselves without the travails inherent in having to satisfy others, or even the rest of a band.

Nevertheless, it is the band life, after a fashion. So is Adams glad he didn't give it up completely?

"I don't think I have a choice, really," he says with a sigh. "I think music kind of chooses us, sometimes. And if it hadn't chosen me in this area, it would have reared its ugly head somewhere else. I fight it all the time, believe me. I do. So does Dave."

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