Taylor Locke & the Roughs: A side order of melody-rich, hook-laden classic rock, please


Taylor Locke has all the makings of a pop star. He has the comportment of a rock frontman, the requisite guitar licks and a boyish tenor that sounds oh so earnest when he belts out all those songs about girls. He has apprenticed as guitarist in the L.A. quintet Rooney. And suddenly, about two years after his songwriting collaboration with Chris Price spawned Taylor Locke & the Roughs, he has a two-album catalog.

With “Grain & Grape,” released last March, and “Marathon” only seven months later, Locke’s new quartet embraces the sharp, melody-rich pop of the ’70s that served as building blocks for later rockers such as Jellyfish and the Posies. Two albums’ worth of such material would be impressive for anybody – that the Roughs began as an informal side project makes it all the more so.

“It was so casual at the beginning, I had no idea that we were writing songs for a project that would end up bearing my name,” says Locke, who used some down time in 2009 (when Rooney was in label and management limbo) to work with Price, a Floridian who, with his brother, formed the core of the power-pop band Price. “But how it all got started was a particularly poignant experience.”

That came at an informal songwriters’ retreat where participants mixed and matched skills in various brainstorming sessions. Locke found a particular simpatico with Price. “We’re about the same age, with the same tastes – I think if you had a Venn diagram of what we like the circles would almost overlap,” Locke says. “We’d both been in frustrated, shackled situations, and the songs we wrote ended up being very cathartic.”

The momentum was so strong it carried over to the next batch of songs and “Marathon,” which was also mixed by Ducky Carlisle, who has worked with standout songwriter Bleu, among others. As you might expect from somebody full conversant in the music of the Beatles, Todd Rundgren and Jellyfish, the music at times borders on homage – there’s a song on the second album called “Badfinger.” But there are enough modern flourishes (along with an adrenaline-charged looseness) to help it sound current.

“You’re always going to sound like your influences, but we were careful not to be too archival,” Locke says. “At the same time, I don’t have much of a taste for the production that’s going around right now; I find it tedious.”

The surprising attention the Roughs received has even outrun a couple of the quartet’s members. Locke and Price filled out their initial lineup with drummer Mikey McCormack (Everybody Else) and Charlotte Froom (the Like). “But it was like, ‘This is not the fun little thing we signed up for,'” Locke says. “Because of other things they have going on, they’ve had to bow out.” So the current lineup features Joe Seiders on drums and Brandon Schwartzel (ex-Castledoor) on bass.

Which is convenient, since Schwartzel is also the new bassist in Rooney, replacing Matt Winter. In 2011, Locke will be juggling Rooney touring responsibilities with the Roughs – his side project, for instance, will play at South by Southwest in March, before he immediately leaves for Europe to join Rooney’s tour. “At least with Brandon,” Locke says, “I’ll have somebody to fly from Austin to Berlin with.”

||| Live: Taylor Locke & the Roughs perform tonight at the Satellite.

||| Previously: “Jennifer”

Photo by Laurie Scavo

||| Watch: I don’t post many live videos, but this one is kind of special. In 2009, Locke performed at the Hotel Cafe with Mogul, an all-star cover band (with Bleu, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. of Jellyfish, Mike Viola and Ned Brower and Matthew Winter of Rooney) and they did this version of “That Is Why” – the first time Manning had done material from his old band in well over a decade.