etween bodies, equipment and ephemera, we’re packed tightly into The Ready Stance’s rehearsal space, possibly a converted coal cellar in the basement of guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence’s beautiful old Newport home. The eclectic Indie Pop quartet — Pence, vocalist/guitarist Chase Johnston, bassist Randy Cheek and drummer Eric Moreton — cranks out a tune that unwinds like a time travel collaboration between Ray Davies in 1967 and Mitch Easter now. They smile broadly at the song’s conclusion, equal parts pride and nerves; they’ve never had an outside observer at practice.
Although the run through is fantastic, this song doesn’t appear on Damndest, The Ready Stance’s new full-length debut. It’s among an album’s worth of tunes they’ve written since finishing the Damndest sessions last fall. The band is proud of the new record, but they’re beyond amped at the prospect of their next one.
“I can’t think of a word that doesn’t somehow diminish the record, but it seems like it’s just not as conventional,” Pence says over beers on his back patio. “It’s a little more off kilter, and way more collaborative. It doesn’t seem as regimented within my limitations as the record.”
The Ready Stance’s formation was actually a result of coincidence and luck. Three years ago, Pence was walking home from the manufacturing business he co-owns when he glanced into the open window of a house along the way. Several guitars and a Replacements poster were prominently displayed, so Pence introduced himself to Johnston, who was on the porch. That initial meeting led to a friendship and informal jam sessions before Pence screwed up the courage to show Johnston songs he’d been writing, some dating back to his tenure with the much lauded Middlemarch in the early ’90s.
“I badgered him and he came by. He knew everything we knew — and knew it better — so we all had the same sort of interests and pedigrees,” Pence says. “I got a little less shy and said, ‘I’ve got these songs I’ve been messing around with in my basement,’ and we started on a separate track.”
“I’d never really sung before, but Wes had all these songs and lyrics,” Johnston says. “We tried it out and it worked.”
It had been years since Pence had shared his work with anyone. After Middlemarch’s premature 1994 demise (a victim of the industry’s post-Nirvana Grunge fever) and a yearlong stint as Spoonbender, Pence retreated from music almost entirely, focusing on his business and family and not even venturing out to monitor the local scene.
“I had not been (back) on stage until our first show at the (Northside) Tavern,” Pence says. “I’ve got friends in bands, and I had a hard time going out to see them. Not being in a band, it just made me sad.”
Eventually, the jams took an earnest turn as Pence and Johnston began crafting actual songs. Johnston had relocated to Athens, Ga., for a spell, working in cover and original bands to little effect and had recently returned when he met Pence. Bassist Paul Conti, who hosted many of the jams, offered his expertise while Pence drummed, but Pence quickly contacted former Middlemarch drummer Moreton, who had kept busy with BuBu Klan, Black Magic Rhythm and scattered projects before becoming a drum teacher. Moreton’s subtle complexity and powerful rhythmic gift brought everyone’s contribution into sharper focus. The Ready Stance was, well, ready.
“I got a message from Wes, and I hadn’t talked to him in years, ” Moreton says. “He said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing or if you’re playing or if you’re interested, but I’ve got a group of songs and I found a guy to sing and play them.’ Then he said, ‘Sound familiar?’ When we found Chris Rogers for Middlemarch, it was the same deal. I had no aspirations for a record; I just knew that Wes wrote great songs. ‘Glow’ was the first song we played and I thought, ‘This is just great.’ It was like an old pair of shoes. At one practice, Chase said, ‘It‘s like you know our songs already.’ ”
The band played out fairly quickly, recording occasional sessions in Pence’s basement studio. Within walking distance of Ashley Shepherd’s Audiogrotto, Pence inquired about his availability and found a willing engineer and mixer. Shortly after wrapping up Damndest, Conti changed jobs and started his graduate program, forcing his exit. Enter veteran scenester Randy Cheek, whose bass had been sadly neglected when Pence invited him to join The Ready Stance.
“I’d done the Libertines reunion shows but it had been years,” says Cheek, who remains a committed member of The Fairmount Girls (on guitar). “I wasn’t feeling it. It was a learning process, and now it’s fucking awesome. Playing bass is much more natural, like a comfortable pair of jeans. And a band is only as good as its drummer, and Eric is the best.”
Perhaps The Ready Stance’s most distinctive difference is the one thing that seems to matter the least. Pence, Moreton and Cheek all paid dues and sharpened their chops in bands dating back to the late ’80s, when Johnston was starting elementary school. The Ready Stance’s classically contemporary Pop/Rock vibe is evidence that the age gap hasn’t impacted the foursome.
“It’s non-existent,” Cheek says. “These guys are the highlight of my life. I thought we would experience an ageism thing (from the public) but it hasn’t been an issue.”
“I had a cousin who’s 10 years older, and when I was 13 or 14 he got me into The Replacements, early R.E.M. and Velvet Underground,” Johnston says. “I think I have the same influence set as these guys, which makes the age difference not really a thing … although the joke in town is that I’m Wes’s son.”
“We’re so in love with each other,” Pence says, laughing. “You hear about bands with all this internal strife, not speaking to each other and getting into a big row before the show. We’re the opposite. It’s always fun and we look forward to hanging out.”
Johnston smiles and notes, “Maybe that’s why I’m not freaked out about being 30, because I’m doing what I want to do and playing in a band that I feel is great.”
“Plus you’ll go on to a full career after we’re dead,” injects Pence.
“My solo career is going to be awesome,” Johnston says.
THE READY STANCE performs a free show Saturday at The Avenue in Covington with Jody Stapleton and the Generals.