There was a moment in Jon Wayne's life when music was pulling him in two different directions: electronic dance music and reggae jams. So he let the audience decide.
"I just noticed the reaction I got from singing a song on guitar was a lot better reaction than a trance song on my keyboard, so I started in that direction," says Wayne, who's now led his band Jon Wayne and The Pain for almost a decade, releasing three full-length albums along the way.
The Minneapolis-based combo is deeply indebted to the perky reggae of Sublime and spacier dub jams like those of Burning Spear joining Further. But in recent years, the band has begun fiddling with electronic elements around the edges. Oddly, that was bassist Chuckie Torgerson's doing, not Wayne's.
"He bought this bass synthesizer, and he started bringing some of those elements in. And then he had this sampler firing off all these samples," says Wayne. "He had a foot trigger, but he doesn't use that anymore. He does it all with his hands. And it's funny because he'll do it all while he's playing the bass, which is definitely no small undertaking."
Drummer Teeto Miller, meanwhile, is a skilled multi-instrumentalist who'd played with Macy Gray. But at the time they met, Miller was between homes and looking for a change of pace.
"He wanted to jump in the van with us. We had a drummer at the time, so he played congas and this little crappy Casio keyboard," Wayne chuckles. After a year like that, the drummer left and Miller slid over to his stool. "That's his first instrument anyway and where he shines the brightest."
They continued like that as a three-piece for four years before adding multi-instrumentalist Weston Schick nine months ago. Schick plays keyboards, saxophone and the EWI, a sort of electronic clarinet.
"He brings a lot to the table," Wayne says. "We have this whole new sound that has started to develop, and we're all kind of bringing our own little element to the table."
There were already hints of the group skirting the confines of the genre on their most recent effort, 2013's Surrender. From R&B-tinged rebellion against corporate necktie slavery ("Nooses") to dubby celebratory sway ("Festival Friends") and the nine-minute "Wharf Rat," with its Galactic echoes, Wayne and company are easily distracted from the well-trodden path.
The album's highlight is "It Ain't So," a track whose infectious pop-reggae melody suggests Michael Franti & Spearhead, particularly with its effective use of old school hip-hop scratching in the chorus. The song invites people to "look around and see all of the beauty that's surrounding you and me."
"I wrote that song when I was first getting sober many years ago, and it kind of reflects seeing the higher power in my fellow man," says Wayne.
While the jam community's always been supportive, particularly in Colorado, media attention has been slow in coming. Not that Wayne's complaining; he's patient.
"It's a brick-by-brick thing," he says. "We're not an overnight success, but we definitely have some encouraging things happening for us now."