In the vernacular of the 47.3 million-member, Rupert Murdoch-owned MySpace.com, Raleigh's A Rooster for the Masses is a "friend whore." That is, they've got more friends--4,139 and climbing--than they could ever remember. Damning epithets and all, they couldn't be happier.
"A band sees how many friends you have on there, and then they know if you can bring people out or not. They can hear the music and read what people are saying about you," says vocalist Adam Eckhardt, one of the band's two songwriters, in a recent interview.
"It's invaluable for us," says guitarist Wesley Gillespie, who recorded the band's debut EP, Gallo Rojo, in his own studio.
For A Rooster for the Masses, it's all about the people. For instance, the band plays three- or maybe four-member rock with six people: Eckhardt, Gillespie, bassist Alex Cox, drummer Rob Lackey, guitarist and keyboardist David Patterson and vocalist and keyboardist Bart Tomlin. It's not complicated enough to warrant a sextet, really. It's rock 'n' roll with a social conscience. Their live shows are dance-punk parties in the hands of smart arrangers with big ideas. But somehow, A Rooster doesn't seem--or, more importantly, sound--overpopulated.
Instead, it just seems like more fun to incorporate the whole gang into a jamming-with-friends experience with two vocalists and a second percussionist. Eckhardt claims that a MySpace e-mail to a Rooster never goes unanswered.
"You can treat people you've never met like they're a real friend. It's one of those things that you can spend endless time with, and you can learn a lot about people--if you know them or don't know them," muses Eckhardt, who started playing music with former Rooster drummer Greg Joyner as a student at East Carolina University. "I mean, there are people telling you about their drug habits on MySpace."
And there's the professional networking, too. Almost all of the band's gigs--save their Kings stops--have been a direct result of communication through MySpace. Already, they've swapped sets with bands in Charlotte, Asheville, Winston-Salem, Washington, D.C. and Columbia, S.C.
"It's one thing if you feel comfortable somewhere and consider it home, like Kings. But if you decide to play somewhere else, you may be afraid none of your fans will come out and you'll play to no one," says Eckhardt. "You can't be afraid to play to no one."
That's not necessarily unique, as thousands of bands--from guy-with-guitar projects like Phil Moore's Bowerbirds to the all-assault rock of Birds of Avalon--have turned to MySpace as an outlet and a resource.
But Tomlin's experience with the network, at least, sets A Rooster apart: After joining a then-unnamed project with Gillespie and Cox in 2004, he accepted a MySpace friend request from a band called A Rooster for the Masses. When he got to practice later that week, he learned that A Rooster for the Masses--a name inspired by another Raleigh export, David Sedaris, and his brother, The Rooster--was the new name of the hitherto-untitled band he'd been writing with.
"I didn't mind that because the last project I was in we went around and around trying to pick a name and it was one of those things where every time we picked something they would go tell their friends and they would say it was stupid," says Tomlin, who, before A Rooster, had played exactly one show with one other band before its guitarist quit. "It doesn't matter what we're called, as long as the music is good."
The band came together in a collaborative fashion. Gillespie and Cox had been playing together in bands since they met working a retail job. Five years earlier, Gillespie had moved to Raleigh because of its mid-'90s music scene. Gillespie and Cox eventually found themselves paired as Radical 9, a largely electronic project that was a placeholder until they could find the band.
"We couldn't exactly find the people to play with," says Gillespie. "The electronic stuff we did was out of necessity, and it was cool. But it put us in just one place."
They hoped to transform the Radical 9 songs into live-instrument manifestos fit for public performance. Tomlin offered his services, and he and Eckhardt--another vocalist and songwriter--showed up for the same job at the same practice. For Cox, that was an unintentional victory. According to Tomlin, Cox once said he would never be in another band with just one vocalist.
"I kind of feel like it removes the layer of personality of just one vocalist representing one band," says Cox. "And being able to push each other as equals to what everyone is capabe of is nothing but good."
Well, in that case, add a friend.
A Rooster for the Masses plays its CD release show at Kings on Friday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. The band plays again at Wetlands in Chapel Hill on Sunday, Jan 22.