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Between the accessible and the complex 

The more things change, the more they sound the same: Plain Jane Automobile is actively pursuing that space of pop metaphoria that has kept the song supreme throughout inevitable trendy stylistic intrusions. The music's hooky and increasingly popular, but can you call it pop anymore?

"I was sitting around with the band the other night, and I said, 'Y'know, I think that most of our songs are pop songs.' And they were like, 'No, no, no, it's not pop!'" recalls frontman Duke Crider.

Well, maybe. The word "pop" has taken quite a beating over the past two years, due largely to its bendable nature. But in Orlando, where the "pop" machine thrives on the studio manipulation and subsequent packaging of teen acts, the label is an especially tenuous one.

The band members -- Crider, Bob Hershberger (guitar), Luis Mejia (guitar, vocals) and Steve Pappadakis (drums) -- indeed opt for the melodic abandon that plays as well with their own '80s and Brit-pop influences as it does with those who influenced their influences. With the band ranging in ages from 21 to 28, said melodic influence makes a lot of sense -- especially in the age of Radiohead's layered sociopathy. Bands like Cider and Blue Meridian, along with recent hopefuls like Plain Jane Automobile, are finding their own hooked-out niche among the remains of college rock's heyday. And while nonconventional musical trappings are nothing new to the industry, they are new to this town. For what may be the first time, bands are negotiating a compromise of accessibility and complex texture, and coming up with "rock" with "pop" hooks.

On its five-track demo EP, Dreaming in "Retro," Plain Jane Automobile lives up to that title, sending up repeat reveries, with Crider's vocals pushing against sanity to the point of almost losing it. It's not exactly confrontational or even fringe (they worked with Cider and Steve Burry producer Mark Mason), but it has teeth -- think mid-'80s college radio.

For its forthcoming recording, the band plans to take its hook appreciation to the next appropriate level, tooling around with keys and textures to create a more elevated affair. "I don't want to say "OK Computer"," says Crider, referring to Radiohead's now-epic glimpse into rock's future. But the point is he does. All of this comes courtesy of the noodling of Plain Jane's Hershberger, who joined the band five months after the other three had begun establishing their sound. "When he played, it was nothing conventional," says Crider. It was more like "making noise and producing a lot of really earthy sounds."

The band quickly rushed into Full Sail to lay down the EP, which was done in a hasty 52 hours. But now that Plain Jane Automobile has been playing out for two years, they are ready to make the record of their lives.

"I don't think we're going to try and exceed anything that we do live," says Crider, noting that it's the visceral, you-are-here affair that has seen them embraced on the scene, already conquering House of Blues and Hard Rock Live, as well as headlining Sapphire.

The band hopes -- like everyone (sigh) -- to achieve a record deal that's "Nothing like a matchbox twenty," says Crider. "We're looking for more like a Sonic Youth deal. People who know you for what you are, and respect you for that."

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