There is no justice in the world of music. If record labels awarded contracts and marketing budgets based purely on talent, you’d already have your Roofwalkers tour shirt and coffee mug. This Washington D.C. band has, in one album displayed enough talent for writing perfectly crafted songs to justify headlining the largest stadium. If you’re looking for expensive videos or high-quality concert footage, move along. If you’re looking to hear a great new band, prepare to be amazed. Quiet, intense and densely layered without any hint of pretension. This describes our favorite people and applies to the music of this amazing group, comprised of Adrian Carroll, Raj Gadhia, Ben Licciardi, Chris Licciardi, TJ Lipple, Elmer Sharp. Ben took a few moments to talk about the inner workings of this should-be supergroup. Written by the great Ravin (aka @bluechandelier)
Roofwalkers- Cut Every Corner
TDOA: Roofwalkers has the quiet confidence you’d expect from a band that’s been together for years and years. Have you known each other for a long time? And if not, what do you think accounts for this (GASP) maturity?
BL: We’ve actually been playing together for a long time. Elmer, Adrian and I went to college together and Raj and I are friends from high school. Then there’s my brother, so it’s an old group of friends. Other people in our circle sort of float in and out. TJ is our resident producer and vibraphone player. Our friend Melissa recently played a few shows with us which was a lot of fun. Music is something that’s just a regular part of our lives at this point.
TDOA: If I had to describe Roofwalkers to a friend, I’d probably say it’s an “indie-pop” group with the soul of a rock ‘n’ roll behemoth. Would that be a fair description?
BL: Ha, yes, that sounds about right! To be honest, I’m horrible at describing our music, maybe because we’re so close to it. Plus, I was thinking the other day, you know how no one ever self-identifies as a hipster? There’s a parallel in indie rock…you rarely hear bands calling themselves indie. Kinda funny, I’m not sure what’s behind that. I know we fit the bill in many ways, but somehow I don’t exactly relate to the label.
TDOA: A few bands that come to mind when I listen to your self-titled debut is The American Analog Set, Pavement, and Tortoise. Would you cite these bands as influences? And are there any bands that may not be so well known that you’d like to big up to our readers?
BL: I like all those bands. Pavement especially was a favorite in high school. I think everyone has one of those albums that they fell in love with and associate with a particular time. “Crooked Rain” is totally summer of ’95 for me, driving from Utah to California in a dusty pickup with my good friend Aaron, on our way to go backpacking. It’s funny with Pavement because they have this reputation for being ramshackle and careless, and that’s definitely there, but one of the things I’ve always appreciated is that they can actually play their instruments incredibly well and the songs are so layered and developed. I think that made a big impression on me, to try and sound good and take the whole craftsmanship thing seriously.
As far as other bands, our friends are big influences. I’ve been listening a lot to Soft Power and A Weather. I’m also really excited about the forth-coming Beauty Pill stuff, and I’m a huge fan of the Caribbean. Michael Kentoff is such an incredible lyricist and I’m very much looking forward to their new album. I think it’s going to be called “Discontinued Perfume” which is maybe the coolest album title ever.
TDOA: Your self-titled debut is magnificent. What I love about it kind of relates to the dichotomy of sound I described before… The songs are “gentle” and “quiet”, yet underneath it all is a sense of urgency and a desire to engage the listener. Was this something you strove for specifically or was it just a happy accident?
BL: Thanks so much. I think, yeah, maybe we do try and contrast those two things on some sort of subconscious level. Personally speaking, I get easily bored with really spacey, ambient music b/c a lot of times it doesn’t have any bite. So you can come at quietness from other angles. Sometimes it can be creepy or can suggest some sort of internal thought process or moodiness. It’s easy to associate atmospherics with relaxation, but it can go other ways. Our friend Chad uses the word “undertow,” and I like that, the idea that it’s calm on the surface but there’s a current underneath. I think a band like Bedhead is really great at that….outwardly subdued, but their music has a lot dynamics and movement.
TDOA: There’s a lot of annoying bands doing the whole lo-fi recording gimmick, aka recording into Garageband through computer speakers and calling it “raw”. What I really appreciate about your album is that it sounds “produced”, not in the pop-superstar-autotuned sense, but rather, in the OK-Computer-Nigel-Godrich sense. Did you do the recording yourselves? And how do you feel about the whole lo-fi recording aesthetic as a whole?
BL: We’re lucky in that TJ is a recording engineer by trade. We also work a lot with Chad Clark who is really wonderful with sound, so between the two of them, we’re pretty spoiled. Regarding lo-fi as an aesthetic, I go both ways. I think it works sometimes for recordings to sound trashy or opaque. I think the problem is that lo-fi is often shorthand for a philosophy that rejects fidelity altogether as a meaningful thing. Sometimes you hear this idea that if the music is good, it will shine through and who needs a fancy mic? Or a step further, that somehow soundcraft is the enemy of authenticity. I think that’s silly. I mean, if recording on a 4-track flatters the music, I’m for it. But we’ve always liked how our instruments sound so we make it a priority to try and capture that when we record. I think it just depends on the band. I vote for whatever suits the music best, and that’s more of an intuitive thing than a philosophical one.
TDOA: What’s also interesting is that the album has a beautiful live-in-your-living room feel. Were the songs recorded, uhm, live in your living room? Or was this atmosphere crafted in the studio?
BL: Actually both! We recorded a bunch in Elmer’s living room, and then did a few songs at a studio. Ironically, I think the songs that sound the most intimate are the ones we did at the studio. Funny enough, living rooms don’t always sound like living rooms…
TDOA: The songs are extremely efficient, in the best sense of the term. Every note seems delicately placed and every texture seems meticulously designed to create a particular effect. Do you guys have a personal “cut the fat” policy when it comes to songwriting? Or does the end result evolve spontaneously?
BL: I love to edit. I think it’s an underrated skill, to try and make sure everything you’re doing is aimed at a certain end. The flip side is, if you get too wrapped up in that process, there’s the danger of things becoming stiff and choreographed. You can suck the life out it. And if you think about improvisation, there’s a certain freedom or danger or whimsy that comes from letting go of the reins. I struggle with that. I like it when a song sounds like it’s about to jump the rail, but then I also have control freak tendencies. Luckily Roofwalkers is very collaborative and there are counterbalances to my rigidness…so I’ve learned to let go as we’ve played together over the years.
TDOA: What would you say are the lyrical themes and inspirations for the record? The voice of the record seems to be that of a wandering drifter…
BL: That’s cool, I never thought about it exactly that way, but I can see that. A lot of the songs do have something to do with seeking or wandering. Raj and I were joking the other day that we’ve written so many lyrics about being in exile or being homeless, but we grew up comfortably in the suburbs. Go figure.
TDOA: A personal fav is “Cut Every Corner”. It resonates with me emotionally, but I have no idea why. What’s it about? Is there another song on the record that holds a special place for you?
BL: That one is about the whole “paradox of choice” thing, where lots of options can lead to exhaustion and you end up getting further away from the original impulse that started your search. There’s some frustration mixed in there too. As far as other ones, I’m really proud of “To the Quick” mostly because I love Adrian’s guitar solo in it. It sounds so sharp and menacing. My brother also got this hazy, almost wheezing organ sound by layering a couple of vintage keyboards over one another. It’s a cool effect. I just love how all the parts came together on that one.
TDOA: What do you have planned for the future? Is a new record or tour in the works?
BL: Right now we’re writing new songs and getting ready to record this summer. So far, they’re a little faster and more spring-loaded than the music on this album. New territory for us, but we’re excited. We’ll see where it leads…
To learn more about Roofwalkers, visit their MySpace page here.
To purchase their album via iTunes, click below