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 ROOF BEAMS

With the release of their new EP Tectonics, Roof Beams are back with another stellar collection of infectious, slightly off the beaten path Americana / Indie Folk.  I recently spoke with frontman and primary songwriter Nathan Robinson about his songwriting, the EP, the band, their history and a whole lot more. 





MK - Can you give me a quick rundown of the band's history?

NR - I did some solo recording after learning how to play guitar in my early college years.  My good friend Drew Hermeling played bass and was a helpful listening ear on my early recordings.  He had recently been in a band with a drummer named Harrison Gordner who he thought may be interested in playing with us.  He was still in high school in Camp Hill, PA.  We played together as a three-piece for a year and then Justin Arawjo joined as a multi-instrumentalist and really gave us our more folk-oriented sound. We recorded a full-length album called Fingers and Photons with that lineup.  Following that record, Drew left the band (and still plays great solo stuff as Timurid), and we were joined by Kelly Musser on bass and Alan Carroll on keyboards.  That lineup recorded our second album, Oh, Great Paradox.  Those guys have all been a part of the band since, though we've also had other contributors like Josh Dean (Murderboats), who recorded and played on our third full-length, Poison Arrows, and Bill Smyth (Willy Green) who sings and plays trumpet on Tectonics and has played drums with us live. 

Our current touring lineup is Sean Arawjo on Drums, Chris Lombardi on bass, Justin Arawjo on mandolin/banjo/guitar, Alan Carroll on keyboards, and myself.

The lineup has changed as a function of availability and people moving around (including myself), but I love the fact that I've been able to play with so many great people over the years under the Roof Beams umbrella.

MK - The lyrics are credited to you, but songs to the band.  How does the band's songwriting process tend to work?

NR - Actually, I write the songs for Roof Beams in more of a vacuum these days.  They definitely change when I bring them to the band and we practice together and may make changes to accommodate different instrumentation, but I write complete songs by myself just because of the distance between band members and schedules not lining up.  Everyone writes their own parts, for the most part, and these songs wouldn't sound the same without the band, but they usually start out as a complete acoustic song that I bring them and see if they enjoy.

The songs for Tectonics changed a lot in the studio - mostly because of Jason and Harrison.  Jason really pushed me to have even tighter harmonies and change parts of the songs to make them much better.  I hadn't really had a studio experience like that before, so it was new to me and helpful in a lot of ways.

Harrison decided to play vibraphone and do some intricate percussion parts that I wasn't expecting, and that took the songs on a different path that kept us from overly embellishing them.  His parts are really great, and it felt much more collaborative from that standpoint, which was how the band always used to be when we lived closer together.

MK - The opening lyrics of "Always" sound very autobiographical.  Do you feel many of your lyrics are autobiographical?  Also, how do you think becoming a father has influenced your songwriting?

NR - All of my songs are autobiographical in some sense, but this record, even more than others that I've made, incorporates other people's stories and voices in a lot of ways. I don't overestimate the interest people would have in hearing about my life, so I do a lot of analysis of important decisions made by myself and others in their lives and try to find common ground that listeners could relate to.  "Always" is about really disliking someone, and letting that get to you a little bit more than you maybe should.  I listen to a lot of hip-hop, and I love the catharsis of a good diss track.  That song is supposed to help the listener feel some relief and really get that feeling off their chest when they see hypocrisy or bad acting rewarded in the real world.

Becoming a father has impacted everything about my life, including my songwriting.  I would say my daughter makes me think about things in a new and interesting way and break things down to more basic forms to help her understand.  She's also really fun and positive, and that has impacted me personally quite a bit.  I really enjoy being a father and thinking about her future, and that has led me to some more universal themes in songwriting.  It has also given me an appreciation for simple ideas and melodies that she really likes.
 
MK - I really love "Jersey", which to me moves in a bit of a different direction for Roof Beams, especially with more reliance on keyboards.  Was that a conscious decision to do something different or did it just kind of happen? 

NR - I actually recorded some of that song on a train to New Jersey on my laptop, and I captured the samples at the beginning and end on my iPhone while I was traveling.  I have always loved really drone-based keyboard pop music, and I wanted to make a song like ones that really impacted me as a teenager, like Clinic or Radiohead.  Harrison did an amazing live drum part on the chorus, but the rest of that song was me on my laptop and Jason doing some great production.  I'm really happy with the result, and I think it doesn't feel that different for me because that's a kind of music I love.  It's sort of an outgrowth of what we did on Oh, Great Paradox with "I am Magellan."  That was an earlier attempt at this idea, and this feels like a much more fully formed product.

MK - To me you have a sound that is really hard to give a good description to.  Have you read any descriptions or comparisons that you think come close?
 
NR - I've heard we sound like the Mountain Goats, Bright Eyes, Bob Dylan, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut a little since we use horns sometimes.  I approach songwriting from a folk perspective for the most part, but I like almost every kind of music. I'd say calling us an Americana band or indie-folk band is fair.

MK - The original band name Raise Up Roof Beams is a JD Salinger reference.  Do you get much lyrical inspiration from novels?
 
NR - I have worked quite a bit of literary references into songs over the years.  One good example is "Never Tire," which is a sort of personalized version of Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.  I think a good story is always appreciated, so I try to get ideas wherever I can.  Sometimes it's literature or philosophy or movies or the lives of friends or acquaintances. It's never meant to be pretentious, it's just a genuine interest in ideas and stories that people can enjoy and learn from, including myself.

MK - It appears there have been few lineup changes from Poison Arrows to the Tectonics.  
 
NR - We are all friends and still talk and hang out when we can.  Lineup changes reflect availability and proximity, really.  I'm always writing songs, so I want to play with my friends as much as I can.

MK - It looks like some of the band members are spread out a bit geographically.  How difficult does that make it to record and perform?
 
NR - It makes it tough, but the Internet solves a lot of problems.  We communicate a lot by sharing songs digitally and working on ideas together collaboratively.  Whenever we get together in person, it's tons of fun. 
 
MK - I was reading that when you first started getting these songs together that make up Tectonics that you had contemplated releasing them as demos.  Have you given any thought to still releasing those versions at some point?  You also mentioned a song called "Rewind".  Is that something we might still hear?
 
NR - I'm not sure about releasing the demos.  Some of them are pretty good.  I guess if there was demand, I might think about it. "Rewind" is another of my keyboard pop songs.  It is about listening to Paul Simon when I was a very small child.  Maybe if the CDs sell out, we'll do a deluxe version of Tectonics and include the demos. The demos were really fun to make, but I'm really happy with the end result of the album from the band.

MK - You released a more stripped down version of "Foxholes" a while back as a single on Bandcamp.  Is the feel of that similar to the other demo recordings? 
 
NR - That was a particularly stripped-down song, but I enjoyed recording it enough to release it as-is.  The rest of the demos have more instrumentation like drum loops and keyboards that I messed around with a lot because I had a lot of time to myself.  I really didn't think anyone cared about the demos!  Thanks for asking.

MK - How would you say your music has progressed from your first demo to Tectonics?
 
NR - Some songs got bigger, and some got smaller.  I'd say it depended on how the recording process went, and Jason and I talked a lot about the end results we wanted.  In some instances those changed as we went along.

MK - One of my favorite Roof Beams songs is "Dinosaur".  When I've seen you live, that seems to be a crowd favorite, but the last time I saw you, you seemed a little surprised when a request was called out.  What do you think it is about that song that gets such a good response?
 
NR - It's a fun song.  It's also a love song, so people like that.  It's about getting ready to get married, so there is a lot of excitement and sort of an ultimate dedication that I think is dramatic but also very simple.  I like that song, too, so it's never a problem for me to play it.

MK - Why did you shorten the band name from Raise Up Roof Beams to Roof Beams?
 
NR - The lineup changes mentioned above were a factor there, but I also got a little tired of spelling it out.  One funny story is that one time we were on a short tour with Willy Green's band The Green Trees in like 2006 and we didn't know it until we arrived at a venue in western PA, but we had been booked as two separate bands: "Raise Up" and "Roof Beams."  So we actually decided to play two different sets.  Harrison and I had been working on some more rock and roll songs with me on electric guitar, so we did a drum and guitar set as "Raise up" and then the band did a set as "Roof Beams."  By the way, no one was there besides some admitted crack heads from across the street, so that set lives only in our memories.

Honestly, the name is just easier and it is what most people called us in short-hand anyway.

MK - I was reading about another band of yours The Archivists.  Is that band still together?
 
NR - Archivists was an awesome project, and I would invite people to check out our five-song Mountains EP on Bandcamp: archivists.bandcamp.com/album/mountains-ep.  Chris, who is playing bass with Roof Beams now, played lead guitar, and I played electric guitar and sang.  Our drummer Alex moved to New Orleans, and the bassist Kirk has two kids now, so we are on indefinite hiatus.  That band had a much more collaborative writing process, so I was challenged quite a bit in my playing ability and style by those guys.  Some of the best songs I've ever been a part of came out of that project, though.  It was really fun, and I hope for a reunion someday!

MK - When you are writing songs for more than one band do you sit down to write for one or the other or do you decide after you've written something which band it works better for?
 
NR - I write all my songs the same, basically.  It's acoustic guitar and my voice in a quiet room.  I'll take those songs to different people, change the instrument I'm playing and change the song with them to fit the circumstances, but I've always been more comfortable writing on acoustic guitar and then changing the song for the appropriate setting or group of people. For Archivists, Chris and I generally wrote those songs together with one of us bringing an idea to the table to start.  He's a great foil for me in his influences and style, so that was a really fun process. I did write "Jersey" on my laptop and came back to it in the studio for a bunch of changes. I basically arranged the lyrics while I recorded them. That was a different process than I usually use, since it's a different kind of song.
 
MK - Does anyone in the band have any other musical projects going on? 

NR - I think they all do!  Justin is in Warrior Rabbit, Alan is in Long Hair, Sean is in Silly Heart and some other bands, Josh Dean is Murderboats, Chris does solo stuff now.  Kelly does solo stuff in Nashville, but comes up on occasion.  Willy Green does his own music and has played in some other bands, too.  I love hearing all their other projects.

MK - What other bands from around here are you listening to that you think readers should hunt down?
 
NR - All of Roof Beams' members' other projects!  Also, founding member Drew as Timurid.  Tara Toms as Catamount/Coyote.  Obviously Jake Lewis & the Clergy.  We're playing with the always excellent KOJI on Saturday night, and he's from Harrisburg.

MK - You started the band when you were at Messiah College and it seems like there's been a pretty good music scene coming out of there.  How do you think going there benefited you in your music career?
 
NR - I still have a lot of contact with very talented people that came out of Messiah, so it has been a plus.  Big shoutout to the MakeSpace in Harrisburg for bringing that community and others together. I'm not as connected with the scene at the school now, but I would love to go back and play for the students and find out what's going on.  That was a fun time, and Roof Beams wouldn't exist if we hadn't met at Messiah ten years ago, so I think back on it fondly.

MK- What plans do you have for the band for 2014?
 
NR - Supporting this record, and playing lots of shows. I want to travel and see people and share music, so book Roof Beams, and we'll hang out!

MK - Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers?
 
NR - This was pretty exhaustive, thanks! 
 SONG DOGS

The Philadelphia based 6-piece Song Dogs have been getting alot of attention recently for their debut full length release Wild Country. I recently talked to drummer Dan Cooper about that release, their plans for a new release, a show as the Talking Heads among other things.






M
K - Can you give me a brief band history?
 
DC - Song Dogs was first formed in 2009 by Michael Southerton, Sam Conver, and Ryan McCloskey who all worked together at South Philadelphia High School.  The current lineup of the band, and the lineup that appears on Wild Country, has been together since late 2011.
 
MK - Your debut EP was released as Song Dogs and the Nightjar.  What motivated the name change to Song Dogs?

DC - We decided to shorten our name to simply "Song Dogs" when we released Wild Country as no one could remember our full name, "Song Dogs and the Nightjar."  Plus, we were sick of being asked what a nightjar was.  
 
MK- There are 6 of you in the band.  How does your songwriting process tend to work?

DC - Generally, someone will come into practice with an idea, which can range from a simple guitar riff, to a fully structured song with lyrics.  The band will then take whatever has been brought into practice, and mold it into the final product as a collective unit.  
 
MK - Your CD was produced by Bill Moriarty.  How did you end up working with him?

DC - When we decided to record an LP, we figured the best way to both get a quality product and legitimize ourselves as a band was to work with a name producer.  We knew Bill had worked with Dr. Dog and realized he was also working with other top Philadelphia bands, such as Toy Soldiers.  He had also been highly recommended to us by a friend and his studio was located right by where a few of us were living at the time.  It made perfect sense to work with him.  
 
MK - My favorite song on Wild Country is "The Nightjar's Song", which to me has a bit of a rootsy psychedelic vibe that sets it apart from the rest of the disc. Is there any story behind that song?

DC - "The Nightjar's Song" was primarily written by Michael Southerton.  (This is Dan answering the questions).  I'm not sure if there is a particular story behind the song.  It is a song that certainly separates itself from the other songs on the record in terms of its style.  It's a song we have only played live on a handful of occasions.  
 
MK - Another song I really like is the "Victoria".  The horns really set that apart and give it a really cool vibe. Is there anything you can share about that song?

DC - "Victoria" was primarily written by Ryan McCloskey.  Ryan spent considerable time in Mexico and South America and is heavily influence by Hispanic culture, which both explains the use of Spanish language and the use of Spanish styled guitar playing on the song.  
 
MK - I hear a lot of Neil Young in the guitar work on "Wrong Side Of Town".  Would you agree with that?

DC - Neil Young is a major influence for the band, particularly for Mike and Dan. We have been compared to Neil before and I think his influence can be seen across much of our catalog.  
 
MK - You funded the CD with Kickstarter.  How was that experience?

DC - The Kickstarter experience went better than any of us could have hoped for. We really did not anticipate raining more than $2000 - $3000.  Meeting our goal was a great surprise.  Personally, I felt (and still feel) guilty about reaching out to other people to directly fund an album, but the results were certainly worthwhile. Without Kickstarter, we certainly would not be at the point we are at now as a band, and I wonder if we would even still exist.  
 
MK - I really like the new single "Anyway" and while it definitely sounds like Song Dogs there's something about it to me that stands out a bit from your previous work.  Would you agree with that?

DC - "Anyway" is a good example of where we are headed as a band.  We've always prided ourselves in having a very diverse sound and having a wide range of styles. "Anyway" is a song that doesn't sound like anything we've recorded before.  It's a song that helps bridge the gap between Wild Country and our next record.  
 
MK - I was reading that you have some new songs you are working on.  Do you have any idea when we will see the new CD?

DC - We have been working on new songs and now play almost exclusively songs written since the release of Wild Country at shows.  We really feel that we have progressed as a band and cannot wait to get back into the studio for a serious project.  Though nothing has been set in stone, we anticipate doing heavy recording in the summer of 2014.  
 
MK - You did an entire show last year as the Talking Heads.  What was the motivation for that and is that something you see the band doing again (possibly with a different band)?

DC - The Talking Heads show came about when we were asked to play a Halloween themed show at Milkboy Philadelphia.  We decided that the best way to both challenge ourselves and excite and surprise our fans would be to cover a band that did not fit our typical sound and style.  Talking Heads are a band that we love and a band that has arguably the best stage performance in rock history.  Plus, it's hard to beat dressing up like an 80s era band for Halloween.  Putting on the Talking Heads show was a very stressful and difficult experience and took many hours of preparation.  Although we enjoyed playing the show and it was a great experience, it would probably take a fair amount of convincing to pursue a similar project in the future.  
 
MK - Do any of you have any side projects?
 
DC - Song Dogs is the main project of every member of the band.  Mike plays in an R&B style band called Route 611, of which Ryan used to be a member as well.  Some of us will occasionally work on other projects.  Emily is currently recording keyboards on an upcoming Study Electricity EP.   
 
MK - I'm in Gettysburg.  Do you have any plans to play any shows in this direction?

DC - The only shows on our calendar right now are in Philadelphia.  We have a strong following in Philadelphia and would really like to expand across the region.  Should an opportunity present itself, we'd love to play in Gettysburg.  
 
MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

DC - Over the last year, we've seen the band grow to a point we never honestly imagined. 2013 saw the physical release of Wild Country.  We were named champions of the WXPN Beta HiFi Emerging Music Festival and achieved a lifelong goal of having our music played on 88.5 WXPN.  We received major press, including a feature in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/booming/take-me-to-the-river-from-al-green-to-song-dogs.html?_r=0).  2014 has kicked off with a bang.  We were written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer and have played back to back sold out shows at Philadelphia's newest venue, Boot & Saddle, and the acclaimed Johnny Brenda's.  We are excited to see what the rest of the year has in store for us.  Our upcoming shows include our debut performance on one of the best stages in Philadelphia - World Cafe Live Downstairs - April 16th with national touring acts Moon Taxi and The Revivalists as well as May 1st at Milkboy Philly with Holy Ghost Tent Revival and Satellite Hearts.  We have a ton of new material we've been working on and a truly excited about the potential of our next album.  

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(wearesongdogs.com)









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