Rob Stokes

October '71, Pittsburgh's smoggy tale + Sir E.U on the drums by Maxwell Young

Rob Stokes—drummer, vocalist and composer of ‘October ‘71.’ Polaroids by Maxwell Young

Rob Stokes—drummer, vocalist and composer of ‘October ‘71.’ Polaroids by Maxwell Young

“Legendary bills.” That’s how Washington, D.C. transplant Rob Stokes refers to music performances of epic proportions. An avid supporter of the DMV creative community, Stokes uses this expression in regard to the talented individuals who have become his comrades in the District’s locally-based, globally-minded music scene. But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Stokes’ own iconic programming. Since the last time we checked in with the Pittsburgh born musician, he’s notched performances at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the world’s smallest live set held at the cheeky Los Angeles retail joint, Virgil Normal.

On January 4th at Songbyrd Music House, the classically-trained jazz drummer/hip hop producer/emotive crooner debuted a new body of work and band bearing the same name, October ‘71. Described as a house band, it features familiar players from Stokes’ previous bands and collaborations. They’ve been given codenames to elevate the heist style of music they portray. For example, “Mr. Biggs,” really Ledroit or Jay Z, hides in plain sight, donning a trench coat, Kangol cap, and Wayfarers. He shreds the guitar like the turntables aren’t his real get-off. Maybe they aren’t. Enigmatic as ever, he was missing from Songbyrd. Sir E.U, however, was conspicuous in his vintage suit—appropriately rockstar-chic as he graced the drum-kit for the first time live.

71 is not necessarily a who and when, though, rather a where. The songs on the album build up this image of a retro Steel City, smog-ridden and "steeped in sin and a MLB Championship.” As a fellow Pittsburgh native, it gave me chills to not only hear this narrative in a whole other city but to also hear listeners not from Pittsburgh react to these lyrics enjoyably.

There’s much more to come from Stokes and the October ‘71 unit in 2019. For starters, the project has not been released on streaming services, so keep an ear tuned for that, but we’ve also heard that there are some visuals that have yet to be shared.

Browse the brief photo recap of his performance at Songbyrd below. Polaroids by Maxwell Young

Rob Stokes writing lyrics prior to  ‘71’ s set and Opaline DC founder,  Briona Butler  (foreground). Polaroids by Maxwell Young

Rob Stokes writing lyrics prior to ‘71’s set and Opaline DC founder, Briona Butler (foreground). Polaroids by Maxwell Young

A fresh “ throw up ” in the men’s bathroom diffused through Songbyrd’s hallways.

A fresh “throw up” in the men’s bathroom diffused through Songbyrd’s hallways.

“Pendy on the keys” (left) & Jesse Sattler (right)

“Pendy on the keys” (left) & Jesse Sattler (right)

Rob Stokes (left) & Sir E.U (right)

Rob Stokes (left) & Sir E.U (right)

Washington D.C. Veterans Meet Pittsburgh Musicians at The Smiling Moose by Maxwell Young

Flyer by  Rob Stokes

Flyer by Rob Stokes

Pittsburgh has a way of calling people back home and for Rob Stokes it couldn't be a better time.  Following the second game of the Penguins' road to a third-straight Stanley Cup, Stokes is returning to the Steel City to debut his latest album, Live at the Heartbreak Hotel along with fellow Burgh band, The Bird Hour.  He's not alone, though. Having spent the last eight years in Washington, D.C., he's amassed some epic music friendships as GUMP (Give Us More Power) and Sir E.U will be joining the band on a sprint of east coast tour dates.

Because we all think Dave Chappelle is God. That’s what brings us together.
— GUMP

GUMP from Rockville, Maryland is a four-piece quartet drawing from alternative and punk rock genres who performs with varying speeds.  They evoke images of a Green Day-esque, Gym Class Heroes amalgamation that gathers to perform in a garage every day. In fact, the accompanying video to their latest track "Flight Song," projects this very scenario.  Other times, though listeners might catch more orchestrated notes in their music as one of the band members plays the cello. Stay tuned to their channels as they are working on a series of releases for 2018.

Sir E.U is no stranger to InTheRough web pages, but his presence is truly one you must experience live.  Whether he's rapping for 25-hours straight, freestyling to various house music sets, or posturing with two microphones in his hands, his bars are dense and adaptable to a range of sonics.  He's one of the defining musicians of the DMV traversing a fluctuating underground scene since he was a teen. As a result, his voice can be heard on a number of collaborations, and attributed writing credits on Stokes' album, his pen is equally prolific

Rob Stokes Band delivers the follow up to their 2017 album, Love Was Made for these Times with a record that shines through the vulnerable vocals of Stokes himself.  Live at the Heartbreak Hotel is an album made from a Pittsburgh perspective.  On Late Bloom Radio, Stokes talked about envisioning a steelworker in the smog-ridden sixties, off the clock at the local dive bar ruminating on the sacrifices of love while engaging in the hedonisms of life. 

This bill of veteran musicians and experimentalists is available Friday, April 13 at The Smiling Moose on East Carson St.  If you're in Pittsburgh, don't miss the opportunity to hear a sample of some of the soundscapes from Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 13

10pm - 1:30am

The Smiling Moose

1306 East Carson St.

Listen to the New Singles From Rob Stokes' Album Live at the Heartbreak Hotel by Maxwell Young

Rob Stokes’ Go-Go inspired cover art.  

Rob Stokes’ Go-Go inspired cover art.  

There's a playlist in my Apple Music library called Hedonism and Psychedelics--sort of an ode to the sounds of the 1960s.  It's comprised of Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, Nico, and Gillian Hills' "Zou bisou bisou," which you can hear Megan sensually sing to Don Draper in the Season 5 premiere of Mad Men.  From Love Was Made for These Times to his band's upcoming follow-up album, Live at the Heartbreak Hotel, Rob Stokes' music belongs in this playlist.

Today you can listen to the singles "Diamonds" and "KO" that tease Rob Stokes' (formerly known as Rob Smokes Funk Disaster) album debut in mid-April.  The single cover art is evocative of 60s culture as the faceless Go-Go dancer with the clunky platform calf boots and retro patterned mod dress with bell sleeves places you right back in an era where music was becoming more experimental and loosening its constraints.

This vintage aesthetic is quite prominent in modern culture.  Whether that's amplifying fashion trends or celebrating historical figures and moments that were conceived during the decade like the Grateful Dead, Playboy and Rolling Stone magazines, or the Civil Rights Movement--there's an emphasis on nostalgia.

IMG_2093.jpg

What drives Rob Stokes to call on these influences in his music?  Find out next Wednesday on Late Bloom via FullServiceRadio.org where he will guest star.  In the meantime, enjoy the sonic trip of "Diamonds" and "KO" below, and if you're in the District this Saturday, Rob Stokes' band will be hosting a single release party at Safari D.C. with special guests Ledroit, Sir E.U, Crackspliff, FootsxColes, and the Bird Hour who hail from Pittsburgh.

 

$5, 10pm-2:30am

Safari D.C.

4306 Georgia Ave, NW

 

 

Rob Smokes Funk Disaster- love was made for these times by Maxwell Young

"It 100% comes down to the collaborative effort.  That's the status quo here."

Rob Smokes Funk Disaster: (left to right: Joe Wilson, Sam Catherman, Rob Stokes, and Jack Delamater)

Rob Smokes Funk Disaster: (left to right: Joe Wilson, Sam Catherman, Rob Stokes, and Jack Delamater)

On May 6, Rob Smokes Funk Disaster released their album love was made for these times.  Rob Stokes, one of the band's members, took to his mediumrare.dc Instagram account to thank artists like Cautious Clay, Milf Mitch, Sir E.U., St. Clair Castro, Nappy Nappa, and Jamal Gray, for without them he "probably would've quit altogether." 

Originally from Uniontown, Pa., about 45 miles away from Pittsburgh, Stokes has been a contributor to the creative community of the District of Columbia for the last six years. What initially started as house shows at his fraternity at George Washington University so that he and his friends could jam, has evolved into helping to cultivate a sustainable community of musicians in D.C.

"My journey in the District started slow," Stokes said.  "I was putting on house shows and meeting people that way.  At the end of the day, it's a lot of listening--like boots on the ground, going to shows, and meeting artists."

The musician, producer, and curator is a member of the CMPVTR CLVB collective and owner of Dead Art, LLC, which is now referred to as Medium Rare.  Both entities are responsible for throwing events highlighting the District's cultural influencers such as the Nike Boy Secret Shows, Phunk.Gif, Ski Club, and the more current Glow End Theory and CTRL Space CMD programs.  It is these outlets that allowed Stokes to foster relationships and collaborate with other DC artists.  InTheRough readers know of his audio production on songs with rappers MILF Mitch and the rest of the lineformation and Goth Money Records crew, but he's also worked with friends Sir E.U and Cautious Clay.

"I've just been putting out beat tapes, so I don't really have a following, honestly.  It was just like, 'I'm gonna try hip hop now or I'm gonna try making music via electronic instruments and stuff.'  So, I haven't put out much in the past four years," he said.

A jazz drummer in high school, Stokes is a percussionist at heart.  His hiatus from playing live instruments ended when he moved to his current home in Ledroit Park.

"Maybe five or six months ago I really started recording live stuff.  I moved from Virginia, which was not an environment conducive to recording drums.  Now, I have a big space where I can record a lot of drums and that's been the most fun; just being able to play to a click and then put the headphones on, go to the drums, lay down the drum track, and lay down the bass track...I definitely wanna see more jamming.  That's really what I'm feeling," he said.

ITR: Is that what we can expect on love was made for these times?

RS: Yea, all instrumental stuff.  There's a lot of Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Bobby Caldwell, and Curtis Mayfield influences.  I didn't try to croon or anything, but the grooves are just classic--like the chord progressions and how things work in terms of composition.  I tried to put my own flip on them in the 21st century, but more specifically 2017 in D.C. being in love in this time and what that's like.

An aspect of eccentricity is evident from the deep-red cover of the album to some of the synthesizer sounds in "old friends" and "lush greens."  According to the multi-hyphenate artist, this was intentional.  A big fan of David Lynch and the '90s cult classic series Twin Peaks, Stokes wanted to incorporate leitmotif, which is a recurrent theme throughout musical composition associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.  The show's composer, Angelo Badalamenti, was particularly adept at this technique because his sounds drew from emotional associations that heightened the drama.

"I'm not trying to rip his style, but I'm trying to make something that is exactly the same representation of the record in terms of the lyrical content," he said. 

Rob Smokes Funk Disaster is comprised of Joe Wilson on keys, Sam Catherman on bass, Jack Delamater on guitar, and Stokes both singing and playing the drum kit.  During their set at Night 1 of Ctrl Space CMD, Delamater flexed his saxophone skills too, in the band's rendition of Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love."  The seven-track album is abundant with psychedelic tones, while Stokes' Bob Dylan-like inflections can be heard on "old friends" and "love."  The former is a song Stokes had worked on with one of his best friends Themba Searles since they were 17.

love was made for these times is available for purchase and download on Bandcamp here.