“Living in the East Village, it feels like every day is the darkest Christmas,” says British-born Edward Rogers, who forms the duo Rogers & Butler with Stephen Butler. “The quiet is deafening and the reality is heartbreaking when you hear another ambulance in the distance and think to yourself, ‘That could be me.’ Who could ever imagine?”
Rogers and Butler share their catchy new song, “Olde Store Fronts,” to NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series. It paints a picture of a beleaguered pre-pandemic city with closed store fronts that is relevant to today’s circumstances, with commerce and community gatherings largely on pause.
“Olde Store Fronts” will be released as a digital single in late May and the full-length album Poets & Sinners will come out on June 26 on Zip Records, both physically and digitally. The album, which follows their beautiful four-song EP Diana Dors, showcases their songwriting talent and features a strong team of supporting musicians, including Sal Maida (Roxy Music, Sparks), Dennis Diken (The Smithereens), Joe McGinty (The Psychedelic Furs) and producer Don Piper.
For years now, we have seen independent bookstores, music shops and other small, family-owned businesses vanish from the streets of New York. My original hometown looks shockingly unfamiliar, and sometimes I walk along its streets looking for the few landmarks that remain. A pastry store on West Fourth Street still stands, a flower shop on Madison Avenue in the 90s still displays its brightest bulbs. But much is lost and this song perfectly captures the altered landscape.
With cities experiencing economic trauma and with their citizens dying, Rogers and Butler’s new, engaging video of “Olde Store Fronts” — which you can view below — captures the moment. They filmed from their homes, separately; Piper plays guitar in the video and also edited it.
Rogers sings with his elegant, expressive phrasing:
All the old store fronts boarded up
The owners gone away
Signs in windows, “For rent,” more empty everyday …
As we all get deeper in debt, everyone buys on the ‘net
Like a relic from yesterday, another bill I can’t pay
And the money keeps going round and round
Pulling our lives down and down
A throwback to a different day
The spirit lost to corruption and decay.
“The lyrics were written by me and the music and refinements were provided by Steve Butler,” said Rogers. “I was taking a walk down West Eighth Street in the Village a few days after Christmas (in 2019) and between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, I must have counted at least 20 stores that were permanently closed. … This used to be where indie record, book, clothing and shoe stores thrived.”
Even before the pandemic, consumers often relied upon faceless internet shopping. But during the pandemic, our reliance is even more prevalent, and the lyrics address the consequences. “People losing their livelihoods, what happened to the old neighborhood?” Rogers sings.
“It was a rude awakening seeing so many indie shops boarded up,” said Butler.
“I love shopping and supporting indie shops,” said Rogers, “but I fear they are now a victim of the 21st Century. I think a result of the pandemic is going to be especially devastating on them. No one has money to spend, unemployment is at a record high, and the world has become more dependent on online shopping. So indie stores, which faced a challenge before, could face a bigger challenge now.
“Since mid-March, I’ve been inside with very few exceptions. NYC has truly been a ghost town and the constant clouds and rain of the last month have made it more depressing at times. The upside to this ‘down’ time is that I’ve gotten into a routine of songwriting; I work from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day on lyrics and song ideas. A positive result is 10 new songs for a second Rogers & Butler album. Steve has also been very prolific in providing some amazing music.”
Butler, who is also a member of the band Smash Palace, added, “We’ve almost finished our next record (besides the new one that’s coming out in June). Edward and I have always had a ‘social distancing,’ relationship in a way. He lives 100 miles away from me. I’m in New Jersey just across the bridge from Philadelphia. Edward sends me lyrics and I set them to music. When I receive the lyrics, I look for the meaning to the song, and write from the feelings that the words evoke. He and I have very similar tastes in music so we always seem to be on the same page. I might not see him for months but we keep cataloging songs and speak by phone weekly. Of course, when shows are coming up, we get together and rehearse.”
Rogers is a great storyteller, creating pictures in many of his songs with evocative detail. His catalog includes songs about places he has passed through as he has aged. “My Street,” for instance, was written about the street he grew up on in Birmingham, England, and “Denmark Street” is a powerful song about the British equivalent of Tin Pan Alley.
Singer-songwriter George Usher was Rogers’ songwriting partner for two albums in the 2000s. “He’s a joy to work with and songs can be written from 100 different directions,” Usher said. “He writes the words, you write the music, or vice versa. You have an idea; he runs with it and you finish it together. Everything he’s written with Steve Butler has been top shelf quality. I really look forward to hearing the whole album.”
He noted that the album “was supposed to come out this month, but has been pushed back to this summer because of the virus. So, even their album is ‘Olde Store Fronts,’ waiting to reopen.”
Rogers and Butler have both had to cancel gigs during the pandemic. Rogers, for instance, had been planning to perform at a Ronnie Lane tribute show organized by him and Piper.
“We had a stellar lineup of talent and couldn’t believe how many musical celebrities were such big fans of Ronnie’s work,” Rogers said. “We were in the middle of preparing a half-hour film collage of Lane’s life and music when we realized that we couldn’t go forward. We didn’t want to be responsible for endangering anyone’s health. Steve Walter, The Cutting Room’s owner/manager, was so graceful and understanding. None of us knew that just a few days later, the city would mandate that all shows be canceled.”
Rogers & Butler also had to cancel record release shows in New York and Philadelphia, and were also scheduled to open for The Zombies in England in June. “We’re in limbo until venues can safely open and people feel comfortable coming to shows again,” said Butler. “There’s a new tomorrow and seeing live shows may change for a while, but I think at the end, music fans want to see live music, and being deprived for a while, I think people will crave the live experience again.”
You can hear Rogers on his radio show, Atlantic Tunnel, also featuring Gaz Thomas. It airs weekly on TheFaceRadio.com and monthly on totallywiredradio.com. “We pride ourselves in playing new indie bands, lost psych, pop, soul,” said Rogers, who also has conducted interviews with musical luminaries such as The Zombies, Tony Visconti, Peter Asher, Ian McLagan, Morgan Fisher (of Mott the Hoople) and Dennis Dunaway (of the original Alice Cooper band) on the show.
Rogers plans to release his eighth solo album, Catch a Cloud, later this year or in early 2021 on Zip Records.
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
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