Varsity Arts Presents
1308 4th Street SE
Minneapolis, MN, 55414
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 18 and over
Watch & Listen
In 2009, Rocket Club took the music industry by surprise when they appeared like a guided missile on the Billboard Country charts, staying for 7 weeks and reaching #49 with their single, One More Day. This early national success came in spite of the group's many nontraditional qualities: an unsigned band, a self‐produced album, and hailing from the North Country of Minneapolis, Minnesota, far from the country music Mecca of Nashville.
Breaking the sound barrier
Put equal parts Cash, Eagles and Zeppelin on ice, shake vigorously, and pour into a 3‐part harmony glass, and you've just made yourself a North Country cocktail, courtesy of Rocket Club. Chock full of big guitar hooks, rich vocal harmonies and good old fashioned American storytelling, this band is setting out to create a whole new blend of music. And to their pleasant surprise, a whole lot of people have taken an early liking to the taste.
"Pinning Rocket Club down isn't easy. It's a wide variety of influences, a
ton of energy and talent, and hooky melodies. Rocket Club really can't be
simplified down to any one thing – except really good."
Program Director, K102 FM
Rocket Club began as the songwriting duo of Don Smithmier (vocals and keyboards) and Brian Kroening (guitars). Collaborators for many years and across multiple genres, Smithmier and Kroening self‐released a collection of Americana tunes in 2004 titled Naked Houses.
"We originally called ourselves The Rocket Club," says Kroening, "because those songs came out of many evening and weekend songwriting sessions that really had the feel of our own little club. We loved writing and we especially liked it when friends would occasionally show up to collaborate with us."
One such friend was Minneapolis producer/songwriter/guitarist Matt Kirkwold. Kirkwold had contributed to the Club's early songwriting and was the first person Smithmier and Kroening called when they were ready to start on a new album in 2007. Only this time, they wanted to put together a band in the process.
Kirkwold signed on to produce and play on the record and also suggested that they recruit another singer to bring another type of voice to the sound. That singer was Chris Hawkey, a well‐known entertainer in the Minneapolis music scene.
"We had written some songs for Hawk's solo CD, so we were already fans of his style and his voice," says Smithmier. "But when he came into the studio to add some harmonies to our tracks, something just clicked."
Struck by the way Hawkey's voice blended so naturally with Smithmier's and Kirkwold's, the four guys began talking about how fun it would be to re‐create some of the magic of legendary bands like The Eagles—with multiple singers and intentional harmonies that define a sound. And that, in a nutshell, was the day Rocket Club truly began.
A quick lift‐off
Released in October 2008, Rocket Club's debut album was quick to earn the band local praise and attention as their music quickly found a home on Minneapolis radio stations K102 and Cities 97. They began to appear and perform live on these stations, and to play music festivals as well as some of the city's prominent live music venues.
When one local Minnesota celebrity heard their album, he believed in it strongly enough to start working his own network on the band's behalf. In short order, the CD was in the hands of Chris Palmer, a former long‐tenured senior executive for Warner Brothers and a Nashville music guru. Their music grabbed Palmer's attention and by the fall of 2009, he had signed on as part of the band's management team, along with fellow Nashville veterans, Gene Dries and Neal Spielberg.
According to Palmer, "When I first heard Rocket Club, I was taken with the amazingly rich harmonies, exceptional playing and strong hooks in their songs; the triple threat! On top of that, these guys put on a hell of a live show. They've brought their individual talents together to genuinely create something special."
It was at that time that the band invited drummer Billy Thommes to become a permanent part of the club. Thommes, a fixture in the Minneapolis music scene, was a major contributor to the band's debut studio album, adding extra muscle to the emerging sound. After playing with the band in its early live shows, everyone knew the chemistry was right. The team was complete.
"One More Day": A pleasant surprise from a sad legacy
For a band as focused and purposeful in its efforts as Rocket Club, there's irony in the fact that the band's first Billboard hit was never intended to be anything more than a favor for some friends and the charity they co‐founded.
In the summer of 2009, Don Smithmier was approached by his pal Mark Lacek, cofounder of Faith's Lodge (www.faithslodge.org), a charity devoted to helping families cope with the loss of a child. Lacek wanted to know if the band would consider helping him write a song in his daughter Faith's honor, based on a poem he had written shortly after her death. Just a few hours after they got the poem, the band's bass player and songwriting collaborator, Joel Sayles, had finished a first draft of the song. A few days later, Sayles, Smithmier and Lacek spent the day finishing the tune and Rocket Club recorded One More Day in support of Faith's Lodge (the band donates all proceeds from song downloads to the charity). The song found its way to Gregg Swedberg of K102 in Minneapolis, who placed it into rotation immediately. Listeners had a quick and emotional reaction, and soon requests and support for the song began pouring into K102. Other stations around the country followed and by November 2009, the song had pierced the Billboard Hot 100 Country Charts, where it stayed for 7 weeks and peaked at #49. All without a record company or a single dollar being spent to promote the song.
The Next Stage
Fast‐forward to summer 2010 and the band is poised for its next adventure. With a new single ready to hit the airwaves in June and a follow‐up EP scheduled for late summer release, the band members are simultaneously giddy and curious about what might lie ahead. But one thing is crystal clear to them: whatever happens, it's all about the songs.
Blending sharp hooks and deep ideas, layering three part harmonies into stories pulled from their own life experience, the group sows and nurtures a new take on traditional music. They've grown quickly into a band that embodies the heart and soul of the storytelling tradition, with an American roots appeal that crosses genre boundaries and draws in music lovers from all walks of life. Rocket Club have found their following and gained airplay across a spectrum of major radio markets and, through their melodic approach to music, have become rising stars to watch in the world of country music.
But country is a broad label, with even modern country and new country covering a wide spectrum of sounds, styles and voices, and Rocket Club are too unique a band to be described by a single word, so they simply write the songs they like and form their own kind of country in the process, combining the modernity of new country with the best traditions of their roots and continuing to bring their country—"North Country" —to the world.