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Lend Them Your Ears
At least some of Roman Alexander & the Robbery’s songs are sure to win you over
On the surface, it’s tough to understand what makes Roman Alexander and the Robbery work. Planted in a landscape overgrown with snotty “scene kids,” a vaguely ’90s brand of relaxed rock dipped in hippie eclecticism seems unlikely to survive at all. Yet they’re never hurting for gigs. On any given night, they could be playing a backyard party in Yorba Linda or a beer festival in Big Bear, with several local residencies in between.
Their Fullerton rehearsal space fits their music perfectly. Run your hands over the paint-stripped wall where a solo recording booth once stood, or gaze at a corner slathered with posters of everyone from Al Green to Jamiroquai to Led Zeppelin, but try to not bump into the back table sagging under blank CD-Rs. Once you’ve tripped over all the music gear piled on the floor, you see a map of California hanging by the door, covered in tiny dots.
“I want to hit everywhere in California,” says Roman Alexander, the band’s afro-sporting lead singer. “All the small places on the map . . . If we can get a certain percentage of the population out here, then our CDs could really get out to a lot of people.”
After nine months together, his band are on track for their goal, and with it comes a fan base filled with everyone from leather-clad Hessians to sorority chicks.
Built on an irie foundation of snappy rim shots, the soulful shards of Ben Harper, introverted acoustic music and bayou blues, the Robbery’s sound disarms rigid genre purists one song at a time. “Maybe you like reggae more than they like singer/songwriter slow stuff, or maybe you like that more than blues or soul,” says guitarist Matt McDavid. “We play it all, so you’re gonna like at least half the songs.”
The band originally sprang from Alexander’s brief acoustic solo career in 2005, a somber effort that failed to express his outgoing personality. To vanquish his boredom, he sought help from longtime friend and bassist Ryan Reno. The two started putting together a band and, after a string of fleeting partnerships, found a kindred spirit in drummer Jeff Carruth, a native Floridian.
The first incarnation of the band hastily jumped into recording tracks, capping the lineup with a friend of Carruth’s from Florida on guitar. A few gigs later, they planned their first tour of the Sunshine State, loading up a rusty 1973 RV, cheaply purchased from Alexander’s dad, with hopes of making a splash in the South. They didn’t realize then that their first true test as a band would come in the form of multiple engine failures. “So [the RV] breaks down three times before we even get out of Orange County, and the whole way to Florida, it broke down about 13 times,” Carruth says.
Armed with four wrenches, a handful of sockets and some chance encounters with charitable, semi-toothless Floridian auto mechanics, the band made it through the tour. Carruth stayed behind briefly, but his guitarist friend parted ways with the band once the tour ended.
In 2008, McDavid responded to a Craigslist ad seeking a lead guitarist. Despite his uncertain future with the band, Carruth flew back to California and instantly hit it off with McDavid in practice. Camaraderie has come in handy over the past several months. This was especially true during a recent stint at Big’s Bar and Grill in Fullerton, where the notorious hard-rock crowds aren’t typically kind to singer/songwriter types.
“That first day we played Big’s, I walked in and it was like a bunch of thugs and bikers,” Alexander says. “We were like, ‘Dude, no one’s gonna like it.’”
But the Big’s crowd didn’t hate it—they loved it. Eventually, rough bar crowds came to see them each Wednesday night for months.
Since ending their Big’s residency, the Robbery have focused on releasing their self-titled debut, slated for sometime this spring.In the meantime, they’re content stacking up local gigs and handing out free demos (more than 8,000 to date), a move Alexander hopes will continue to get them local buzz.
“It’s worked out for us,” he says. “That’s why we have so many shows. The message is spreading, and we’ve sent out a lot of seeds, and now we get to see if these seeds are growing.”
Roman Alexander and the Robbery at Beachfire Bar and Grill, 25682 Crown Valley Pkwy., Bldg. I, Ladera Ranch, (949) 542-7700; www.beachfire.com. Sat., 9 p.m. Free. 21+. Also at the Cellar, 210 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 495-9000; www.thecellarlbc.com. Thurs., April 9, 9 p.m. $5.