Nick Daniluk leans out a backseat window of his Oldsmobile sedan and tosses a can of Bud Light to the pierced loner working the McDonald’s drive-thru in west Fort Collins.
Seconds before, the scruffy-faced employee was just a disgruntled voice reverberating through a metal-plated loudspeaker box.
“Man, what the f*** are you trying to figure out?” the worker had yelled to Nick and his bandmate, David Anderson, who were apparently taking far too long to decide on their order.
David and Nick, two of the five members of the local piano-rock group Roe, are on the fast food run that’s common after their not-so-frequent evening band practices.
Pulling up to the first window after ordering, the car idles as Nick pauses from the backseat and looks toward David, who’s passenger: “Should we tip him a beer?”
The nod is consent enough, and both look to the surprised employee for final approval.
“Well, it’s up to you,” replies the suddenly sheepish worker, leaning against the restaurant window shyly, curbing his tough-guy persona.
“With you being here on a Saturday night, you better believe I’m gonna help you out,” Nick tells the guy, handing over the beer.
In David and Nick’s living room earlier that night, singer and keyboardist Jake Espy reveals Roe’s mantra.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Espy, the red-haired and glasses-sporting romantic responsible for half the band’s lyrics, as he breaks from Roe’s informal practice.
Tonight is January 24, and Espy and the guys — the bassist Nick, singer and guitarist David, drummer John Breeding and lead guitarist Jake Breeding — are attempting to prep for their show, scheduled for the following Friday. They’re far too busy ordering pizza and taking dance breaks — made up mostly of the five flailing around — to get down to business, though.
“Can I make you a Bailey’s?” asks David, who’s first to present an endearing smile and a sharp concern for the people around him, as he passes out food. “What about chocolate milk?”
The room they’re using for practice perfectly illustrates the band’s state of mind, with its mismatched mix of leftover Christmas lights, a tiki bar named “Hut Kumoniwanalaya” and discarded Starbucks menus — the product of David’s side job.
“We don’t practice but once a month, and when we do, we just drink and dance,” says Nick, clad in his trademark button-down shirt, jeans and boots.
The self-proclaimed organizational force behind the group, he’s direct but constructive in his critiques.
“We don’t necessarily need as much of that driving kick drum,” he tells John, whose formerly long, blond shag is newly chopped for his student teaching job.
Nick cuts any possible discomfort by busting out a quip ending in the Wayne’s World line “Scha-wing!” — and there’s a reason he tries to prevent any head-butting.
A year ago, Roe, formed in 2005, got to a point at which they “weren’t really friends anymore,” Espy says, and doing the band thing ended up feeling more like a job.
“You can’t be serious about a band if you don’t have a band,” Espy explains.
Taking a year off to recover their friendships and to write and record their album Letters and Lights, Roe’s drawn big numbers at venues like the Aggie and Denver’s The Gothic since their November return.
Their December win of radio station 93.3’s Hometown for the Holidays — a competition, taken by the Flobots in 2007, which pits Colorado’s top ten bands against each other for the most listener votes — is the most telling sign of their success so far.
Back in the living room and half an hour into their practice, the guys have stayed focused enough to practice three of their own songs and are busy deciding what cover they’ll play in their upcoming show.
Roe runs through Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” and N*SYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” and Espy playfully leads the group into the opening chords of The Fray’s “You Found Me,” before he quickly ditches the effort.
“We get compared to The Fray a lot, which is weird, because all we really do is sit around,” John jokes.
The Fray, who Rolling Stone calls a more earnest and less artsy Coldplay, took their act to a national level recently. Critics throughout northern Colorado herald Roe’s music — based in emotion with driving piano melodies — as next to follow the Denver-based group.
Weeks later, John explains the comparison is both a blessing and a curse.
“When somebody says we’re the next Fray, on one hand, it’s really depressing, because we’re playing shows and getting bigger but not getting signed,” he says seriously. “On the other hand, that’s a lot of attention.”
Ignoring the pressure for now, the guys are focusing on what’s in sight. John and Nick will graduate from CSU this May, with Espy doing the same at CU-Denver. John’s degree will likely take him to a teaching job soon, and Espy’s marriage last August took him out of Fort Collins and into Denver.
And Roe has a deadline set: They’ve got a year to do something big, or the guys get out.
“I would love to keep playing music for the rest of my life,” David says in a tone that’s meant to sound more nonchalant than it comes out. “But in all reality, if you’re not getting paid, you can’t make music your career.”
‘From fandom to friend-dom’
It’s well after their 11 p.m. time slot on gig night at Road 34 biker bar on Elizabeth St. — the first 21 and up venue Roe’s played — and it’s easy to see this waning crowd isn’t what the band is used to.
When Roe hits the stage, though, it’s clear who the die-hard devotees are.
Pairs of girls sit on bar stools at the front, a few straggling guys lean against the dive’s pool table and one fan isn’t bashful about standing by herself in the center of the small audience, intent on filming the band’s set via her cell phone.
“I actually came up from Aurora to see them,” says 23-year-old Andrea Longwell, whose black Roe t-shirt makes her look years younger than she is. “Besides their music, they’re first of all really nice guys. I’ve just grown to love them more.”
There’s a thread that runs through each fan’s description of Roe: The guys are genuine.
“They definitely make a large effort to interact with their fans,” says Becky Weidhaas, a senior social work and ethnic studies major, who cited a show in which Espy inserted her name in the song “Lose My Way.”
Weidhaas’ support of area bands doesn’t just manifest itself in album sales and on the walls she’s plastered with Roe fliers at home — it comes tailored with homemade cookies delivered personally to every band member at every show they make it to.
“We find out what kind of cookies they like and make them specifically,” says Weidhaas, who lives in Nick’s former apartment — a coincidence, she swears.
Weidhaas has Roe’s favorites down: Espy likes oatmeal raison, the Breeding brothers are chocolate chip fans, and Dave and Nick like chocolate (Nick’s need macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips).
“We bring cookies to a lot of bands, but Roe, they’re very appreciative,” she says.
Her roommate Gehlich says some bands they bake for are “creeped out by it” but Roe, she says, takes their audiences from the fan level to the friend one instead.
“Sometimes, a band will be really nice, but their music isn’t as good, or they have great music and they’re not as nice as they could be,” she says. “(Roe is) a good balance between really awesome music and really awesome people.”
Publicity, pubs and prom
Chris Bourgeois, a senior real estate and finance major, was Nick’s roommate during their freshman year at CSU and often played host as the very beginnings of Roe — then called Taking Addison — were taking form.
“Nick and me lived in a room, and (Espy) lived two or three rooms down the hall,” he says. “I had brought up a piano that I’d been learning on, and they’d bring in an acoustic guitar; They’d plug in the amp, and it went from there.”
Bourgeois, who credits Espy in helping him evolve his own music, says though he’s only seen Roe get better with time, their success will depend partly on steady audience interests.
“Denver’s in the spotlight, but since The Fray has already gone national, it’ll be interesting to see if Denver’s going to put another piano band out there on the scene,” he says.
David says Roe has the potential to capitalize this year, hopefully resulting in a label deal.
The band’s “working to get (its) marbles in place,” Nick says, clicking through the list of duties each guy handles, including booking shows (Nick), internet marketing (Espy and David) and art direction (John), among other things.
Jake Breeding, who joined the band just this year, hasn’t yet been assigned a task, but it’s safe to assume that’ll change this year, as the group’s broadening their avenues.
Set to maintain their carefree demeanor, Roe’s investing in the now-of age audience they’ve grown up with, playing 21 and up crowds, and, sure to include the fans who’re still a few years behind, the group is considering a few area proms as well.
In a rare show of seriousness, though, David says the members of Roe aren’t in places personally that allow time to market themselves or play shows more than twice a month — and the time crunch may not ease up.
“Most of us are graduating, so we’re going to have to start paying the bills and what not,” he says. “We can’t just go on the road, because that creates the potential of you losing money.”
No matter the circumstances Roe ends up in, however, John says there’s one thing that makes the entire experience worthwhile.
“We had somebody write on our MySpace page the other day about how, when she has a bad day, she listens to us. And it’s like, if we never make it big, that’s worth it to us,” he says. “If we never play another show, I’ll be okay.”
“If I helped someone get through a tough part of their life, that’s a big deal.”
And for now, the group’s mood is light.
“Do you want a Bud Light?” Nick asks, laughing. “We’ve already had a few, and we’re way too sarcastic right now. You gotta get on our level.”
News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at email@example.com.
Upcoming Roe shows:
-Tonight, 9 p.m. at Hodi’s Half Note on College Ave.
-Saturday, Feb. 21, 9 p.m. at the Marquis Theater in Denver
-The band’s name, Roe, is taken from the maiden name of drummer John Breeding and lead guitarist Jake Breeding’s mother.
-Roe was formed in the dorm halls of Corbett in 2005 by Jake Espy, singer and keyboardist, and bassist Nick Daniluk. The guys spent a large majority of their freshman year practicing in the Corbett basement and in various other dorms.
-Scoping out other local acts, Denver-based band The Fray attended Roe’s first show at D-Note in Arvada in 2005. “It was an intimidating experience,” John Breeding says.
-Roe’s name was originally Taking Addison, “just because we needed a name,” Nick says.