It’s only April, but the best local CD of the year might already have been released. There’s only one problem. You probably won’t ever hear it. “We’re only making 150 of them for now,” says James Marler of Rotary Downs. “I’ll just give them to a bunch of friends, and that’s it.”
If you’re not already, try to make friends with James. Rotary Downs’ self-titled debut is a breathtaking collection of metronomic indie rock, a marriage of Pavement at their most lyrical and Flaming Lips at their most melodic. While Marler’s previous band, Burnversion, built up cathartic intensity with blistering, angular riffs, Rotary Downs pursue blissfully pulsing grooves to their omega point. The 11 tracks that comprise Rotary Downs are dreamy, warm and instantly familiar.
The band—a collaboration between Marler, Gillespie Brothers Todd and Lee Gillespie, and guitarist Chris Colombo—was actually born about a year and a half ago, but they’ve only performed live with that lineup five times. “And all but two of them sucked,” Marler says. “But that’s just my opinion.”
The seeds of Rotary Downs were sown in the wake of a nearly aborted Hodgekiss show. That group’s Art Boonparn asked Marler to sit in on drums for a show when their drummer was out of town. Boonparn apparently had more faith in Marler’s drumming abilities than Marler did, so as the date grew near, Marler recruited both Colombo and Gillespie to abet him in case of emergency. The gig, at the Swiss Confectionery on St. Charles Avenue, turned out to be a roaring success. “We toyed with the idea of having a huge band with everybody doing very little, but it didn’t work at all,” Marler notes. “So Chris and Todd and I went off and kept playing together.”
Most of Rotary Downs’ songs were written by Marler and Colombo, with Gillespie adding piano and additional guitar. Appropriately, guitar playing Gillespie Brother Lee Gillespie was recruited to play drums and Rotary Downs began recording at the Mermaid Lounge. When the Gillespies bolted town last year, Marler and Colombo recruited Larry Glover of Starbelly to play drums on one cut and later resorted to a drum machine on another track. Like Spinal Tap, Rotary Downs seemed to find it hard to hold onto a drummer. Since completing the CD, the lineup has evolved into a four-piece featuring Marler, Colombo, drummer Clark Martty and bass and viola player Greg Easterly.
While Marler says he’s interested in gigging with the band (they recently played their first out-of-town gig in Lafayette), he’s slightly less enthusiastic about promoting the CD. “As far as pushing it, there’s such a delay when you make a record like this that our band is different now,” he explains. “We probably only play half of these songs, so it would be like pushing something that was done last year. We have a bunch of new songs so actually we want to start recording again.”
The homemade CD will likely be available from the band at gigs. Don’t expect to find it on Amazon; it doesn’t even have a label. “We could make up one,” Marler says. “But why?”
You can check out Rotary Downs on April 19 at Tipitina’s in a performance that will be broadcast on WTUL-FM’s resurrected ’TUL Box.
This month marks your faithful scribe’s sixth anniversary (!) writing the Feedback column for OffBeat. Coincidentally, this is also my last column for OffBeat. In light of other professional obligations (no, OffBeat is not my full-time job), I don’t feel that I can devote the time necessary to cover the local underground music scene on a regular basis anymore. Before you start celebrating, understand you can’t rid of me that easily. I do plan to continue contributing record reviews and features.
It has been a privilege and a pleasure to write about New Orleans music for the past six years. While I plead guilty to having favored bands and styles I like, I’ve nonetheless tried my best to call attention to local artists doing work that falls outside the popular mainstream, and I’ve always had a preference for flawed but original experiments over well-executed but derivative product.
Who knows if that ever got across. Oh well. Ideally, I’ve maybe encouraged a few people to see a band or pick up a CD they might not ordinarily have been aware of. My only regrets are all the great bands I never got a chance to write about (there are lots) and all the great bands I never got a chance to see (I suspect there are lots). Nevertheless, I’m sure that whoever eventually takes over this space will continue OffBeat’s commitment to covering all the facets of New Orleans music. Thanks, everyone.
You can contact Mark Miester via e-mail at email@example.com.