by Scott Roos
photos by Scott Roos
It’s hard to believe that in all the insanity of Joel Rohs’s summer that he found the time to make a record of his own. In a perfect world, this would be a story of “guy who works tirelessly and selflessly for other people and finally does something for himself” but it’s not exactly the case when it comes to Joel’s band. It may be called Rohs in name, but the quintet is essentially a collective of friends who love making music together. Rohs even gives credit to bassist Kirk Pilon for pushing to get the record, entitled You Were Right, completed. It went right down to the wire, but the finished product is all quality front to back.
"I am still surprised that it's out and finished and stuff. We were finishing mastering on the Tuesday before Chester Fest,” Joel remarked during a telephone conversation with NSMZ..
Joel’s summer consisted of the last minute booking of the Chester Fest Couch + Music Festival, booking shows, touring and recording with bluegrass/rockabilly upstart Jake Vaadeland, recording a single with folkster Wade Fehr, on top of his regular job as resident sound guy for the EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts. With You Were Right, the inspiration for completing things also came from a surprise tour booked for the band by keyboardist Kayanna Wirtz. It was to serve as an anniversary present for Joel who is Wirtz’s partner. The tour served as much needed stress relief and precious time to unwind for the couple after an incredibly busy summer.
“It was kinda nice because after the festival all we had to do is drive an hour or two each day and play a single 60 min set. That's all we are gonna do on this tour. So that was kinda relaxing in a weird way. I know it seems like lots of work. It was lots of work and tiring and stuff but it was a nice little post festival reward," Joel continued.
Fleshed out by Stephen Williams on guitar and Zachary Kerr on drums, Rohs is essentially a supergroup of the Prince Albert music scene’s usual suspects. Joel himself sings on six of the nine songs but there was room for other band members to contribute as well. The end result is a sort of folksy/rootsy plugged in Dylan meets the Weakerthans kind of vibe.
“Everyone in the group is a pretty phenomenal writer,” raved Joel, “Every song on the album is more or less solely written by the person that sings it. There's not a lot of group writing that goes on.” It was important to Joel that he not be the sole contributor when it came to songs. If a band member wrote a song, then they would sing on it. Williams wrote and sang “Ann’s Storm”, Wirtz added “I Was Right” to the mix with Pilon chiming in on “Over’s Not Over”. Pilon’s track in particular, with it’s hook laden chorus on top of the vulnerability in the lyrics, is a clear highlight of You Were Right.
In terms of Joel’s own personal writing process, in true guitar player fashion, he starts with the instrument first and then adds everything else after. Emotions are also key in inspiring him to put pen to paper.
"It's almost always guitar first. I like to have the foundation of a song made up first before I do anything more. Most of my writing is based on emotions. I always joke about it but a lot of the songs on You Were Right are sad. Emotion is a big influencer in my songwriting - how I'm feeling in that moment when I'm writing or if there's something that moved me that’s on my mind," Joel explains.
It’s true that Joel is often a person that keeps his emotions in check, but when it comes to songwriting, he’s an open book.
"I try to keep emotions in check, maybe as a person. The thing about this band and the way the songs are is like I'm mostly doing it for me and for the people in the band and is it real and does it feel right and it's not forced and stuff. I'm not really as concerned about portraying the wrong feeling or exposing myself in the wrong way in the sense of the song because it's like people will listen to the song and try to relate to it or if they like listening to it great. And if they don't, that's cool too. I'll keep hacking away I guess."
“My Old Man” is a great example of Joel’s “heart on his sleeve” mentality when it comes to writing. On the surface, “My Old Man” is a song about Joel’s grandfather, who passed away about five years ago. It’s a gut wrenching tribute to a man that Joel obviously holds in very high regard. But in truth, anyone who lost a loved one can relate.
“My grandpa was one of the biggest influences of my entire life. He played music and we played lots together. He was the reason I started playing guitar. I lost my father at a pretty young age and I was always super close to my grandparents and my grandpa especially, So that song is a little tribute to him," said Joel, ”There's always lots of photographs and stuff that you have to keep if you lose someone. To me this song is a nice reminder. If you listen to the chorus 'I'll be waiting for the day that I turn out like you, I'll be saving a song like this one for when I forget you'. I guess that speaks to itself. That's it. That's about as straightforward as you can put it.”
It’s been great to see Joel come into his own these past few years. He’s a good dude - giving of his time and energy for the betterment of the music scene in Prince Albert. With his band Rohs, he’s finally been able to do something for himself although to say You Were Right is JUST for him would be a misrepresentation. Joel’s joy with his album cycle has been the ability to spend time with his bandmates and friends making music. That’s what he wanted this time around and he got it. It's sort of embedded in Joel's DNA to help others and share and that's okay with him.