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  • 9:27:47 pm
  • Wednesday
  • 17 April 2024

Robbers on High Street

Ben Trokan of Robbers on High Street set aside some time to give Tweed the story behind the band and some info on their new album, Tree City.

Let’s start off with you’re first LP, Tree City—it is currently being released on label Scratchie / New Line Records. Tell me about the relationship. How did you get involved with them and how has that relationship fostered into a full-length LP?

We started playing out in the second half of 2002 or so and a friend of ours, Megan—I knew her for a while. She used to work at a club and stepped in as a manager, started getting us shows. She knew James Iha who is pretty much Scratchie along with Adam. They are pretty much just an A & R team for New Line so, pretty much after we signed with them, we were just sort of dealing with New Line on a day-to-day. When they started recording us, they talked about putting out an EP first then putting out an album. So I guess, if it fell on its face, we would part ways...

The EP you are referring to is, of course, Fine Lines.

Fine Lines, yea.

In terms of the EP—there seems to be a lot of talk about how you have grown since you recorded it—it being Fine Lines—last year. You have toured for the last nine months or so, fine tuning your sound. Tell us about that? How is the new LP different?

Well, the EP—I don’t know if it was a change of sound. Tree City—about half the songs we have on there we had before we made the EP. It was just a matter of song selection. With the EP, we had this outlet to make a cohesive five or six song recording. So we picked those and made this dark, sorta rockin’ record. And we would hold onto this other stuff for the album and the album would have this different feel to it. A lot of Tree City we had never played live as a band. We would sorta piecemeal these songs together.

Let’s talk about the recording process. You were able to work with Peter Katis who has of course, worked with the GetUp Kids, Interpol. Tell me about that. How were the sessions with Peter? Did he push you creatively?

We did the EP with Peter and, at that point, I feel like EP wrote the book for Tomer’s drum sound... His drums were actually tuned differently. I think it was just the process. He has this patience. He taught us the revision side of it—how to play to the microphone. Mostly, he is just an amazing sonic ear and is into mic placement and just gets amazing sounds.

I absolutely loved reading about your studio time recording your EP. I’m a sucker for bands that treasure their mistakes. Ben, you said, “Pete wanted it clean but we wanted some of the mistakes left in.” Were you going for a raw, live feels for the EP? What about on Tree City?

Yea, the EP was definitely all tracked—the four of us in a room for a song. But yea, he was sorta into, you know—there’d be a funky radio noise and he’d be like “no, no, no” and I’d be like, “just leave it.” But we did that on the album too. There’d be times when we’d be tracking and we’d all be playing and there’d be all this chatter. And he’d be like, “this is gonna stay in there. We shouldn’t do that but...” Sometimes, you have to do stuff like that in the moment to get everyone in a certain mood for tracking.

Did that ever bring about tension with Pete?

Oh no, no, no. He’s the most down-to-earth, rounded person I think I’ve ever met. There was never any tension. He was a great person to work with.

In regards to the new record, Ben, you mentioned this about the lyrics on the new album, Tree City: “these songs are more honest lyrically; I think that maybe we were guilty of copping the whole rock and roll attitude a little more on the EP.” What is this rock and roll attitude? And how then have the lyrics evolved on the new CD? What is being honest?

I don’t know. That was formed in a question that was like “what’s with the rock n’ roll attitude?”


I’m not exactly sure. I think I was talking about the lyrics—with the EP, it was pretty vague. It was more of a phonetical sound that sorta made its way into lyrics. More based around what sounded cool, going line for line with stream of consciousness. I just sorta took my time developing on the album where everything was coming from. I don’t know about honest where the songs are something about me, because most of the songs really aren’t about me at all. I think it was just that I was a little bit more proud of the lyrics.

Your sound is, as you have stated, schizophrenic. Now, I can only assume this refers to the eclectic nature of your music which, in my humble opinion, is certainly true of the new album. In your opinion, what makes your music schizophrenic?

I guess it’s just that we are trying to do a bunch of different stuff. You know, still have a sound where you can put a song on and recognize it as us but not, song for song, have a wholly united style of writing. There is too much music to be influenced by to be writing the same thing over and over again.

What exactly is your song-writing process? Are these schizophrenic songs a result of four minds melding into one—a collaborative?

It’s mostly me but we do collaborate on stuff. Nobody writes a finished song. Ultimately, I am sorta good with working with people’s ideas that I like. I get excited to take it on and finish it. We all collaborate on our parts and arrangement.

Everything I have read about you seems to feel the need to throw in a Strokes reference, some going so far as calling you the next Strokes. Stylistically, in terms of Tree City, you are light years away from The Strokes. How do you feel about this comparison?

I just sorta got used to it at first. At first, it really bugged me. I mean, cause you think you are doing something original. I think that, by now, musically, I don’t see a lot of the connections. But I think we are a band in a post-Strokes world from New York so that definitely doesn’t help our chances of not getting compared to them.

Now, it’s true when listening to Tree City, you can hear some of the classics, from the Stones to the Beatles and the Kinks—it’s all there. Do you draw a lot from these classic rock bands? Is it conscious?

I would say that for the vocal, especially me and Steve, the majority of the music we listen to is current music. But I mean, I listen to David Bowie a lot so uh, you know, bands like the Stones, The Beatles and The Kinks—that’s like my bread and butter. Growing up and listening to my parent’s records, you know... All that stuff is buried in your mind and just comes out when you’re putting something together without even thinking. It rears its head.

Finally, what do you want everyone to know about Robbers on High Street?

We don’t have a credo man. And I’m not quick enough to come up with something off the cuff. Next time you read a fortune cookie, just write what it says in there...

For more info on Robbers on High Street, check out their site: And if you are in the New York area, be sure to catch them at the Bowery on March 7th.

Contributor: Mary I. Gailbreath.

William T. Wallace
Monday, 28 February 2005

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