It was a lopsided split when local band Boneyard disbanded last year. Cloud-busting singer JJ Lang went one way, while guitarist Mick Ditko, bassist Doug MacDonald, and drummer Brian Donnelly went another. Lang went on to form The JJ Lang Band and keep with his former band's heavy, Southern gothic grind and wail. The other three added garage-rock guitarist Keith Suhr, tuned the guitars back up from Hell to A440, and went the more straight-ahead route to form Rock-n-Roll Social Club. Eardrums would never be the same.
Rock-n-Roll Social Club is big and loud, no doubt. But it's more hard than heavy. Perhaps it is the band's hooks and acceleration that keep it out of the sludge that so many bands get stuck in when things get heavy.
It's simple: you start with a good song, find a band of musicians that get along (good luck), and then press "play."
Rock-n-Roll Social Club is currently in the studio located in the bowels of the House of Guitars, recording live, reel-to-reel, warts and all. The band plans on emerging with an album this summer.
The guys all sat down to fidget and kick each other under the table while fielding a few questions. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
CITY: The Boneyard split was amicable?
Brian Donnelly: There's no animosity at all. Some people just wanted to go in a different direction and we wanted to tune the guitars up and have a different feel, just be more straight-up rock 'n' roll, less of a Southern-rock feel.
But it doesn't sound all that different.
Mick Ditko: It's not that drastic. It's not like when JJ [Lang] left we went in an opposite direction. It's just been a natural progression. We were drop C, and it was really difficult to keep the guitars in tune; it was all garbled together. You really had to struggle to hear different guitar parts.
So you're losing some of the weight?
Donnelly: The way Keith plays is a little different than any of us has experienced, so we're molding our style more toward that. It works and personally we're the same.
A lot of bands say that.
Keith Suhr: It's all a matter of perception. We have nothing in common musically.
So how does a band that has nothing in common write material?
Doug MacDonald: This is a band. It isn't one person bringing a song in. It's got to be four guys writing and compromising and writing the best song possible.
No one likes to be told their part or what to do?
Suhr: I don't care as long as it's great.
MacDonald: If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. It's got to fit Rock-n-Roll Social Club.
Could you all have embraced this cooperative spirit 20 years ago? Would Rock-n-Roll Social Club been able to exist?
Ditko: It wouldn't have worked. I have a feeling Doug and I would have clashed.
Why is that?
Ditko: Because Doug was the guy in the bands he played in 20 years ago, and I was the guy in the bands I played in 20 years ago.
MacDonald: When I was 27 I couldn't compromise like I can today. Even If someone brought in a song and it was a good idea, my ego would get in the way.
There's no "the guy" in Rock-n-Roll Social Club
Donnelly: Now I'm the guy.
So, older but wiser?
Suhr: We're candid with each other. Once you're over 40 you can say or hear anything.
Also, nobody's beating their head against wall for waiting for success.
Ditko: Nobody's worried about that.
What constitutes a good song?
Suhr: It's got to shake asses. It's got to make feet move.
MacDonald: I still want to rock 'n' roll, but the older I get, the more I want to write stuff with some depth and meaning.
Does recording live in the studio help maintain live-show energy and combat studio sterility?
Suhr: I don't like the studio at all; I'm relieved we're going to do it this way.
Would the rockers you were 20 years ago hang out with the rockers you are today?
MacDonald: I think I'd like the guy I am now, but I wouldn't hang out with him. I'd be out drinking and partying.