[Matt Botsford/Unsplash]

Roarshark

00:00 April 29, 2013
By: 2Fik
“I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT...”

So sings Michael Selser, the frontman and guitarist for Roarshark, a local trio mixing elements of indie and prog rock. With a sound somewhere between Broken Social Scene and King Crimson, and some New Orleans fl avor thrown in, they practice in drummer David Schulz’s room on Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone else is abuzz over football. Schulz cleans up his place before they come over. Selser arrives and eats some brunch he got from a friend’s restaurant. Zac Demmond, the bassist, shows up halfway through the practice. He has on sunglasses and what he calls his “hangover hoodie,” which almost obscures his neatly trimmed Van Dyke goatee. Despite going out the night before and drinking at a karaoke bar, he is ready to make music. They noodle on a song that gives off the feeling of the ocean; it could be the soundtrack to a road trip movie.

“It’s something we’re continually improvising,” Selser explains. “A little zygote.”

“We should call it ‘Zygote Zong,’” Schulz jokes. Schulz attended John Ehret High School on the West Bank, and now works at The Mortuary Haunted House. With curly hair, glasses, and a scruffy beard, Schulz seems mostly mellow as he bangs away on the drums in his seat. After practice when everyone has left (Selser is going off to study, while Demmond wants to catch the game), Schulz says he likes to watch “fail” videos on the Internet. He’s also tired of being either the fi rst or last band on the bill. He likes to be situated in the middle, preferably as the second band, hoping this will pan out for their next show.

This did not occur at Roarshark’s Big Top gig earlier in the month, which they admit is their fi rst show in a while. The band ends up being last, with the concert lasting well until the wee hours of the morning. The small crowd gathered stands around, nodding their heads to the music. The band members look focused on their instruments. In the middle of songs, Selser crouches down to tinker with different effects while he plays guitar. Selser says he knows everyone has a bedtime. “Are we putting you to sleep yet?” Yet the crowd is fully awake. Roarshark’s music is stirring, cerebral, gentle, but with a nervous edge to it. Outside of the venue, before they go on stage, Demmond and Selser hang around, with Selser explaining that he enjoys the British comedy series Peep Show because he relates to the awkwardness of the central characters. He appears warm with a scarf draped around his neck. Schulz just relaxes on a bench inside, chatting with two girls he knows, wearing shorts and a shirt depicting the “X-Men” character Wolverine.

Where does the name Roarshark come from?

They explain it’s both from the character in the graphic novel Watchmen, and a reference to the Rorschach psychological test.

Schulz and Demmond played together in previous bands. “I saw when they fi rst started, and I really didn’t like them that much, just... they sounded too distorted,” comments Genevieve Vicini, a close friend of Selser’s who went to De La Salle High School with him. They usually go on platonic dinner dates. “But they’ve gotten so much better over the few years they’ve been playing together. They practice more...it’s a lot clearer sound, more personalized sound,” she says. At fi rst, Vicini didn’t warm up to Selser, which she admits “wasn’t fair,” but has grown to revere him as someone who “won’t screw you over”.

Zac Pizzeck is the band’s videographer and photographer; their fi rst show was actually at his birthday party. He went to Ehret with Schulz, attended church with Selser (even teaching him to ride a bike), and worked with Demmond. “Selser likes to go on tangents,” Pizzeck says of his playing style. He admits Selser’s vocals can get “whiny”. Indeed, there are points in their performance where Selser’s singing gets a bit high-pitched, though it adds to the emotion of their music.

They’ve been described as post-rock, but are evasive about the term. “Post-alternative progressive power trio” is even facetiously thrown out as a label. While earning comparisons to Tool and Queens of the Stone Age—and their music does have similarities— Selser thinks there’s only a 30-second segment of Roarshark music that bears relation to Tool, and their music isn’t as abrasive as the two (Primus is an infl uence they all agree is essential, though). Fans describe Roarshark as having a sound you don’t hear too often. They mostly don’t try to restrain themselves. Sarah Schatelain, Schulz’s girlfriend, says they’re no longer afraid to tell each other when something’s wrong, having grown closer in the years they’ve played, not just as a band but also as friends. To her, Selser is the brains, Demmond books the shows, and Schulz is the glue. In particular, she thinks Schulz has improved with drumming, even if she lets on that he can be critical of his own talent. She sees Roarshark as “psychedelic rock” and states that they are this generation’s Pink Floyd.

Roarshark used to have a regular spot playing D-Mac’s Bar & Grill but fell into a rut with this, feeling it stifl ed their creativity. “They paid us well,” Demmond says. But it became “monotonous” for them. They decided to quit and have been playing different venues around New Orleans, mostly in the Uptown/Mid-City area. One Banks Street performance in 2012, where they playe “Gutterballs,” sees Selser performing with a striped light hanging against the wall behind him, giving him an almost angelic glow. Demmond wears a headband and glances over at Selser in the middle of their performance. Schulz concentrates on his drumming (Pizzeck says he is completely self-taught). The sound is a bit scuzzier and more punk than their usual stuff (perhaps what Vicini was referring to) but fades into the usual ethereal melody of theirs. Demmond and Selser share harmonizing vocals and then Selser goes off into the guitar theatrics that Pizzeck has noted. Other performances at Banks have had a funkier edge, with a “wah-wah” guitar sound and looming bass riff present. Demmond states that they experimented with a darker sound, but it wasn’t “them”.

Schulz’s hopes of getting a desirable placement are met somewhat when Roarshark plays a Wednesday at the Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude. They arrive early for their assumed timeslot but fi nd the movie Die Hard playing. “This happens when you’re dealing with musicians,” Demmond says. As they set up their equipment on stage and check out the merchandise table for a visiting band also on the bill (musing that they should get some T-shirts of their own printed), they kill time by having a few drinks while talking with their friends in booths. Their next-door neighbor Taylor Adams stops by to check out the performance. Demmond smiles while Selser hops all around the stage, with Schulz maintaining focus. Their friends cheer after each song and the audience gathered subtly bops to the rhythms.

Back at the Super Bowl day practice, things are quieter. Demmond and Selser goof off, playing “This Old Man” on their instruments. Schulz migrates back to the main room of the apartment to get a beer. “Never trust the press!” he sarcastically musesas they try out different songs they’ve been working on. Sometimes the tunes they play in front of crowds are the result of just tinkering with different tempos. Their sound this practice has an angular, jangly feel to it. Demmond insists on playing in C-sharp. Selser wants to take a riff they played last week and build on it. One of Schulz’s drums is cracked. Demmond later occupies himself by humming the theme to Friday the 13 th .

For now, Roarshark is taking it one step at a time. They’d like to get signed to a label but are content just fi nding dates to play. They already have a fi rst album out; Vicini heard it while driving and enjoyed it. They want their music to be an “assault” on the audience. To demonstrate this aspect, Schulz has previously dressed up as a gingerbread man in concerts. Austin has a thriving scene, they say, and maybe one day they will play there. Social media and the Internet have helped them promote their music and gain fans. Demmond admits it’s the only thing he really uses Facebook for (he rarely updates his personal page). There are jokes that there might be a guerilla show (maybe even with generators), but the look in their eyes suggests some truth to this wish.

“We’re like sharks. We can’t stop swimming,” observes Selser.

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