Q&A: Roosevelt Dime talks Brooklyn and life on the road

If you happen to spot a Chevy Suburban grooving into Charlottesville in the next few days, it’s might be Roosevelt Dime, the headliners for WTJU’s Levitt AMP Charlottesville Music Series, this Saturday, October 17th, 5-9pm.

This Brooklyn based group of four, which has been stationed in Crozet recording new songs, is fueled by Yerba Mate and a love of Americana rhythm and blues.

Make sure to catch this socially minded band while they’re here and read their interview with WTJU’s Chiara Brown to learn more:

WTJU: What is it like being on tour for you guys? Any touring traditions the band has?

Roosevelt Dime: We generally are all pretty well mannered on the road. You’ve really got to learn how to be respectful and considerate of one another’s needs and space when you’re traveling days on end in a Chevy Suburban with four people. There’s a lot of rushing and then waiting when you’re on tour, so we just do our best to stay positive and keep each other laughing and feeling good. We’ve all got our particular caffeine fixes – Tony and I have become addicted to the Aeropress espresso maker, Craig always has his mug of herbal tea, and Eben carries his own yerba mate, which is usually mistaken for another bag of herbal supplements. And we take our road food seriously. When we’re in a city or town we always ask the baristas and bartenders to recommend a good joint, but when we’re just making tracks on the highway we have a custom of searching for Mexican restaurants that have at least two spanish words in the name (“taco” and “guacamole” don’t qualify). That’s our insider tip for tracking down tasty fresh food in unknown locales.

WTJU: In listening to Roosevelt Dime, I noticed a really interesting blend of different sounds. Can you talk a little bit about your musical influences as a band and how you would describe your tone? 

RD: We describe our sound as “Americana Rhythm and Blues.” The Americana genre encapsulates many different styles already – country, folk, blues, bluegrass, and more. It seems to me though that what the Americana sound has become is something more uniformly country/roots/rock. It’s a style that I really enjoy listening to, but I don’t think it does justice to the diversity of American music. So while we draw on those influences, we also lean heavily on the rhythm and blues, soul, and early rock and roll that isn’t as well represented. We don’t see ourselves as revivalists of or ambassadors for those styles necessarily, but what we do is just try to take the music that really moves us and channel it into our own songwriting and performances. So that generally plays out as a rhythm section of upright bass and drums that are strongly informed by New Orleans – lots of clave beats, heavy syncopation, and a lot of interplay between the two. Then the banjo and guitar often appropriate a boogie woogie piano, with the banjo covering the right hand while also mixing in some traditional bluegrass playing, while the guitar covers the left hand boogie patterns while also incorporating swing and blues lead playing. Then the vocal style is very influenced by soul music, but also with some classic folk and gospel style group arrangements.

WTJU: Explain the band dynamic a little bit. What would it be like to be a fly on the wall at one of your rehearsals? 

RD: Everything starts with the groove. Generally we’ll have sent around a rough demo of a song in advance so everyone will come in with at least the basic form down, but then it will usually start with just the drums and bass establishing a groove. Then we’ll drop the banjo and guitar in, often with that idea of recreating that boogie woogie piano style. This arranging approach, with the sounds of these instruments in particular, yields what we think is a pretty unique sound. Once all that starts to get locked up, we bring the vocals in and make sure that it all supports the singing, since that’s got to be crystal clear and up front.

WTJU:What’s the music scene like for you all in Brooklyn? Why did the band choose to make that their base? 

RD: The scene in Brooklyn is really fantastic. Pretty much no matter what style of music you’re into, chances are there’s someone who’s a world class talent doing it within a two mile radius. So just as far as being a music lover and finding things to be inspired by, it’s unmatched. The band formed while we were all living in or around Brooklyn. We actually did a lot of street performing in the parks and subways, which did a lot to shape our sound and aesthetic.

WTJU: I saw on your band’s website that you released a free track, with a donation option to the Equal Justice Initiative. Can you talk a little about why you chose that track and that charity? 

RD: We were initially really inspired by a TED Talk given by EJI founder Bryan Stevenson. His message addressed what we think are some of the core deficiencies in our society – economic injustice, racial inequality, prison reform –   but he did so in a really positive and inspiring way. We try to speak to these issues in our music, but not necessarily in an overt or heavy handed way, but it is really important to speak to the times in which we live. We’re always thinking of ways to give back what we can through our music, so we had the idea for the collaborative recording project you mentioned. We attended the Folk Alliance International conference in February, where we knew many of our good pals from the road and favorite musicians would be on hand. So we had the idea of getting some of those folks to all record on a track together, and that all proceeds from its sale would go towards EJI. In the spirit of that generosity and positivity, we chose “Pass it On” by the Bob Marley & The Wailers, which is a song all about selflessness by one of our biggest influences. So it was a chance to get some great musicians together for a good cause, and we just love the tune itself so much.

WTJU: What’s next on the tour for Roosevelt Dime after Cville? Any cities you’re particularly excited to hit?

RD: We’re currently finishing up recording some new tracks right here in Crozet. We’re beyond excited for this new material, so we’ll be working out the release plan for early next year, and will certainly be bringing the band back through VA before too long. Beyond that we’ve got some great fall tours lined up through the northeast, and are working on some west coast dates over the winter, which should be a nice respite from the cold weather.


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