Things have changed for The Kingsbury Manx.
In the past three years, the Chapel Hill foursome have all gotten married, signed to a local upstart label, dropped a rigorous touring schedule, and until recently, mostly disappeared from the public eye.
The one thing that hasn't changed, though, is the band's knack for writing dreamy, Kinks-inspired pop songs that stick in your head like musical superglue, as evidenced by Ascenseur Ouvert!, a bouncy collection of melodic gems that is the latest addition to the band's decade-spanning body of work.
All things considered, it's remarkable that the Kingsbury Manx are even still together, let alone writing some of their best songs to date.
After parting with Yep Roc Records in 2007, the band found itself at a crossroads. Without a label and with an increasing number of responsibilities outside the band —multi-instrumentalist Ryan Richardson now owns a record store and Bill Taylor has a two-year-old son — the band no longer had time for touring, effectively crushing any hope of finding a new home for their material.
"We were at this level where we knew any label worth its salt would expect us to get out on the road and tour our butts off for whatever we're promoting," Taylor says. "But we were at a spot where we just couldn't do it.
"That put us in a bit of a bind, as far as asking someone to put their money and their time and effort into putting out a record and publicizing it when we couldn't go out to do it ourselves. It's kind of hypocritical."
But rather than disintegrating under the pressure, the band capitalized on the opportunity to write, rehearse and record without timelines or pressures from a label. Although they were keeping a low profile, it was actually one of the more productive periods in the band's history.
"It was a good time for hitting the reset button with everything involved," Taylor says. "It's amazing how active we were during that time. The irony is, we're not playing as many shows as we used to, but we're in far better 'show shape' than we ever were."
It was also during this time that the band headed into the studio with money earned by landing a few songs in television shows and movies –- including "Greenland" in the UPN series Veronica Mars. Taylor says the freedom of recording without time constraints was both refreshing and challenging.
"It would have to be pretty unanimous that everybody really enjoyed the recording process on Ascenseur Ouvert!," he says. "We didn't have to worry about the budget, and we didn't have to worry about time.
"But that can also be a negative. It can make you feel like you have time to tinker with everything, and you can't listen to the songs as songs anymore. They just become concessions and decisions. But if you can allow yourself to let go at a certain point, then it can be really awesome. We did a good job balancing all that."
Meanwhile, keyboardist Paul Finn was hard at work realizing his dream of starting a record label. Originally, he says, the intent was only to release albums from Chapel Hill's Impossible Arms and Americans In Paris with no plans to partner with the Kingsbury Manx.
But the band was still without a label to release the new album, and growing frustrated with the "agonizing" process of shopping it around. Then one day Taylor dropped in to visit Finn while he was working on some label projects, and it clicked. Why not release the album on Finn's Odessa Records?
"It was definitely important to both me and the band that Odessa be a real thing for the Manx to be a part of," Finn explains of the band's initial reservations, "and not a vanity label for the band. But I think it was clear from the beginning that the label was going to have a life of its own, and that attracted the other members of the band to want to be part of it."
"We talked it over and we decided it was something really great," Taylor says. "We're gonna get out of it what we put into it, so that gives us a little more incentive to work harder ourselves. All the things that bugged us about being on other labels, it's not there anymore. You've got nobody to blame for anything but yourself."
Now, having secured a new home for their recordings and comfortable balancing their band and family responsibilities, the Kingsbury Manx are looking ahead to another decade of writing and recording songs that speak for themselves.
"We're not in it to get rich," Taylor says. "We're just a bunch of guys who are content to keep writing songs and putting out records and assume that in fifteen years people are going to care. Because you can't ignore a body of work that's that extensive."
Dane Smith is a freelance writer.
who: Kingsbury Manx, with Ventricles and Pilgrim
when: Saturday, Sept. 19