515-B North McDonough St.
Decatur, GA, 30030
Doors 9:15 PM / Show 9:30 PM
Watch & Listen
“It’s rock – with a mandolin.”
Though it’s virtually impossible to classify the thoroughly unique entity that is The Roosevelts, this statement by guitarist Jason Kloess certainly tells part of the story. As one half of the electric duo along with singer James Mason, the two brothers in song – not blood, though maybe beards – have been playing together for years and cultivating a sound that’s a little bluesy, a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Sure, there’s some mandolin in there. But most importantly, there’s no bells, no whistles, no sparkly wallet chains: just heartfelt, genuine music that belongs to them alone, not any genre.
“We hope our music will break your heart and make you shout for joy, all at the same time,” says Kloess. And it certainly will. Formed in 2012 when Mason and Kloess were introduced through a mutual friend in their current hometown of Austin, Texas, they’ve followed their natural inclination to write songs that tap into pure emotion shaped with jubilant musicianship and introspective lyrics, building a devoted fan base along the way – a fan base that Mason and Kloess often make sure to chat with on a first-name basis out in the crowd as much as from the stage. Because this is a band about breaking down walls, not building them up.
But The Roosevelts actually almost never came to be. Mason was ready to purse a career in medicine, pondering graduate school after working as a medic on ambulances and as a lobbyist in healthcare policy. While both he and Kloess had played music since their youth, it had always just been for the joy of it – it was upon a roommate’s urging that he decided to take the plunge and give Austin a trial shot before committing to a future in the medical field. It was a gamble, but a good one.
“Even for my first two years in Austin, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a career in music,” says Mason, “but from the moment we became and recorded as The Roosevelts, I knew it would become my career.” The past year has seen the band debut their song “Cold Sheets” on CMT and tour extensively as they prepare for the release of their debut full-length album.
Kloess, who had begun his musical journey on piano, and Mason, who “caught the bug” in high school, bonded in Austin over a mutual love of the same influences: the song writing of James Taylor, the keen lyricism of Ryan Adams, the heartfelt soul of Matt Nathanson. And, of course, their southern roots – Mason hails from Houston, Texas and Kloess from Birmingham, Alabama – which brings a country flair to their work that’s more about time-honored harmonies and illuminating lyrics than anything particularly twangy. Though they aren’t brothers, there’s a clear brotherhood that emanates from the music – one listen to the way their voices ring together, and it seems they were destined to be a band.
Or maybe it’s a little more simple. “It really was just his beautiful beard that attracted me to him,” says Kloess, laughing. Certainly, their sense of humor and lighthearted approach to life is a pillar of their identity. After joining forces, they wrote over fifty songs together, narrowing the work down to a succinct, acclaimed EP, Cold Sheets, for which they partnered with producer Dwight Baker. The collection of tracks showcases their strengths as a unit: smart, soulful grooves with crisp harmonies and sweetly infectious refrains that could fill living rooms just as easily as stadiums.
“I think James is really good at writing lyrics, and I’m better at doing more composition and arrangement, and those two together ware a nice harmony for us,” says Kloess. Adds Mason, ” We kind of complete the package together. Jason is a more technical player. I never took any lessons, it was always just learning what chords look like and putting my fingers in the right places and singing songs. And for Jason, there was more technical skill involved with playing lead guitar, he knew the theory, and I didn’t have that.”
The place where their individual talents meet is one full of heartfelt, southern charm that artfully tackles a common theme: relationships. Whether it’s love or something else, their music often taps into this relatable human experience. “A lot of our songs are kind of geared around love or heartbreak or um…pretty much love or heartbreak,” Kloess laughs. Adds Mason, “I think certainly when one listens on the surface, the word “love” is mentioned a lot, but I think the word ‘love’ is not always completely related to traditional love. I think it’s about relationships. Relationships really inspire our songs, and of course, some of the easiest relationships to write about, if you’re digging in, are romantic ones. But the inspiration is not always romantic. It’s about connecting with people.”
Relating and interacting with others is a huge part of The Roosevelts. Mason and Kloess love to meet and get to know their fans, and even have found that to be one of the most crucial, rewarding parts of the process. For Mason, these interpersonal relationships have been an element of the music that provide a similar reward that he longed for in a medical career.
“The hardest part of consciously allowing myself to let go of medicine was the loss of the sensation that I was actually helping people,” Mason says. “Although I’m not saving lives with music, I have found that this platform allows me to connect with people on a deeper level than most other professions. There’s something powerful, and at times healing, in these relationships.”
For their fans, the healing comes in the music – cathartic, joyful, full of life and light. It’s unique, it’s the Roosevelts, it’s rock – with a mandolin.
Picture a street in working-class Baltimore some 30 years ago. Kids play in the shadows of the row houses that line the sidewalks. Their parents sit on the stoops leading up to front doors. It all seems normal at first glance.
But zoom in on one of these homes — that old duplex built back when this part of town was still mainly open fields. Inside is a completely different community, where fundamentalism, hippie values and volatile, unpredictable emotions coexist and collide. Escape is difficult: the only way out is to pass through the bedrooms of people you might be trying to get away from.
This is where Eliot Bronson grew up. Yeah, he often wanted to slip away from there, but the first thing he saw once he exited was the Pentecostal Church across the street where his father and grandfather had preached and where congregants spoke in tongues.
So Eliot looked inward instead.
“For better or worse, I’ve always been a weirdo,” he remembers. “I was reading about Zen Buddhism when all my friends were getting high and drunk in high school.
“Of course,” he adds, “I did all that stuff later.”
He also observed. In this kaleidoscopic family, where glossolalia and, on occasion, alcohol-fueled ravings, sometimes bled into each other, Bronson found shelter in music. At age 15, he got his first guitar and started teaching himself to play. “Right away, I wanted to write my own songs,” he says. “My house was pretty chaotic, crazy, and unhealthy, so I took to music like it was a life raft. It was something I could do to keep myself alive.”
Punk rock was his shelter at first. Then one day his dad put on a few of his favorite LPs — Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, something by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Eliot had heard these albums a thousand times before. This time, though…
“… it resonated with me,” Eliot says. “It wasn’t just in the background. I tuned into it for the first time. There was a magic and a power there. It didn’t talk down to the listener but it was also high art. It asked you to be smart and to become a better version of yourself. For me, this was a moment when it became my music, not just my parents’ music.”
From local coffee houses and venues beyond Baltimore, Bronson sharpened his writing and performance. He cultivated a working approach that involved singing to himself as ideas came to him and never jotting down chord changes or lyrics once he had committed the finished version to memory. A local following grew. Astute observers saw something different in the young artist’s work. The Baltimore Sun even anointed him “a folk singing wunderkind.”
Expanding his range, Bronson toured as one-half of a duo. They moved to Atlanta and picked up a gig in a room frequented by The Indigo Girls, John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and other discerning clientele. When his partner quit to take a sensible non-musical job, Bronson persisted on his own. His songs won first-place honors at MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and Eddie Owens Presents “Songwriter Shootout.” He issued several solo albums, including a self-titled release in 2014 that prompted Glide Magazine to describe him as “a gorgeous, magnificent hybrid of (Ryan) Adams, Jason Isbell and Jim James.” Bop n Jazz upped that ante by heralding him as “maybe the best singer/songwriter since Dylan.”
Writers may have trouble topping these accolades, though that’s what Bronson’s latest album merits. Scheduled to release Aug. 25 on Rock Ridge Music, James offers songs that are more like pictures than movies, capturing moments and digging deeply into their meanings. A stomping beat, raw harmonica and searing electric slide drives the opening track, “Breakdown In G Major,” followed by a selection of songs that only confirm Bronson’s restless, escalating excellence.
“Good Enough,” for example, captures a relationship in its final stage — a stage that may end tomorrow or stretch on for years. Bronson sings it sorrowfully, asking the rhetorical question of whether “‘good enough’ is good enough for you” from this point. “When I stumbled onto that line, I was like, ‘That’ll probably stick,’” he says. “But I think the song really came from the first line, ‘Were we really that young?’ Sometimes it takes just one line to resonate with me and get me to start writing.”
Then there’s “The Mountain,” whose elusive grandeur delivers a powerful message but leaves it to the listener to parse its meaning. “There’s a very literalist current in writing and music right now,” Bronson observes. “There aren’t a lot of layers to lyrics these days. It’s just what you see on the page. So when you don’t write that way, you get, ‘What are you hiding?’”
He laughs and then concludes, “I don’t look at it that way. For me, it’s more about how you feel when you hear it. What does it do for you? That’s the message!”
One more, “Rough Ride,” is a departure for Bronson. Here, the meaning is clear: When 25-year-old Freddie Gray fell unaccountably into a coma in the back of a Baltimore police van, much of America expressed shock and outrage. So did Bronson, but he channeled those emotions into this song.
“I had mixed feelings about writing this because I don’t like inserting my political or social beliefs into art,” he explains. “Art should be about connecting people, not drawing lines between them. But I was listening to Dylan’s Desire album at the time, especially ‘Hurricane.’ I always wanted to write a song like that. It was like, ‘How can you tell a story almost journalistically with great emotional impact and yet not come off heavy-handed?’ I wanted to see if I could do it. Now I’m glad I did.”
Known for his empathetic work with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and other utterly original artists, producer Dave Cobb played a critical role in bringing James to fruition. “His honesty and old-fashioned vibe were so appealing to me,” Bronson says. “They leant themselves to the way I created. And, of course, it was a huge boost to have this great artist/producer at your back.”
They had worked together previously on his 2014 release, Eliot Bronson. “But this album is different,” Bronson points out. “It’s more sparse and economical. My voice is stronger. And I think it’s a step away from the purely Americana vibe of the last one in a direction that I have a hard time defining. I’m excited to discover how this music will define itself.”
Wherever he’s bound, Bronson promises to write and sing the truth as he sees and feels it. “For the really great artists, like Dylan or Paul Simon, you never quite find what you’re looking for,” he says. “As you get closer, it changes. It stays elusive. What I want to do now isn’t the same as what I wanted to do five years ago. And that’s what keeps me going.” And it’s that shift that drives Bronson to continue to refine his art.
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