In 1989, a four-ish-year-old Jeffrey Novak scored the Ghostbusters II soundtrack — his first record purchase. The album, which featured contributions from Bobby Brown, Run-D.M.C. and Elton John, did not change his life — at least not in the way music types mean when they say such a thing. It was no loss, really, as he had a long line of subsequent favorites to do the heavy lifting. In elementary school, the Henderson, Tenn.-raised Novak visited antique and thrift stores with his parents, procuring work from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Doors. Around this period, he also enjoyed the fruits of mid-1990s (namely, Green Day's Dookie and the Smashing Pumpkins in their prime). In junior high, contemporary rock fell out of favor with him, but when he entered high school circa 2001 — right as the White Stripes and the Strokes pumped fresh blood into garage and indie rock — he was right back in the thick of things, now intent on firing up a band of his own. At the time, he also began absorbing punk acts like the Sex Pistols and Ramones, and proto-punk outfits such as the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. “Once I heard proto-punk bands, I understood these weird bands that really didn't fit in their time. That still speaks to me,” the fast-talking Novak, now 27, says. “I'm always trying to find out about records that exist from the late '60s into the mid-to-late '70s. I think that's the most interesting era for music and the way records sound.”
To varying degrees, his Nashville-based, seven-year-old band Cheap Time swipes from and prays to all the above names (Ghostbusters II artists aside). On the recent Wallpaper Music, the trio stir up a goulash using ragged garage rock production and playing techniques, and power-pop-born charms and hooks as the primary ingredients. For extra flavor, they tinker with weird, watery psychedelic rock riffs and then try out fall-colored, acoustic-tinged hooks. Sweetness counteracts acidity and acidity counteracts sweetness in a way that leaves you unsure of their ultimate intentions. In full, Wallpaper Music sports the unsettling entertainment value of a work-in-progress, C-grade circus that's set up shop on the edge of town. Novak is the most disconcerting element of all, playing an Iggy Pop-esque ringmaster you can never truly trust. Is he out to befriend you, mock you, amuse you or do all three at once?
In conversation, the man is markedly more transparent and earnest. He talks about a performance by garage rock vets Cheater Slicks like it was a religious experience, calling their show “the first time I had seen a band that encompassed everything I thought was great about music.” More than any other musician I've spoken to — and I've talked to hundreds — Novak stands out as being especially effusive about and dedicated to his musical influences and interests, even squeezing English progressive rock bands Soft Machine and Van der Graaf Generator into the discussion. While proselytizing, he says, “When you hear the first Ramones record for the first time, it really does blow your mind. [Moments like] those are some of the greatest experiences you can have in your youth.” Listening to him speak, it's easy to imagine that he dreams his own music will affect an impressionable kid some day, too.
Cheap Time w/ Bob Log III and Milksop:Unsung. $10. 8 p.m., Sept. 30. Cafe Nine, 250 State St., New Haven, cafenine.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun