It's easy to appreciate what Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard saw in David Terry's keyboard-driven, indie-pop act, Aqueduct.
With rattling beats over dreamy washes of synth and other lilting synthetic instrumentation, it's not dissimilar to Gibbard's own side project, Postal Service, although Terry's wry smile distinguishes him from many of his more mopey, narcissistic peers.
Just the act of writing seems to make Terry happy.
"(Even) writing heart-wrenching lyrics "¦ or if it's sarcastic and clever, but it makes me smile whenever I put the period on the end of the sentence," said Terry, originally a Tulsan. "I don't know if that carries over and takes it out of the self-deprecating to the max, but whether it's misanthropically negative or whatever, I'm smiling by the end of it."
You can hear it on one of Aqueduct's most famous tracks, "Growing Up with GNR," when Terry sings of adolescent lust and intones, "Girl, there's something about the way you act / You're going to be crushing my soul and won't be paying me back." There's that hint of smirking overstatement as he recounts being 12 and listening to "Sweet Child o' Mine" on the radio, dreaming of one day becoming Axl Rose. (Terry's track ended up on "The O.C." and, oddly, in a Jaguar commercial.)
The former Epperley frontman moved to Seattle six years ago after starting his new solo project and self-releasing the coyly titled "Power Ballads."
Aqueduct returns to Tulsa Tuesday night to join the Starlight Mints and Deerpeople for a concert/toy drive at the Marquee, 222 N. Main.
Gibbard aside, Terry also earned props from Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, who helped Aqueduct sign with legendary indie imprint Sub Pop shortly after the musician's move.
"That just didn't really work out," Terry said, but within a year, he signed to Death Cab's old label, Barsuk, on Gibbard's recommendation, and released 2004's "Pistols at Dawn" EP and the 2005 full-length, "I Sold Gold." He followed that with 2007's plusher "Or Give Me Death," which advanced from Aqueduct's rattling lo-fi, indie dance-pop sound to something more baroque.
"I played with a bunch of different musicians, and had this mobile studio I'd run around with. I worked with some people that represented my keyboard strings and horns with real strings and horns, and I did a session with a real drummer," he said. "Then I took all that and worked on it in my bedroom lab. I ended up with 50 tracks on each song, and I didn't know what was up or down. It was like making a record in a bubble."
The results are endearing. From cockeyed soft-rock amble "Keep It Together," with Terry's admonition that "People don't change / Bitch, don't even try," to the supple, catchy "Living a Lie," whose thick intermittent strokes of guitar parry a burbling, repeated keyboard refrain as he glumly repeats like a recast Gary Numan, "It's not living a lie if you're not living at all." It's truly a tour de force.
"What artist doesn't get a little heady on their third album?" he said. "But the next record is going to be interesting. It's definitely less heady."
Terry said he was burned out by the whole process and all the energy expended fashioning "Or Give Me Death." This time around, he'll put more of the onus on his live band. Prior to "Death," he'd employed a rotating cast of players, but the lineup's solidified since then, and he's welcomed his mates' input. rather than relying only on his own.
"The approach has been like all the other records, but rather than actually finishing the record at home, I'll bring the band in. We'll start playing it 100 times and it will kind of take on another life of its own, much like the songs would do whenever we would play live," he said. "As a result, this new record is going to be a lot more live with a completely different energy than the last record."
Terry said he hopes to release the new album by early summer.
"I don't know if I felt I had something to prove or what, but I definitely ramped it up on 'Or Give Me Death.' I wanted to do bigger the songs that were more serious than the songs on 'I Sold Gold,'" he said. "The new record has a pleasant mix of both those records and then some new shit I don't even know how to quantify it with the rest of my stuff."
No matter how it sounds or what he sings, you know he's going to be smiling when Aqueduct plays it.
Tickets for the Tulsa show are $10 in advance or $12 at the door with an unwrapped toy. "Chris Parker