So me and this really cool experimental indie band from West Virginia, Sly Roosevelt, got together on Facebook for a nice long chat. They’re a unique sound from what people would expect to come out of that state and I really really really love their EP, “Old “P”,” to an unhealthy degree. All factors make for a very fun and interesting interview. Their outlook and approach makes for a fascinating read so please do enjoy!
Before I get into anything, one thing that I found curious was your band name. Is that a reference to anything in particular and how did it come about?
Sean: I wanted something American- but something that seemed less harsh than let's say, the Dead Kennedys, and I imagined a child running around the white house getting into all kinds of mischief and so Sly Roosevelt came about. Roosevelt has a positive American ideal to it.
Why the decision to choose something distinctly American? How does that play into the band's musical identity?
Alex: Kinda we have a song that plays on the word "atoms". John Quincy Adams is mentioned as well as the Adams family. Which are pretty American.
Sean: I wanted to differentiate between country and metal which are the predominate strands of music in this area and so our sound kind of undermines those stereotypical ideals of America.
Your sound is definitely different and it doesn't really stick to one particular style. How did the founding members meet and how did the concept for Sly Roosevelt start to form?
Alex: I saw Sean playing at an open mic and really dug it. I came up to him and asked to play drums. After three or four practices I found out I can't drum. I picked up my bass and asked my bud Matt, who I started out playing music with, to drum. A practice or two later as a three piece we were planning out a set for an open mic.
Matt: Jyosh and Meg came in later with Sean badgering Jyosh to play in the band as secondary guitarist and eventually caving in. We were looking for a keyboardist as well and Megan happened to be dating Alex at the time so she stepped up and started learning the songs with us.
So before all this, Sean was just doing his thing at open mics with his guitar? What kind of music was he doing at that time?
Alex: I think that was Sean's first open mic.
Sean: I wrote some songs in my bedroom around spring time and I really loved them for whatever reason and I had been playing them for some friends and had been putting it off to play in front of people and then I finally decided to do an open mic.
You guys mentioned that metal and country are the main influences there. By breaking out of the norm for your region, which style did you look to when developing your sound?
Jyosh: We wanted to be creative. I think that if there is a common element in the different influences of the varied band members is that we value creativity very heavily. The development of the sound was a reaction to the frame work Sean would provide and we would just listen for ghosts to whisper.
Sean: Ghosts are fundamental to the process, no joke we all hear different sounds coming from different places and it fills in the gaps or adds different colors to the music. They have been benevolent so far.
Is that also how the writing process is going for your planned full-length release, "Animal Tracks"?
Alex: As of right now we have all of the songs written. We have been talking about and working on transitions for the songs. So the album has more of cohesive feel.
Was the process a bit different for the full-length than it was for the EP?
Sean: For the EP we wanted a representative sample of sounds some with energy some slower some aggressive. Like Alex said, the Album should have a complete feel to it---- that goes somewhere.
Alex: Definitely, our bud who did sound for the EP, Jon Parsons, has been in the studio with us this go around. He is a well of knowledge. The ep was a learning process as the album will inevitably be.
I read that you guys built your own studio. That's pretty impressive. Did you have to consult any sound engineers for advice or did you guys do the research yourself? What you decide to have your own studio instead of just using one already made?
Alex: We did some research and talked to some buds locally who are recording themselves as well. I bought some recording and mixing books and tried to learn as much about sound as possible. I hit up some forums and talked to people online. Reddit was a really cool source. The "We are the music makers" subreddit helped a lot.
Sean: At some point wehad a decision--- why not just make our own? There is so many advantages to having it- only up-front cost, and we did all of the work ourselves so that wasn't a problem. Justin, our manager, had wood laying around from his job and so we stayed late and got it done, it was also a bonding experience. Now we have the freedom to go in any time we want and not pay anything unless we want to upgrade and then we keep that. It's also our practice space so it works two fold. And we get to learn how to record and mix ourselves!
So it's all completely DIY!
Jyosh: All but the mastering. Mixing was also helped by Jon Parsons.
More and more musicians are getting into learning how to record and mix themselves which sometimes I find changes how they view the process of creating music. Has any of your approaches to music changed a bit since your continuous learning experience with mixing and recording?
Matt: Not initially but it has helped us record our ideas as we come up with them so we don't have the fear of forgetting anything.
That's great. So, naturally, since you all started out doing open mic, Sly Roosevelt seems to be an active band live. How receptive is the local scene to your music?
Jyosh: We've had a loving response! It seems that each time we play, there are more people showing up and really getting into it. Each show it's like we are converting people and getting into their heads. It's a beautiful thing.
That's great to hear. Was it hard for you guys to book shows in the beginning because of your different sound then?
Sean: It was hard to get into the V Club because it's more selective and a bigger venue, it's hard to get out of town.
Alex: We were really lucky to have some friends in bands and to have Don Duncan in our town who reached out to us and booked one of our first shows. We also hooked up with our buddy at Shamrock's, Ian Thornton, who enjoyed us and continued to book us as we grew as a band. Adding members, losing members, changing songs, and what not. Shamrock's being one of the only three venues in our town at the time.
You mentioned losing members. How many have you went through before finding the perfect match for Sly Roosevelt?
Sean: Two, a back up singer and a keyboard player.
Matt: Three people, two keyboardists, Brian Graham and Dave Ward, and Aimee Schmalz (vocals) who we all learned from and taught us a lot and we love them dearly still.
It's good that you've kept a good relationship with them still. So it seems like you've gotten enough connections to start plans for a national tour. When do you plan on undertaking that journey and when did you guys decide that it was something that you wanted to do with the band?
Sean: After the album is completed we are going to continue going out of town on the weekends and in the summer we are going to try to do festivals so we are looking to cut our proverbial heads off. In the summer, we will probably work into it at first, do a week here, a week there. Then at some point we will have to take a leap of faith.
Alex: Cut off our heads. Through playing locally we have meet some great bands from out of town and I feel we were able to learn from how they've spread their music. The Glorious Veins from New York come here a lot. They introduced us to Indie On The Move which is a great resource to find venues. Playing in Huntington has been great and the few out of town shows we have had were fantastic. We never really set a date of when to go on tour until now. The EP has opened up doors and I think out of town venues take you a little more serious. As of right now, we are planning a regional tour. As much of the east coast and the regional area as we can play. Sorry to name drop so much, but I feel that we wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are without all of the great people we have met.
That's understandable, it's about giving credit where it's due. I want to tackle your lyrics for a bit since that has been mentioned on your site as one of the focal points of the band. Who is the general lyric writer for the band and what do your themes center around mostly? What will the theme of your full-length center around and how is that different (if at all) from the ones in your EP?
Jyosh: The songs that are on the EP will also be on the full length, we plan on re-recording them, so it's not going to be the same exact tracks. As for the vocals, Sean Writes them primarily, I think it's most appropriate for him to answer this question.
Sean: I write generally but I use a lot of things from whomever for example in "Wolf" -- I made up this riff and I asked Alex what does this sound like and he mentioned a metaphorical wolf and so I used that line and created a song out of it. I did that with "Tea Party" as well. Sometimes it happens like that, other times I have a line or word or already have a guitar line and then it comes together somehow. Inspiration comes from many different sources for me. Sometimes I deconstruct other arrangements and songs to make them fit. Not to forget Jyosh and Alex make suggestions on the guitar which create and or altered songs in very distinctive ways.
Jyosh: It's not a concept album (unless you really like to use your imagination, which we endorse) so there isn't a central theme to the album. The songs we're putting on the full length are songs that we feel work well together atmospherically and there are a few O.G. tracks that we are hoping to record after we are done with the album.
Alex: We kinda noticed that there were a lot of tracks centered around animals or the mention of them. "Animal Tracks" made sense. We originally had in mind that the songs were centered around a character, a kid I think, his/hers ideas and experiences (his/her growth). As Sean mentioned, he envisioned a kid in the Whitehouse just roaming around getting in to whatever he/she could. I thinks this character is very imaginative and human. So human he/she can see themselves as animals.
Sean: Interacting and having adventures with animals t-rexs, blue jays, snakes, wolfs all of these animals have a mythology that surrounds them and gives meaning to imagination and adventure.
Sounds like a fun concept generally. Since you guys have started to generate more fans locally and have more live shows, what is one of your most memorable live performances to date? Also, what do you normally do to prepare for shows and what kind of energy do you generally like to bring to the stage?
Alex: The Huntington Music and Arts Festival, happens here in town, is an all day event that brings out a lot of the community that wouldn't normally go to a bar and check us out. I have really enjoyed the festival because I get to see all of my friends and it is just has so much great local music. Best day of the year! Before a show, Sean writes set lists for each person in the band and it brings us to one conscious idea. We usually hang out before shows and have a good time. Spend time with the band and those around us.
Jyosh: There was this one show, at Shamrock's some time ago, where Sean's guitar strap broke in the middle of our last song. He persevered and completed the song on bended knee after lowering the mic. I think there's a picture of it somewhere.
That's dedication. It seems like from your discussion on the lyrics that your surroundings bled into the music a bit. Coming from an urban area personally, I always find it interesting how nature seeps into the themes of different bands. Has your surroundings in WV influenced the music in any other way?
Sean: Do you mean nature seeps in because it can't help it, like it is an intruder into our carpentered world?
Hm, nice comparison, yeah sorta like that.
Sean: The surroundings, I think, add to the mood of our sound not so much the imagery, there's definitely a brooding and chaotic feeling that I would say comes from a poor community. So there is on some of the songs a lost wandering, a feeling of lashing out, a hope to get out or do something unique.
A sort of desperation. What are your plans for the band aside from the album and touring? Looking to be on any labels or anything like that?
Alex: We are going bowling next week.
Damn, I don't think I can make that on such short notice.
Alex: Ha! A label could be cool; as of right now we are trying to do as much as we can on our own. Not to say a label wouldn't take it to the next level. From what I have heard, labels can get tricky.
Labels can sure get tricky depending on which one you go for, true. Thank you so much for taking the time out to do this with me as one cohesive unit. It was really fun. As a parting impression to our readers, could you describe to me one of the largest hurdles that you guys had to overcome, aside from difficulty finding venues and the line-up changes, when you were just beginning to solidfy your band's sound? How did you overcome it?
Meg: I'm not sure if you would call it a hurdle exactly, but probably the most important bridge we've all crossed was making the decision that this band is what we want to do with our time. It's not always easy because we all have jobs, families, significant others...in short, very full lives. It's maybe not the easiest thing to fit in something as time consuming as music, so I'd say keeping constantly committed is one of the more difficult things we've had to do as a group, and individually. But at the same time, it's a very fulfilling, satisfying thing to be doing. And it's what we all want to be doing. So it's a hurdle that has overcome itself almost.