Jeff Roberson is no longer “the most hated man in Folk,” as he was dubbed by former WNKU program director Dan Reed, since he hasn’t really done anything lately to reinforce the characterization. In fact, since Summer’s Here, the former Len’s Lounge frontman’s 2008 sophomore solo effort, he’s been preoccupied with matters decidedly unrelated to Folk.
“Kids mostly ... fabulous kids,” Roberson — whose solo work is released under his full name, Jeff Scott Roberson — says from the kitchen of his Colerain Township home. “My wife works for P&G and her job for the last three years, up until this spring, was a water project in Kenya, so she was traveling a lot. Literally, I couldn’t get anything done.”
Roberson’s position might change dramatically with his third solo release, The Incredible Parade of Cool. Other than the stellar line-up of guests that pepper the proceedings (Afghan Whigs bassist/Ultrasuede knobbist John Curley, Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, Lisa Walker and Joe Klug, Sparrow Bellows/Goose/Generals bassist Sammy Wulfeck, ex-Plow On Boy vocalist Niki Buehrig and drummer extraordinaire Kendall Davis, among them) the nine-track disc is a complete DIY project for Roberson, from recording in his newly completed home studio (christened the Barn on Murder Creek) to conceiving and implementing the album’s packaging.
“I had a backlog of stuff all stored up and I’ve found a good working method to get people to play with, and I’ve got a studio out in the barn,” Roberson says. “So everything’s back in-house. I even pulled out my old letterpress in the basement.”
For Summer’s Here, Roberson relied on several songs that had been worked up with Len’s Lounge, the much loved local band he founded in the early ’90s and played with sporadically until officially shuttering it two years ago.
For The Incredible Parade of Cool, Roberson wrote everything fresh (except for a great cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”), although inspiration stretched from Lens’s Lounge experiences all the way up to his current domestic status.
“Part of the record is about transitioning from being a full-time musician to trying to find a balance between being home, which is very exciting, and being a musician,” Roberson says. “That’s the last three years — deciding I didn’t really want a band anymore because I was tired of relegating myself to people who were just available instead of people I like hanging around with a lot.”
The song “Dave Long Ain’t Nobody” was inspired by a Len’s Lounge incident that Roberson described as “very boring” but which resulted in an atmospheric track that suggests Bob Dylan produced by Brian Eno.
“That was like a five-minute snippet in time that is now a 10-minute song,” Roberson says with a laugh. “I said to this redneck, ‘Is Dave Long here?’ And he was like, ‘Dave Long ain’t fucking nobody.’ I said, ‘That’s fine, but he booked us here and I need to speak with him.’ Then, the next morning, Lance (Stapleton) left his jacket at the bar and we go to pick it up and this guy, Gary Puckett, comes floating out and he’s green and he’s got the jacket and it’s 9 a.m. and he’s smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer and I’m like ‘Whoa.’ It was a weird scene, as you can imagine.”
Roberson’s ultimate decision to officially dismantle Len’s Lounge came a couple of years ago at a Northside Tavern gig, when an inebriated patron clarified his priorities.
“Victor Strunk was the bass player, right before he moved to Brooklyn,” Roberson recalls. “This drunk guy is standing at the bar, requesting songs. I’m like, ‘Man, we don’t really do requests and if we did, I don’t know any of those songs.’ He’s getting drunker and I’m getting more volatile and saying shit to him and he’s about to get mad and I turned to Victor and said, ‘You got my back?’ And he’s like, ‘Fuck no, I don’t have your back!’ Whereas Sammy Wulfeck would be like, ‘Fuck yeah, let’s roll!’ That was when I was like, ‘Maybe I should find something else to do with my nights.’ I was having more fun baiting drunks than I was being in a band. And you’ve got to get up at 5:30 a.m. and tend to the daughters and that’s a whole other kind of baiting. They’re baiting me.”
Although Roberson plans few live dates to support Parade of Cool, it could be the album that exposes him to a wider audience. “Ain’t No Sunshine” sounds like Fleetwood Mac circa 1974, “Dusk to Dawn,” featuring ethereal vocals from Lisa Walker, is heartbreakingly gorgeous (“That song is about the tension at night between being a family dude and a musician …”) and the title track suggests a soulful reworking of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Stylistically diverse, ranging from Ambient Folk to Americana to Country Rock, The Incredible Parade of Cool is reminiscent of Mike Nesmith’s groundbreaking post-Monkees rootsy ’70s Country Pop.
“It is a little all over the map, and I’m not really sure why … I didn’t plan it that way,” Roberson says. “It just kind of evolved like that. It was hard to arrange to get them to flow, so I ended up going for a more phonetic flow than a musical flow.”
Even with the murderer’s row of musical talent present on the album, a good deal of Parade of Cool is performed by Roberson alone. And while some of it was played, layered and arranged into the form on the album, many of the songs featuring guest artists were played live in the moment. That mix of thoughtful creation and intuitive spontaneity reinforces the theme of tension between two extremes.
“There really was no plan, other than I wanted to play with a bunch of people that I like a lot,” Roberson says. “I had eight or nine songs that I loved and that seemed to fit together thematically. Like with ‘Dusk to Dawn’ — it was originally me fingerpicking a guitar, singing the part and everything was layered in. That song came together when John Curley put that massive bass down and it rides underneath. Lisa’s part and that fiddle is beautiful, but the thing that holds it together is John on the bass and Sammy bowing the bass. Listen to that with headphones on; there’s a lot of shit going on side to side.”
Just like Jeff Roberson’s life.
Here's the title track from The Incredible Parade of Cool. Click "Buy" to purchase the album on Bandcamp.
JEFF ROBERSON performs a free show with Jody Stapleton Thursday, Oct. 18, at MOTR Pub.