This Friday night at 9:00 P.M., The Rooks, a New York based “indie-soul and R&B band” will take the stage in The Bobby Silberman Lounge as part of the Friday Night Live concert initiative by SPB. The Echo spoke with vocalist Garth Taylor to discuss the band’s start, mission, and upcoming projects.
Responding kindly to technical problems at the beginning of the call, Taylor proved to be an incredibly warm and modest interviewee. His fondness for the group and the music they perform was evident. He spoke to their love of playing concerts and to how they can viscerally feel the energy that fills a room when they perform. “We try to be as raucous as possible throughout the show, in a controlled way, we’re not moshing or anything, but we want people to dance and move,” he said, laughing.
“I would say we’re like an indie-soul R&B band. We love uptempo stuff. There’s a lot of groove, I guess, a lot of rhythm, and our guitar and key melodies are a lot more modern, but [the vocals] are rooted in soul.”
He said he understood the difficulty of college and urged that the concert will be a way to relax.“[Students] should have a place to unload some of the energy of the week and we will give it to them. Live music was such a huge part of the social scene at Wesleyan and we understand it’s not the same way at many other schools, but we want to give people the chance to taste what we had…. It hasn’t been that long since we left school, so we know what it’s like,” he laughed.
The band formed at Wesleyan University in September 2011, playing for student gatherings at social houses and official functions, embodying a Motown-funk feel. Spencer Hattendorf, who will be playing bass and some sax met Taylor the first day of school freshman year. “We lived in the same dorm and then we joined the same a cappella group the first week of school,” said Taylor. He explained that Hattendorf “was plugged in with the original members of the group in the jazz scene” and that Taylor himself joined the group when asked to sing while other members were studying abroad. This, he cited, was “when the original six members were… introduced to each other.” The band has stayed true to its NESCAC roots, playing at Wesleyan almost every year and coming to smaller schools, like Colby, as well. The fanbase at Wesleyan has played a critical role in their success, explained Taylor. “We were very lucky to have a solid fan base from Wesleyan who came by and wanted to see us performing, and we wanted to stay as steady as possible and things just developed.” Wesleyan alumni Tobah Aukland ’13 described The Rooks as “[Having] changed the music scene on campus. Their shows are always fun, their song choices exciting, and their talent is just amazing.” Their shows were wildly popular and attended at Wesleyan.
After everyone graduated, the band relocated to New York, where they play local gigs in addition to touring out of state. “It is a great music scene and there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Taylor. “Of course there’s a lot of people trying to do what you do… [but] you never know the opportunities that will develop further down the line when you take the first step. The city has been much kinder to us than it can be,” he said. The Rooks play venues like the Brooklyn Bowl and American Beauty, accrediting the strong Wesleyan fan base to their successful start in New York. Although the city can be difficult, The Rooks have had a strong start.
The band has played at Colby before, and recalled the friendliness of the small-school atmosphere. “We do play at colleges a lot, I wanna say we’ve played at 30 or 40 colleges in the past few years… and we always try to open that up to new schools. Instagram us, tweet us, send us an email — we are not hard to get in touch with. We’re still very hands-on with what we’re doing,” said Taylor.
“Performing live is like a feedback loop of energy between yourselves as musicians onstage and the people you’re performing for. It’s a really specific dynamic that only exists in that space — like I can sing in the bathroom and be satisfied, which is how I lived my life for many years, but there’s something special about… seeing people react to the music we’ve created positively. You can’t replicate it, and you can’t buy it. It’s very gratifying and it’s very satisfing — that feeling when you see people respect what we’re doing. That’s the best part of what we do.”
Taylor also gave advice to others seeking a similar career path. “You really need to know that you’re serious about it and that you can commit, and if you can’t commit you have to be really honest about that. Is this is a hobby, is this a career, is there something in between? Because if people have dissidence about that, it will stunt your development as a group.” He spoke earnestly, talking openly about how hard the members worked to keep their hopes alive. “Make sure everyone is on board musically and lifestyle wise, and what your mission is — touring, recording, only performing every couple of months — some people just want to have a product for their Soundcloud or Bandcamp, and some people want all of those things, so that’s really important,” he said.
The Rooks have a tangible, soulful feel, coupled with a relatable warmth. They’re about to start recording a new album in the winter, part of which they’ll perform this Friday. “We’d love to see everyone who was at the last show and bring a friend, and if you weren’t there, don’t miss out this time. It’s going to be so fun, and we have the album soon and we’re going to have a kickstarter campaign. Come to show and see what that’s all about,” Taylor said. “If you really want to have a good time and want to dance, you should come to the show.”