Interview by Jim Testa
Ricky Rochelle has been a drummer, singer, and songwriter. Now he's both a solo artist and a newlywed. So as we congratulate him
on both milestones, we asked him about his new album "Unleash The Demos," the current status of his bands the New Rochelles and the Young Rochelles, and about the Long Island punk scene that spawned him.
Q: Let's start with your new album. I assume from the title that these are demos (although they certainly sound like finished tracks). Can you explain when these songs were written, and why you decided to release them now?
Hey Jim!! I wrote and recorded the songs from Unleash the Demos between 2012 and 2016. The opening track, "Stupid Heart," was written for the New Rochelles. They all became demos for the Young Rochelles, but we never recorded them as a band. Instead of letting them go unheard, I decided to release them for all to hear. Thanks to Henry from Memorable But Not Honorable (MBNH) tapes for making the cassettes, which are sold out. Unleash the Demos is streaming everywhere!!
Q: The album is surprisingly eclectic. There's catchy and light-hearted power-pop, elements of Ramonescore, and even a few tracks that verge on post-punk or hardcore. I'm curious if these might have been written for different bands originally? Or do you just enjoy experimenting with different styles and sounds?
I like to change up the sounds and moods to keep things fresh. When I'm at the helm of a project, it's usually not too homogenized; Variety is key. I'd like to think that there's something for everyone to enjoy.
Q: What was the pandemic like for you? Did you get to work during the lockdown months? Do you have a set-up to record at home? And how has the pandemic affected Long Island, where you're from? Have most venues, bars, etc. survived or did you lose places where you used to play and hang out?
Thankfully I was able to work during the lockdown months. Recording music got me through the pandemic; I spent a lot of time at recording studios. Half of my energy was spent tracking lead vocals for a 27-song session for the Young Rochelles. The rest of my focus was on writing and recording a new solo album of my own, which is done now. Unleash the Demos is sort of a teaser for bigger and better things to come. I had a great streak of creativity during the pandemic. As mentioned, everything was tracked at studios, I don't do any home recordings.
As for Long Island, I believe every bar and venue that has music here is still intact. Phew!
Q: I am going to be honest, I was never entirely sure what the difference was between The New Rochelles and The Young Rochelles. Can you just go over that and tell us the current status of both bands? With Rookie Rochelle just releasing the Pep Talk album, it seems like you all might have your own projects going on.
Yes, I'll break it down quickly:
The New Rochelles are made up of me, Rookie and Ronnie. Ronnie sang, played guitar, and was the primary songwriter. We were most active from 2010 through 2012, until he moved from New York to Florida. The New Rochelles released two albums, It's New Too! and a cover album of the Ramones Animal Boy. We were thinking of doing some recordings this summer but it didn't pan out.
In 2013, Rookie and I formed the Young Rochelles, to keep the Rochelles spirit alive in the absence of Ronnie. Hurricane Sandy had just wiped us out and we wanted something fun to focus on. Our original guitar player, Ray Jay Rochelle, continues to engineer, produce, and occasionally performs on our recordings. When he could no longer play full-time, we were joined by Randy Rochelle who played on our 7-inch split with the Nerdy Jugheads, as well as on our first tour in 2015. Then in 2016, Rocky Rochelle made the cut as our new guitarist and backup vocalist and he remains a vital part of the Young Rochelles. We'll have a couple of releases out soon, followed by a new full-length album and more EPs next year.
I'm happy that Rocky and Rookie have had early success with their newest band, Pep Talk. They put out a few songs recently and they've got a full album coming out this month. Check them out if you haven't already.
Last summer I decided to begin my solo endeavor since the Young Rochelles couldn't meet due to the pandemic. As Ricky Rochelle, I have released a few singles as well as Unleash the Demos. As mentioned, my new solo album will be next.
Q: How optimistic are you that New York City nightlife will be able to return to where it was? Are there venues that you're hoping to play in the upcoming months, assuming we continue to emerge from the pandemic and everything doesn't get locked down again?
New York City is one of many places that has to continue being smart to end the pandemic. Once it's finally safe again, I'm sure New York will return to where it was and everyone will be excited to see live music without any reservations. I'll be excited to play again in venues like Saint Vitus and Gold Sounds in Brooklyn.
Q: Although you're best known as a drummer, I know you play several instruments and of course you sing and write songs. At what age did you start getting into music, and were the drums your first instrument? Were there any bands or particular songs that inspired you as a child to say, "I want to do that!" What was your first real band, and how old were you?
I started getting really into music when I was 13 years old. I first liked oldies music, and then discovered punk rock. I sang in the school chorus first, and learned to play drums at 13. Bands like Blink-182, NOFX, and the Queers inspired me to play. My first band was called Drowning In The Kiddy Pool and we started in 2000. By the next year, I had begun my first real band, Project 27, who went on to tour and put our records from 2001 through 2011.
Q: Continuing on that thought, things seem even tougher now than when you were a teenager in terms of finding all-ages shows or venues. Do you have any advice for a young person reading this who wants to play in a band? Can you share any wisdom on balancing music as a career vs an avocation that doesn't pay the bills but you can't live without?
Some of my best times were spent playing shows in basements and backyards (and sometimes, driveways!!). People don't need my advice for joining a band; If their hearts are into it, they'll create music and have the time of their lives. I've been lucky to travel and meet people of all kinds, and my experiences have helped me reach great heights.
It can be difficult to make a living with music. I can say I've gotten to do a lot of cool things while not sacrificing my whole life for it. I've toured with awesome bands and published albums of which I'm proud... and I still chase my dreams!! I'm happy to say I've achieved many things I've set out to do. A life of music has provided me with those opportunities.
For anyone who feels like their efforts are being overlooked, especially during the pandemic, just remember your role in keeping independent music alive and well. We're all in this together, and our community and its support will move us forward.
Q: What does the rest of 2021 look like? Are you working on any other projects? Any plans to start playing out?
I'll be working to get my new music released for everyone to hear. I'll do my best to continue my goal of writing and recording a song a month. I hope to start playing out again soon too.
Miss you all and hope you're doing well!!