I've always wanted to be in a band. The problem is, I have absolutely no musical ability. To make up for that, I live vicariously through the musicians I know. But usually I see only the glamorous side: the live show with screaming fans. The recognition. The press. The afterparties.
What I don't see is the reality of being a musician. Taking a cue from the film "Almost Famous," I decide to follow local rock band Road Kill Roy around while it finishes its debut album, "The World Passes By," and performs a gig at the Epic at the Hat Factory.
Road Kill Roy is still a new band in the area, but already it's started gaining exposure. The group formed in the spring of 2008 after keyboardist Mark Langhorst and drummer Corey Muldoon's previous cover band disbanded. Wanting to play original material this time around, the two brought in lead singer Mike Raybould, guitarist Davy Jones and bass player Mike Ellerman.
Maybe someone will jump off the roof screaming, "I am a golden god!"
I make my way to Lakeside Mini Storage, where the band practices in a unit personally retooled for rehearsal. Show fliers with the Road Kill Roy logo (a reworked railroad crossing sign) line the walls, and soundproofing panels everywhere try to make me forget I'm in a storage unit.
Between balancing day jobs, wives, families and schedules, band members usually practice once a week. They play, get in arguments, play more and talk about the hassle of booking gigs and getting an album out. The group has spent the past year and a half working on "The World Passes By" with help of Pedro Aida from Sound of Music Studios, who mixed the album.
Road Kill Roy mainly plays bar gigs around the city, including McCook's Grill and Bar and Buffalo Wild Wings as well as private parties and festivals such as the Monument Avenue 10-K. It took on a booking company late last year that handles a bunch of artists. The outcome, however, has been very limited, so members continue to book all their own shows — not all of them on the best stages.
"We recently had a regular gig at a bar that was on the same night as another musician who was pretty popular playing next door," Jones says. "It's kind of depressing seeing 50 people out for his show listening to music and having a good time. And for our show, there are five people in the bar — including us."
But like any band making its way, the group chugs along, makes contacts and continuing to get its music out there. And after talking, arguing about song choices and hanging out for a while, the band members decide that maybe it's time they started actually practicing.
It's 7 a.m. and Road Kill Roy is standing outside of CBS-6's studios on West Broad Street. The band is scheduled to appear on the "Virginia This Morning" show to promote its gig at Epic that evening.
"It's a lot of hurry up and wait," one of them jokes.
The band has lined up instruments, microphones and cables outside while the station concludes the filming of a live segment. Once the cameras cut to commercial, the band quickly sets up against a blue screen. Within minutes, a quick sound check is finished.
This is a return visit for the group, and co-hosts Cheryl Miller and Greg McQuade treat the guys like rock stars. Members of the crew even wear Road Kill Roy T-shirts. While the cameras roll, the band performs its song "Pulling Apart," and area viewers are exposed to sounds the band has worked so hard to get out there.
"We always leave here feeling like a million bucks," Jones says of CBS-6.
And then the group is escorted to the green room, which consists of a few chairs and some coffee. The other guests for the day included a local fashion designer and comedian Pablo Francisco, who quickly leaves after his segment, much to Jones' disappointment; he runs after him for a picture. But Francisco did say he "really liked that Road Kill Bob band" — on air.
The Big Show is finally here. Tonight Road Kill Roy performs at Epic, opening for Rosie Soul and the Rock and Roll Cowboys — an act with a steady following. Band members arrive at the venue at 5:30 p.m. for their scheduled sound check.
And they wait.
Rosie Soul and her band are busy with their sound check, working out numerous technical issues. This puts Road Kill Roy's sound check off until 7:30. "It happens," Jones says. "You just have to get used to it." When the doors open and people begin to fill the venue, the band relaxes and a venue manager takes us to the upstairs dressing-room area. It's a narrow hallway followed by another narrow hallway attached to it. There are a few couches, but with all the guys in the band, Rosie Soul and her crew, various friends and family members, it gets crowded pretty quick.
It's finally time for the guys to take the stage. A decent crowd shows up. Too bad everyone's in the back at the bar. This doesn't stop the band from playing hard.
In no time there are a few diehards getting close to the stage, and tightly dressed women in their 50s dance up a storm. Rosie Soul herself was even getting into the set from the balcony above. After the show the band makes its way through the crowd, talking to fans and hanging out. Ellerman walks around with a box of CDs to sell. "I hate this part," he says, while attempting to make some sales. "We can't afford a merch table."
At the end of the night, the band is surprised to learn that it isn't getting paid.
A few days of trailing a band did not involve the sex, drug use and fights I'd imagined ("Almost Famous" lied). It did, however, show me that a modern rock band puts up with a lot of work: long hours recording, booking shows, engaging in shameless self-promotion, often playing to empty rooms. You're always trying to make yourself better and, sometimes, the success initially just isn't there.
And sometimes, it builds slowly, one fan at a time. The morning after the Epic show, a post appears on the group's Facebook page: "Great performance last night. RKR on my must see again list for sure. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the CD. Great job!"
"That makes it all worth it." Langhorst says.