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Daytrotter’s Barnstormer Tour Closes in Maquoketa on April 30 - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:53

Luke MacMaster of the Romany Rye. Photo by Lauren Ward.

The Romany Rye: Non-Good Good

Luke MacMaster shouldn’t be on the Barnstormer tour. He shouldn’t have written, recorded, and released the Romany Rye’s debut album (Highway 1, Looking Back Carefully) in 2009. And he sure as hell shouldn’t be on the cover of Rolling Stone – a remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless because of the magazine’s current readers-put-a-band-on-the-cover contest.

“I never really expected to be the frontman, lead singer, or writer of a band,” MacMaster said in a phone interview last week. “I was only supposed to play guitar in a band.”

When he left his previous band – the rock group the Colour – four years ago, he thought he was done with music. He said that band had signed one of the last “pretty big deals” with a record label (the EMI subsidiary Re:think), but things didn’t go well. The label had an old-school mentality – pushing radio instead of the Internet – and that caused a rift in the band. “When it became the most miserable place to even hang out, I was like, ‘All right, I’m done,’” he said. He stored his guitar at his parents’ house and moved to L.A.

But after a few months, the songs started coming. “I don’t even remember doing it,” he said. “I really don’t. The next thing you know, I had written and I was singing that song ‘All the Boys.’” It was about his experiences of being in the Colour, and he said it was the first song he’d written front-to-back.

Then more songs came, and then he had enough for an album, and then he recorded them with Delta Spirit’s Kelly Winwrich. The musical aesthetic, he said, “was a little vague until we actually recorded them.” But what emerged on the Romany Rye’s Highway 1 is a confident, unforced roots/folk rock that’s casually compelling in its songwriting and performance even though its creator is modest about his talents.

“I kind of feel like I fit in that non-good good thing,” MacMaster said, name-dropping Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen as models for his simple, somewhat artless style. “I’m not the best musician, I don’t feel like I have a gift for melody or any of those things. So the only way that I can actually write and continue to write and play music is just let whatever falls out fall out. I can’t force anything out, I can’t be anything else besides me. ... I don’t have a choice. I’m not good enough to go, ‘I want to make a song that sounds like this.’”

MacMaster called his writing process “the diet”: “When you have a chance, when you’re not on tour, ... you go home and you’re not drinking and you’re not getting stoned, you’re not doing anything but reading and writing.” Then you “regurgitate that in your own way.” For the upcoming Quicksilver Sunbeam, MacMaster said, his diet included Hemingway and poetry by Bukowski, and the songs reflect a dichotomy of the road – both the romance and realities. (The Romany Rye, Paste magazine wrote, “embodies a sound that recalls an America viewed through a road-trip car window.”)

After he released Highway 1, MacMaster assembled a proper band. Kings of Leon’s Matthew Followill has championed the Romany Rye, and he even put up half the money for its tour van. And Quicksilver Sunbeam is ready to go. (The Rolling Stone contest put label-shopping on hold; Atlantic has an option to sign participants.)

While Highway 1 was essentially a solo record, the new one makes room for MacMaster’s collaborators. There’s “more of an overall focus on the interaction between the playing,” he said. “We needed to really figure out a place a time and place for each individual member to shine, and really be a band.”

MacMaster said that the Romany Rye initially chose not to participate in the Rolling Stone cover contest (RollingStone.com/choosethecover), fearing a stigma of being a “contest band.” (“‘They didn’t make it there on their own.’ ... Just that whole American Idol mindset,” MacMaster said. “Maybe it was just pride on my end.”)

But the band reconsidered and made it to the second round. “It’s a lot of free press,” MacMaster said. “And these days it doesn’t really matter how you get in front of people.”

Based on Tweets and Facebook “likes,” it appeared unlikely early this week that the Romany Rye will advance beyond the round of eight. (Third-round participants will be announced April 27.) And MacMaster said that’s fine with him, calling it “more of a win-win situation for us anyways. ... We don’t really want to end up anywhere that they would want us to end up.”

The Daytrotter Barnstormer tour comes to the Codfish Hollow Barn (3437 288th Avenue in Maquoketa, Iowa) on Saturday, April 30. Performers include Sondre Lerche, Guards, the Romany Rye, Keegan DeWitt, ARMS, Mike & the Moonpies, and Hands. The show starts at 6 p.m., and tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For tickets and more information, visit RCReader.com/y/barn.

Video from last year’s Barnstormer show at Codfish Hollow:

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