Interview with Ben Ross of Roosevelt Radio

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to interview Ben Ross, the front man of Roosevelt Radio. This local Bay Area band is quickly gaining recognition with their synth infused rock sound and recent exposure to the media. Ben tells me about their unique YouTube project, recent success, and how he balances the demands of being a grad student with the responsibilities of being in a band.

Roosevelt Radio is made up of Philip Coffin, Joel Line, Adrian Mccullough, Sarah Morgan, and Ben Ross.

Tell me about your role in the band and how the band formed.
I’m kind of the front man. Our band has a lot of personality so we are kind of evolving as we go. It’s an interesting group of people. I’m the Ph.D. student, our bass player was building ships and yachts, our keyboardist is an English major from UCLA who works publishing, and our drummer is an environmentalist who teaches and manages teachers. It’s a real motley crew of people that have been in a variety of different projects. We all kind of came together around this idea of liking this movement of indie that is going on now. Indie music is becoming more mainstream in some way. It’s kind of a word that doesn’t mean anything anymore, but I guess my vision used to be of this underground, it’s too cool for anyone to hear it, kind of thing. We are interested in something that is beyond that, that is still cool. It’s not pop music; it has some art to it. We definitely try to put art into the music. It’s something that is accessible. It’s something that you can play to someone who isn’t into a specific form of music so that is what brought us together.

There are some different aesthetics in the band. We can fight all day about what we are trying to do. Our influences are Arcade Fire, and a little more electronic influences like the Postal Service. It’s funny because sometimes people will say different things from what we think our influences are. But those definitely are two big influences along with The Strokes and Passion Pit. They’re a pretty new band but they’re kind of blowing up.

What’s your song writing process like? Would you describe it as a collaborative effort?
Yeah! We’re still kind of learning. Typically it’s me, but everyone is doing some writing in the band. For at least the first set of songs we released, it was kind of me saying, ‘here’s a song’ and I'll record a rough demo that sounds kind of cheesy usually and bring it to the band. Everyone will take what I have as a starting point and develop their part. A lot of it is playing in the room and adapting. Then someone will go home, listen to it and say, ‘hey check out this guitar.’ Then I’ll say, ‘That’s way better than what I came up with’ and we proceed in that way.

What’s the story behind your comedy series on YouTube?
We just launched our YouTube account and we realized that we’ve been foolish because YouTube is the most important online media and way to connect with people. We were brainstorming and thinking about how we can do something beyond what other bands are doing. If you go on YouTube, you don’t want to see a music video of a song you’ve never heard of a band you’ve never heard unless that video is amazing. It’s really hard to make good music videos. We’re working on music videos but we really wanted something beyond us sitting there playing music. We wanted to get our personalities across and connect with people. We all have a sense of humor so why not try to get that across in some way.

The concept is sort of a how-to series but not really a how-to series. It’s a comedy based around music and around being in a band because there are all sorts of funny things that happen in the band, so we try to exaggerate those and connect people in that way.

What is the band’s biggest accomplishment so far?
Right now in terms of where we’ve been, this week has really been a turning point for us. We played in LA last week at Gimme the Gig sponsored by Ford. That was the biggest show we’ve played. It was at the Whisky A Go Go in LA. It was a packed room. I don’t know how many people fit in there, probably a few hundred. Playing that show was great. They did a TV special so in the past week we’ve been on the radio, TV, print and online so we’re really excited because it’s hard.

We’ve spent the last year saying, ‘Hey, listen to us; we’re out here!’ and we’re finally seeing some of this turn-around. What brings a smile to my face is when I log onto our website or Twitter feed and see someone that I don’t know who’s not a personal friends of mine saying, ‘Hey, you guys are awesome. I just listened to your single.’ It feels really good to know that you’re connecting with people through music. That’s probably our biggest accomplishment so far, I would say.

All images courtesy of Roosevelt Radio.

Did anything weird or crazy happen at that show or any of your shows?
Always. The Whisky show was pretty hilarious because the people who put it on – they did a great job, but they’re not used to putting on rock shows so there were a few quirks. We brought out this huge box of merchandise and we had all our stuff and set up a beautiful display. It turns out that they were having us set up in this private area where the fans couldn’t reach. So we were sitting at the merch table wondering why we weren’t selling anything. All seven of the bands were lined up with their merch and no one could buy anything. It was hilarious.

The other thing at that show was that our guitarist’s pedal started to kind of explode and it had a mind of its own. We were sitting there trying to play and I heard a boom noise. We’re learning how to deal with those things. You always run into those technical difficulties.

What’s next for your band? What do you hope to accomplish this year?
We’d love to go on tour and take it to the next level. We’re playing some cool venues around here. Definitely going on tour, and definitely seeing some more singles, getting out there on YouTube and growing.

How do you handle being a grad student and being in a band?
The grad student life doesn’t really have boundaries and my life definitely doesn’t have boundaries. I would say that I work all my waking hours, but I also haven’t worked at all. It’s all fun. The beauty is that it’s flexible. I can work when I need to. If I need to stay home for a day or in the morning and record a song, I can do it and I can be in the lab late at night. It’s definitely a challenge to balance but you kind of juggle to make it happen.

Be sure to check out Roosevelt Radio. You can find their music on their website and you can find their comedy series here.

Anna Leal
BARE Reporter

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