Local Music Tap: Alex Steel Of Roster McCabe
Let’s get real.
I started doing music interviews in June of 2011 and — amazingly enough — started with Mark Foster of Foster The People. Since then, I’ve interviewed great acts, including Wesley Shultz of The Lumineers, Ann Wilson of Heart, Stephen Marley of … Stephen Marley and many more.
Now, they’ve been great and they’re big-selling national acts, but something needs to change. I need to get local.
So, I’m making a big push for Minnesota-based bands and figured my first featured band, Roster McCabe, would provide a great first example: a successful local band that’s well-respected, talented and on the upswing.
I’m currently on the search for more Minnesota musicians of a variety of backgrounds, and I’d like your feedback, too. Do you know any lesser-known acts that attract followers, but just haven’t had the chance at getting some press? Let me know in the comments below or e-mail me.
In the meantime, enjoy the Roster McCabe feature below:
Roster McCabe jams, but they’re not quite a jam band. They rock out, but they’re not quite a rock band. They, in fact, prefer to be called “electrorock.” Whatever you call them, what they most want to accomplish is quite simple: get people dancing.
By blending rock, reggae, funk, fusion and a myriad of other styles — all while channeling uplifting, inspiring, hopeful, look-up-to-the-stars-and-smile-type lyrics — Roster McCabe really does get people moving.
Since they began nearly eight years ago, Roster has expanded its reach, branching out from the Twin Cities and is now touring across the greater Midwest, from Montana to Kentucky.
Before a show in Indiana, we caught up with front-man Alex Steele, who took some time to talk about the band’s rise in the Minneapolis music scene, what they’re up to now and their true hopes/dreams as a band. (Make sure you stay til the end — there’s a sweet video you don’t want to miss.)
What’s up, man? Where do I find you today?
Hello! We’re in Evansville, Indiana … in the middle of a 10-day run and playing shows every night. Right now, we’re at a place called Lamasco. It’s pretty fun, man, it’s a big college town and they’re really supportive of the local music scene. It’s kinda like a little oasis in the Midwest.
I see you’ve played in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, South/North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois in basically the last month, how do you guys do it? Do you guys ever just simply get too fatigued to tour?
It’s tough, man. It’s not easy uprooting everything all the time and living out of suitcase.
The best way I can say it is, that you definitely have to find a balance, especially having been on the road for so long. You start to understand your limits. We try to eat healthy, you know, stay healthy, get the rest when we can and it kind of helps to be extroverted as far as drawing energy from other people, drawing energy from the crowd.
Since the band started, how has touring evolved for you guys over the years?
(Touring) has changed quite a bit. The vehicles have changed around a couple times. Our touring route definitely has changed. You take a look at what you’re doing and try to be more efficient. You find out places that hit and you find out those that don’t. Obviously, expanding is one of those things you do as a business or as a band – reaching new markets. So now, we play the greater part of the Midwest, from Colorado to Ohio and as far south as Arkansas and Kentucky.
Back to the beginning, can you give me a little back story as to how the group formed?
At first, it was something just to blow off some steam. It was just a fun thing. When we were getting done (with college), Mike Daum, the lead guitarist, had a job he hated (laughs), you know, and went so he could basically have money so we could play music. Drew (Preiner) and I were finishing school and we were like, ‘We can make this our job and not have to do anything else.’ That’s when we started the full band project and looked to fill the roles of drums and bass and actually consider ourselves a legit band and go for a career, you know?
I hear that you guys consider yourself a rock band with a variety of sounds. Is this a result of your individual interests or are you all kind of scatterbrained stylistically?
(Laughs) That’s a good way to put it! You know, I think it’s a little bit of both, maybe? We call ourselves electrorock, and that’s more to explain the tonality of it.
We definitely do come from a long back story of different interests. I guess we kind of influence each other. We try everything. If a certain style fits a groove/fits what we’re working with, we’ll definitely give it shot.
I’m gonna give you a classic question: As a vocalist, who are your inspirations? As a keyboardist?
I can give you a lot of classic answers, too. (Laughs) There’s a lot of Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, my dad’s from Jamaica, so I grew up listening to a lot of reggae, like Beres Hammond. My mom’s straight Midwest, so I grew up with a lot of Elvis Costello, Elton John. After that, I was trying to immolate dude’s like Carl Thomas, Maxwell, Music Soulchild, you know, R&B legends … De’Angelo, Babyface (Laughs) – not proud to admit that one! (Laughs)
As far as piano playing, I definitely consider myself a choir-nerd-gone-piano-player. I’ll listen to Elton John, Chris Martin. I’m in love with Ben Folds, that dude’s a beast.
How does your songwriting process usually go – or does it vary from song to song? Lyrics or music first? Do you guys just start jammin’?
You know, I get a lot of hooks just from conversations with people. I’ll be like, ‘Dude, that’s a good hook’ and I’ll put that one in the bank. Then, I’ll just sit and geek out on my computer and just try to put some chord progressions out that feel good and every once and a while, I’ll go to my bank of hooks and lyrical content and see if they match the vibe of the songs.
In your song, Spark A Light, you sing, “we try to spark a light of guidance, and hope that someone finds it, so this calling won’t be lost.” What kinds of guidance/messages would you like listeners to receive from your music?
We’re getting deep! (Laughs) One of the biggest things that I try to stress is the ability of unity and community, solid wavelengths between people as far as thought and action. That’s a big one – especially in that song.
It’s not so much that I’m trying to preach about one thing or another, just belief, faith and hope in each other.
You guys are obviously big in the Minnesota/Minneapolis music scene. Were there any local bands you guys looked up to as you were beginning to gig around town?
When I first started playing shows in Minneapolis, I mean, obviously I idolized dudes like Morris Day & The Time and Prince, who blew up … a lot of great bands that came out of Minneapolis. We used to play a lot of shows with this band called Catchpenny back in the day, they were kind of a alt-rock band … Hyentyte, Nathan Miller and the Unstoppable Company, and Fat Maw Rooney … those are kind of the dudes we looked up to.
How have you guys taken advantage of new media? What websites/social networks are you guys most involved in? I know you guys are experimenting with the name-your-price for songs on your website (in the spirit of Radiohead) — how has that gone?
We try to stay up on it as much as we can. It’s just, man, we’ve hit this critical mass point now where it’s like everybody wants a piece of that. There’s so many different versions of Facebook, of Twitter, of Instagram, of all those things.
We try to find the most efficient ones to get our message across and get our information out to people … you know, staying active. It’s a cool way to meet people, the Internet. Staying up with it, I guess is the best thing you can do.
For a lot of musicians, it’s not even about getting money from their music, it’s more about touring where they get their revenue from.
Yeah, it’s almost like it has reverted back to the days of the traveling minstrels (Laughs). That’s our only option now, you know? You can’t get $10 for every album and nobody’s distributing our music anymore. You gotta take it in your own hands pretty much and (touring) is the ways to do it — get people out to your shows.
Big question: What ultimate goals do you guys have as a band?
I’d be lying if I said I wanted to stop before I got to the top, you know what I mean? I want to play for as many people as I possibly can. But as idealistic as that sounds, we have a plan to sustain a career in music and that’s what’s most important. We all want to be able to play, and continue to play, for as long as possible because we’re musicians, that’s just who we are.
Lastly, what lesser known songs of yours would you recommend to music fans just getting into your music?
We’ve been going through some changes as a band recently, and I’m glad we’re now finally understanding our bands strengths and weaknesses. We’ve been able to fully realize our band’s sound and what we want to do with it. The songs that really represent that are songs from the new album … There’s a song called, “Take A Breath” and that’s really dancy and really fun, and there’s a lot of really cool elements in it. There’s also a song called, “Nothing to Lose,” which is a personal mantra of mine. We’re definitely starting a new phase, and era, of Roster and hopefully we’ll be able to play something new at Cabooze. We have a lot of new things coming out and I believe they represent how we feel about ourselves as artists and as a band.
Video: Roster McCabe’s hit Stargazer