Smile Politely

This might be your daddy’s rock & roll band

So, let’s say that you’re all settled down—wife, kids, job, etc. And you’re moving the family to a new house, or you’re traveling for work all the time while trying to get to the kid’s ballgame, or… on and on and on. What in the name of Billy Joel’s piano would compel you to attempt putting together and maintaining a rock band on the side?

To anyone who knows frenetic frontman Ralph Roether, the answer is clear—he never, ever stops moving. The fuel tank never seems to run out. And that infectious buzz draws everyone else in for the ride.

Ralph and partner in crime Howard Berg have been colleagues, bandmates, and co-conspirators in rock and roll for years, teaming up with Jim Hewitt of The Last Gentlemen back in 2007 to form PopGun5, and eventually starting The Keylocks. That long-standing relationship inside and outside of work, combined with the fact that drummer Alex Berg is Howard’s son, means The Keylocks have a unique and somewhat rare family dynamic. Bass player Eric Wong and guitarist Eric Strubinger round out the lineup and provide the final pieces to this part-time-yet-full-throttle basement-rock endeavor.

“Our writing style has been a combination of Ralph bringing melody/lyric ideas to the table and me coming up with guitar riffs,” guitarist Howard Berg tells me. “Ralph would often have an idea and leave himself a voicemail, singing the song into an answering machine. Other times I’d come up with a basic chord structure, share it with Ralph, and he’d add lyrics and melody based on the feel. We’d piece together the basic verse and chorus structures, then bring in the full band and work through each song with their additions and talents helping shape it or mold it into the finished track.”

Anxiety & Innuendo, the album’s title, is more than fitting. There’s a sense of urgency to some of the tracks, even the mid-tempo entries like “Never Left the Building” and “Burnin’ Up.” And there’s no lack of innuendo, but with all the subtlety of certain Prince lyrics (right from the get-go with track 1, “Tearin’ Me Up”, in fact). You won’t have to worry about “not getting it,” basically.

Mark Rubel and crew over at Pogo Studio (before Rubel moved down south) headed up the production on the album, and captured a raw record—a reflection of the band’s sound, to be sure, but also of a group of musicians trying to find time in the day to lay down some tracks. This is no would-be prog-rock outfit. It’s four-on-the-floor bar rock, cut loose after many long work weeks.

“Runnin’”, track 3, sounds like a modern take on Skynyrd-style southern rock but rough around the edges. The same country-fried feel carries into track 4, “Faces”, but with more polish. “Burnin’ Up” has a mellow, “hungover on the couch” vibe, while closer “Bandade” brings back the straight forward rock mood, making it more of a live show closer than an album ender. Which makes sense with the bar band vibe and basement party feel of the songs.

Sparse at points, layered with sound at others, Anxiety & Innuendo is a fun record from a band just out for a good time. It’s a long-time-comin’ album from a group that makes time to jam even when there’s a lot in the way. Give it a listen and/or catch them live. You could probably use a little time to cut loose too. 

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