You don’t get much closer to the definition of “baby band” than Hey Rocco, a trio of musicians barely out of high school, who call Charleston, South Carolina home. They are releasing their debut album Teenage Movie Soundtrack on July 10. It is packed with gargantuan choruses, sludgy guitar hooks, and stellar made for radio melodies. Their influences inhabit some of the best late 90’s and 00’s alternative, from The Cure to Radiohead, The Stokes, Built to Spill and Tallest Man on Earth. Hey Rocco is best described as an experimental blend of Broken Social Scene meets On a Friday.
The band was formed in bassist Chris Cool’s garage, and before you ask yes that is his given name. He, drummer Tanner Cooper and guitarist/ lead singer Nathan Merli have been friends since junior high jazz band and together formed the band in 2009. As Merli explained about their development “we wrote and sucked, we wrote some more and sucked, and eventually we started to suck a little less.” It is quickly evident they are a trio of lads with their egos in check and are ever the down to earth pragmatists. The band took their name from Cool’s turtle Rocco. According to Cool, Rocco was to be the fourth band member. Unfortunately he was kick out of the band because he was stealing all the girls, was really slow in practice, and to make matters worse never came out of his shell musically. For all the band’s prankster attitude their music is impressive as they point out the irony of 90’s altie music’s tendency to navel gaze but never without showing respect for that same music helping to form their sound.
The trio has worked hard attacking the ramparts of musical success, all but undermining their slacker pose. They have progressed from their small beginnings in a now defunct pizza parlor in Charleston to a tour of the UK and Europe where they sold out as headliners at the KOKO in London. They have had significant support from the likes of Huw Stephens on his BBC Radio show, and Zane Lowe who selecting their single Elsewhere for his show. They also appeared on a John Kennedy’s XFM x-posure session. The band has clocked a lot of time in the back of vans and hotel rooms toughing it out extensively touring.
Teenage Movie Soundtrack is the first official debut, but is the follow up to a self released disc Comfort that was crowd sourced and released in 2012. The band toured for almost three years to support the disc. In 2014 the trio released the EP Mom Jeans. The band’s music career finally became a post high school reality when they signing with Vital Music Group in the UK. Lead singer Merli says,” That our hopes professionally are either to end up recording podcasts from an RV in Utah or back in Cool’s garage slowing writing our story.” The phrase that best sums up the band’s approach to the future is “We’ll see what happens.”
Teenage Movie Soundtrack kicks off with Loser Denial a cool grungy rock rumble. There is much to like on this organic garage concoction. All the angst and uncertainty of post high school grad confusion is summed up in this song. “I hate almost everyone… I find it hard to still have fun.” This song appeals to the Husker Du/ Bob Mould lover in me. Melt takes on the rollercoaster of romantic relationships, with refreshing realism, “the apology lasts longer than the sex.” Nathan Merli’s vocals are the voice of today’s disheveled youth. It is a song that conveys a stellar garage rock ethos. Virgin could be the ultimate rock ode to all the connotations of the word to teenagers. Merli is definitely channeling his inner Cobain, and the Quite/Loud technique is on full display. There is a naughty innocence to the song, angst laden but with a tinge of earnestness that makes it quite forthright. By the time I get to this song I find myself thinking these lads have something here that is quite impressive.
Elsewhere confirms that suspicion, there is so much to like and it all goes down so easily. This song is a post graduation examination of what it means to coming of age in this era with all the pressure to succeed mixed with the eternal feelings of being an outcast. The song is delivered with raw emotion and is set to a driving beat and excellent guitar riffs. Mom Jeans is a more wistful song, describing the regret of friends growing apart and taking different paths, “bigger plans got their hands on us.” The lyrics reflect the snapshot of where the members of the band have just been in their experience. It is refreshing to encounter music that is performed with little emotional filter, what you see is what you get and a feature that is on display throughout the record. First Song continues the theme with its portrait of the fear yet bravery in taking the first steps into adulthood, while acknowledging the ironies of growing up and not wanting to suppress emotions like the grown ups. This song displays all the band’s great potential and promise.
My personal favorite track, Alison has a great burning it down intro, and is a real showcase of the trio’s musical skills. The protagonist of the song is just having fun while the girl is getting pretty serious, “why did you have to bring up love… I was just having fun.” This is just possibly Hey Rocco’s Creep with the roles reversed. The Nihilistic vibed Jake Miller’s House Party has a punchy punk aura as it describes the quintessential house party. Things for some reason go south and the repercussions lead to regrets. Catch the great guitar solo towards the end of the song. Santa Fe is a poppier track that addresses the ever present “break up song” genre, lamenting the fact that everyone loves a good break up song but break ups suck when you actually have to experience them. “Tonight I am going to break your heart, it’s everyone favorite part… they just want a stupid lovesong.” The song utilizes a great REM like guitar jangle and is the sleeper song of the collection.
The final song, Happy is the actual breakup ballad discussed in Santa Fe. The song conveys all the pain and agony of a relationship swirling around the drain to its inevitable end. “How did we get so God damn far apart?” The guitar accompaniment embodies the sadness of the breakup. It is the most earnest track of the release, showing the lads can thematically play it anyway they want.
Teenage Movie Soundtrack is a welcome and unanticipated pleasure. It is grounded in excellent grunge rock sensibilities, yet has everyman approachability. For some the topics may be a little too youth obsessed. However for those of us who can still recall the awkward feeling of the teenage/post high school/ College freshman years, this is a accurate portrait of that experience. What an exciting debut from a young self deprecating group of guys whose feet are firmly planted on the ground even when they are as high as kites! Here is hoping this is just the beginning of beautiful musical career for this band. Well done!