There’s something gloriously unfiltered about the music that Roxy Roca makes. On a surface level, the Austin-based outfit are a quintessential soul band, complete with big, brassy horn lines and funky grooves that grab hold of the ticking heartbeat of a dance floor and never let go. But there’s a roughness to the sound, a sort of DIY-punk sensibility that comes across not in terms of rudimentary musicianship or aggressive tempos so much as in the unfettered glee they take in dispatching song after song with hardly a breath in-between.
Or at least that’s how it sounds on the group’s second LP, Ain’t Nothin’ Fancy. However, frontman Taye Cannon says that wasn’t an aesthetic the group was necessarily aiming for.
“Part of it just comes through in the way that I sing, which can be pretty aggressive, and I’m a little bit of a shouter,” he says. “I think that gives it a little bit of that vibe, but I don’t know that it was intentional. It’s just an aspect of the performance. We come through the front door, and it’s on from start to finish. Our set itself, we don’t have a lot of downtime. One song goes into the next. Sometimes at gigs you see the reaction of the audience, and they are kind of like, ‘Wow, these guys aren’t gonna stop.'”
Despite the high-octane vibe, though, Roxy Roca’s songs are built on tried-and-true soul and R&B templates, with everything from Norman Whitfield-esque psychedelic funk grooves (“Try My Love”) and full-tilt James Brown struts (“Talkin’ Bout Love”) to greasy Stax-style walkarounds (“It’s Your Dream”).
It might be tempting to peg the sonic alchemy to the band’s rock background, including Cannon’s prior stint in a punk band before Roxy Roca, but even that isn’t quite right.
“I just had a burning desire to be in a band, and there were some guys who had just moved from New York to Austin and they wanted to do this punk thing,” says Cannon of his pre-Roca project. “I guess they thought I had the charisma to be the frontman, even though I wasn’t super into punk at the time. I did my homework, listened to a lot of the Clash and Social Distortion, and I got really into it.”
Roxy Roca, though, is what he wanted to do all along.
“It’s something I’ve been into my whole life,” Cannon says. “Country and soul and that kind of stuff is just what I was around growing up, gospel and all that. My father listened to soul music, and he had a ton of records. I lived outside of Nashville and in Alabama and in the Deep South in Mississippi. Early on, that was the kind of music that was in me, and it never really leaves.”
The band made a relatively splashy debut at an Austin City Limits Festival after-party but did not initially have expectations for turning Roxy Roca into a full-time project.
Cannon says, “In the beginning, we weren’t playing that much — just doing some steady residencies in Austin and honing our sound and vibe, getting it all put together. It wasn’t until about two years ago that we really hit the road. And we’ve been ramping it up ever since.” Roxy Roca played over 200 dates last year and plans to play nearly as many in 2016, although they’ll also be heading into the studio in May to work on a follow-up to Ain’t Nothin’ Fancy.
“It took some time to get people who were really focused on and committed to really doing this no matter what,” says Cannon of the band’s lineup, which is currently touring as a six-piece but has a solid eight members.
The band returns to the Southeast after a lengthy string of dates in Colorado followed by an extended run in Florida. Cannon says Roxy Roca has been trying to hit areas like these up a few times each year as a way of slowly building a national following. Decisions like that, alongside the grueling tour schedule, are what give you a sense of how the band tends to stick with it for the long haul.
“We’ve done things in a certain way, which has made the business able to grow every year,” Cannon concludes. It’s a practical model, but also one that harkens back to the living many of the soul greats of the 1960s and ’70s made on the nightclub circuit. Roxy Roca aspires to follow in their footsteps and, thus far, seems to have figured out how to make that work in the 21st century.