Phil Dickey, Will Knauer, and Jonathan James had a lot of time to reflect during their 10-hour flight home from Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Collectively known as Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, the three musicians had just spent a whirlwind six days in their namesake's home country: meeting with Yelstin's close friends and personal translator (who gifted them 7 bottles of expensive Russian vodka) and performing at an elementary school after the U.S. consulate named them cultural ambassadors for a day.
The trip, which came about when the Boris Yeltsin Foundation extended an invitation to the band after tracking them online for years, concluded with a set at Old Nu Rock (making SSLYBY the first American group to play at Russia's largest winter rock festival).
And yet, for all its empowering moments, the once-in-a-lifetime adventure also marked a turning point for SSLYBY.
"I used to joke that we would break up if Boris Yeltsin ever found out about our band," says Dickey. "So I figured this was either the death or rebirth of the band."
Happily, it turned out to be the latter.
With no one pressuring them to start work on a new album, SSLYBY decided to anyway for the best reason of all -- because they simply wanted to.
"The whole experience of going to Russia renewed my belief that songs and words have power," explains Dickey. "I wanted to make a record before that feeling went away."
With this desire in mind, there was no better location for Fly By Wire to come together than in the place that started it all: the attic of Knauer's parent's house where SSLYBY recorded their breakout debut album, Broom.
Because a series of moves had left the band without a permanent practice space, the group returned to the spot for the same reasons they first entered it all those many years ago -- half circumstance, half destiny.
And so, in a room where sunlight streamed in through a cluster of windows to reveal a cluttered mess of broken keyboards, a non-working toilet, and boxes of high school homework, where six-foot ceilings added to the claustrophobic feeling and two curious cats contributed to the chaos, a makeshift studio was set up and recording began.
Like kids in the summer who have nothing else to do but hang out and play music all day, the members of SSLYBY spent up to twelve hours a day working on the songs that would become Fly By Wire. With James assuming the role of engineer, Dickey and Knauer wrote lyrics and guitar parts on a third floor windowsill and recorded vocals in the staircase.
This laid-back approach to recording is clearly evident in the album's warm, welcoming sound. From the scuzzy-paired-with-sunny guitar rhythms on handclap-aided first single "Nightwater Girlfriend" to the mid-tempo electro-pop of "Harrison Ford," the songs on Fly By Wire are just plain fun to listen to.
Drawing as much from the pop-punk power chords their brains were wired to love as teens in the late 90s, as the multilayered pop of the 60s and 70s they strive to emulate, SSLYBY has been writing songs for over a decade based on the timeless principles of beautiful melodies and good harmonies.
As a result, the music they create is nothing if not universal. And even though it took a trip to Russia for the band to be reminded of this, one listen to Fly By Wire is all you'll need.
In a modest yet striking feat, this Missouri combo blends late Beatles and prime Beach Boys to create a fresh and moving gem.
Buoyant, unassumingly ornate, and gently urgent...SSLYBY hasn't shed an ounce of its charm.
Fly By Wire is a more nuanced, mature take on the group's comfort-food keyboard-pop...the perfect soundtrack to the late summer, when warm days start giving way to cool fall nights.
The Daily News (Pittsburgh)
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin on top of its game.
The Fire Note
Sounding equal parts Beach Boys and ELO.
More hooks than the Pro Bass Fishing Tournament.
A genre-bending album, blended to a crisp, catchy perfection.
Never short on hooks, lush melodies, or sharp songwriting, there will be much adoration from longtime fans as well as first time listeners here.
Like the Jesus And Mary Chain playing a summer picnic.
The Wild Honey Pie
Their effervescent, upbeat pop that takes me back to the days when Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins ran the (indie) world. This is a good thing and so is their latest.
Nothing But Hope and Passion
Fly By Wire is ten tracks of pure sunshiney melodies and power pop goodness.
With Fly By Wire, they even top their phenomenal preceding albums. Tune in, drop out!