Trenton punks Doc Rotten continue their mad quest to be the hardest-working band in New Jersey with a slew of local dates, including the Makin Waves Summer Concert Series at Asbury Park Brewery on July 28, before they jet to Japan and Europe for fall tours.
After years of slugging it out in the Trenton music scene in a variety of bands, the members of Doc Rotten are enjoying being overnight sensations who have gone from playing their first gig in January 2017 to touring Japan and Europe this fall in support of their third EP. Now that’s Makin Waves! And the waves aren’t expected to let up any time soon for Doc Rotten!
Having gone from 18 shows last year to an anticipated 100 shows this year, drummer A.J. Martinez, bassist-vocalist Robert “Scrotes” Richardson and vocalist-guitarists Wes Bentley and Andrew Keris expect to tour the U.S. and Canada throughout 2019 with 200 shows in support of a fourth EP.
But first they’ll release the third one, Illusion to Choose, on Aug. 31 at Mill Hill Basement in their home base of Trenton. Produced by Bouncing Souls guitarist Pete Steinkopf at his Little Eden studio in Asbury Park, the record presents a heavier, grittier sound than 2017’s Fallout and March’s Sick and Suffering, which were both produced by Sean Glonek at SRG Studios in Hamilton.
In the following interview, Bentley talks about how much he appreciates both producers and how he’s looking forward to participating in a nod to Steinkopf on July 28 when the Makin Waves Summer Concert Series at Asbury Park Brewery corrals a handful of Little Eden’s many acts. The show also will include the Jersey City punk of Crazy & the Brains, the AP hardcore of Hot Blood, the Dirty Jerz blues-punk of Little Vicious, and the bar-room sing-alongs of Chris Brown.
Doc Rotten also will play July 26 at Century Bar, Aug. 10 at The Tusk, and Aug. 18 at Connie’s Ric Rac, all in Philadelphia; and Aug 17 at Brighton Bar in Long Branch. Then they’ll perform from Sept. 6 to 23 in Japan and Oct. 2 to 27 in Germany, the U.K., Dublin and The Netherlands.
Q: Who is Doc Rotten and why did he get a band named after him?
A: To my knowledge, Doc Rotten isn’t an actual person. We were spitting out a bunch of potential band names when A.J. said, “How about Doc Rotten?” and I was like, “Yes! That’s a great name.” I did some research and found that there weren’t any bands with the name, so we took it
Q: How did you and A.J. meet, how long have you been playing in bands together, and what were those other bands?
A: We met in about 2008 through a mutual friend named Brian Williams who was in previous bands with me: Sidewalk Heroes and Sixteen Star General. Brian approached A.J., then A.J., Brian, and I started jamming to some punk-rock songs in the basement. The project didn’t really take off, and I moved to Colorado shortly after.
Q: How has that previous experience helped to establish and grow Doc Rotten?
A: During that time, A.J. and I became friends, and had some fun times. We shared similar interests and a love for punk rock music. We also started working and laid the foundation for the song “Brass Tacks.” We didn’t know it at the time, but that was probably Doc Rotten in its infancy.
Q: With two EPs, a third on the way, several videos released, a steady touring schedule and now a new podcast, Doc Rotten have to be one of New Jersey’s busiest bands. Your following seems to be growing, having more than doubled on Facebook since I first wrote about you in November. How are the band handling that work load and growth?
A: We like staying busy. Our motto is, “We will never be the most talented band out there, but we will work the hardest.” The workload can be stressful sometimes, but in the end, we all love playing music, traveling and meeting new people. Playing shows when the crowd is involved, singing along, being well received makes it worth all the effort we put into it.
The growth is excellent. All over the world, we are meeting great people who appreciate our music, I never expected that to happen so the growth is extremely rewarding.
Q: Tell me a bit about the podcast. Why did you want to produce that and what impact has it had on Doc Rotten and the local music scene?
A: Over the last year, through touring and other travels, we have met some really interesting people. We’ve had many great conversations with other bands, artists, actors, or just some cool people we’ve met along the way. So A.J. came up with the idea, why not do a podcast and host it out of our touring van. We named our tour van the Rotten Wagon, which is where “The Rotten Wagon” podcast got its name. The podcast holds no format. It’s just us talking with people who want to share their stories, experiences, points of view. There is really no filter or limitation to what we discuss.
The podcast hasn’t really had any impact on us yet or the music because it hasn’t officially launched yet. We are planning doing the hard launch of the show next month before we ship out on tour. Right now, we are pre-recording the first few episodes because we have a steady tour schedule coming up and we won’t be able to do the podcast while abroad.
Q: Growth for a band can be endless; however, there are limitations at the grassroots DIY level at which you operate. Do you expect to remain DIY or is there a record deal for Doc Rotten on the horizon? If so, can you provide any details? If not, can you comment on how and why being completely independent has served the band well and if you would prefer to remain that way?
A: We’ve grown substantially over the last year. The DIY scene is very strong. There are some killer bands out there. There are limitations, but for us, we are still going to put out records, make music videos and play as much as possible to keep the band going. We are open to talks with anyone — that includes labels — but being DIY, we still manage to work and grow as a band.
Q; Did your pace impact your original bassist Mike Romanowsky or was there some other reason you parted with him?
A: Yes, our pace did have impact and was the main reason for Mike stepping down. Our growth and work pace comes with a lot of sacrifice: time away from family, friends and jobs. Mike said he didn’t want to be an “anchor” to us so he decided to resign.
Q: Who is his replacement and have any of you worked in previous bands with him?
A: Robert Richardson, better known as “Scrotes,” filled in the bass vacancy. We have never played with him in any other projects, but he is a hard worker and shares the same musical interests and influences. He is doing a great job, and it’s been fun playing with him.
Q: How did you and A.J. hook up with Andrew?
A: A.J. has been friends with Andrew for a number of years. They jammed together and also played in a cover band at one point. So when we had a guitarist vacancy, we brought Andrew in, and he killed it!
Q: After slugging it out in the local scene fronting other bands, how does Andrew enjoy the ride of a band who have so much happening, and why is that worthwhile despite not being up front?
A: Andrew said if the whole music thing doesn’t pan out, he is going to go back to building birdhouses. But seriously, Andrew is having a blast, and he’s killing it. He has taken the lead vocals on a few tunes that Mike sang, and his guitar work is excellent. I love sharing the stage with him.
Q: The band hail from the Trenton area and are a strong part of the resurgent Trenton music scene. What do you like most about the Trenton scene and why?
A: When I moved back from Colorado, I went to a Mill Hill Basement show, and it was awesome. I loved it! There was so much support from a diverse group of people, and though I was a complete stranger, I felt right at home there.
What I like and respect most about the Trenton scene is all the effort and hard work that the people in it put into it. They really open it up to the entire community with events like the Pork Roll Festival, Art All Night, to name a few. Their dedication really brings together a community. I have much love and respect for everyone in the scene.
Q: What indication is there that the Trenton scene will continue to grow, Doc Rotten along with it?
A: For the Trenton scene, I witnessed firsthand how the people in the scene responded to the tragedy that took place at Art All Night. Musicians and artists alike, united together, staring in the face of senseless violence, and carry on even stronger. We won’t give up on our home and community. Because of that dedication and sense of community, I foresee continual growth in both the Trenton scene and for Doc Rotten.
Q: Your first two EPs were recorded with the great Sean Glonek of SRG Studios. What did you like most about working with Sean, and do you expect to do so in the future?
A: Sean is just awesome: brilliant engineer, absolutely one of the best people I ever met in my life. There is much ease when working with Sean. At times, we got a little stressed, but Sean would reel us in and keep us on track. Yes, we will be working with Sean again. Though we didn’t track our third EP with Sean, he did master the project for us.
Q: Your forthcoming third EP was recorded with Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls at his Little Eden studio in Asbury Park. What details about that record can you share?
A: The EP is entitled Illusion to Choose. It will be released on Aug. 31. The EP is heavier and grittier than our previous releases. I am really happy with the new tone.
Q: Do you play any of those forthcoming songs live? And is there a YouTube stream of one?
A: We brought the entire EP into our set list so from now and while we are touring, we will be playing the EP in its entirety live. We do not have any official streams released at this point, but there will be a music video closer to the release date.
Q: What did you like most about recording with Pete and what did you learn from working with him?
A: Working with Pete was awesome! He hustles, man, but super easy to work with. We had a blast, and time flew by, but we were still really productive. We recorded the EP over three days. During the record, we really pushed ourselves to squeeze in an EP, so we didn’t really overthink the record at all. We just went in there, banged out the songs. We learned to push ourselves harder through the process of recording with Pete, but at the same time, no stress.
Q: Do you hope to work with him again in the future?
A: Yes we hope to work with Pete again. Maybe in the fall, a new Doc Rotten record will be in the works.
Q: The July 28 show you’re playing at Asbury Park Brewery is a nod to Pete in that all the bands on the bill have worked with him. What do you think of that lineup and what does it say about Pete’s recording stable?
A: It is a stacked lineup. We are really grateful to be a part of the bill and share the stage with such talented bands and artists. Honestly, Pete has worked with so many great bands and artists, to have shared that experience blows my mind.
Q: What else is coming up for and going on with Doc Rotten, particularly in regard to local shows, touring, videos, singles and any other opportunities you will be pursuing?
A: We are going to be busier than ever! We have at least seven shows left to play this summer before we ship off to Japan for 17 shows. After that, we take a small break in Thailand for five days. Then we head to Germany for a 30-day European tour; more news to come on that in the next few days.
In November, we will be back in the States to record, and then off to do a smaller Northern U.S./Canadian tour in between the holidays. Right about Jan. 3, we will be kicking off a long U.S. tour that will last until about April. Then release a new record and do it all over again! We will be hitting about 100 shows in 2018 and looking to hit about 200 shows in 2019.
Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
A: Thanks for having us!
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.