Rotten Roots Jam

This Fort Worth quartet of reformed punks is a case study in maturation.
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Posted May 2, 2012 by MATTHEW MCGOWAN in Music
Rotten Roots are taking it easy on “the biz.”Rotten Roots are taking it easy on “the biz.”

Angsty, punk-rocking Texas teenagers with caches of bluesy Lone Star country records are bound to mellow out with age, and Rotten Roots, somewhat of a newcomer to the Fort’s music scene, are an example of what it looks and sounds like when that happens.

The quartet’s gruff but melodic tuneage offers a good case study in musical maturation, both in the songs themselves and in the bandmembers’ priorities. Together, frontman vocalist Tommy Ware, guitarist Michael Bandy, and bassist Tony Medio, all in their early 40s, represent a huge chunk of Fort Worth rock ’n’ roll experience. Even the group’s Young Turk, 29-year-old drummer Scott Strayer, already has a few outfits on his resumé.

Ware played with Fort Worth country rockers Jasper Stone over a decade ago before recording a single solo album a few years back. Bandy, currently of The Me-Thinks, shared the stage in the early ’90s with bassist Medio in the acid-rock group The Drag-Worms. Strayer was playing in the horror-punk group Night Gallery until a little over a year ago, when Ware, whom Strayer had met through Strayer’s older sister, shot him a text asking if he wanted to get together to jam.

So it’s safe to say these guys have spent a little time in the trenches — the ambition, the late nights, the booking, the zeal to somehow eke out a living from it all — and that they’ve all reached a point where they don’t much give a damn anymore. All they really want to do is jam, mostly for grins, in Ware’s converted garage in North Richland Hills. But they’re not averse to playing the occasional show when they can get their schedules to sync up.

Rotten Roots played their third (but, if you ask them, first “official”) show just a few weeks ago at The Grotto, though they’ve been jamming together for about a year, even laying down a couple tracks for the first of probably many recordings. If you ask these four why they haven’t been out there carving a name for themselves through live shows, they’ll rattle off a handful of reasons. Strayer has a newborn. Ware and Medio have their own children at home. Then there’s Medio’s constant travel for work. And Bandy’s got The Me-Thinks.

But trying to explain themselves recently after-hours at Race Street Barber Shop, where Ware cuts hair, they trailed off and shrugged. Finally, they said that, really, they’re just trying to have fun, kick it, and jam. Tons of live shows and albums and whatnot just don’t factor into Rotten Roots’ game plan. So even without the family lives and nine-to-fives, chances are these guys would still be taking it easy on “the biz.”

“We’re all family guys,” Ware said. “We all have jobs that keep us fed, and I don’t want to go on the road. That’s not real rock ’n’ roll sounding, but that’s what’s going on. I’m not trying to be Sting.”

Rotten Roots have, however, gained some creative momentum recently. In addition to their Grotto show, the band also has begun work on new songs, adding to the existing repertoire that consisted almost exclusively of tunes from Ware’s solo days. (His album, Outta Cahoots, came out in 2011, though it was recorded many years ago.)

Now other members, particularly Bandy, are adding to the creative process. In addition to their obvious country-blues spirit, the songs resonate with the bandmates’ shared punk background. The band’s three older members, Medio, Ware, and Bandy, paid their dues in the 1980s on the local punk circuit, but these Fort Worth guys all had an ear for their native state’s homegrown pickers.

“We’re all thoroughly educated in punk rock,” Ware said, “but I — and I’m sure these guys do too — like a lot of country and blues, any kind of minimalistic music, roots music. But then again, we all have a few Ramones records.”

Strayer added, “We try to fit drops of [punk] into it here and there.”

Hence you have the “rotten” part of their roots music. You might call it countrified punk rock. Or rockified country punk. Their style also employs melodies that hark back to the style of The Drag-Worms. On some songs, like one of Rotten Roots’ first singles, “Blue,” you can definitely sense the early-’90s post-punk influence.

Strayer offers an admittedly abstract analogy for the music his new group makes. “When you look at a super ball you get out of the machine, it’s a swirl of a bunch of colors and a bunch of shit in a rubber ball,” Strayer said. “And when you throw the ball, it goes everywhere, just like our music does. One song never sounds like another. And nobody knows what the hell it is. I don’t know what the hell it is.”

Whatever you want to call Rotten Roots’ music, it fits snugly — if quietly — into Fort Worth’s booming alt-country scene. Fans have to keep a sharp watch for gigs: These guys plan to play only about a show a month, maybe hitting the road a few times a year to play gigs in other cities like Austin and Houston.

Record deals? National tours? Booking agents? All-night parties every weekend?

Nah.

“We probably will start doing some legit booking pretty soon, but right now we’re going to buckle down and start recording the songs we have,” Ware said. “I’m not worried about it right now. I want to keep the same guys together, learning how to work together, for an extended period of time — five, six, seven years out. And none of us are planning to move out of town. That’s the game plan.”

Rotten Roots are scheduled to play Saturday, Jul. 14, at The Cellar (2916 W. Berry St.).


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