Kiki Lane’s dad can’t play any music, but he inspired his baby daughter’s early love of pop radio through his job as a “Mad Men”-era ad salesman at Rochester’s KWEB-AM.
DJs sent him home with all styles of hit albums for his five kids, but usually in the wrong jackets.
“I had all this great music, but no visual references,” Lane recalls fondly in the listening lounge of her Lake Nokomis-area bungalow. “ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was in ‘The New Seekers’ cover. ‘Help!’ was in ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ by Jefferson Airplane. … I had to really listen hard to imagine what the groups were all about.”
Those kinds of musical misdirections are the story of Lane’s life in showbiz. Mom was the musical one, a harmony singer who encouraged the kids’ lessons and family singalongs. It led young Carol Klein to her formative time in powerhouse Twin Cities horn band Blue Plate Special, while reverse-commuting for big gigs back in Rochester with large-band legends Incognito.
Although she eventually committed to Minneapolis, the highly outgoing singer just wasn’t made for these times. Too incessantly happy for post-punk, too energetic for Americana, she focused instead on steady jobs in eye clinics after her 1998 guitar-pop debut “Out of a Crowd”did not exactly break out.
At the same time she took “night school” of sorts for old-fashioned songcraft, often sitting in as a guest vocalist while switching from piano to Rickenbacker electric guitar.
Years later, Lane’s lack of commitment to instant stardom or to any one style serves her wonderfully on a kaleidoscopic sophomore album, “Bandwagon,” which she’ll celebrate in concert Oct. 12 at the Eagles club in south Minneapolis.
Her absence of ego or rough edge belies the fact that few bandleaders — locally or beyond — possess her combination of big-room vocal presence, crystalline guitar hooks and girl-group sweetness. Imagine a less scary (and less-mascara’d) Chrissie Hynde.
No chime before its time
Through the years, Lane watched as many a local buzz came and went, but she did catch one break when Baltimore native Mike Lane saw her standing there, at a Hexagon Bar jam in 2003.
“ ‘On a Carousel’ by the Hollies is not an easy song,” he said. “When she nailed that on open-mic night, I definitely took notice.” Almost instantly the two melodic-pop wallflowers bonded over walls of sound on Beatles and XTC albums. Soon a star couple were born.
As a late-blooming duo, the Lanes stayed content mostly with special appearances, tribute nights and benefit shows while Mike grew in demand as a bassist, keyboardist and guitarist for Dan Israel, ELnO, Retrofit and the Who tribute band Substitute, among others.
As a full band, they faced the same plight as other aging musicians whose fans — if any — won’t leave the house in winter. So the Lanes started hosting “couch-ella festivals” at their home, building a truly underground fan base of good friends and great musicians one basement kegger at a time. (Many are pictured on the cover of “Bandwagon,” stuffing gear into the Lanes’ locally famous ’72 AMC Gremlin.)
One key supporter was studio owner and drummer Dave Russ.
“From the start, we really shared a common love for that post-Beatles stuff, the Hollies, the Zombies,” said Russ, who coproduced the new album with Mike Lane. “I’ve always gravitated to singers, the layered harmonies, and that’s her whole life.”
Russ’ innovative twists — behind the glass and the drum kit — give “Bandwagon” a flavor and forcefulness not often heard in this era of mechanical tracks. He was also accommodating of numerous song additions and revisions that Kiki and Mike dreamed up, over the course of 10 years in some cases. The care and quality shows through in the album’s vintage melodic richness and compositional complexities: File under “Previously Unreleased Greatest Hits.”
Besides, what difference does a decade make when this album full of ’70s signposts was 30 years behind the Bicentennial? Ten songs, 34 minutes long and instantly catchy, this musical love roller coaster gets off to a “Rain’’-y start with the slow, sensual psychedelia of a romantic reminiscence before exploding with the two-minute sunburst “Shake Me Awake.”
From there the album plays like a K-Tel compilation from the radio days when Ashford and Simpson played alongside Alice Cooper, Linda Ronstadt and the Raspberries. Lane’s funk and R&B roots show on a power-pop romp through the Stylistics’ “Rockin’ Roll Baby,” then you can flick your Bic and sway to the epic slow-fader “The Curtain Closes.”
How far this old-fashioned “Bandwagon” travels may not be so limited at a time when Queen is as hot as Queen Beyoncé, the Mamas and the Papas are Quentin Tarantino’s soundtrack stars, and Mr. Rogers is riding a wave. And while Kiki’s love for old-school album artistry seems of a bygone era, it’s also never been easier for a working woman from south Minneapolis to get spins — er, streams — in south London or even South Korea.
The Lanes actually made a few international fans and important connections after playing Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club on their honeymoon in 2009 as part of the International Pop Overthrow Festival.
And their odds of success may double when they unveil their pure-fun ’70s-pop vocal project Chickaboom and Troglodyte. By always putting harmony and humor at the heart of her music, Kiki Lane may finally be having her moment.
“There seems to be a negativity to modern pop that I just can’t relate to,” she said wistfully. “I want to re-create that feeling we had when you’d take a new album home and flip it side to side a hundred times, it was so surprising and beautiful.”
Although the Lanes prefer actual socializing to social media, they do have a promotional ground game. You may be surprised (or not) that ad rates on terrestrial oldies station WDGY (740 AM) are reasonable enough to justify Kiki’s one self-promotional splurge. It may be the rare radio spot you’ll actually want to hear.
Her 94-year-old ad-dad should be very proud, in more ways than one.
Jim Meyer is a former local music columnist for City Pages and the Star Tribune.