In 1996, local singer-guitarist Chris Allen formed Rosavelt with friends from Cleveland and Cincinnati. The group drew comparisons to alt-country acts such as Son Volt, Whiskeytown and Wilco. But Allen and his bandmates didn't benefit from the accolades.
The band would eventually splinter, but it reunited a few years ago and continues to play Cleveland at least a couple of times a year. The current incarnation — Allen, singer-guitarist Kevin Grasha, bassist Tom Perish, drummer Fred Perez-Stable and pedal steel player Al Moss — celebrates the 20th anniversary of its debut, 1997's Carp & Bones
, at the Music Box Supper Club on April 8 where it'll play the album in its entirety.
Originally released to rave reviews, the 10-song album garnered some high praised from No Depression
, a magazine dedicated to alt-country, which proclaimed that in an ideal world, “the incredibly catchy [tune] ‘Late Great Singer’ would rule radio stations across the country."
The band recorded the disc at Suma Recording in Painesville with engineer Paul Hamman.
“To us, that was the studio to go to,” says Allen of Suma. “We moved up from Cincinnati in 1996 and did our first gig as a three-piece with no bass. After playing Peabody’s, we knew we needed bass because some songs were going in a rock direction."
As a result, bassist Vance Wissinger guests on the album.
Over a couple of beers at the Swinging Door in Rocky River, Allen recently talked about each track on the album.
[Singer-guitarist] Kevin [Grasha] wrote this one. We were talking to [engineer] Paul [Hamman], and we wanted the intro to sound like it was on an AM radio. He put us on an AM radio and then recorded it that way. It was on some station really left of the dial. He tracked that and mixed it. That’s the beginning of the record. It was a staple for opening the live shows. We would start with it and then just want to play everything loud and fast.
“Carp & Bones”
We were scheduled to do a gig in Cincinnati, and our van broke down just outside of Cleveland so we cancelled the gig and came back to Cleveland. I was playing pool at the Five O’Clock in Lakewood, and this girl told this story about how her boyfriend had died, and they found him in the river. I went home that night and, bang, the song was there. It was a big change for us. It took us in a different direction. Miles [Loretta’s] drumming on it is awesome, and there’s an outro guitar solo. It took us into hippie territory, for better or worse. At Suma, the playback speakers were amazing and when we heard it cranked on the speakers, we knew it was the album’s title.
This is one of my favorite Rosavelt songs. It started as a stream-of-consciousness dreamy pop thing. It has some great electric guitar textures. I remember tracking it as the sun was going down. We did guitars, bass and drums live and would overdub the vocals. I’m stoked about playing this song at the Music Box. Because of our rock nature, it fell off the set list, and it shouldn’t have.
“Late Great Singer”
That’s been a staple of the Rosavelt canon. I had written it when I was 21. It was written a couple of years before the album. I was at the Parkview and was going to stay in town for the holidays. Some girl was driving to Cincinnati, and I just got in the car with her and went with her. I wrote it on New Year’s Eve. Whenever I think of that song, I think of a nighttime mood. It’s set right before the dawn.
That’s where we got the name of the band from. There were references to presidents in many of our songs, and this song had a reference to Eleanor Roosevelt. That was a big vocal showcase for Kevin live.
This is the only song that we kept the original format with no bass. It was recorded live with acoustic vocals and Austin Walkin’ Cane, who plays on it, had gotten his left leg removed. It was his first trip out of the house. He shouldn’t have been out of the house. We wanted him for lead guitar on the song. He played dobro on that for us. We wanted to bring in a ringer on a few things. Hearing the track now, it sounds like that.
That’s Keith Hanna playing bass on that. We had tried to go to Suma the year before and had tracked it. That was one of those songs that Kevin Grasha played at the rehearsal space, and I thought it was a hit. It led to our future sound. Keith adds a lot to it and that led to him joining us full-time when the record came out.
“These 2 Hands”
I was living in Cincinnati, and I was snowed in for three days and wrote this and “Satellite Chevy” on the same day. The Suma studio had bigger amps than we had, so we cranked the amps. It was one of our angriest moments on record and when we played it live, we’d always have to change strings on the guitar after that. Songs like this made me wonder why the alt-country tag stuck. This song describes what we thought we were. It’s our love of Replacements and R.E.M. combined. We worked with each other on the guitar parts and vocals arrangements, and it became more complicated as time went on. Kevin Grasha and I would play together and sit face to face for hours changing things until we agreed that the other person’s part was exactly right.
Kevin Grasha sings this song, which is a companion piece to “Impossible Me.” We used a lot of feedback, and we used the ambiance of the studio.
“Sink Me Higher”
We recorded this song ourselves and ran mics out to the backyard. We heard crickets and figured they’d be on the record whether we wanted them to be or not, so we put a mic on them. I did a live take. As I was doing that, Kevin [Grasha] was playing his slide guitar part, and Keith Hanna laid down some additional guitar, and we mixed it at Suma. It was played one time for the album. The second time it’s ever played will be at the Music Box.
Rosavelt, Reckless Citizen, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $10 ADV, $12 DOS, musicboxcle.com.