Music News

What the Experimental Rock Band Roommates Learned From the Spice Girls

Roommates play the Marquis Theater on Saturday, July 15.
Roommates play the Marquis Theater on Saturday, July 15. Elle Carroll
Roommates may be an experimental rock band, but its members are unabashed pop-music fans. Guitarist Alex Goldsmith says the title of the group’s debut full-length, Victoria, is a nod to Spice Girl Victoria Beckham.

Goldsmith is a fan of the musical structure of the Spice Girls song “Wannabe,” in part because it’s experimental, and he says that his band and theirs — despite performing in two squarely different genres — actually have some similarities.

“We’re an experimental band with pop leanings, and they were a pop group with vaguely experimental leanings. Their drum machines and samples and stuff — not that they wrote or performed any of that — is really weird. On ‘Wannabe,’ there’s a shout-y cheerleader part, then a gentle singing part, then the cheerleader part again, then the rap breakdown, and then into a totally different section. For a pop song, that’s weird.”

Roommates, which plays the Marquis Theater on July 15, formed in 2012 and has embraced a broad diversity of influences. Early on, it sounded like a noisy math-rock band and played mostly with punk and post-hardcore acts, but never quite fit in. The group played regular gigs but never released a full-length album or recorded much beyond a live EP, assorted digital singles and acoustic demos.

Although Roommates began with several members, by spring of 2015, everyone but Goldsmith and guitarist Brian Chastain had quit. The two continued to experiment with making songs and incorporating drum machines, veering toward becoming an industrial band with shoegaze leanings.

The following December, Goldsmith took a Birthright Israel trip and met Franny Keevak. (Birthright Israel is a program sponsored by the Israeli government to arrange for foreign Jews to visit Israel free of cost.)

Goldsmith, who was traveling on a different bus than Keevak, saw her wearing a Being as an Ocean T-shirt, and the two started talking about music. Keevak told him she sang and played bass; he said his band had gone into hiatus and was looking for a singer and a bassist. They agreed to play together when they returned to the United States.

Once Keevak began to practice with Roommates, she started developing melodic bass lines. Two months in, Goldsmith invited her to sing. Her additions to the band changed its sound.

“It was just so different from our old stuff,” says Goldsmith. “Franny’s voice fit our music in a way we hadn’t anticipated. [Her singing and playing] changed the feel and mood of the music for the better.”

Chastain and Goldsmith next approached a young musician that they worked with named Ben Eberle. Eberle is best known as the drummer in the hardcore band Screwtape, but he’s also a talented guitarist.

One night, Goldsmith pushed his music on Eberle, who gave it a good listen. He asked when Roommates practiced, because he wanted to join the group. When he showed up, he recognized Keevak. They had been in a high school band called Red Federation together, both performing in the rhythm section.

With the new lineup, Roommates recorded some outlying singles, but mostly started writing songs for Victoria. Keevak wrote lyrics to new songs and reworked the words to older songs that the band still played. The result is emotionally intense, noisy and atmospheric music that sounds unlike most anything else in Denver.

“Everybody says we sound like the Cranberries on steroids,” says Goldsmith.

But as Keevak tells it, not sounding like everybody else is a good thing.

“If you’re not going to fit, don’t not fit and be mediocre,” she says. “Don’t fit, and blow everyone’s minds.”

Roommates, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 15, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, 303-487-0111, $10-$12.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.