They might not be household names yet, but rising duo The Roosevelts are soon to be a band that "everybody knows." The Austin based duo, comprised of James Mason and Jason Kloess, merge various musical styles into an undeniably unique sound coupled with meaningful, heartfelt story songs. Their EP, Cold Sheets, was released in 2013 and the video for the song of the same name recently premiered on CMT. Jason was gracious enough to take the time to talk about the music, “Cold Sheets,” their first tour and more.
As one half of The Roosevelts, tell us when you began playing guitar and when you decided to pursue music professionally.
I started playing piano in Kindergarten and took lessons for six years, but I really didn’t like practicing. My Dad played guitar and I wanted to play guitar too. So in the 6th grade I got guitar for Christmas. My Dad taught me the basic chords and I took from there. I was in a couple different bands in high school and college, and had a lot of fun doing it, but I never took it too seriously and didn’t think of making it a career choice. Once I graduated college, I moved to Austin [from Alabama] on the advice of a friend who told me what a great city Austin was and how I needed to spend time there.
For the record, you guys are not brothers, so how did you end up connecting with James?
I met James through a mutual friend in Austin. We were at a dinner and someone said half jokingly ‘oh Jason you play guitar and so does James, you guys should get together and start a band.’ We realized that we had similar styles and musical tastes and so we started playing together. We played a lot of bars and fraternity and sorority parties, where we did a lot of covers and Motown songs. We were writing our own songs as well, but they were a different style and really were not seeing the light of day. So, we decided to go into the studio and record some of our songs. It was then that the light bulb went off for me that there was the possibility that we had some magic with our music. From there we decided to form The Roosevelts [in 2012] and here we are now moving full steam ahead.
I read that you chose the name The Roosevelts because it was President’s Day. Being that you guys seem to have the Lincoln look going with the beards, how did Roosevelt win out?
I never thought about that, the Lincoln look, I’m going to have to use that! (laughing) We had a long list of possible names that were just really, terribly bad. We were looking for a short name that we could tell people and they would remember it. Naming ourselves The Roosevelts just felt right with [regards to] our musical style and the direction we were going. Plus, there were two of them and there are two of us. Then, when we were leaving the studio we realized it was President’s Day, so we knew we definitely had to go with the name.
Your 2013 release, the EP Cold Sheets, encompasses many different styles from soul to pop to folk and southern rock. Is that due to the fact that you listen to a wide range of music?
That’s a big part of it. We both grew up listening to James Taylor, Dave Matthews, and Stevie Wonder. I also listened to a lot of southern rock, like CCR and Skynyrd. I’m all over the board with music; I like hip hop and Top 40 occasionally too. In addition, when we were playing weddings and frats, we spent hours learning a lot of Bill Withers and a lot of fun songs that kept people moving.
James has said that you both "knew what kind of sound we wanted to create” when you went to record the EP. Can you elaborate on that?
We knew the direction we wanted to go in and what to stay away from. We didn’t want to just have songs that got people moving; we wanted to get back to more singer songwriter songs, more heartfelt meaningful songs with deeper lyrics. For the EP, we came in with about fifty songs-those that weren’t seeing the light of day when we played the frat parties or weddings-and Dwight Baker helped us weed out the best six for the EP and we went from there. Then we found the players to recreate the music live, which is sort of a backwards way of doing it, but that’s how we went about it.
Did you and James write all of the songs on the EP?
Yes. There may be one or two songs that James has a heavier songwriting credit on, but typically, we write together. We send ideas back and forth, critiquing the songs and polishing them up. I tend to write more face paced, higher tempo songs while James’s style is more singer songwriter, slower paced. It’s actually nice to be able to co-write with someone who has a little different style than you because you can change songs up yet still keep the feeling to the song.
Our influences really come through in our musical style and in our songwriting too. We can write one way and if we don’t like the direction a song is going we can always pull from something else and add a blues influence or rock or Americana, whatever it might be.
What’s the story behind your current song "Cold Sheets?"
It’s definitely a break up song. James wrote most of it after a break up. It’s kind of that feeling a person might have where they are missing the consistency you have as a couple and wanting it back even though you know it’s not a good idea.
CMT recently premiered the video for “Cold Sheets,” which offers an unexpected take on the song. Who decided on the concept for the video?
The video portrays the song in a way that is different than the typical breakup video. We received the treatment for the song as a couple in wartime, as opposed to love lost at the end of a relationship, which was really interesting. As we were shooting the video, the concept for it evolved and the entire shoot, which was a lot of fun, was done very collaboratively. We actually shot four different endings and did not know which one made the final cut until we saw the end product. That was a little scary, because we didn’t have control, but it turned out great.
How was it decided who got to play the lead in the video? Did you guys flip a coin?
I don’t know how James got to be the lucky one! (laughing) I must have been in a different room when they decided who got the make out part. I think I get dibs on the next one!
The Roosevelts just completed their first tour of the southeast. How did you find the reception to the music?
It was awesome! It was our first tour, so we didn’t know what to expect, especially going into markets where we had never been. The crowds were phenomenal! The reception was an affirmation that the music we were creating was resonating with people. Hearing people’s reactions to the songs and having them shouting requests when we went back again was like ‘wow they’re remembering us.' We’re headed back to the southeast in a few weeks; it’ll be great to see our fans and play our music for them.
We are also going to be on Rock the Boat again. We’re really looking forward to that, seeing the fans, watching the other bands play and getting to know them. It’ll be a blast!
Given that the EP was released in 2013, will there be new music soon?
We actually finished recording a full length record two weeks ago, however, we don’t know when it is going to be released; it may be tabled until later next year. Many people have not heard the current EP, so we want to focus on getting that out there for awhile.
Speaking of new music, is there is one recent album that you just cannot stop listening to?
That’s a good one. I’ve really been digging Ed Sheeran’s latest. We saw The Lone Bellow at Live on the Green in Nashville, those guys are so good. I know I speak for James on that one too, he’s a big fan.
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