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17 November 2017

On a chilly August night in 2015 I went to a gig at the Robbie Burns pub and had my mind blown by a band called The Rothmans.

I was there to support my friends in their pop punk band Slothvegas. By the time they’d finished the pub was empty apart from some old guys guzzling Speights and watching the cricket. Despite that I decided I may as well stick around for the next band.

What followed was one of the greatest performances I’d ever seen. The music was raw and imperfect, but exhilarating, driven by an enigmatic frontman with a guitar and a trombone. At one point he dropped his guitar mid-song and ran the length of the building, blasting trombone braps towards confused punters. I’d never seen anything like it.

Today The Rothmans are a staple of the Dunedin scene who transcend the multitude of micro-scenes and get asked to play with pretty much everyone, from war metal to crust punk to indie rock. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see them play and the magic hasn’t worn off.

Now they’re planning their second EP and playing a gig tonight to raise funds. I met with vocalist Robert Wilkinson, guitarist Johnny Mann and bassist Tom Monaghan over a half-pint at Albar to discuss the past and future of The Rothmans.

“I think we’ve only turned down about four shows ever” muses Tom, the band’s bassist, “the gig on Saturday is the first gig this year we’ve organized ourselves.”

Earlier this year they released their first EP “A.S.L” on trace/untrace records, almost two years after our first encounter. During that time they’ve switched bassists, drummers, and lost the trombone, all changes which helped them eventually arrive at a sound Rob was happy with.

“To be honest at the start I kind of really hated the music we were making” he admits, “it just wasn’t my kind of music, but I didn’t know how to make the music I enjoy,”

“And then Tom came on and Johnny became more confident and Mitch [drummer] started adding his own vibe to it and it started sounding like, yeah, I’d listen to this, and I’d actually want people to listen to this.”

Their sound has definitely matured, but it still maintains that signature raw danceable energy with a darker edge. I lament the loss of the trombone, but understand their desire not to become “the trombone band”.

“I think we’ll bring it back at some point“ Rob reassures me.

Tom reckons they’ve written about 40 songs, so why are they only just starting on their second studio release?

“A lot of the songs sounded good live but when we broke them down they didn’t work very well as songs,” he explains, “I also don’t think we’ve ever written a song completely before we’ve played it because that’s kind of part of the process, to see if people like it, and that’s also why it takes ages to get the EPs out.”

Capturing the energy of a band as dynamic as The Rothmans is definitely a challenge, but with their added studio experience I have high hopes for the next EP. Rob tells me to expect prepared guitar, which is the practice of placing objects on a guitars strings to alter the timbre, and Tom wants to “put more stuff on top of it“.

“The last one it was very barebones which kind of ironically sounds less ‘live’ because there’s so much other noise going on” he explains.

Yet another another change is incoming for The Rothmans with the unfortunate departure of their drummer, Mitchell Innes, who contributed so much to their growth over the past year.

“We’re all pretty sad about it because he was a big part of the band but I guess life goes on”

It is sad, but I’m excited to see where they’ll go next.

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