The Beatdown

Striking while the Iron is still hot, Reese Roper returns with a new band.

If all you knew about Reese Roper, erstwhile frontman of Five Iron Frenzy, was what you'd heard of his songs, you'd think he was one self-deprecating cat, with a Chandler Bing-like knack for sarcasm.

And you'd be right.

Roper is the Tony Robbins of self-deprecation. Here's the introduction he recorded to introduce fans to Roper, his new band, and placed on its website: "Howdy, kids, this is Reese Roper, from this new band, Roper. Uh, we have put together a magical package for you to tell of the wonders of the new and exciting musical project. You will listen to five verses and then choruses of songs, and then you will be utterly amazed. Yes. Okay, that's maybe exaggerating a little. But you might like it."

Well, kids: Brace Yourself for the Mediocre.

That's the title of Roper's record on Five Iron's former label, 5 Minute Walk, which is slated to hit the streets this week. According to Roper, both the idea for the new band and its ingenious moniker came from label head Frank Tate. "The guy that owns the record company, I've learned that as long as he's happy and excited about what you're doing, then he works super hard, and it's awesome," Roper says. "As soon as he gets just a little bummed out, you can't make it work. So he loves really cartoony covers and happy songs and stuff like that. So I'm like, ŒOkay, I'm gonna do just enough to make this dude happy and try and keep it legitimate.' So he wanted to call it Roper."

Really? Sounds like Tate was just being pragmatic.

"It was a good idea," Roper admits with a laugh. "He didn't want to have to say all the time, ŒYeah, it's Reese Roper, from Five Iron Frenzy.' He wanted to pick up some of the Five Iron fans."

Five Iron peddled All the Hype Money Could Buy -- and plenty were buying -- so it's understandable that Tate and Roper wanted to strike while, well, while the Iron was hot. Still, isn't Roper concerned that fans may confuse him with Mr. Roper from Three's Company, inspiring litigation from Norman Fell's estate?

"I hope that happens," Roper replies. "I would love to manage an apartment complex in the greater Los Angeles area. We made a T-shirt with a picture of Mr. Roper on it. And you should see the kids come up to the table. They're just like, ŒWhat is that, like, your dad or something? I don't understand what this shirt is.'"

Fortunately, Roper the band produces music that's much more accessible to the kids -- think a more pop-oriented Five Iron, minus the horns. Now, I'd be lying if I said the band would seem out of place in the Hot Topic rack alongside New Found Glory and others of that ilk -- although Roper falls more on the Jimmy Eat World side of things, at least in terms of believability.

Roper laughs when I kid that his new group sounds a lot like a boy band, with Tate as its Lou Pearlman. "He is the Lou Pearlman of this band," Roper acknowledges. "And we're all boys -- well, I don't know if you count 31 years old as being a boy."

So what's the game plan for infiltrating TRL?

"We've been working on a lot of synchronized dances, and we lip sync, that's the main thing," Roper reveals. "Gosh, I think if you're a boy band, you automatically get to be on TRL. I think if you make legitimate music, you don't really have a chance."

Legitimate is a relative term, of course. Roper points to Radiohead as a band that fits that description, but Roper himself is as legitimate as anyone: Five Iron has sold nearly a million records over the course of nine releases.

Needless to say, Roper himself has come a long way since I first caught him in the mid-'90s, when he was fronting a now-defunct Christian death-metal band called Exhumator. Hell, he didn't even have a drummer. Back then, bassist Keith Hoerig and Roper told me they'd started a ska-based side project. Yeah, good luck with that, I remember thinking.

What the hell did I know?

Almost as a fluke, that group evolved into what became Five Iron, which went on to become one of the biggest Christian acts -- if not the biggest. Five Iron paved the way for the mainstream crossover success of bands like Switchfoot, Chevelle and P.O.D., acts that have shared the stage with Five Iron.

The challenge of breaking his band into the mainstream excites Tate, Roper says. With distribution through EMI, Tate certainly has the means to make it happen. And although Roper and his bandmates -- Jonathan Byrnside, Johnathan Till and his brother Stephen Till, formerly of Black Black Ocean, and Nick White, formerly of Divit-- are Christians, Roper the band isn't necessarily about proselytizing. But Roper the man remains steadfast in his faith.

"I feel like to make good music, it has to be honest," Roper says. "Like, my favorite Weezer album is Pinkerton, because I think that in that album, Rivers's lyrics were the most honest. So I just feel like I have this burden to be honest. Who I am? A lot of that is determined by the fact that I believe that there is a God, and He revealed himself to mankind through the Bible, and He does love me. I feel like that's changed my life, and I want to share that with people. It's in most of my lyrics, and if I talk about a song from stage and I say, ŒHey, that's what this song's about, that's what that song's about.'"

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