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Staying alive
A safe landing for Rooftop Suicide Club, plus fun with Furvis
Related Links

Furvis' official Web site

Rooftop Suicide Club knew they were on to something when after opening for the Killers in Providence the New Bedford quartet got flamed by a fan of the neo-new-wave chart-toppers. "He e-mailed us after the show and said we sounded like a modern-day Wings," recalls singer/guitarist Chris Haskell when he and pianist/singer Jeff Gobush sit down with me at the Middle East. "And for me, anybody that compares us to Wings, I’m down with that!"

Sounds perfectly sensible coming from a guy who recommends that the "Indie Girl" in the track of the same name "put on some Air Supply while applying your red hair dye." Like the other wistful RSC numbers on the band’s full-length debut, Always like This (out last week on the Stop, Pop, and Roll label of Aaron Tap and Paula Kelley), it evokes hazy asphalt summers and amber waves of Wheat — the band Wheat. But scratch the tuneful surface of breezy vocals, loping guitars, and subtle trumpet accents, zero in on the lyrics, and you’ll see it’s also a send-up of indie-rock poseurs — a wry critique dressed in sunny songcraft.

"Indie Girl," which Haskell claims is "about this girl I met on-line," is only the most pointed example of a recurring theme. Artifice, image, and the restless search for something real are RSC staples. "Radio" is the title of one track and also a word that comes up again and again. For a striving rock band, airplay’s a holy grail.

Yet RSC, who’ll be holding down a Tuesday-night residency at the Abbey Lounge this month, are steeped in the underdog pop of Teenage Fanclub, Velvet Crush, Fountains of Wayne, and — most obviously — Big Star. ("Don’t even get me started on how much I love Big Star," Haskell warns.) And with the exception of FOW (who thanks to a bikini-clad Rachel Hunter scored a left-field breakthrough hit with "Stacy’s Mom"), that suggests they’re headed down a path that leads to the adoration of critics, a solid cult audience, and not much more.

"Radio should be like it was in 1975, when rock bands were rock bands," says Haskell. "Radio now is about whose sunglasses you’re wearing and how thin you are. I force-feed myself radio — I drive a truck for a living — to hear what’s out there, and I know what I don’t want to sound like. Bread, Led Zep, Pearl Jam — I don’t think there’s any music like that anymore. Joe Cocker and Neil Young were ugly and on the radio. Now, everybody’s beautiful and skinny, but the music isn’t there."

Gobush shrugs. "I don’t picture us ever being on the radio. But we do have the potential to do bigger things on a different level as far as gaining our own crowd goes." Haskell: "As long as the four of us get a copy of our CD and some of our friends like it, we’ll be pretty happy."

Gobush and Haskell started out as solo singer-songwriters in New Bedford before forming a "weird Pixies tribute band" with a revolving cast of players. Once bassist Eric Stotts and drummer Michael Almond had signed on, Rooftop Suicide Club were born. Haskell recalls, "It was very different when we started — this intense thing where we would come out and scream. But I think we both realized we knew how to sing, so why the hell should we be screaming all the time?"

And the name Rooftop Suicide Club? "I seem to have a small problem with gravity," Haskell explains. "I took a three-story dive off the top of a parking garage and broke both my legs and a bunch of other stuff. There was lots of whiskey involved. It was a stunt gone bad. Mike, our drummer, is the one who saved my life. He carried me up four flights of stairs to get help. There were a couple of other accidents I had like that due to various problems in my life, so ‘rooftop suicide club’ sort of became a tongue-in-cheek thing. But" — he brightens — "I thought it was a good name for a band."

Cleaning the lanes and fixing the pin-setting machines at the Lucky Strike lanes on Lansdowne Street can be a lonely business. For Furvis singer/guitarist Michael Cummings, it’s a way to pay the bills while his band record the remainder of what they hope will be a full-length debut. So far, the Allston foursome have laid down five tracks at Q Division with producers Ed Valauskas (Gentlemen, Juliana Hatfield) and Clayton Scoble (Francine, ex-Poundcake). "It’s half a record in theory," Cummings explains. "We don’t really have anyone to pay for the other half. I guess we’re doing it in the hope that someone will hear half our record and say, ‘Yeah, we could put this out.’ "

It’s been two years since Furvis, tucked under Scoble’s mentoring wing, self-released the Bunny EP, an unabashed love letter to Pavement that got them noticed as a band to watch. At this year’s Rumble, they showed themselves to be a poised, promising indie-pop band who’d moved beyond their Malkmus fixation. "We outgrew some of our Pavement-isms," says Cummings, who’s about to turn 20. "The band’s come so far since then that I don’t even consider it the same band. We’ve gone through four bass players [it’s Todd Dahlhoff at present] and it’s a totally different era. It’s not like I don’t love what we did but I was 17, you know? We were totally different people."

They’ll be at the Wellfleet Beachcomber with Emergency Music this Saturday, and at Ralph’s in Worcester a week later, showcasing the dozens of new songs that Cummings has been writing since Bunny. Their August 27 "Furvis Fan Club Sock Hop" at the Cambridge YMCA featured an "experimental video lounge" developed by Furvis guitarist Matt Borg’s uncle, who heads the High Beam Entertainment company. "Imagine being in a big room where all the video screens are translucent, projecting images 24 feet long and 20 feet high, and the music is only one part of the experience. It’s sort of like what they did in the ’60s, but not as hippie."

In the meantime, pressing day-job duties await, like waxing the wood and helping host kids’ birthday bowling parties. "Oh dude," he groans, "You don’t know the half of it."

ROOFTOP SUICIDE CLUB | Tuesdays in September at Abbey Lounge, 3 Beacon Street, Somerville | 617.441.9631 | FURVIS + EMERGENCY MUSIC | Wellfleet Beachcomber, Cahoon Hollow Beach | September 3 | 508.349.6055 | Ralph’s, 95 Prescott Street, Worcester | September 10 | 508.753.9543

Issue Date: September 2 - 8, 2005
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