Monday, April 1, 2013

Roses - ROSES

Andrew Tobiassen is barreling down the New York State Thruway talking a mile a minute on his phone, hung over, and very excited. Understandably so, seeing as how he just released one of the most infectious sounding pop records of the year. ROSES, the eponymous debut EP of Tobiassen’s new band, was released online February 20th and anyone who bought it right away has most likely listened to little else in the last month and a half. I was able to catch Andy for a phone interview on his drive back home to Brooklyn after a month long tour of the US, including shows in Austin, TX for the SXSW Festival. He spoke a bit about the genesis of Roses, the comfort of touring, and how Harmony Korine and Lou Reed make for strange, yet inspiring, bedfellows.

With its tinny drum machine beats, synth flourishes, and Dionesque vocals, Roses is about as dissimilar from Tobiassen’s former band, Deer Tick, as can be. “I wanted to get away from ‘Alt-Folk’ or ‘Alt-Country’,” Tobiassen explained, “It was important that whatever I did sounded like ROCK.” While he was only lead guitarist for the Providence based rockers for two years, Andy’s experience with John McCauley and crew thrust him into a swirling community of eclectic musicians that have influenced his developing style and helped birth Roses.

“After Deer Tick I was just doing a whole lotta nothing. Working shitty jobs, working at Lady Ga Ga’s restaurant. Living in Brooklyn and just writing tons of songs.” In between odd jobs, Tobiassen would perform one off solo shows and gig with various bands including fellow Brooklynites, The Shivers. A friendship with Shivers founder, Keith Zarriello, developed and Andy began a new stylistic phase. “I basically had a songwriting apprenticeship with Keith. Just over a year of nothing but trying to write a good song. I think I found it.”

While the songs on ROSES are easily accessible and broad enough for near universal appeal, the influence of Brooklyn and the simultaneous agony and ecstasy of urban living weigh heavy on the albums six tracks. Tobiassen sets the tone perfectly in the initial lines of album opener “I See It All”…

There’s some good people in this town. Paper thin walls, Game show sounds.

Broken glass, Road rage. Barking dogs, Metal chains.

“It’s just where I was living. Where I was at in my life for that year. I wanted it to be weird and out there and loving all at the same time. I wanted it to be honest. I wanted it to be… roses.”

Amidst the familiar and beguilingly catchy songs on ROSES, lies a distinctiveness and conceptual originality that is almost a genre onto itself. From the stark black album cover that sports a hilarious found photo of bi-racial/lesbian/80’s romance to the rather unambiguous band name, the aesthetic of Roses, while still calculated and hip, is a welcome breeze of earnestness and romanticism.

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Roses wear its influences on its sleeve while still managing to sound unique. A steady diet of Lou Reed, Buddy Holly, Suicide, and Marc Bolan provided Tobiassen with an eclectic palette from which to pull. “So many of those old guys, they sound like cartoon characters. So otherworldly. So bright and melodic. I didn’t want to make reverb Pitchfork background music. I wanted it to be me right out in front.”

The influence of Lou Reed in particular is quite apparent (Roses first single, before the EP’s release was a cover of Sweet Jane). But its Reed’ s more ethereal qualities that Tobiassen is able to channel and thus create an opportunity for sincerity to meld with sonic experimentation. “Coney Island Baby is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And you know Gummo? The Harmony Korine movie. It makes people uncomfortable but the thing is… it’s not real. It’s honest but it’s a dream world.” The same can be said of Tobiassen’s songs in which he pieces together the innocence and lovey dovey sounds of 50’s rock n roll with bright, minimal electronic production. “I wanted room to breathe in the music. To have the beats and synth to be natural not oppressive” he explains, “I wanted it to sound like an artifact. Like you found it in the gutter while you were waiting for the train.”

While the EP is only a few weeks old, it has already gained some traction, widely circulated amongst Tobiassen’s network of artists and musicians. When Roses went out on a month long tour the growing popularity of the EP was evident by the last few dates. “We got to Austin for South By and people already knew the words to the songs. It was great.” With tunes this fun and addictive it’s no surprise they’re so well received. The reception has ignited a fuse within Tobiassen. “I feel most comfortable when I’m touring. I don’t want to stop. I just want to re-record the whole EP, add six new songs, and release a beautiful record. This won’t feel real until I have a gorgeous full- length vinyl LP in my hands.”

As a new fan of Roses, I couldn’t agree more.

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