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The Sound

From the ashes

2/19/2014

Night Phoenix plays Wooly’s on Friday, Feb 21.

Night Phoenix plays Wooly’s on Friday, Feb 21.

The performers taking the stage at Wooly’s this week will, at first glance, look at lot like Minneapolis-based electronic rock act Roster McCabe. But don’t be fooled.

“As far as I’m concerned, Roster McCabe is the past,” said Night Phoenix/Roster McCabe front man Alex Steele.

At first blush, the changes may seem purely cosmetic, but — once again — don’t be fooled.

“In essence (Night Phoenix) is us,” Steele explained. “It’s all the knowledge that we’ve gained as Roster McCabe, but it was time for an evolution.”

The reasons for that evolution are many, ranging from the band’s inner desire to grow and change to its long-running frustration over the many endured malapropisms of Roster McCabe.

“We’ve been called everything,” Steele said. “Rasta McCabe, Rooster McCabe — we’ve been called Rodger McCabe. One time I was standing outside the Yacht Club in Iowa City, and this older couple was walking past the venue. The guy walks past the poster and he goes, ‘Rooster McCabe? They can’t even spell their own name right.’ Son of a bitch!”

Roster McCabe is actually a combination of Drew Preiner’s mother’s and grandmother’s maiden names, and when he left the band, it was a chance to start fresh.

“When Drew left, it was a legacy that we didn’t feel like carrying on,” Steele explained. “So Night Phoenix is our way of moving on into the future.”

And the band is moving into that future with a bolstered sense of confidence. For years, it has steadfastly resisted being pigeonholed into an easily definable genre.

“We didn’t know what to call it in the beginning, because we didn’t know what direction we wanted to go,” Steele said. “So we just started by playing everything.”

But nowadays the band approaches its sound with more clarity. The past year has been one of discovery as much as re-invention, and Steele feels like the band has finally found its stride and is using that stride to carve out its true identity.

It’ll be strange for Roster McCabe fans to think of the band as just now finding its way. The Minnesota four-piece is best known for its relentless touring schedule and for an eclectic, reggae-infused sound that garnered the band a devoted following in the jam-band community.

“That’s partially because, when we first started touring, we were touring under the genre of ‘funky reggae dance rock,’ which just screams ‘jam band.’ Now we have a theme that we’ve been developing over the past year that feels like us a lot more,” Steele said.

That identity centers around having strong, danceable rhythms and an engaging pop sentimentality without giving in to the formulaic verse/chorus/verse drone of pure pop music.

“We’ve been thinking a lot more about that over the last year,” Steele admitted. “What’s going to reach the most amount of people? There’s sort of a pop sensibility to what we do. It’s structured music with repeatable melodies, (but) it’s not about finding that pop standard, so much as just being pleasing to people’s ears.”

Night Phoenix’s rise from Roster McCabe’s ashes is going to be a slow one. For now, both names appear on all of the band’s promotional materials, to better allow fans time to make the mental adjustment. Steele expects the transition to last most of the year, but he also concedes that it might never be total.

“It’s sort of like a scarlet letter,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get rid of it. Shit, more people call me Roster than call me Alex.”  CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.

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