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Super City driven by competitive songwriters

Sometimes, a band is born from a riff.

Last year, as senior jazz majors in Towson University's music program, Dan Ryan and Greg Wellham built the foundation of their first song, “Find You,” around a circular guitar pattern.

As the song crystalized, the friends quickly realized there was potential to turn a simple jam session into something more serious. Wellham, 24, named the Baltimore act Super City (“It's just a cool, simple name to remember,” he said), which has since grown into a quintet. The band got to work, and released its five-song debut EP online in January.

“We've always been very driven, and then once we came together, we just kept that going,” Wellham said last week, sitting next to Ryan in the living room of the band's Abell practice space.

While the songwriting duo was determined to write seriously, they admittedly have lacked the same tenacity in other areas.

“We were really bad at working the business side of it, like booking gigs,” Ryan, 24, said. “We'd have this good band that no one knew about because we weren't playing.”

Gradually, that has changed. Last week, Super City performed at the Windup Space in Station North and, on Friday, the group — which also includes bassist Brian Brunsman, drummer Mike Gambone and multi-instrumentalist Jon Birkholz — will headline the Ottobar.

Technically, Super City is a new band, but Wellham and Ryan consider it eight years in the making. They first met in biology class at Archbishop Spalding High School and bonded over a shared love of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Throughout high school and college, they frequently jammed together, but never as members of the same group until Super City.

Now it seems the two are making up for lost time. Writer's block is not an issue for either member, they say, because their creativity fuels — and challenges — one another. Both claim to have a healthy competitive streak when it comes to creating.

“Dan will write something and I will be like, ‘Damn, I need to try and match that,’” Wellham, a Linthicum native, said.

Neither cares who takes the lead because each member of the quintet will contribute to the finished track, Ryan said.

“We pull out different strengths in each other. I always come up with melodies really fast for some reason. I think it comes from improvising a lot,” Ryan, who is from Bowie, said. “And then Greg has licks for days.”

The results heard on the EP are polished rock songs steeped in pop traditionalism. The lively “Don't Go” sounds like the child of Fun. and Dirty Projectors, while the solemn “Run the Home” stacks vocal harmonies over acoustic guitar. While newer artists such as Alt-J and St. Vincent influenced the EP's songwriting, Wellham said, Super City ultimately does not shy away from the notion of straightforward pop.

“If you take away all of the arrangement choices that we do and the complex things, it's pop,” Ryan said. “If you have the melody and a bassline, it's just a pop song.”

The band plans to launch a Kickstarter drive to fund a full-length album they hope to record this summer. (In recent weeks, Super City has recorded new songs at different area studios to determine where to record the album.)

They have reached out to a few record labels, but like many others, they have yet to hear back. Wellham and Ryan are not particularly worried, though.

“The reason we're so serious about [the band] is we have a lot of faith in it. Once we wrote ‘Find You,’ we were like, ‘Whoa, this could go as far as it could [go],’” Ryan said, before the songwriter in him bristled at the imprecise word choices.

“That's vague,” Ryan, whose dry sense of humor is in common with Wellham's, said with a smirk. “We just want to eventually take over America and control the government.”

If you go

Super City performs Friday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., Charles Village. Slow Lights and Lush Life will also perform. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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