May 24, 2012

Interview: Roomrunner

Growing up in the late 90’s/early 00’s, I flew the flag of dissonant 90’s rock. Partially because it was most of what our local rock station had to offer, and partially because all the non-Weird Al CD’s my best friend owned were noisy grunge staples like the Pumpkins and Alice in Chains. So when I first got to hear ROOMRUNNER, the loud new project from former Double Dagger/Dan Deacon Ensemble percussionist Denny Bowen, naturally I was completely stoked on them. On their fantastic new EP Super Vague, the band (comprising Bowen, guitarist Sam Garrett, drummer Bret Lanahan, and bassist Dan Frome, who produced this as well as their first S/T EP release) treat the FX-treated riff as god; over four tracks they take the screeching guitars and fuzzily jagged melodies of Clinton-era noise rock to task in a modern setting, with delicious results. Because Roomrunner exists and you can go see them live (they are playing the wonderful Hopscotch Music Festival here in NC in September) you can stop daydreaming about that 'Bleach'-era Nirvana bar gig you didn't attend in 1990.

I recently spoke with frontman Bowen about Cobainiacs, music piracy, and his upcoming beef with the Foo Fighters.

What is the origin story of Roomrunner, and what is the significance of the name itself?
I was sitting on a bunch of songs and riffs and stuff that I was "saving" for years for no real reason. After a while,it seemed to make sense to materialize these songs. I had been so busy with Double Dagger and playing in the Dan Deacon Ensemble, I never really had time. In 2010, I started to demo all these songs and gave copies to some friends to try to play. We did a few shows early in 2011 and then and have been playing out a lot more for about a year. Once Double Dagger started to slow down and eventually split, the opportunity presented itself to pursue Roomrunner as a legit band.

The word "Roomrunner" is the wasei Japanese word for "treadmill." We're all just running in place anyway.

Pop on over past the jump to read the full interview with Roomrunner.
Playing in Double Dagger for all those years, what lessons (if any) about how to run a musical project did you take from that band to this one?
Double Dagger was operated in a DIY, no-bullshit manner, even if some guidelines were obsolete in the 21st century model of being in a band. We never had a guarantee (I've worked at a venue and seen some straight up ridiculous bands have guarantees that surely didn't deserve it), we recorded most of our own records, did all the artwork ourselves, never worked with a booking agent except for the case of our European tour and even then we had booked a few German shows ourselves. We played to as many different types of crowds at different types of places as possible. There is somewhat of a punk/art crowd divide in Baltimore (which I feel is shrinking, however), and we tried to favor neither sect, as we felt they were not mutually exclusive. Most things we did were not unlike other underground bands, though. Things are weirder now for sure, and even harder to figure out, but I guess the most general thing to take away is to stay real and humble. Trying to sell your band, or trying to convince people to like your band or music is ridiculous and awkward.

Every band playing in every musical genre in the last 20 years has been compared to Nirvana in some aspect, often effortlessly. You guys actually seem to own it though - between the pummeling fx-treated riffs and the melodic yet fuzzily buried vocals, your music hearkens back to Nirvana and other early-90s acts (Sonic Youth, Drive Like Jehu) who stirred this style around. Was this intentional and do you get bored of hearing the Cobain comparison?
I guess I don’t really feel the need to hide that I’ve been heavily influenced by Nirvana. It’s who I am, I like loud rock music with memorable hooks that aren’t written by mentally bankrupt idiots. Nirvana wrote great songs, and they had a huge impact on me, but there are other catchy, heavy bands from the ‘90s that I’m just as influenced by. So, it’s cool when people bring them up in reviews or whatever like you just did (Jehu is one of my favorite bands), because it means they’re actually listening and understand it. But I understand Nirvana being the normalized point of reference. I’d often be very disappointed when I read that a band sounded like Nirvana, I’d check them out, and the only similarity would be the existence of distorted guitars, and nothing else.

Tell me about the origins of the material on "Super Vague".
Three out of four tracks were recorded during the same time as the first EP we did, but didn't seem to fit on the tape. The fourth is a song I recorded in 2006 at my parents' house while avoiding working on a bachelor’s degree.

Many acts struggle to make money off record sales because music is so easily shareable and often slips online long before set release dates. Your new EP leaked to the net several weeks in advance; do you have a position on downloading and media sharing?
I’m very much pro-file sharing. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone that wasn’t, unless they were some part of the old industry or a neo-con dickhead. I'm as much a part of the media share/downloading culture as much as anyone else, it was a huge part of how I found out about underground music in high school and onward, and probably led me to buy more records. I sought after stuff that I'd end up finding mostly in budget bins, so it's not like people were buying the records I was going after in the first place.

File sharing developments kind of paralleled my adolescence. The shift in the industry puts more influence and focus on live shows and touring, which is great. People get a chance to see live music more often and bands have to “show their work,” so to speak.

I heard about our EP getting out there, it’s no big deal. It’s not like us (or practically any band) is making money off record sales anyway. Internet leaks, those are an inevitable part of being in a band in 2012, and in the future. Shit, it was inevitable in 2002.

Based off the extensive touring you have done in just a few months, do you feel like people are feeling you live? What sort of crowd do you guys draw?
It seems genuine, really awesome, and almost hard to believe. Our touring contacts are kind of a mix of old friends, mutual and tangential friends, and internet randoms, so it's not like a singular network of people. Wherever we play, each night people are coming from a different place. Either a more punk type place or arty type place, I really enjoy going between all those crowds. I mentioned that Double Dagger always tried to do that as well.  And regardless of those hyper-niches, people seem to be responding positively, and on return visits, it seems more enthusiastic. Some friends mentioned that us in the band, as music-making people, have been doing it for a long time, and respect that. That’s also cool. I personally don’t feel like our touring in Roomrunner has been too extensive, as I want to do more, but it’s nice to see people recognizing us out there doing it.

Who knows though, people could be totally bullshitting us.

What kinds of non-musical art inspire you as a musician?
I am very much into Anne Truitt's work, it is very powerful to me. She also happens to be a Baltimore native. I recently had a chance to see her Drawings exhibit in New York last month, it was really amazing.

Who do you have/wish to start a beef with?
Fan Death Records seems to take care of all our beef-related needs at the moment. I’m sure we could pick some easy target like Wavves, but maybe we should aim higher and start some loose beef with the Foo Fighters or Shellac so we could then reconcile and then subsequently tour together. I also have a beef with people selling vans on Craigslist. The deals are always too good to be true.
What's in Roomrunner's future?
Opening up for the Foo Fighters in Southeast Asia, following our Canadian tour with Shellac. Also, a split with Dope Body for this fall and another longer EP around the same time.

Lastly, any shout-outs?
General Evan Devine, Def Mate`, Jabangelos, Onion O. Henry, Buglehead, (nacho cheese), big head

Stream: Roomrunner - Super Vague EP
Super Vague is now available on Fan Death Records.

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