The Method behind the Utter Madness of Rogues:
How the most inclusive band finds common ground with an unheard-of sound
By Ryan Belbin
If Bob Dylan’s electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival incited boos, Rogues must be expecting a riot in Newfoundland. Or maybe, with their faces painted like a scene from Braveheart and arms waving Republic of Newfoundland flags over their thrashing punk riffs, driven by a mandolin, they’re the ones leading it.
The St. John’s Celtic-rock-punk-anything goes band have built up a following in the city since forming just over two years ago, partially because of the fact that their sound, as much influenced by 500-year-old sea shanties as the Offspring, Black Sabbath and Dropkick Murphys, is totally unique, and partially because the energy and drive behind each track is so genuine and infectious.
“We start the night with the same intensity we finish the night with. We play every show like it’s our last show, and we pour ourselves into every single night on stage,” drummer Nick Power explained.
“We’re lucky to grow up where we grew up, because the crowds here are always so into it and right there with us. The more energy we pour out, the more they’re putting back into us. Dancing around, throwing each other around, moshing, whatever they’re doing—the crowd is always as into it as we are,” guitarist John Howard added, noting that homemade t-shirts with skull and crossbones and bandanas on sweaty foreheads are the mainstay of the diehard fans.
Together with bandmates Chris Kearsey on mandolin, vocalist Leo Mulrooney, and bassist Zach Hall, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s having the most fun: the audience or the band. Sometimes the distinction isn’t even clear, which might well be the point. It makes sense then, when I asked the group to describe a Rogues show, the answer was immediate and spot on: utter madness.
A New Newfoundland
As is often the case though, there is a method to the madness. Rogues’ debut album, Edge of the World, has an eclectic, live-off-the-floor sound, but the band’s mandate could not be clearer: five men drawn together by their love for loud music and identifying with the characteristic underdog Newfoundlander. The music is not rebellion as much as it is embracing being an outsider, and transforming that into something that makes sense and that brings together others.
“We had nothing to do with it—our fans started posting ‘We Are Rogues, We Are All Rogues’, and basically we want all the outsiders and all the people who felt like they never had a place to come and stay out with us and be a rogue,” Power says.
“As much as there’s a lot of new people showing up, there are the same old faces who are constantly there, and it’s kind of grown into something more than just the five of us,” Howard adds.
“We really wanted to push that message, that we are all rogues, and it’s not just us. If you understand the music and it moves you to sing with us, you’re just as good as being one of us, and we’re happy to have you there.”
The songs themselves, all original tunes, are loud and raucous takes on boozy George Street nights (“Fridays”), seafarers (“Captain William Jackman”), Newfoundland pride (“New Newfoundland”), and even the girls every Townie dreams about (“Pride of Torbay”). There’s no doubt that Rogues have created something that inspires more fighting than foot stomping, but they do so with such candor and tongue-in-cheek humour that it would be remiss to exclude them from the ranks of Newfoundland traditional musicians.
“There are people who would assume that we’d be a little bit more trad than we are, but we’re all so inspired by that genre—we grew up listening to that on the radio on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and we have such respect for that community. When we write this music, we’re not trying to take away from traditional—we’re trying to augment it or do it in our own way. We wanted to be our own version of Newfoundland music for a newer generation.”
It’s been a busy two years of bawling, thrashing, and reinvigorating traditional Newfoundland music, but Rogues have seen their efforts rewarded. This summer, in addition to releasing their debut album, they brought their energy to the main stage on George Street for Canada Day, and shared the same stage with Dropkick Murphys and the Motorleague at George Street Festival (they also partied with the guys after the gig, which we can only imagine was wild).
Edge of the World also earned them a nomination for alternative recording of the year at the upcoming MusicNL Awards in Corner Brook, and this very Monday they made the Borealis Music Prize longlist. As soon as the winter kicks in, Rogues are ready to go back into the studio to record their second album, which is already written and being practiced with the same fury as a show in the wee hours of the morning at the Levee.
The most important thing for this band, however, are the rogues amongst them, and continuing to be the unifying voice. “We Are Rogues” isn’t a flashy marketing campaign, but rather a responsibility, and it’s one that they take seriously.
“We all feel stronger from the strength of each other,” Power says. “And from that, people feel stronger from the strength of us. We didn’t realize it until it had happened, but now we want to push a positive message of believing in yourself and helping your friends.”
That’s not a bad message, even if those friends are the tattooed, face-painted, adrenaline-hopped guys bursting at the seams with the message: “Listen to your heart / Listen to my plan / Tomorrow we will rise / As a new Newfoundland.”
Actually, scratch that—especially if those are your friends.