Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff (above, bottom row).
Ben Sklar

OKKERVIL RIVER lead singer Will Sheff is often pegged as a native of indie-music epicenter Austin, Texas, where his band currently resides. In reality, the 37-year-old hails from the small town of Meriden, N.H., a fact that becomes evident on his sixth LP, The Silver Gymnasium (ATO Records, $14), which is full of his hometown’s landmarks and childhood stories. Yet his latest songs, though they retain his trademark folksiness, are also rooted in an ’80s music world that knew no state lines.

“I grew up in an isolated place, where pop culture was zooming into our world like a laser beam,” Sheff says, recounting long family drives listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdowns. Looking through the synthesizer-heavy lens of ’80s pop, Sheff shares three songs that influenced his latest effort.

Hall & Oates, “Rich Girl”
“They were my first-true-love band. When I went back to them [years later], I heard that song, and it was the start of a whole new part of my adulthood. This song is so well crafted, melodic. The performance is so perfect. I need this band back in my life.”


ZZ Top
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ZZ Top, “Got Me Under Pressure”
“In sixth grade, an older friend introduced me to two things: Mad Magazine and ZZ Top’s Eliminator. A lot of purists like older ZZ Top, but I enjoy that strange hybrid: these down-and-dirty Texas rocker guys suddenly making this big, sequenced, synthesizer record.”

Don Henley, “The End of The Innocence”
“I loved the melody; the mournful, regretful emotion of that story; and how they fit together. In a lot of ways, that ‘dad-rock’ of the late ’80s was my entry into hankering after harder stuff, like [Bob] Dylan.”