The second week of 2016 has kicked off with a bang. First, an official event page for our second Frederick Music Showcase at the Weinberg Center next month is now live (invite your friends!). And second … well, second, the Brooklyn band Roosevelt Dime will be taking the Cafe Nola stage on Friday. We recently caught up with Andrew Green, the band’s banjoist and occasional singer, to talk about what we should expect from Friday’s show, how New Orleans plays into the band’s style, and what they expect from their first trip to Frederick. The fun starts at 9:30 p.m. and it’s only four days away. You’ll check it out, right? Right.
First, have you guys been to Frederick before? If so, what’s your take on it? If not, what are you looking forward to the most about coming here?
This will be our first time performing in Frederick, though we’ve performed nearby in Germantown at the Black Rock Center for the Arts, and we’ve played in D.C. a whole lot over the years. We’ve always had Cafe Nola on our radar as a venue that attracts some really great touring bands, so we’re excited to finally get there. We always look forward to our first time in an area, and particularly in smaller towns where you can really tap into the scene more easily than in a larger city.
I watched your video for “Oh To Be” and it had you on vocals. I then watched a couple live performances online and saw that Eben does most of the singing. What was it like to take the lead on that song, and why did you guys decide to have you sing it?
We used to split the lead singing duties more evenly, but as we’ve refined the sound of the band more recently, we’ve really settled on a direction that features Eben’s vocals up front which allows me to delve into the banjo playing more. That combination of soulful vocals with boogie woogie inspired banjo playing over a syncopated New Orleans style rhythm section and blues guitar has really become our trademark sound. And so now on the handful of songs that I do sing lead on, it’s a really nice variation in the course of a live show since the band can shift gears a bit.
You guys are from Brooklyn but cite New Orleans as a major influence when it comes to your sound. What drew you to New Orleans ethos within your songwriting?
In the early days of the band, we did a lot of busking, or street performing. There’s a long tradition of that in New Orleans, and we were actually playing a lot of that classic dixieland repertoire, and we featured clarinet and trumpet as well. So we took that New Orleans style and tradition, but filtered it through the streets of NYC where we were playing, and the whole pace and volume of the city streets really informed our sound and led us in some directions that a band on Royal Street may not have went. Even though we’re not playing on the street anymore, that experience of drawing people in still influences our approach to performing and writing.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
We all have our own individual influences that inform our own styles, but as a band, it’s important to have some shared influences that can serve as a kind of reference point when we’re working on new music. So we can say “Let’s try that Taj Mahal feel here,” or “What kind of bridge would Tom Waits write here?” Some of our biggest shared influences are New Orleans artists like Dr. John and Professor Longhair for the swagger and groove. The Band is a big one for us, as they combined elements of rock, blues and folk into their own sound, and also featured multiple lead singers and a lot of great harmony singing. John Hartford is also right up there since he really pushed the boundaries of string band music, and particularly the banjo, and his songwriting could be really beautiful, quirky, earnest, and irreverent all at once.
Where are some of your favorite places to play, in terms of cities and venues, and why?
We always love our hometown shows in NYC since there are so many old friends and familiar faces that come through, and we’ve got a network of great musicians who will sit in. And though the band is still based there, a few of us have since relocated, so New Haven and Charlottesville have become home bases that show us lots of love. We’ve also got incredible fan bases in places like D.C., Boston and Portland. When we’ve travled further afield to places like Colorado and California, it’s been interesting to see how they differ from the east coast fans. And generally, any city that has some good late night food is always a favorite of ours so that we can grab a post-show meal.
Are there any lesser-known artists that you’ve encountered that we should be checking out? Who are you listening to the most these days?
Some artists that we’ve been digging lately are The Wood Brothers, The California Honeydrops, Darlingside, The Stray Birds, Front Country, Water Seed, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds.
It’s 2016. I see that you guys have been at this for a long time, relatively speaking. What’s the next step in the evolution for Roosevelt Dime?
We reformed the band in the spring of 2014, so even though we’ve been around for about seven years, it feels like we’re just hitting our stride now with the current format and it’s sounding better than ever. We feel it’s a really unique style, so now it’s all about continuing to define and develop that sound. It’s an exciting time to be a songwriter because I think a lot of people are looking to the arts to get relief and an alternative view from all the apathy and distrust that we’re bombarded with. So we try to make feel good music that speaks to the times in which we live, and offer some hope and optimism in our music even when we’re touching on subjects like inequality or injustice. We aim to really make music for the mind, body and soul.
Along those same lines, what are your plans for 2016?
We’ve been writing and arranging new material that really showcases our style and sound, and we’ll be releasing some of that material this summer. In the meantime, we’ll be touring nationwide and trying to spread some joy and inspire people every time we take the stage.
What are some of your career’s biggest highlights so far and why?
Our first trip to Colorado in 2015 was a big highlight since there’s such a great music culture there, and it’s just such a stunning location that I had never personally visited before. Anytime we get to perform for a good festival crowd is pretty unbeatable, so places like Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, John Hartford Memorial Fest, and the Philly Folk Fest have been really great moments for us.
And finally, what can we expect from your show at Cafe Nola?
You can expect a really high energy performance that you can just open up and dance to, or you can really focus in on the message of the song. There’s so much hard work that goes in behind the scenes with the travel, logistics, rehearsing, etc., that when we finally take the stage, it’s such a joyful and cathartic experience for us, and we try to pass that feeling on to our fans.