Small Time Crooks (Profile)

Hip Hop/Pop group might record naked, but they're far from hippies

You’d never guess it, but Ryan Rockwell's all-time favorite band is Counting Crows. See, he has loads of tats and his T-shirt has a gun on it. Long basketball shorts hang down his legs. His hair, dyed black.

Rockwell smirks. “Can I just talk about local bands that suck and cause controversy?”

A fast-talking vocalist with a witty, edgy presence, he says what’s on his mind, even if he could get slammed. He laughs, hailing ’90s Power Pop, but he works at Covington club The Mad Hatter, where the scene is sometimes tricky.

When his Small Time Crooks played a show with Nappy Roots, Rockwell says, “After that, we decided we probably shouldn’t play Rap shows that often.” After many arrests and tazings, the show was shut down. Night to night, Rockwell says, “It goes from cool to wild to unbearable.”

Sarah Davis (vocals) has a ready-made tough attitude. “It’s people that don’t normally go to shows that are the ones who start the fights,” she says. “They get belligerent when they drink because they have to get it all out in one night.”

Here’s the back story: Rockwell once worked at Journeys, when Tim Johnson (vocals) started coming in to hit up the shoe selection. Soon the two started a “joke Rap group.” They needed female vocals to add some R&B sounds, and Rockwell knew Davis from the Punk Rock scene.

Rockwell says, “Some of our songs have dirty and stupid stuff, and we were like, ‘Sarah will sing that and not get embarrassed.’ ”

Also in Alone at 3am, Davis sings nearly all the hooks. She has a pierced septum and a wry smile and takes the guys’ shit with an easy stride.

“They’re not that wild,” she says, although she and Rockwell did cuddle once.

“We almost made out,” Rockwell jokes. “But we didn’t, and that’s good. We all cuddle. We’re a loving band. We’re not hippies, though."

Tall with a beard, Patrick Wright wears black-framed glasses. He's in charge of the beats. He never goes on stage, but he’s at every show. Wright’s motto: “I don’t really pay attention to lyrics and what people are trying to say. I just listen to the music.”

The other three members of Small Time Crooks are M.I.A., but Rockwell raves about them: “Those guys are ridiculously talented. We all get along great. It’s the easiest band ever, because there are seven people contributing, so there’s not, like, the weight of the world on me.”

Also a member of the Indie Pop/Rock band Mixtapes with Rockwell, Kamal Hiresh hits skins. Dustin Bingaminn (who's also a member of the local band White Walls) plays guitar and Steve Penningroth rounds the band out with his bass work.

The beats and music of Small Time Crooks are all catchy. And the words are street-like yet poetic and smoothly delivered; they hold a kickin’ energy that stands up well against current Pop radio tunes, but they’re more raw and interesting. STC’s recordings show how well the band members gel, even though, strangely, they don’t practice much.

“Pat will send us the beat, I’ll get an idea for the song, verses and choruses, I’ll write mine, Tim will write his and Sarah and I will get together and write hers,” Rockwell says. “They add their own stuff live and it’s fun. We make it work. We’ve never had a show where we just sucked, so…”

Davis adds, “I think we keep really good energy between us because we don’t practice as much, so we actually all look forward to practice and seeing each other.”

The band estimates it recorded around 100 songs last year. After a series of EPs, this year they put out their first official full-length album, Revenge of the Underdogs, recorded at local Moonlight Studios.

Rockwell admits, “I get naked sometimes when recording. I think when you get naked, it makes a big difference.”

At one show, Wright took his pants off ... just because. Apparently, Davis is the only one who doesn’t get publicly naked on a regular basis.

With seven, touring isn’t in the cards, but they record and shop the music from home and their fan base continues to grow. Chuckling, Rockwell says, “We realize the absurdity of what we’re doing and how it became popular, because it’s like a bunch of Punk Rock kids starting a Rap group. I’m not belittling the music. I’m really proud of what we do, but just look at us — it’s still funny.

“I think basically we’re just in this to make money and get wasted, wasted on pills, Percocets and have lots of sex with any gender."

They all laugh. And nobody gets naked. Yet.

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