Streetlight - Lynn Allen

What do you do when a record company approaches you and says “we’d like you to record an album”? If you’re Billy Peiffer, you record an album.

It is unusual for a record label to approach an artist looking for an album. Instead, it is usually the artist creating the album then shopping it around to labels. Lynn Allen’s last new album was Nine in 2010, and over the years they’ve built a cult following in Europe. The UK record label, AOR Boulevard Records approached them and asked to put out an album of their unreleased work, even though Billy was firmly against it. They had heard the demos, loved them and wanted to put them out. Peiffer regarded the material as “old yucky stuff that never made the records”. The record company persisted and Peiffer agreed. They made a small batch of albums, about 1000 copies, and sold out.

“We want you to write a new album.”

So Peiffer set out with the goal of a new album. Billy’s writing style is a little unorthodox, but it seems to be the perfect formula. “I write music, sing gibberish over it until I find the melody line, then once I get that, I find the lyrics to fit it,” says Peiffer. “I don’t know if I like it, but it works for me.” It might take three days to come up with those lyrics, and even then a change is always possible.

Kevin Sampson, drummer for Lynn Allen for the past year, says making the album was a learning experience for him. Writing often happened right in Peiffer’s studio, with Sampson’s drum tracks down first. “Billy would have a scratch track of the guitars. He would show it to me and we would do my parts, then Barry would come in, then the guitars and then the vocals.”

There wasn’t any getting together with the band to play these several times before they put them down, let alone playing the songs live to see how an audience reacted, but according to Sampson and bassist Barry Vestal, Peiffer knows which songs will go and which won’t. Sampson says Peiffer probably scrapped several before they got to the recording stage. All three talked about the process and recording songs from scratch as Peiffer wrote them.

“It is the way the Bill writes. He has a supreme knack for writing hooky, poppy catchy stuff that is stuck in your head when you go to sleep,” Vestal explains. “That kind of music. He’s done it forever.”

Peiffer is the primary writer for Lynn Allen, but this album has the rare occasion of a co-writer on one song. Paul DePauw, who is playing lead guitar on the album and sits in with the band, co-wrote She is the One. Peiffer says DePauw had a song idea 15 years ago that he had heard and liked, so he asked DePauw to work with him and put the song on this album.

When asked, Barry and Bill didn't have a favorite. The consensus among all three was that there really isn't a "B-side" or filler song on the album. Kevin has a favorite song, the 3rd track: What It Is. Although he says it is not the most complicated song for him to play, it is overall his favorite, a very well-written song. They were all fun to record, but it is above the rest of them just a little bit.

The recording was all done in Peiffer’s home studio, which he’s had since the 2008 album, Horse You Rode In On. Due to the size of the home studio, the whole band was unable to record at once, so they did so in shifts. According to Vestal, Peiffer would call him in to work on a couple of songs after the drums were laid down, and when he was done he would wait for the call for the next song.

This isn’t Vestal’s first recording experience with Peiffer, as he also worked on the 1995 release Panorama Park. He has been with several bands since then and has picked up what he calls an "education in musicianship".

"I am a lot different than I was in those days. You learn so much from playing different kinds of music." Vestal says about the difference between then and now, "It kind of feels like I never left – only things got better. I am very happy to be back. It’s a good lineup. We’re looking forward to this summer, getting out and playing."

In nearly four decades of recording, Bill Peiffer has experienced several turns of technology. Although he believes tape does sound better, he wouldn’t want to go back to the tape method of recording. With the huge choruses on Lynn Allen’s songs, there is a lot of overdubbing. Peiffer estimates a typical song can have anywhere from 12-20 backing tracks. The old way, tape had to be rewound in between, the tracks had to be bounced down and then pulled back in. With digital, it is just a matter of copy and paste.

Technology has changed the way music is marketed as well. Now anything that is put out is instantly worldwide, and marketing isn't geographical or even by genre.

All current members of the band are on this album. Peiffer explains that it took a while to find the right fit, but now Lynn Allen is a well-oiled machine, without drama or fighting. All of the members see it as a business.

All are looking forward to the summer and the opportunity to take the new music on the road. There are hints of a possible European tour, given that the record label is in the UK. They're still working out the details, but Lynn Allen could be touring across the pond sometime in the fall.

Streetlight will be available at the CD release party Saturday, March 21 at the Stern Center in Rock Island. Doors open at 7, and Electric Shock, the AC/DC tribute band, will open the show. The CD will also be available at CoOp Records, Moline, beginning Sunday, March 22.