Fresh off of a summer tour and EP release, alumni band the Rooks made a stop at Wes to headline this year’s MASH festival, on September 11th. Before their set, I shared a nice Usdan dinner with members Garth Taylor '12, Spencer Hattendorf '12, Graham Richman ‘11, and Gabe Gordon '11, where we discussed their time at Wes, squash (the edible kind), Cher’s “Believe”, fake birthdays and a drunken Joan Baez. The Rooks even discovered things about each other that had been previously unknown (sorta).
Prior to meeting with the Rooks, minutes after the Smokin’ Lillies’ MASH set, I was under the impression that the interview wouldn’t be over dinner. But schedules change, and after a brief, awkward phone conversation with Garth, I met the band and we made our way to Usdan. After carefully selecting dinner choices and where to sit (which we all know is *crucial* to the Wesleyan experience) the Rooks and I cozied up around a long table on the quiet(?) side of the dining hall. Garth, reminiscing upon his time in Usdan, commented that during his time at Wes his a cappella group, The Spirits, occasionally shared a meal at the same table.
After giving the group some time to settle into their surroundings, I began the interview by asking about the band’s roots: Wesleyan.
The Rooks formed in a unique way, not performing together as a band until half of the members had graduated from Wesleyan.
When I asked how the Rooks got their start, Spencer commented: “We all knew each other from the Wesleyan music scene, but we really spent four years circling each other. Originally, half of the group was 2012 and half was 2011. And during the spring of 2011, five of us played in Graham’s senior thesis concert, and were like ‘We really want a band to get out of here with. We want to be able to take away a product from Wesleyan since we had such amazing musical experiences here.’”
They then spent the summer jamming at Spencer’s house in Massachusetts and came back in the fall to “do it forreal.”
During the ‘11/’12 school year, Garth, Nate and Spencer attended Wes, while Gabe was living in Middletown, and the other graduated members, (at the time, Louis and Graham,) were living in New York. Frequently, Louis and Graham would commute to Wes for rehearsals, crashing on couches when necessary.
Once the other members graduated, they moved to New York and “took the world by storm.”
When I asked about their most memorable performances at Wesleyan, they all smiled and insisted there were too many to count. Garth cited last semester’s performance at Alpha Delt as “an amazing show of support from the student body”, and their very first show at Psi U as particularly memorable (he wore a sweater and a bowtie). Graham’s favorite was a 2012 senior week show (apparently Lin-Manuel was there).
But most importantly Garth notes, “Every time we come back, we are shocked and thankful that the music scene is what it is here. It always feels unconditionally supportive. We have felt that in this group, and many other groups.”
One of coolest things the Rooks did during their time at Wes was submit a request for a Second Stage play that was actually a two night concert performance in the 92’. The inspo for this crazy performance was?
Garth: “Ego, but yeah Beyonce. We wanted to explode”
But they laughed and claimed that it was mostly the desire to play a venue they had never played before. Having played most other venues at campus, the mysterious black box theater had them wondering “can we do that?” The freedom of the ‘92 allowed them to put on a “bigger-feeling show” that was filmed and featured both a full horn section and guest vocalists.
Besides music, what did they do at Wes?
Spencer: I rowed crew and was also a tour guide (or as Garth put it “king of the tour guides”).
Garth: I did a lot of film stuff, I did a web series here and there. Before performing lively music, that was what my focus was, and that was what I was trying to do at Wesleyan.
Gabe: Mostly throwing birthday parties for tour guides.
The Rooks burst into laughter
Spencer: A lot of my friends would come up to me while I was giving tours and say “Happy Birthday,” and they would do it a lot. One time, while I was stopped outside of Albritton, and giving my talking point, I look up and see a bunch of people, like a mob of my friends (including Gabe), walking down the the hill singing “Happy Birthday” with a cake and balloons (it was nowhere close to my birthday by the way). And my tour was so lame! They wouldn’t join in. But then my friends gave me the cake a balloons and disappeared. So I had to carry these things. I had another 45 minutes left in the tour.
Graham was an econ major and was in Psi U, but also taught tae kwon do classes! (This fact previously unknown to the rest of the Rooks. Graham claims he taught to “like” two students, one of which was a “Judy”)
At this point, an unfamiliar face claims that he isn’t actually in the band, and was performing with them for one night only. Nate Mondschein '12 was unable to play the MASH because he was at his step sister’s wedding (pretty important) so one of his drum instructors from Wes, Bill Carbone, actually played in his place.
Bill actually remembers the Rooks from their time at Wes, and referenced a band some of the members were in called “Mad Wow Disease.” Spencer says that’s probably when he peaked.
What was it like adjusting to life post-Wes?
Garth: We had to pay bills! It was exciting, because we moved into the city with this purpose. I remember the day I packed up all my stuff from Maryland. I was only home after graduation for like six weeks before I made my way into the city. And it was difficult finding work! We decided that we were all going to work full-time first because…
Spencer: Because New York City rent.
Garth: New York City rent. Yeah it was at least hard to find work. The people who had jobs, be blessed. I certainly did not have a job for a long time, that was hard. But we started doing shows steadily, like it was every three months or so, then it was every month or so.
At this point in the interview, the Rooks had finished their dinner and I had barely touched mine. One of the MASH coordinators politely told the band that it was getting close to their set up time, but the Smokin' Lillies had pushed back the timing and everything worked out alright.
How was the creation and production of your two EPs different?
Spencer: We recorded in a real, professional studio with a producer who has worked with a lot of very cool people. The guy who was recording us had just mastered 50 Cent before that. At one point Immortal Technique came into the studio while we were there recording. It was just a really cool experience being at a professional studio recording this product. I don’t speak for everyone, but I also feel much more proud of this product. It feels much more mature. We took a lot more time to write everything and put the songs together. The first EP felt a little bit rushed, in terms of getting something out there for the world.
Garth: Yeah we recorded that EP (Something You Can Take) over like, four of five weekends at Conn College. We recorded this EP over the course of a year. We really threw ourselves into it. We tracked, we re-tracked, (if necessary). We really took our time with the songs, and made more demos of more songs and then we decided what we songs we wanted to record. I feel like a lot more care went into it, and we had had the experience of making the first one and feeling as though we wanted to go further.
Was there any particular inspiration behind it?
Graham: I feel like it became a breakup album. We didn’t plan it that way.
Garth: Yeah lyrically, and then we also started to do production-wise a lot more layers than you can hear on the first album. A lot more harmonies across everybody’s instruments.
Graham: We double tracked bass. Because we can.
How do you decide covers?
Garth: War. War. What cover do you want? Come at me with it.
Graham: I’ve been trying to get them to cover Cher’s “Believe” for over a year now!
(I agree that that would be incredible, but Garth begs me not to encourage him.)
Graham: I wanna do it so badly but nobody will let me.
Garth: Maybe on your birthday...maybe on your birthday….
But it depends. Sometimes a cover sneaks its way in, other times we make a list and vote on it.
Spencer: Yeah, but a lot have been pretty organic. Bills was pretty organic, Bad Religion was pretty organic.
When I prompted, “What was the weirdest thing to happen to you at a performance?” Gabe bursted into laughter, “We were talking about that earlier tonight actually.”
The band chit-chatted for a bit, before Garth decided that this was the time to “blow up Joan Baez’s spot”
Graham: In January we had this residency, and Joan Baez happened to be there and she was…
Garth: Drunk as hell.
Spencer: Belligerently drunk. With a bunch of 20 year-olds, and really aggressive…
Garth: Falling over people, being rude, asking people to Google her, in all manner of foolishness. Everyone in the group had an experience with her that night, and we were not all together at the same time. First Gabe and a group of our friends had an interaction with her, and she was quite inappropriate and not acting her age. I’m trying to keep this PG because there is so much more I want to say, Madame Joan. Then she came across my path, falling over me, stumbling over me and her gaggle of fools behind her were swearing at me. And it was just...stupid.
Spencer: Like if you ever wanna see one of your heroes grind up on a young dude...
Garth: She’s no hero of mine.
Dave: I support her right to grind up on young dudes until the day she dies...
Gabe: She can do her thing, she just seemed a little insecure that night. She seemed a little frustrated that…
Garth: We didn’t know her.
Gabe: She wasn’t still an icon to everyone. I mean listen, I grew up appreciating her music and appreciating what she contributed to that scene, but it was an assault to interact with her that way.
Garth: But we can’t mention what she said on record about Bob Dylan. It’s just not appropriate for a school interview. I just don’t want to say it, like I don’t want to be recorded saying what she said. It was heinous….. But what’s good Joan?....Joan, what’s good?
Spencer: Is Joan the next Meek Mill?
(At this point the entire table bursts into laughter)
Garth: I have some photoshopping to do when I get home…
Having some friends that saw them during their summer tour in Burlington, I asked about the tour and that show.
Gabe: Well Burlington was actually a Tuesday…
Garth: The club was going up on that Tuesday!
Gabe: And we were pleasantly surprised.
Garth: Yeah that tour was great, we met a lot of great new people. And we had some spots that we played last year as well.
Gabe: That was definitely a nice part of it. We did a very similar tour last summer, and we got to return to the plays that we had gone for the first time and see people we met and bands we played with. It was a good combination of familiar faces and also new people.
Plans for the future?
Garth: Well yes. I don’t wanna say “We’re about to do this” and then have to change it.
Graham: We have a lot of shows planned for this fall, and then we are going to be writing a lot of music and then we’ll see what happens.
Spencer: And then an album with Joan Baez.
Garth: There’s going to be a diss track after this meeting that I’m going to pen. And there will be some videos that will come out.
We at AW are looking forward to snazzy Rooks music videos, but a Meek Mill style diss track would also be rad.
Check out their site, therooksband.com and bandcamp, therooksband.bandcamp.com
~Kelsey Gordon ‘18