July 16, 2009
It’s taken almost four years, but ska/reggae rockers Unlikely Alibi are preparing for the release of their first full-length CD, an all-originals disc whose name, At the Ready, says it all. “We’ve been working on this so long we’re ready to blow it up,” said drummer Duane Alexander.
“It’s about where we are as a band,” added frontman Todd Roth. “We’re in a really good place, and now we have a really good album to go out and promote. We’re ready to hit the scene, and I’m just hoping people are ready for us.”
When I met up with the nucleus of the band – Unlikely Alibi are a more-the-merrier kind of act with six full-time members and four guys who rotate in and out depending on the gig – the CD master of At the Ready, which features fan favorites “Dancin’ on Coals,” “Everything My Way,” “Highly Unlikely” and “We Can’t,” was finished and on its way to the pressing plant.
“It’s been a labor of love and a true pain in the ass,” said Roth, who penned all the disc’s tunes.
The labor of love part applies not only to the making and recording of At the Ready but to the band’s genesis as well. Unlikely Alibi began in 2005 when Roth, a native of Fort Wayne and graduate of North Side High School, came back to town from a brief stint in Florida. He was looking for a few guys to jam with and found them in Alexander, whose resumé includes thumpin’ the tubs for Pusghetti and Dave P, and Tony Timms, a bassist and a founding member of the now defunct Strut Train.
“I had a head full of music,” Roth said. “There were all these tunes floating around in my head, and I just needed the right people to jam with, the right environment to get them down on paper.”
Roth, Timms and Alexander were joined by Jerome Schooley, formerly of CookiePuss, on guitar, and the band had its first gig at Columbia Street West before they even had a name. A triumphant performance at whatzup’s Battle of the Bands and a Whammy for Best New Performer soon followed. Eventually Timms and Schooley left to pursue other projects, and the band is now rounded out by Travis “bring the thunder” Fry on bass, Mexico (the quiet one) on guitar, Kris Miller (the overextended one) on keys and Jake Wilhelm (the young one) on backup vocals and percussion.
Sometimes six just ain’t enough, and that’s when buddies Matt Cashdollar (sax and flute), Aaron King (trombone), Dan Cappelli (baritone sax) and Curtis Shaw (vocals) come in.
If those names sound a little familiar it’s no coincidence. Roth went to school with most of the members of area funk favorites The Freak Brothers, and Unlikely Alibi are in a sense orphans from a lot of other area bands, including Skavossas (later Heavy Step), CookiePuss (whose breakup is often mistakenly attributed to Alibi’s formation), SupaBadd, Superhunk, and Waking Abbott.
So, while Unlikely Alibi might seem on the surface to only be four years old, they actually have years of performing under their belts, years that include thousands of CDs sold and hundreds of shows headlined and opened all over the U.S.
Their musical pedigree varies. Alexander, 39, and Fry, 23, are self-taught musicians. Mexico, 27, is studying classical guitar at IPFW, and Roth’s musical career started early when his mother taught him piano and how to read music around the same time he was learning his ABC’s. He picked up the trumpet in elementary school when a visiting musician demonstrated a horse’s whinny on the instrument.
“We were trying out instruments, and the trombone and the trumpet were the easiest for me,” Roth said. “Then I saw the guy do the horse thing, and I thought that was pretty rad. My decision was made.”
In addition to their Whammy and Battle of the Bands first-place finish, Alibi have steady gigs and a loyal following at Columbia Street West, Bill’s City Grill and the Brass Rail, and their riveting rendition of Bob Marley favorites won them a whole new set of fans at Embassy Theatre’s Down the Line 3 in February. Known in part for their unusual covers – they were rehearsing a ska version of “Easy Lover” when I arrived – Unlikely Alibi describe themselves as ska/reggae that rocks.
“We’re not ska or reggae elitists,” said Roth. “We do songs we like, like ‘Part-Time Lover,’ and we do them in a way that’s completely different. There are reggae bands and ska bands that would turn their noses up at us because we’re not doing completely traditional songs, but we don’t really care. We’re going to do things our way.”
“People who come to see us are people who love to dance,” Alexander added. “We play good music, and people have a good time.”
So much for the love. Here’s where the pain in the ass part comes in. Unlikely Alibi have been working on At the Ready for almost four years, having stepped into the studio for the first time together in 2005, but then that studio closed unexpectedly.
“Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did,” said Roth.
Jon Gillespie of Monastic Chambers studios in New Haven stepped in to lend a hand, as did Tim Bushong of T. Bush’s Record Plant in Syracuse. Years went by. Band members came and went. Finally, the finishing touches, not to mention three new tunes, were added at Version City Studios in New Jersey under the direction of ska legend King Django. When the disc comes out it will do so under the nationally known label, Stubborn Records.
The day I met with the band at their rehearsal space – the South Whitley home Alexander shares with his wife, Rachel, and son, Isaac – was an exciting one. The master was done, and Roth said the CD will be ready to hit the shelves very soon.
The only challenge now is finding time to schedule a CD release party. Unlikely Alibi are booked all the way through August with shows at Columbia Street, a TinCaps game, the Botanical Gardens and the Beer Tent on the Landing, just to name a few.
“When it does come out, I want to book gigs in New York and Chicago and schedule a tour,” Roth said. “I want us to get out in front of a lot of people. This is a good album. People should hear it, and we want to give them that chance.”
It probably comes as no surprise that this ska/reggae band is on the mellow side. The guys all get along pretty well, and they’re so short on drama they sometimes have to create a little.
“Jake and I have this thing we do,” said Alexander. “We do a little pre-show tension bit where we pretend to fight. I’ll say to him ‘These drums are your face.’ Of course, at the end of the show it’s all hugs.”