Feature Stories

The Roomsounds Find a Home and Start a Killer Party as Exiles in Dallas

There’s a party at the Roomsounds’ house. It doesn’t matter what day of the week, or even what time of day (although the later the better), there are almost always people wall-to-wall — musicians, beautiful girls and what the band calls “permanent guests,” all decked out with long hair, big hats and bell bottoms. It’s an uncannily retro trip, as though the recording sessions for Exile on Main St. have been brought back to life, 40 years later.

The Roomsounds are exiles in Dallas, but it seems that wherever they go they make a name for themselves. In a previous life, the band’s founding members had a band in Connecticut that played the Vans Warped Tour and got signed to a subsidiary of Warner Records. But, tempted by a visit to Frisco, they left that life behind and built a new one in Texas that’s earned them praise from no less than the owner of Muscle Shoals’ legendary Fame Studios, who calls them “the future of rock ‘n’ roll.”

There’s something freakishly authentic about the band’s ’60s aesthetic, which is reflected not only by their music, but also by their lifestyle and choice of dress. They exude a sincere Midnight in Paris complex — a romantic longing for a time passed. If you didn’t know any better you’d think they were permanently in character. With their long hair, fringe, fur and floppy hats, they look like walking photographs of yore, and they’re instantly recognizable.

You’ll never catch them in sports T-shirts and khaki shorts. Not even on laundry day. Not even in Frisco.

Singer Ryan Michael, with his pale skin and light eyes, resembles a young Jagger, minus the spastic moves and unrealistic lip size. He radiates endless charm, presenting a believable rock star persona. His songwriting likewise suggests the finesse of a seasoned entertainer. Guitarist Sam Janik’s stance and soul make him a worthy counterpart. And together with bassist Red Coker and drummer Dan Malone they deliver a forceful live performance.

Their style is so dominant, it seems to transport all of their associates to a like era — just witness the parties. But it didn’t happen overnight. When Michael, Janik and Malone first moved to Dallas, they were burnt out on the music industry and tired of “playing for 16-year-old girls in skinny jeans,” as Michael puts it. After legal issues with their label, warm weather and Texas hospitality seemed like a welcome change. “It’s also located between L.A. and New York, and seemed like a great place to start over, to immerse ourselves and make roots-oriented music,” Michael explains.

The band left the East Coast, telling hardly anyone about it, and settled into living in their rehearsal space off Interstate 35. Malone describes that time as “the Dark Ages.” The building’s floor, walls and ceiling were entirely covered in black carpet and there was no heater, Malone says, painting a surreal picture of a rock band trapped in a freezing black box: “It looks like it should be on Ghost Hunters.” Undeterred, the band used that time to write and rehearse obsessively. When they lost their original bassist after he married in Texas, they recruited Coker, a local who was not only a musical fit but also had the right length of hair.

Eventually they moved into their current home in East Dallas and really got into the swing of things. Perhaps relishing their abundance of heated space, the house quickly overflowed with visitors and came to harbor a harmlessly hedonistic mystique. The scene often evolves into an epic drunken jam that nobody wants to leave, and so they don’t, at least for a few days. The band says they’ve often returned to a party happening before any of the owners have come home, and that people still stop by uninvited at 4 a.m. expecting a wild time. They’ve finally learned to lock the doors.

The vintage luggage pieces, guitars, tour posters, huge Rolling Stones flag and skeleton decor (there’s more of it than in a Halloween shop) create a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere. They say the constant partying has recently slowed down, but recall a time when someone would invariably stand on one of the toilets on the DoubleWide patio and scream, “Party at the Roomsounds’ house!” It made sense that their first music video, for “Couldn’t Break My Spirit,” was shot right at home, using the partygoers as subjects. “The foundation in the house is still crooked from that time,” says Michael.

One of the people who helped the band settle in Dallas was producer Beau Bedford, with whom they recorded their first album, The Roomsounds. The LP, consistent with their Keith Richards and Tom Petty worship, was an unpretentious album of purist rock ‘n’ roll riffs. Two years later, in 2014, the recording of their follow-up album found them in the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where they received the aforementioned praise from owner Rodney Hall.

Hall, who had learned of them through social media, called them up and invited them to record at the renowned studio. The band members, who are classic rock scholars, had coincidentally watched the Muscle Shoals documentary that week, and so were honored to be part of a culture and environment that produced so many iconic hits. “We were intimidated,” Janik says. “Knowing that Otis, Aretha, Etta James were in this booth ... It makes you bring your A-game.”

The result is Elm St., an album that seems to represent a decade’s worth of musical growth. “Every song was given the treatment,” Michael says of the record, which is in line with their smartly commercial, consistent homage to classic rock. “Baby’s Got the Bluest Eyes,” a song that’s captivating in both its melodic simplicity and baroque instrumental break, could easily have been a classic Americana hit. Michael admits they wouldn’t have included an emotive ballad of this sort on their previous release, but, as he sees it, “It takes more balls to bare your soul than to be loud.” While the record is complete, they’re awaiting their team’s go-ahead before its release sometime this summer.

“We want to make timeless music, and take pride in what we do,” Michael says. “We still feel that the songs are relevant, but want to carry the torch of rock ‘n’ roll.” Whether the Roomsounds are the future, present or past of rock ‘n’ roll isn’t necessarily a relevant question. What matters is that the spirit is genuine, and the torch is in good hands. You don’t need to party with them to be convinced, but you sure as hell should.

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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio