M.A.D. Wednesday: James Arlowe & The Ruffian Circus

joe zorzi speaks with the Freehold, N.J., band performing tonight at The Downtown in Red Bank …

James Arlowe & The Ruffian Circus is: James Arlowe -– vocals/guitar; James Fox –- lead guitar; Mark Pasquarello -– keys/synth, cccordion; Mike Lynn –- bass; Andrew Oliva –- drums/percussion

We formed in: January 2011

We’re based out of: Freehold, N.J.

Find our current music (online, in stores at): http://www.reverbnation.com/jamesarlowe

Our sound has been likened to: Tom Petty, The Black Keys, Johnny Cash

Awesome Bands we’ve performed with: The Briar Patch, Elevator Art

Pop-Break: How did you guys get involved with The Downtown and the M.A.D. Wednesday series?

James Arlowe: Well, I believe my drummer and acting manager, Andrew Oliva, he got in contact with the people down there and they booked us.

PB: And have you guys played there before?

JA: As a band, we haven’t played there. I’ve played there in the past, the open mic nights and all this when I was a little bit younger.

PB: How long have you been around the scene playing music?

JA: I’ve kind of been in and out for a couple years. I was in Brooklyn for a little while.

PB: Oh yeah? Playing music?

JA: Well, I worked for a studio called Rough Magic Studios.

PB: Oh, sound engineering?

JA: I started off an intern and it was a relatively small studio, and then we started getting some cool bands in and I was kind of assisting on some of the projects.

PB: And you came back more recently?

JA: I was there for about two years and then I moved back ’cause times started getting a little tough. And I moved back to Jersey and I was commuting for a little bit and the commute was getting a little too much as well.

PB: You guys have a ton of shows coming up in August and especially September.

JA: Oh yeah, we’re like booked solid for September.

PB: Any of those places in particular you’re a fan of?

JA: Well, so far I think our favorite place to play is The Sainy [in Asbury Park, N.J.]. They welcomed us with open arms.

We started doing a bunch of covers as well and we got a regular spot now down at the Shark Fin Inn [in Forked River, N.J.]. They’ve been real kind to us, and we’re booked ’til the end of the year there. They let us do our originals, they let us do our covers.

PB: And you play full-band, right?

JA: Oh yeah, it’s just a … it’s a crazy, rowdy night.

PB: You guys have a ton of covers that you play. Do you have a preference over originals and covers?

JA: Um, I wouldn’t say there’s a preference, but playing the covers is definitely a lot of fun. You know? And to delve into some of the music that we really love and share that with people and have a great time doing that.

PB: You see benefits to playing cover shows, as opposed to just playing original sets?

JA: Oh yeah, you definitely get a much broader audience. I mean, as broad as our covers list is, we do stuff from the ’60s and ’70s up to today, so … little bit of something for everybody.

PB: I also saw this past week you were on 95.9 the WRAT as the Jersey Band of the Week. How did that come about? How did you guys get involved with the WRAT?

JA: Well, [DJ Maria Mar] played our last band. She played our stuff and then we contacted her again and she’s like, ‘Yeah, definitely,’ so …

PB: How’s it feel to hear your stuff on the radio?

JA: Oh, it’s just … [laughs] It’s crazy, it really is. It really is something else, you know?

PB: It used to be once you got to the radio, you were it. And I guess it’s not exactly the same these days, but it’s still gotta be the same feeling.

JA: Yeah. But yeah I don’t know, I mean … I think it still holds the same importance. I know when you hear yourself on the radio, it feels, you know … it’s something that you, as a musician, you dream about. And to actually hear it come out of the radio waves is a whole different experience than just sharing it online or on your computer because you have control over what you want to listen to and what you don’t want to listen to on the computer. But, the radio is like somebody selects you to be on there, you know what I mean? It’s a special thing.

PB: How long have you been playing music?

JA: I would say after I got my first guitar at around 5 or 6 from my uncle.

PB: 5 or 6? Wow, that’s pretty early. So you started on guitar.

JA: Yeah and then, you know, it was like one of those toy guitars, and then I put that down ’cause I also played sports. Then I picked it back up when I was around 10 years old.

PB: Still way younger than when most people end up starting. And I know Bruce [Springsteen] was an influence. Being from Freehold, I guess that’s pretty much a given, right?

JA: Well absolutely, yeah. He was actually the reason why I picked up the guitar again at 10 years old. I’m sure you were probably, you were a little bit younger, but he played back over at St. Rose for a charity event. And I remember hearing about it in school and I was like, ‘I gotta go check this out.’ So I snuck in with this family who I didn’t even know and I caught “Johnny 99” and man … that song, you know … that was it for me.

PB: And that was the moment where you were like, ‘Time to get real with this. Time to start up again’?

JA: Well [laughs], yeah it was such a portentous moment. It was great.

PB: It must’ve been cool in a small setting too, in St. Rose.

JA: Yeah. Yeah, I went to CCD there ’cause they were doing work on St. Robert’s school.

PB: And what influences do you have outside of Bruce?

JA: I mean, it’s been like a crazy journey. I think Elvis was like the first thing that I was into. It was rock and roll from there. And then, I got in to metal a little bit and then, you know stuff like Thursday and Thrice and RX Bandits. Those bands. I always loved like stuff in the ’50s and the whole American Graffiti soundtrack is filled with great songs. A couple other influences — Bob Dylan is definitely a big influence. Tom Waits, Hank Williams, Jack White, Jake Dylan. Why I love these guys so much is ’cause they’re just such multi-faceted artists, you know what I mean? They can do anything. Then there’s also the old blues guys who are just like in a different category. You know, it’s like almost other worldly if you will. Those guys just pull from someplace else. Like Son House and Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters.

PB: So how did you get involved with the other guys in your band? You were in a band already with Mike and Andrew. What about the other guys?

JA: Well, James [Fox] we actually found on Craigslist. It was almost like a turn of fate. It was just us three playing together with James Arlowe & The Ruffian Circus and we looked on Craigslist and I think that he had moved down like a week before he put the ad on. He moved down from New York. We emailed him and had him jam with us and history from there.

PB: And how’d you get an accordion player — how did that work out?

Live at The Trash Bar in Brooklyn

JA: Oh well, Mark is a [laughs] … Mark is a freak of nature, man. And he’s a friend of a good friend, and he could put anything in his hands and he is able to play it.

PB: And then you got Mike Lynn on bass and Andrew Oliva on drums.

JA: Well, we were playing in this other band that was slowly falling apart. I recorded this EP on my own while I was in that band, and they heard it. And once things started falling apart, you know, nobody wanted to quit playing so they all jumped on board.

PB: What should people who haven’t heard you expect from your shows?

JA: If you wanna come check us out and you don’t really know what to expect, you’re gonna get some rock ‘n’ roll. Some really diverse stuff.

PB: A classic rock ‘n’ roll show. I know that’s missing from music these days — it’s all electronic music.

JA: Yeah, you know, and that’s not a road that I really wanted to go down at all. I think when we go into the studio, we’ll be recording live and taped.

PB: Really?

JA: Yeah, yeah. We’re gonna do it the right way. [laugh]

PB: That’s awesome, not a lot of artists do that anymore at all, so …

JA: Yeah, we feel that putting a little more work into it, you know — that’s how rock ‘n’ roll should be. Rock ‘n’ roll’s a live thing, that’s how it lives and it breathes. Like multi-track and whatnot is practical sometimes for music, it’s practical for some bands as well, but we’re willing to put a little more backbone into doing it. Because it is a little more money.

PB: Anything else you’d like to add for people who haven’t heard you?

JA: Well I mean, we just love playing and we’re serious as hell about it. But it’s also fucking rock ‘n’ roll. You step onto the stage and we treat it more as a whatever happens happens kind of thing, you know? It’s about keeping a constant balance of awareness and structure with like a reckless abandon. And when those elements are in harmony, it’s a beautiful thing.