The interview with Robby Roadsteamer about his upcoming record, I’ll Be At Your Funeral, written and recorded by the band rechristened as simply Roadsteamer, was a revelation. I expected the obnoxious and ludicrous frontman who penned “I Put a Baby in You” to be cagey or difficult; I was miles off. He’s genteel, oddly shy, and self-deprecating.
It seems that after an unlucky recent run with the music business and love, he is now comfortable revealing his soft underbelly, his adoration of Boston, his loyalty to his friends, and a newfound musical maturity. That doesn’t mean his new record doesn’t boast song titles like “I Hope you Get Ugly in Heaven” and “The North Shore is Where You’re Gonna Soar”; after all, he is still the man whose moniker means, to quote Mick Jagger, a “Turd on the Run.” Go figure.
Noise: Is Robby Roadsteamer a character you’ve created or is that who you really are?
Robby Roadsteamer: I moved to Allston two years ago as a comedian trying to write funny songs. The character I created, “Robby Roadsteamer,” was a projection of the Masshole shit I’ve seen all around me. People shitting on other people on message boards, real life, everywhere… I joined in the fun. But over the last two years I’ve met some wonderful musicians, artists, people—this new album is just an attempt at trying to be one myself, and I think all the while to evolve the character. I’m sure there’s some deeply fucked up psychological problems with me growing to like the character I’m playing, but I’m changing it in a direction I’m actually going in.
Noise: Explain the titles of your recordings: Postcards from the Den of Failure, The Heart of a Rhino—and the current one: I’ll Be At Your Funeral.
Robby: The Heart of a Rhino—no one wants me to do this shit. Everyone shits on me but I will keep going. Postcards From the Den of Failure—here’s a bunch of songs I wrote in my apartment about what I do in life. I’ll be at Your Funeral—I have a band. It’s time to put an end to me just being a cynic and take a chance of trying to write music for once.
Noise: Explain the bands name change from Robby Roadsteamer to simply Roadsteamer.
Robby: I never had the pleasure of having a solid band for a single album. I always worked with session guys that were really good friends, Ken Susi [Unearth], Adam D. [Killswitch Engage], Dave Pino [Waltham, Damone], Derek Kirswell [Seemless], Peet Golan [Waltham] and many more. Because of that it never ever felt like a band for the albums. On this album the band I’ve been with for the last two years is showcased. They’re all very talented musicians [even though no one has ever been nominated for shit in this town]. Nick on keys, Pete on guitar, Jay on bass, Ray on drums. On this album it’s a group effort. We all sing, we all write, we all enjoyed just being a band—me especially. The name change is just the fact I am very proud of these guys and wanted to show that there might be an evolution in what I’m doing.
Noise: What can people expect at one of your shows that say, The Dresden Dolls, wouldn’t do or give the audience?
Robby: Even though my character shits on them, I have a deep respect for the Dolls—as I think a lot of musicians do who won’t admit it. I think the amazing part of their show is how many local artist/people they got involved and how many people they tried to help when they made it. How any venue they play in becomes the show because the audience is such a part of it—how unique their sound is and how savvy they are at marketing. As for me, I don’t think my band is re-inventing the wheel on live performing, but I think if you come to our show you get a band who grew up in Massachusetts and rather than writing textbook song bullshit decided to just tell some tales of the North/South Shores, Western Mass, Route 9, the Berkshires; I’m so happy to be just a tiny part of this scene
Noise: How do you feel about your job as a DJ at WBCN?
Robby: WBCN saved my life. Even though it probably burned my bridges at other stations, I love the fact they let the character say anything on the air… anything… I can shit on the play-list, station, even the other DJ’s…. But in real life I couldn’t be happier with everyone down there. They are all down to earth dorks… no egos. I never look forward to anything more than the drive down Soldier’s Field Road to the station.
Noise: Are you still doing comedy shows? What’s the difference between working the crowd at the comedy show versus the rock show?
Robby:I stopped doing standup comedy a year ago for a few reasons. One being that I have to move to New York or Los Angeles to make it, and I’m in love with Boston. Why should I have to leave where I love to be when some dude born in New York can just walk down the street to make it. I feel like I’m playing for the Red Sox in this case… stay here and fight twice as hard for a championship, or move to New York and just be another muthafucka winning! Reason two: I hate how stale most audiences are at comedy clubs…. Even though I feel Nick and I do a great job at comedy clubs nothing beats a rock audience… the energy… the build-up… not the “make me laugh” faces you see at comedy clubs… can’t use amps to drown out douchebags in untucked dress shirts at comedy clubs.
Noise: What role does drugs play in the creation of your music?
Robby: I wrote this album in a really dark time last year. I got fucked over by a subsidiary of Universal, I loved and lost a girl, I sold hats… shit, I still do. I went home every night and blazed to live with myself and found myself listening to my iPod on shuffle every night. Then I would write a song and feel better…. sometimes acid and ’shrooms would replace weed. Whether or not this makes me a better songwriter—most would say I’m a shitty one to begin with so who cares—I don’t know. All I know is I’m scared to write a song in my normal state because I’m too shy to not shit on myself too. I feel much more confident in bearing my soul when I’m in a different perception.
Noise: You have a very fitting rant about the Boston music scene in your latest video [which you can see on YouTube]—is that how you really feel? That it’s a bunch of aging hipsters pissing and moaning on message-boards?
Robby: I think it’s a big part of the problem. People will quickly say, “but Robby you shit on everyone.” What they fail to realize is I’m doing it in character and kind of make fun of the Masshole thing we have cooking. I hope being a cynic on a message-board is a fad that will date itself in 5-10 years. Musicians are fragile people and I heard a lot of them quote message-boards when they say people hate their music…. I know I know… suck it up. But there’s something to be said about the lack of bigger musicians appearing on a lot of these message-boards anymore because some fat-fuck on a futon is waiting to have his moment typing venom at them.
Noise: Some of the best musicians in the scene appear in your videos; would you say that making it into the Stronghold [Robby’s name for his apartment] is a rite of passage?
Robby: Every local band I mention or put in a video I love. Campaign For Real-time, Reverend Glasseye, Bang Camaro, The Snowleopards, Unearth, The Luxury, Seemless, Nowhere USA, Reverend Glasseye. I just want to show off some really cool people in the scene, but not do it in a way people feel they’re being force-fed—like an interview but instead, stick them in a shitcom about the Boston music scene!
Noise: Who was your favorite apartment guest?
Robby: I have to say Reverend Glasseye. I have a great respect for him over the past year. We were both in heavy transitional periods of our careers, and after we would film our segments we’d sit in his tour van and talk about what we were experiencing in the scene. I’m really happy I got to befriend him before he ran away to Austin, Texas. I’ll always point to him as a reason I felt I could make an album like this.
Noise: What do you think your new record does that your past recordings didn’t do—what’s new lyrically, sonically, collaboratively?
Robby: We went to Q-Division and that right there is a fucking home run. All the vintage gear, great people working there—right down to the interns. When I called Ed Valauskas to book the studio he brought an intern named Wick back from the last time we recorded there—the kid drove two hours from Western Massachusetts to help us! Kris Smith, our engineer, was the best thing to ever happen to us. He drilled us like a sergeant but gave us room to experiment. The result in my opinion is an album that is what I wanted to do with music from the beginning—not just write fucking funny songs, but rather cynical songs set to good music.
Noise: So is it a better record?
Robby: For me yes. I never spent more time in my life on something.
Noise: Last question. You bear your chest onstage and on video; can you explain the significance of your favorite tattoo?
Robby: I have Carlton Fisk on my arm hitting the game winning home run in Game six of the ’75 World Series. That’s my favorite. The moment. One inch to the left and it’s a foul ball… but it goes off the fucking foul pole—that’s rare in itself. I could only imagine a moment like that in someone’s life. Even if it’s for a night. Everyone imagines something like that. But it’s just luck and it’s just inches and it’s once in a lifetime. I hope to have something like that before I move on.
Roadsteamer live: the CD release is June 23 at the Paradise with The Campaign For Real-Time, Fluttr Effect, and The Snowleopards (the band whose BMA award he stole).