It’s almost twenty years since Metuchen, New Jersey’s Roadside Graves first appeared into the world. Their first two albums, released in 2001 and 2002, were home recorded in dingy basements, when the band still described themselves as, “young-ish”. Since then they’ve done what moderately successful bands tends to do: tour, get day jobs, have babies, release albums, cycle through record labels, lose members, gain members – the usual tale of a band in the middle. Through a combination of great friendships, great memories and shared musical influences, the band keep going, and this month will release their latest offering, That’s Why We’re Running Away, on the excellent Don Giovanni Records.
Discussing the record, Roadside Graves have described That’s Why We’re Running Away as, “finding comfort in seeing the reality of a situation and reckoning honestly with your own part in it”. It’s a record that muses on wanting to run, and the way that feelings of escaping it all can lie in both a desire to leave, or a desire to believe in something better. While written pre-pandemic, it feels oddly apt for a world where so many of us suddenly want to escape the daily grind, to embrace new possibilities and carve a new place for ourselves in this uncertain world. Musically, the record seems to float through genres, whether it’s the wide-screen Americana of Sit So Close, that sounds like it was written for coming of age road-trips through the middle of nowhere, or the more sedate, insular sounds of I Cried. Two decades in, it would be easy to declare this Roadside Graves’ finest release to date, more than that though it’s a testament to what they’ve learned, how they got here and where their music is headed next; a celebration of remaining relevant, always moving forward, and never looking back.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Roadside Graves?
Roadside Graves are a band, nearly two decades old, that have been lovingly called “underrated” & “underappreciated” by those that have supported us. We have played Red Rocks in Colorado, a bar in Kentucky to only the bartender, a haunted saloon in Arizona, a venue that paid us in free water park tickets in Wisconsin, a few weddings (that we should have behaved better at), SXSW shows while Jason Isbell and the Vivian Girls played next door, crepe joints in Vermont, basement rooms of a tattoo parlor (where the shows start at dark thirty), etc. Essentially, we have had quite a varied experience all in all throughout the country playing a turbulent mix of americana, folk, and indie music. We have been fortunate enough to have seen our music featured in movies & tv shows (highlight for me was Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me”). For the past 5 years we have found a home to release our music in the eclectic & independent record label Don Giovanni. The label is releasing our newest record, That’s Why We’re Running Away, on May 22. Earlier records were partnered with Aquarium Drunkard’s Autumn Tone label.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Remember is the key word here. Roughly 20 years ago memory scramble. For us, the first show (now this could be debatable) I believe was playing NYE at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ. Seems strange to play a first show on such a festive night, but it also makes sense as our first year or so of shows were rolicking & inebriated. I can not recall well, but it surely cemented our relationship with the venue and a bond with the people who attended. The Court Tavern has since closed and reopened many times, but for a period of time (say early 80’s to 2012?) it truly was a unique, scrappy dive bar that was home & escape to degenerates throughout the state. The windows outside were just high enough so you could not tell what was happening inside, but you could hear the jukebox. You would make your way through the smokers lining their backs against the outside walls, push open the black front door, amble through a small corridor, have your ID checked, then on a good night slam yourself in to the narrow crowded bar, grab a beer, walk to the back, agonize over paying & talking to the doorman (who had his own reputation of sincere nastiness & random chattiness), and then descend to the basement (bathrooms without doors, wooden walls covered with decades of band stickers, ceiling tiles christened with fake blood from Gwar) to witness the show & possibly have a night to remember. Now, of course some nights were just completely depressing, but that NYE show was golden. It had to be, otherwise we may have just quit then and there.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Oh, I’m sure each band member would have a different answer to this question. For me there are a few reasons. Some are quite obvious. For example, I can’t draw for shit. So that swiped out art and comics. I just have to love them as a consumer. Then there’s books. I am a devoted reader (and recently became a public school librarian), but to write a book (beyond talent and ideas) you need a dedicated focus & discipline. I do not believe I have that type of brain. I’m a mess. Quickly excited beyond expectations about an idea, put some time and thought into it, then regrettably frustrated, tired, or depressed about the same idea in a matter of days. Logistically, music works within that mindset & it only succeeds within that pattern for me by having a band made of friends who believe in the ideas. The band propels me to move forward. When I listen to them play I can disassociate myself from actually being in the band and appreciate (even times adore) what they are creating. I would never attempt to write a song without someone else. Music has always been a communal thing for me, like a strange group of dedicated summer stage actors who blindly ignore that the seasons have changed & just keep performing.
That’s one answer.
The other is simply when I first became aware of music, beyond casual listening when I was young, I knew I had to be a part of it. I could not just listen. I felt compelled. And thanks to music I heard in my teens like Beat Happening, The Mountain Goats, and Sonic Youth it seemed plausible that the miscast & misfit friends around me felt the same. Thankfully.
FTR: What can people expect from the Roadside Graves live show?
The answer for this would vary depending on the year it was asked and who may have been in the band at the time. We have had such a lovely cast of people play with us throughout the years. Early Roadside Graves shows were spirited & loose. There was a lot of banter, drinks, odd dancing, biting each other, etc. I would like to think the audience was having as much fun as we were. I once played an entire CMJ show in NYC with a bartender’s rag cloth held up to my mouth while singing after I cut my upper lip on a drum cymbal during the first song (took a taxi to the hospital immediately after). Eventually & after some extensive touring the band focused and our live shows were still full of the same energy, but with more purpose, clarity, and awareness of the audience. I hope that when someone sees us play a show now they witness an earnest
band, a band without bullshit, a band that feels emotionally connected to each other, the songs, and the audience.
FTR: What’s next for Roadside Graves?
Proud and excited to share the new record this month. Thank you kindly for featuring us to help spread the word.
Jeremy and I just started compiling notes & music back and forth for a follow up to our S.E. Hinton inspired Outsiders record, “We Can Take Care of Ourselves”. This time we are hoping to tackle her book, Rumble Fish, and create a song cycle record around its characters and themes. It’s a dark book. It’s nothing like The Outsiders in feeling.
Maneuvering life best we can to continue making music for another 20 years.
They Listen To…
Beat Happening – Our Secret
Damien Jurardo – Percy Faith
Sunwatchers – The Earthsized Thumb
Tom T. Hall – That’s How I Got to Memphis
Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat
Sandy Denny – By the Time It Gets Dark
That’s Why We’re Running Away is out May 22nd via Don Giovanni Records. Click HERE for more information on Roadside Graves.