Are you a fan of Betwixt or Bulkhead? Well then have you checked out Tom Devaney’s latest musical outing as Rotary Club? No? For shame is all I have to say. For. Shame. Anyway, their just released sophomore album Second Year In Swine is a great throwback to ’90’s alt-rock (Pavement comes to mind immediately) with some modern day twists and twang that’s refreshing in a time where most bands fail to stand out from the rest.
Recently, Devaney took time out of his schedule to chat about Rotary Club’s latest release and recent appearance in Somerville among other things:
1. How did Rotary Club form?
Around 2004 I started coming up with acoustic guitar instrumental pieces that I thought would work well as soundtrack music. I made a few very raw four-track demos with Dave Nelson, the first Betwixt drummer, and sent cds under the name Rotary Club to a few clubs in NYC in an attempt to book some shows. CBs Gallery (RIP) called and ended up giving me a monthly show over the next year, which was incredibly timely and fortunate for me. I was now working under a deadline–it provided structure and forced me to develop and complete songs, and work on the performance end of things. That was really the beginning of Rotary Club. Because I was able develop songs and replace weak material to the point where after about 6 months I had a full album’s worth of material that I liked. I reached out to Chris Weinberg who played drums in Jack Frosting and Betwixt, and Jay Johnson, who played keyboards in Jack Frosting. We had been playing together for years so I knew they would quickly pick up the material. The only problem was they both lived in Boston and I was in NY. Hello Fung Wah! But we started playing out as a strangely configured three-piece. And then it morphed into other things.
2. Second Year In Swine is the second album under the Rotary Club name, how does this one compare to the first?
I think we’ve evolved into something more creative and expansive on Second Year In Swine. It reflects a different level of musical maturity and growth. The songs on Second Year were all written around the same time, whereas the songs from the first album were written over a much longer period. Some pieces, at least musically, were written when I was in Betwixt in the late 90s. We also had the advantage of playing most of the songs on Second Year live for over two years, so there was a fair amount of music marinating going on. And during that time Jay switched to bass—which was a big adjustment at first, but it ended up being the most critical part of the new record. We became more of a traditional working three-piece playing non-traditional three-piece music.
For Vis-à-vis, we didn’t have a bass player until Tony Maimone played with us on the recording. We had never played the songs with a bass player until literally the night before the recording session. Also, Vis-à-vis was essentially an acoustic record. I played minimal electric guitar on it. Although I wrote all the songs on Second Year on acoustic guitar, in the course of playing shows and developing the songs, when I found myself playing the acoustic with a pickup and distortion box on more than a couple of songs, I figured it was time to make the switch to electric. And that’s really where Second Year came together.
3. You’ve described this as more of a concept than a band? Tell us a little about that.
I never intended to be in a band. I wanted to concentrate on songwriting and instrumentals and doing my own thing without answering to anyone, or rehearsing the songs repeatedly so the initial strong idea gets beaten into the ground. I guess it comes down to feeling that if I’m not necessarily collaborating in the creative process then it’s more of a project than a band. But I must say the current line-up of Rotary Club had become a band. Our live shows have never been more enjoyable. I think we’re morphing into something quite different than the band that recorded Second Year In Swine. Although the others aren’t part of the initial creative process, I like to think they have a lot of latitude to put their creative stamp on the music I write. I am very fortunate to have such talented friends and a network of great musicians who are easy to work with and seem to enjoy playing this music. The dynamic has worked so far.
4. From Bulkhead to Betwixt to Rotary Club: What band would you say best represents you as a musician?
I’ve certainly matured as a musician and songwriter since the Bulkhead and Betwixt days. I would hope any musician who doesn’t consider it a hobby would feel this way. But my role is all encompassing now—whereas in those other bands I was a part of the whole. But I’m very happy with the direction things are going musically and look forward to exploring some uncharted territory. The most important lesson I’ve learned while working with Tony is having the discipline to complete every idea, whether it’s a lyric, a melody, a phrase, a guitar part. I’ve had to fight the tendency to leave certain things hanging or winging it every time. In the studio winging it can be very expensive.
5. With Bulkhead and Betwixt (and now Rotary Club), you have quite the catalog, how do you choose what to play on stage? Do you stick strictly to Rotary Club songs now or throw in songs from the past?
As if there are graybeards showing up at Rotary Club shows demanding to hear something from the vaults! Rotary Club only knows Rotary Club songs. In fact, other than Jay, my bassist, my current line-up only knows the songs on Second Year In Swine. So there will be no Bulkhead encores.
6. You just played Brooklyn and now the Somerville show, are there more touring plans??
We have a show coming up on April 13 in Washington DC (Comet Ping Pong). We’ll be playing in NYC on a regular basis. We’ll see about playing other cities. We’d love to have an opportunity to promote the record elsewhere.
7. Speaking of the Somerville show, what do “hometown” shows mean to you?
I love playing Boston…we try to play there once a year. I try to avoid letting the ‘reunion’ feel distract me. We had a good turnout for the recent Boston gig (PAs Lounge). Lots of people I hadn’t seen in eons. It was a wonderful night.
8. Is the touring line-up of Rotary Club going to be the same as on SYIS?
True to our name, the line-up is always rotating. Mike Savage is now our fulltime drummer, and he’s been terrific. We seem to have a cellist in every port. Gordon Withers played cello on the record and he will be playing with us in DC. Over the last few months, Michael Lunapiena has been playing with us on our NY shows. He’s our rookie phenom. Jonah Sacks, who played cello on Vis-à-vis, played with us in Boston. Billy Donahue also plays keyboards from time to time. Jay, our bassist, played keyboards on the record. I wish I could clone Jay, because he’s a brilliant musician and can pretty much play anything. Does that answer your question?
9. What is your favorite type of venue to play? Do you prefer stadiums over clubs or would you be happy playing in someone’s living room?
I’ve never played in a stadium. I’d imagine that it would take some getting used to. I’ve played in a few large clubs. It’s not that fun if there’s not much of a crowd—-and I’ve definitely experienced that. I must say I like what’s most familiar to me: small clubs that are preferably very crowded (and by some miracle have an amazing sound system). I have played in a few living rooms in my life. Come to think of it, those were some of the most memorable shows.
10. Being from MA, How do you feel about the current climate of bands coming out of MA in 2012??
I’ve been out of Boston for 13 years. Honestly, I have no idea what is coming out of Massachusetts unless you include Mission of Burma playing in NYC.
11. With the music industry the way it is today, what do you feel is the most effective way of delivering music to fans?
Assuming you actually have something worth delivering? A decent quality recording of good songs available on your own website or bandcamp to me is the best way to reach people. I also think hiring a good publicist is vital if you want to be a serious band. Even before the internet, it was a good recording that would get people to your shows and start the word-of-mouth process. It’s difficult to build up a following based solely on your live performance if your recordings don’t move people.
12. Speaking of the state of the music industry, what’s the best part of being a musician today versus when you were in Betwixt/Bulkhead?
I like that I can post my music online and potentially reach millions of people without leaving my home. What I don’t like is the fact that anyone can post their music online and potentially reach millions of people without leaving their homes. But personally, I’m very much enjoying being a musician these days. I’m not ready for the oldies circuit quite yet.
13. Do you often get mistaken for the New York mobster of the same name?
No one has every mentioned this but you. Kudos! He was not a very nice man, was he? But I do want to find his grave and take a picture. Where’s he buried? I have a feeling somewhere in Queens.