The Green Room Rockers.
Out of nowhere they came together in a small Indiana cornfield town. Out of nowhere they emerged on the U.S. ska and reggae scene causing people to drop their jaws and ask where did these guys come from? Out Of Nowhere, "too bad that album title was already taken by Hepcat" said vocalist and keyboard player Mark when I talked to him last month. They were getting ready for 2 shows with the Aggrolites and he took some time to take a call and discuss just where they actually come from, how, and what they’re all about.
Gabe: Let’s talk abut where you’re from in Indiana . What’s it like there?
Mark: Originally I’m from North West Indiana which is like the forgotten suburb of Chicago , like the Jersey of Chicago. It’s home of some of the craziest gang violence. That's the kind of environment I grew up in. I'm currently from Lafayette . Axl Rose is from here, Sonic Iguana who did recordings for Lookout Records, Screeching Weasel, and Common Rider is here. It's a small town but stuff is going on under the woodwork.
Gabe: How did the band get together?
Mark: Kind of by accident. My guitar player and the other singer grew up going to the same ska and punk shows. Deal’s Gone Bad, Slackers, Skatalites in Wisconsin . Me and my guitar player moved up here to go to school and try to make something of ourselves; that's going real good! (laughing). My guitar player was a metal head and I converted him over to reggae which took a long time to do but eventually he caught wind of it.
I walked in to my first class in school and this nerdy kid is in my class and knows all about Toots and the Maytals, The Specials, and all the rare Sublime stuff I know... just knows! I find out 1) he can run sound and has his own studio and 2) he is a great sax player and guitar player... so THAT was an accident. He also produced the record.
Then I was at a house party seeing some punk band play and inbetween sets the drummer was doing ska beats from Hepcat's Push and Shove. I sat down and showed him some licks and I got his number. So now I got a drummer, sax player, and guitar. Then I got asked to be in a ska-punk band and I met my bass player and it just kept going. We had some random players and we said lets do something here. We always wanted to play a more traditional thing.
The first GRR show was the first time all the members met (laughing). I just told ‘em all to come to this house, we’re gonna play, we'll just wing it. So like 50 people showed up and that was it. We had a good time.
It’s weird, we gotta play with weird bands here... country/metal/punk/hip hop....there’s no other ska or reggae bands around. Deal’s Gone Bad helped us get a foot in the door in Chicago . We were only 6 months old and they invited us to play their CD release show. It was exciting. I've watched these guys play for years. This is exactly what we wanted to do for so long.
Gabe: A lot of people have been saying good things about you.
Mark: Yeah it's great man... on a whim I sent a message to Mike Davies and he played our music on his show The Lock Up in the UK . He was like "Rockers Revolt you gotta put these guys on your label." It was cool!
Indiana doesn't get a lot of love so maybe we’re coming up right now.
Gabe: Well hey a lot of bands come out of small towns.
On the album there is a big mix of styles, did you guys do that on purpose to show people your range or was it by accident?
Mark: I never thought about it as a range thing, good question. It's not what we had in mind. Just kinda one of those things... I love ska, reggae, dancehall, I love Jamaican music. When I write a song, it’s a variety thing for me. It's the spice of life, if you can you should. I love Lyn Tait, Ken Boothe, I love rocksteady. A little bit of everything is on it, I just wish we had some dub but we don't have the setup for it... but maybe one day.
Gabe: With all those band members and the whole accident thing, who does most of the song writing?
Mark: Initially I wrangled everyone up and they all looked at each other like what are we gonna do now? Initially, I wrote a lot of the tunes on the album. It was one of those things where I had a song idea and at practice it would completely morph. But we’re writing a lot together now and this next record is gonna be more interesting as for what we can do as a group. So we’re getting excited about it, but it’s not for a little ways.
Gabe: Like maybe next year?
Mark: We’re hoping for early next year but you never know.
Gabe: Any hints of what we might hear on it?
Mark: Just a refinement of the Hoosier Homegrown but this time we're gonna try a little harder, and think a little bit more about it.
Gabe: I noticed a new song on Myspace. Is that one that wiil be on it?
Mark: Yeah maybe haha... I try to leave some air of mystery about it. What’s cool about that track is we recorded it in the local NPR station here. The drum is just a snare, a suitcase and a bass drum pedal. And a tambourine taped up against it. It's kinda weird since there’s a lot of one man band Blue Grass here and it kinda rubs off on you. I'm from a more urban place than this, but the country ways are starting to rub off on me a bit, haha.
Gabe: How about touring. Last year you guys went on tour. Any funny stories, scary moments, anything that stood out?
Mark: The whole touring the east coast during the winter was a scary moment. NOT A GOOD IDEA. We hadn't thought it through. We were like, "we should go to the east coast whenever we can...we should go right now!" We started booking it and thought we should have booked it way ahead of time but it was like "we're gonna do it anyway" you know? We were kinda fortunate.
We were in New Jersey playing this basement club for like 4 people, and were like "maybe we should have spent more time on this". We had a couple of bad nights there. There was a blizzard almost every single day. We just picked the best time to be there! (laughs). That Cleveland area had 14 inches of snow! Syracuse was just completely covered by snow when we got there. That’s a cool story. We were supposed to play a pretty nice place called Funk n Waffles... I know the Slackers and other bands have played there. We get there and they've closed it down, there’s a snow warning! The reason the local bands can't make it there is that they’re crashing their cars. We drove 8 hours from Ohio and if the locals are having trouble it must be bad! We have nothing to do and we end up at this Anarchist Commune and we end up playing a show for a bunch of people who weren't really expecting it but they were pretty cool. They treated us pretty well...but it was STRANGE man. It was a strange place with questionable people.
Gabe: Like watch your back questionable?
Mark: Like you found some pizza and ate it and then somebody says "Hey where’s the dumpster pizza?" And I'm like, "oh oh, I'm sorry I ate your dumpster pizza. I apologize that I am getting sick for you."
Gabe: But was it good?
Mark: Dude, it was awesome because we were cold, we were tired, and it was the first kind thing that happened to us. Then we got out to DC and Michelle and Bobby (www.dcska.com) are great... the Blondeshells are all awesome. We went up and did the Checkerboard Kids show and met Checker Phil... it was awesome.
Gabe: Oh yeah how did that happen?
Mark: Again I just sent a nice email and hoped for the best. He dug us and we just pulled it off. I don't know how any of this happens but it just works out or doesn't. Had we been a band in the 90's I don't know that we'd gotten so far. Myspace helped a lot. You just get your name out there. We take the time to pick and choose who we add very carefully... only people who dig or would dig our sound. It really helped us out. I wouldn't ever have met any of these people if it wasn't for Myspace.
Gabe: So it looks like you guys are getting ready for some more touring right?
Mark: We're kinda weekend warriors right now... one weekend here and another there.
We're hoping in August to head up to California/West Coast. We’re gonna bring some Hoosier Homegrown to California and hopefully bring some CA homegrown back with us.
When we get there I want some fish, and all the stuff we can’t have here. I want some Korean food in L.A. I WANT ALL KINDS OF STUFF. That’s the best part of getting out on the road. You can ask anybody. We're not getting paid to do this, we're probably losing money. But the fact that you get to step into a completely foreign environment and eat some good food every day is great. Like on the east coast I'm craving pizza like crazy! There’s nowhere near as good as on the east coast. So I'm looking forward to what California has to offer.
Gabe: We have a lot of Mexican food
Gabe: Any last words?
Mark: Keep uplifted, keep movin'. If you keep trying to do the things you want to do sometimes they happen. I've tried to do a lot of things I didn’t want to do and I got no satifaction. You play ska and reggae not because you’re gonna break anytime soon. I've thought about this a thousand times...like maybe I should be in a jazz combo and make like 100 dollars a night just for me, not split 8 ways like with us. Being who I am... I’m half Korean, 1/4 Dutch and a bunch of other white people mixed in. I never really had one culture to grab onto and then I heard ska and reggae and all that, and it really made sense to me. Here on campus we have a bunch of Jamiacans and they’re the coolest people. And if you have any kind of love for their culture they will take you in with open arms. It's a beautiful thing, I love Jamaicans... they gave me a home.
The Green Room Rockers will perform at this year’s Ska Weekend. Check www.myspace.com/greenroomrockers for more dates and more info.
Read Bobby's review of Hoosier Homegrown.
Listen to JJ's phone interview on SkaBlahBlah