Ambition has never been lacking in Travis DeVries, frontman and chief songwriter of the Turn-Ons. "I want to be the Ingmar Bergman of music," the soft-spoken singer-guitarist states. "He wrote and directed three full-length feature films in one year, and [has completed] over 60 in his lifetime. I'm kinda the one in the band that's like, 'We're gonna record three albums this year,' and everyone else is like 'Whaaaaat?!'"
DeVries admits to calling his answering machine as many as 20 times a day to hum new melodies or snippets of lyrics that have popped into his head ("Sometimes I feel like a crazy person!" he laughs). Since 2000, the Seattle dream-pop quartet—which also includes guitarist Corey Gutch, drummer Will Hallauer, and bassist Erik Blood—has put out three albums and an EP, and are readying another full-length for release in the coming months. In fact, notes DeVries, were it not for the usual logistics and financial realities of the music industry, they could have produced several more albums given the amount of material they've written over the years.
There has also been a series of mishaps that seem to have sidetracked the band every time they've been on the verge of blowing up. Their 2004 album, East, was delayed because three different Akai recording/mixing desks they were using broke down (a major catastrophe for any indie band with practically no budget). For 2006's Parallels, the Turn-Ons linked up with hotshot producer Paul Mahajan (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, TV on the Radio) to disastrous ends: The quartet ended up re-recording half of the album itself, citing irreconcilable creative differences. Prior to Parallels' April release, bassist and Turn-Ons co-founder Sharon Oshima left the group, their manager also split, and both events prevented the band from promoting the album to their satisfaction.
As for the 17 new songs the band recently recorded for their upcoming album, the hard drive on which the tracks were stored died. All the final mixes were lost, and DeVries says they'll have to re-record five of the songs from scratch. (Someone please get these guys some tech support.)
"I don't think we're getting bitter, you know, where we're all hateful that we should have made it," says DeVries. "There's stuff that we know has gone on in our history that has hindered us."
If they've been plagued by setbacks, at least the quality of music hasn't suffered. Parallels is a superb slab of highly melodic shoegazery on which the band reinterprets the lovely garage-drone of the Velvet Underground in much the same way as Dean Wareham did with Galaxie 500 and Luna, frequently adding the kind of billowy guitar fog that any fan of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or early Verve would love to get lost inside. And when they ease up on the pedals a bit, as on "Strange as Snow" and "Eastern Hollows," the foursome's winsome jangle recalls such Kiwi outfits as the Chills and Garageland.
All things considered, DeVries is exceptionally proud of the band's body of work, and still believes the Turn-Ons will eventually earn the attention and success he desires. "It's taken me a while to get it down, but I feel like I am a good songwriter and that we can do this," he says. "I think the new stuff we've written and recorded is by far the best we've ever done. If we would have recorded 17 songs and we thought they were mediocre and we were just in a rut, then maybe we'd call it quits . . . But it's getting sweeter and sweeter."
The Turn-Ons With Welcome, Go Fever, Jerry Peerson. Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave., 784-0627, www.sunsettavern.com. $7. 9 p.m. Fri., Jan. 5.