brent johnson speaks with the New Jersey rock and funk outfit about their origins, their music and their love for bears as they get ready to perform on tomorrow night, Feb. 16, at Pop-Break.com’s Shipwrecked At The Shore Showcase at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J. …
New Jersey rockers Root Glen were about to start work on their debut record last year when they realized a problem.
They had written plenty of songs, but some of them were funk, some of it were ambient, some of them were sunny indie rock.
“We had a pretty diverse catalogue of music that didn’t seem to fit together on one collection,” guitarist/singer Ross Griswold explains.
So one day, driving home from a show in Boston, Root Glen had an idea: They wouldn’t make a single album. They’d release four EPs instead — one for each season of the year.
Summer is filled with the more carefree, upbeat tunes. Fall features darker tracks. Winter has songs with an even colder feel.
It’s another clever idea for a band full of quirks. For example: Visit one of their many shows, and you’re bound to find Glen, a bear-suited mascot, dancing about the crowd — to a song called ‘Dieting Bears,’ of course.
See for yourself tomorrow night, Feb. 16, when Root Glen plays the second night of Pop-Break’s ongoing Shipwrecked At The Shore Showcase at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J. (They’re sharing the bill with local hero Chris Brown and my own band, The Clydes.)
Root Glen got its roots at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., an upstate town about 40 minutes east of Syracuse — “right in the middle of nowhere,” Griswold jokes.
But that’s where he met singer/guitarist David Moroney. They eventually took their band name from an arboretum at the school.
“We actually wrote ‘Dieting Bears’ on the edge of the Root Glen,” Griswold, 27, recalls. “We wanted to have [a band name] that didn’t really have context to a lot of people. It’s tough to find a name that doesn’t conjure up an image with people. Our name is kind of a blank slate.”
But Root Glen officially started with a flier. Griswold answered an advertisement seeking musicians that drummer Eric Blank had put up at the Guitar Center in his hometown of East Brunswick, N.J. — the same suburb where Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg and Olympic gold-medal soccer player Heather O’Reilly grew up.
Bassist Dan Savas joined next, bringing the funk element to the group. Moroney came on board after graduating from college. Andre Felipe Gonzalez later replaced Savas on bass.
Most of Root Glen hails from New Jersey. Griswold is from Stirling, Gonzalez from North Plainfield. California native Moroney is the only out-of-stater.
The group has become a popular attraction across the Garden State over the last two years. They played their first gig at The Saint in Asbury Park. They often headline Rolf’s in Warren. And they played a half-dozen times at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick — the famed rock club that suddenly closed down last month.
But Root Glen also travels relentlessly. After tomorrow’s showcase at the Wonder Bar, they visit The Village Tavern at Hamilton College on Friday; Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, Mass., on Saturday; and back home for Triumph Brewery in Princeton next Friday, Feb. 24 and Old Bay in New Brunswick — a venue they filled to capacity last time — on March 10.
Last year alone, Root Glen played about 40 shows. They’ve arrived during a strange time for original bands — when musicians can create whole albums on their computers and fans can download them with a click of a mouse, but when A&R reps rarely scout groups at clubs anymore and rock venues like the Court are shuttering.
“You can really do anything you want at this point,” Griswold says. “Which is cool — it leads to innovation about how to put music out and the way it’s written. You don’t need to write radio-friendly songs to build a fanbase.
“But with all that possibility, there’s not one goal to shoot for. There’s not one formula. It’s tough to track if you’re actually making progress.”
At the very least, Root Glen is drawing attention. Their live shows shimmer with energy. Their sound is part pop, part rock, part dance, part R&B. One song, “Battle Cry,” is driven by slap bass and distorted guitar. “Throw It In The Bay” is packed with moody arpeggios and rich tenor vocals.
Then, there’s the bear. Root Glen has a different friend or fan wear the costume at every show.
“It’s definitely one of the things people get excited about,” Griswold says.
The shortest person ever to wear the suit was a 4-foot-11 female friend. “It was probably my favorite bear because you couldn’t see her in the crowd,” Griswold says with a laugh.
The tallest person? It happened a month ago at Old Bay, when the club’s security guard asked if he could fill in as mascot. “We had a 6-foot-4 guy wearing a bear head at various points in the night,” Griswold chuckles.
It all has made ‘Dieting Bears’ something of an anthem for Root Glen.
“The song itself is kind of poppy and happy and catchy,” Griswold says. “It’s a fun one to dance to at the end of the night.
“But we’ve debated whether we want that to be our signature song. We definitely feel we have better songs. There are songs we’re more proud of. We don’t want to get boxed in as a joke band.”
Listen to their EPs, and that shouldn’t be a problem. Winter — released earlier this month — is their most serious offering.
“Some of the tracks give you the feeling of being outside when it’s really cold and dark,” Griswold explains. “Or inside by the fire — a hibernating feeling.”
Root Glen have yet to begin recording the final seasonal EP, but they hope to have it ready for release by May. So what will Spring sound like?
“We’ve all been talking about how much we wanted to focus on some actual funk,” Griswold says. “Elements of it were in there before, but we want to dedicate one EP to getting as funky as we can.”
Is spring the funkiest season then?
“I think it might be,” Griswold says. “We’re certainly are going to find out.”