This week, Makin Waves features an interview with New Jersey’s favorite family band, RocknRoll HiFives, reviews and streams of Fairmont’s new “A Spring Widow” LP, and briefs on Hub City Music Festival, Band Together for Veterans, the acoustic tour of Bobby Mahoney and Colton Kayser, Trenton Punk Flea Market and Punk Rock Prom, WMCX’s 24 Hour Fest, animation artist Simon Allen, the Big Dreams & Silver Screens Youth Festival and more.
RocknRoll HiFives are an amazing mother-daughter-father-son four-piece that takes a little bit of Ramones punk, Monkees pop and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion noise, and mixes them up into a mighty mash of raucous fun.
Guitarist-vocalist Joe (Plug Spark Sanjay) and bassist Gloree Centeno and their rock ‘n’ roll progeny — singer-lyricist-theremin player Eilee, 14, and drummer Evren, 12 — are on their latest family tourcations in support of their Little Dickman Records debut the Beat the Sound the Dragon’s Roar. Stops include Richmond and Harrisburg, Va., and Winston-Salem, Wilmington, and Raleigh, N.C., before they bring it back home on April 15 at Asbury Park Yacht Club with the local supergroup Shut Up, featuring members of The Black Clouds, Sex Zombies and GayGuy/StraightGuy.
The Bergen County-based family band also will perform on April 22 at an all-ages show at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick with Comb the Desert, Lowlight, Disposable and The Turnbucklers. The show, which will feature alcohol upstairs for 21-and-up and no booze downstairs, is part of the fifth annual Hub City Music Festival, which raises funds for the Elijah’s Promise food justice and empowerment program (see more on Hub City Music Festival in Jersey Talk).
After you enjoy the following chat with all of the Centenos, find out more about RocknRoll HiFives at facebook.com/rocknrollhi5s/ and facebook.com/rocknroll.hifives.
Q: Joe, before you had a family, you had a music career with the indie rock band Plug Spark Sanjay. Given that, how did RocknRoll HiFives come to be a family band?
Joe: I always said if I had kids, I would start a band with them because I love music so much and it would be something supercool to do as a family. When Eilee, our oldest, was born I realized it wasn’t going to be easy, and it was going to take a lot longer to start this band. I mean she couldn’t even walk on her own for at least a year and a guitar was five times the size of her (laughs). Anyway, as time went on, I would play my guitar around the house and make up songs. As the kids learned words, we would use them in songs and they enjoyed that, so it just progressed from there. This is something we did a lot, making up songs, recording them and then playing them in the car and at home. One day I bought Evren a drum set, and the band went from an acoustic guitar and a tambourine to electric guitars, amps, theremin and a PA system. Add in some confetti and we had a rockin’ band.
Q: Gloree, how are RocknRoll HiFives not just a band but a lifestyle?
Gloree: Some families have skiing or camping as their outlet, but we have rock ‘n’ roll. Our daily lives consist of band practice, listening to music for inspiration or talking about music in an educational way. I’ll get group texts from parents trying to put together a hangout with the kids, and there will be responses, like ‘Sorry, George has basketball practice’ or ‘Sally has a volleyball tournament,’ and my response sometimes is ‘Sorry, we have a show or other band activities going on, like practice, interviews, etc.’ ”
Q: Honestly, no holding back, what is the best part of being in a family band and what is the worst part?
Joe: Honestly, the best part is being together and doing something we all love to do. The worst part, for me, besides all the heavy lifting, is not seeing many kids/teens at the shows. We need more all-age rock venues.
Eilee: My favorite part is when we’re performing, and we have a good sound system, and I take a minute and realize — wow, we sound good. Then, I look behind me, and there’s my 12-year-old brother and on my side are my parents. This is so amazing that were doing this together. The worst part would be when we get in arguments, and there’s really no getting away from each other, so we have to deal with it head on. Sometimes it’s really hard.
Evren: I think the best part about the band is going on tour and seeing the country, making great memories. I also really like meeting people and learning about new places. The worst part is that I feel I have to live up to my parents’ expectations and sometimes I feel pressured. Even though they encourage me and are patient, it’s still difficult.
Gloree: The best part of being in this band is realizing at every step, we are actually doing something that Joe and I have dreamt about. It’s one of those crazy dreams like winning the lottery or becoming rich and famous. It’s a dream that we would have thought was impossible but always had a lot fun dreaming about. Now I get to live our dream every day and not too many people get to say that. The worst part is my personal frustration because my musical abilities are not as good as the rest of the band. Even though I try really hard, I’m in a band with a guy who has played for 30 years and two kids who seem to have been born to rock! They are all encouraging and inspiring, but there are days that are harder than others for me.
Q: Kids, is your dad a dork, and if so, why do you play with him anyway?
Evren: Dad’s a total guitar dork and a music dork. I play with him because he knows how to manage a band, and I have no idea how to write a tune or structure a song … yet.
Q: Do your friends like and come see the RocknRoll HiFives?
Evren: Not at all. The only time they mention the band is when they’re busting my chops by finding photos of me and making it their home screen background.
Eilee: None of my friends have come to any shows, but they’ve asked for CDs and ask how things are going with the band.
Q: Evren, at only 12, you are a monster drummer. Exactly and specifically how did you get that good?
Evren: First of all, thank you very much (in an Elvis voice). My dad taught me a few basic beats when I was 8 years old, and then later in the year, he bought me a drum pad. I had no idea what to do with it until my mom and dad got me lessons. I’ve been with the same teacher ever since. In sixth grade, I joined the jazz band at school and that opened up my eyes and ears to a new music style that help me expand my drumming. Also, I try to practice every day.
Q: Eilee, what is the main inspiration for and influence on your lyrics?
Eilee: My lyrics are a good way for me to express my feelings and what’s going on in my life. Sometimes, I’ll write stories from experiences I’ve had or sometimes I write to inspire myself, kinda like making a bad situation better or to deal with something I’m struggling with. I like to sing with a lot of feeling, so my lyrics tend to be emotional. Sometimes, I come up with my own stories that are fictional, maybe parts from a dream or just something silly that I can think of, but I don’t do that as much. I feel my lyrics are relatable to any age group because we all go through the same emotions on a daily basis like being angry, nervous, happy etc. Even though we all have different experiences, they are still the same emotions.
Q: Gloree, at first, did it the level of Eilee’s lyrics surprise you and do they still? Comment on the depth of her lyrics given her age.
Gloree: To be honest, no, they didn’t. Eilee has always had a deep understanding of people, life, the world. There are many that consider her an old soul. I was happy to read her lyrics and see that she was expressing herself honestly, but not surprised. Her lyrics have been reflective of her age, yet they cross over into a more mature space.
What’s funny about Eilee is that she is very much in tune with the world at a more grown-up level, yet there are aspects about her that are still very young and gullible. That could be the recipe for the success she has found in writing. I think the protection of the music allows her to express herself. I don’t think she is hiding behind the music, but I think it has helped her, much as an instrument helps a performer “protect” themselves from an audience.
Q: Whose idea was it to use the theremin, why, and how does it add to the show?
Joe: It was my idea. I was looking to fill the sound a bit more and wanted Eilee to try something else besides singing so she could jam with us. I was thinking a keyboard or guitar, but then one day, while in the bathroom reading a Rolling Stone article, I saw an ad for this Moog theremin, and I said, ‘That’s it! We’re going to rock a theremin.’ ”
Eilee: It adds a lot to our show because it’s an uncommon instrument so when people see it or hear it, they are very intrigued and we get their attention. Also the Theremin fills up the sound and sometimes sounds like a crazy guitar.
Q: How many family tourcations have you been on, and how does this upcoming one compare?
Joe: We’ve been on three before this one. The kids are a bit older, wiser, more experienced, and because of that we sound a lot better, so I’m really interested in hearing/seeing how the tours compare.
Eilee: Personally, I’m really excited for this tour because we have new songs that I love and want to see how they are received by people. Also I love North Carolina and can’t wait to eat at Merritt’s in Chapel Hill.
Gloree: I’m excited to play in Richmond, Va., because it will be our first time playing there. It’s like exploring the unknown.
Joe: On our day off, we’re going to a Durham Bulls game with friends, and we’re all psyched.
Q: What is the funniest things that happened to your family on the road and when and where did it happen?
Joe: I would say the time we were in Atlanta, parked outside Criminal Records, getting ready to play a show. I was in the RV in the bathroom, and the RV started shaking like crazy. I thought we were in the middle of an earthquake. I zipped up and ran outside to see a truck had just passed the RV, and I saw Gloree ahead of the truck. I shouted to her to stop the truck because he just hit us. It was really funny to watch Gloree jump in the middle of the road in front of the truck and put up her hands like a superhero and say “STOP!! You just hit us.” She then jumped on the truck and told the driver that he was not going anywhere. It turned out the guy had rubbed up against a protected part of the RV, and there was pretty much no damage, so I gave Gloree the everything-is-fine sign, and she let him go peacefully.
Gloree: We have fun every day, but not many funny stories stand out. We don’t want to bore your readers!
Eilee: Oh, it’s funny when we stop in some random parking lot, and I film dad as he pretends to have a RV cooking show. He makes us laugh, and his cooking is not that good.
Q: What impact has CoolDad Music and Little Dickman Records had on your career?
Joe: CoolDad Music has been with us pretty much since the beginning. He reviewed our first EP and made us sound like a cool band and didn’t crush our little dream. It gave us a different outlook on what we were doing. As a parent, Gloree and I can relate to him and, eventually, I think that brought us closer together, plus he’s a super nice guy. He also booked us at his CoolDad Music Xmas party and introduced us to the Asbury Park music scene, which led us to Little Dickman Records, APYC and the great scene they have there. After a few times of playing in Asbury Park and becoming friendlier with Amy and Chris of Little Dickman Records, we talked about releasing our third EP with them. That whole experience made us feel like a real band. It had a huge impact on us because we felt like we were being taking seriously and not as a novelty act. It really made us want to prove that we were worthy of being on the label and now we just had to kick some ass.
Eilee: Both CoolDad and Little Dickman have gotten us great shows and introduced us to other rockin’ bands. They’re super nice and fun to talk to, and we really appreciate their friendship.
Gloree: CoolDad and Little Dickman are inspiring because they work so hard for the sake of music. They rub off on us and make us want to work really hard alongside them. They’re instrumental in highlighting the incredible talent we have in the Jersey original music scene.
Q: Besides CoolDad, what has some of the positive feedback been about your being in a band with your children, including envy, and has there been any negative feedback?
Joe: Well we get a lot of feedback from people our age saying things like I wish my parents would have rocked out with me or at least just let me play an instrument. Some people say things, like, “Your children are so lucky to have this experience.” As far as negative feedback I haven’t heard much of that; in fact, nothing at all. Maybe people keep that to themselves?
Gloree: I’m thankful that we haven’t heard any negative feedback. Being a parent it would be really hard to hear. It’s awesome that we receive a lot of positive feedback from the music community. People are really digging what we do musically and look beyond the family aspect. It’s really flattering.
Q: Is there interest in a reality TV show about The RocknRoll HiFives? If so, how do you feel about that? If not, is that something you might pursue?
Joe: We were actually contacted by a production company looking for a family rock band to do reality TV show. They said the premise would be a mini doc-type of show on a family band touring and playing shows. We didn’t have a problem with that, since that is what we do anyway, but we did have some reservations about how the final edits would be produced. We answered some questions they had, but nothing came of it. Most of these reality shows don’t seem to be very kind to the families or characters. So I don’t know if that’s something we would like to be a part of unless we had control of how things were going to be produced.
Eilee: I agree with Dad, I also wouldn’t want to be on a show that was dramatic. If an opportunity comes our way for something fun, I would be open to it.
Gloree: The idea of reality TV is kind of scary, but if it was something we were all into, I know we could have a lot of fun.
Evren: I think that a reality TV show would be beneficial for the band, but not sure if it’s something I would like to pursue.
Joe: If we did something for TV or Internet, I would think we would be best for a comedy or a fun show like ‘The Monkees.’
Q: You’re playing the first all-ages show at the Court Tavern in a long time and the first-ever all-ages show that has booze on the top floor (but no booze on the bottom). It’s also a benefit for Elijah’s Promise food justice and empowerment program. How do you feel about playing that show?
Joe: We feel great about it! When we first started playing shows, we wanted to do benefit shows, we wanted to help people and communities. It’s awesome to be able to help out while doing something you love.
As for playing the Court and playing all-ages venues, this is a dream come true. I’ve played the Court many times in different bands, and it’s so surreal that I’m going to be playing there with my family. The kids weren’t even born when I was playing the Court.
And as for all-ages shows, again this is so awesome because there aren’t enough places for kids to go to and be themselves and meet like-minded kids who are into music. And not just any kind of music but loud rock ‘n’ roll or punk, the music that made your mamma say, “Hell no! You’re not listening to that!” And I say, “Hell yes!”
Eilee: I hope the show goes over really well so there are many more all-ages shows.
Gloree: I think it’s awesome that the kids are getting to play a legendary New Jersey local original music venue. They are two lucky kids.
Q: After April 22, what will the band be up to?
Joe: We have some shows going on in May. We have two shows on May 6. A day show at the Punk Rock Flea Market in Asbury Park, upstairs at Convention Hall, and then an evening show at Pino’s in Highland Park with Ex-Girlfriends and Magic Mountain. We have the Everymen farewell show at Monty Hall in Jersey City on May 13 with No Ice and, of course, The Everymen. We’re also writing new songs for our double EP that we hope to record sometime later this year after we do our summer tour in late July.
Q: Can you see yourselves playing in bands without your parents someday? If so, what kind of band would you like to have and why?
Eilee: Yes I can. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to play in a band maybe with other girls. I’m sure it’ll be something rocking because that’s what speaks to me.
Evren: Maybe if I were to find people with interests like me I would be able to start a band in the future. Currently, I don’t know anyone that is into music as much as I am, so it doesn’t look promising anytime soon.
Eilee: Maybe Evren and I will start a band together.
Q: What’s the one band that’s the most common ground for the four of you and why?
Joe: Hmmmm. We never shy away from any genre of music, but I would say rock ‘n’ roll is our common ground.
Gloree: We would most likely have a long list of common-ground bands. For the most part, we share a very common taste in music.
Eilee: I can’t think of one band.
Evren: Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution!
Fairmont: A Spring Widow (Mint 400)
Fairmont is a hard-working veteran band that does well by the Jersey music scene not only with consistently solid music but also frontman Neil Sabatino’s Mint 400 Records. Sabatino has built an impressive roster. Sink Tapes, Son of the Velvet Rat, The Bitter Chills, The Clydes, Kult of Mary and The Skullers are just a few of Fairmont’s well-respected label mates.
I’m happy to say that there will be a lot to celebrate on April 7 at Stosh’s in Fair Lawn when Sabatino and Fairmont throw a free party for Mint 400’s latest release, their own A Spring Widow LP. The band’s 10-song 10th release leads off with the mystical-sounding single “Bones,” whose gritty, physically inspired lyrics make for a rich dichotomy. “Ghost” follows with the strut of the Stones or New York Dolls mixed with the jangle of R.E.M. The folk-rockin’ “Stranger” maintains the jangle but with a pop overtone.
The clever edge of “Your Side” is bittersweet and sharp, while the Violent Femmes-like “Box of Crickets” plays with a youthful melody. The raw, fuzzy Lennonesque rock ‘n’ roll of “N.Y.C.” recalls the transplanted New Yorker in the mid-‘70s, sometime between 1972’s Some Time in New York City and 1975’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.
My favorite track is the remake of Fairmont’s own “Oh Your Bitter Heart,” a jangly upbeat-sounding break-up song from the 2010 album, Destruction Creation, featuring sweet female harmony and backing vocals that made understatedly angry lyrics seem creepy. With the new “lounge version,” the band takes a psychedelic pop approach that plays up the emotion by wrapping it with a cool vibe that would work well in a score of pop-culture references within a Quentin Tarantino film.
An exercise in raw emotion muted and made more relatable by simple song structure, “A Spring Widow” is my favorite Fairmont album and one of the best records Mint 400 has yet to release, alongside some great stuff by Sink Tapes. Sharing in the celebration at Stosh’s will be label mates The Bitter Chills, The Maravines, The Clydes and Tri-State.
The fifth annual Hub City Music Festival kicks off April 13 and will run through April 23 throughout New Brunswick and also at Pino’s in Highland Park. The festival will continue to raise money for the Elijah’s Promise food justice and empowerment program, also based in New Brunswick. Elijah’s Promise runs a soup kitchen for the hungry and the homeless, as well as a culinary school and catering service whose students and employees consist largely of the former hungry and homeless the soup kitchen once fed. Thus far, the Hub City music scene’s efforts have raised $15,000.
Once again co-produced by Iguana Music and New Brunswick Cultural Center, this year’s festival will feature Swing Sabroso, April 13 at Esquina Latina; The Do Rights and The Mad Notes, April 14 at Hub City Brewhouse; Secretary Legs, Spowder, Secret Mountain and Atom Driver, April 15 at Pino’s; Secret Sound and Danielle Illario Trio, April 21 at The Old Bay; April 22, Earth Day celebration with Lesser Seamus Trio, Diesel Wagon, Classical Revolution, and Anthony Carrera at Promise Garden; Comb the Desert, Lowlight, Disposable, RocknRoll HiFives, and The Turnbucklers, also April 22, at Court Tavern; “48 Hour Musicals,” featuring five short musicals originally written and produced in just two full days, April 23, at Pino’s, and Busker Days, April 15 and 22, in downtown New Brunswick.
Stacked with basement and/or nightclub headliners, both the April 15 show at Pino’s and April 22 at The Court Tavern were curated by me and are all ages. The Pino’s show bands together the supergroup Atom Driver (featuring former members of Boss Jim Gettys, Good Clean Fun and Alternative Tentacles recording act Buzzkill) with three of the New Brunswick basement scene’s best-loved bands, Don Giovanni recording act Secretary Legs, Sniffling Indie Kids recording act Spowder, and the indie act Secret Mountain.
The Court Tavern show is important not only for its support of Elijah’s Promise, but also because it is the first all-ages show at the historic but troubled venue in a long time because a city ordinance requires all alcohol be removed from a venue for all-ages shows. Yet it may be the first show ever at the Court that the city has allowed alcohol upstairs for 21-and-up and none downstairs for all-ages. With a $750 million transit village being built across the street from the Court Tavern, the property has become even more valuable, yet the business has yet to turn a profit under Mike Barrood, the only owner other than a member of the founding Albert family. Also a real estate developer, Barrood only can stand to take a loss for so long, but if this all-ages model can make him money, than the future of the Court Tavern may be secure. Only way for that to happen is for folks to come out.
Band Together for Veterans, a benefit for The Brennan Stands Alone Foundation, will be 2 p.m. April 9 at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. All proceeds will go to local vets in need. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Performing will be Gary Wright’s Roots n Blues, Peter V. Blues Train, Gary Cavico and Stone Blue, The Incinerators, Chuck Lambert Band and a band consisting of veterans.
Bobby Mahoney and Colton Kayser are heading out on New England tour together. The acoustic tour kicks off April 13 at Golden in New London, Conn., and will take them through April 20 to Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. After Mahoney does shows with his band, the Seventh Son at Asbury Park Yacht Club with The Vaughns and We’re Ghosts Now on April 21, as well as at Fenn’s in West Chester, Pa., he will play acoustic with Kayser one more time on April 23 at Stan and Joe’s in Baltimore.
The Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market returns April 8 and 9 with the Spring Fling Edition at Historic Roebling Machine Shop. Besides the usual bizarre bazaar, featuring rock ‘n’ roll collectibles, memorabilia and much more. Highlights will include a Punk Rock Prom on April 8 at Millhill Basement with Molly Rhythm, The Vansaders, School Drugs, and Dr. Beardface and the Spaceman.
WMCX 88.9-FM’s 24 Hour Fest on April 7 and 8 will feature an amazing lineup of 24 bands, one each hour. The massive free show will include Corrina, Corrina, Screaming Females, dollys, Long Neck, Cayetana, Brick + Mortar, Killer Shrimp, Fox Hollow, Death in My Side Car, Yawn Mower and Basement Beers. While the show is free, food will be sold by sponsors, including Mogo Taco, Cookman Creamery, The Corner Bagelry, Giannis Pizzeria, Broad Street Dough Co. and University Subs.
Well, here’s a wonderfully stacked and eclectic show if there ever was one: the alternative-folk trio Cold Weather Company, the British Invasion-inspired pop-rock act Anderson Council and Fatty Lumpkin, a reunited jam band who ruled New Brunswick in the late ’90s and early 2000s. They will be rockin’ on April 8 at Pino’s in Highland Park. Fatty Lumpkin also will reunite July 29 at Pino’s, where the great alt-rock act Bionic Rhoda also will reunite.
Jersey-based stop-motion artist Simon Allen will showcase clips and scenes from his forthcoming short film “Mother’s Peak” on April 7 at Flemington DIY. A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Allen also works in animation, illustration, sound and photography. While animated, his films are character-driven. The 13-minute “Mother’s Peak” is about an elderly woman confronted by other-dimensional beings. The evening will include a discussion with Allen, who has raised more than $9,000 to finance the completion of the film at kickstarter.com/projects/471650861/mothers-peak-animated-film.
Big Dreams & Silver Screens Youth Festival, formerly the Rahway Film Festival Jr., is geared toward New Jersey students in grades 3 through 12 to encourage storytelling capabilities through the lens of filmmaking. An education component of the Rahway International Film Festival. Big Dreams & Silver Screens encourages students to create a short film under 30 minutes. The film can be a fiction, based on a book in current student curriculum, an original idea, or a documentary focused on their personal role model. Movies may be filmed on a smartphone, digital camera, camcorder, or other device.
Budding filmmakers can submit to the free competition by May 15 at filmfreeway.com/festival/BigDreams. Selected films will be screened from 2 to 4 p.m. on June 3 at Patria Latin Bistro in Rahway. A grand-prize winner will have his or her work screened at the Rahway International Film Festival from Sept. 22 to 24 at James Ward Mansion in Westfield, as well as Edison TV’s “Classic Movies with Ron MacCloskey.”
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of but still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988.
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