By Matthew Hengeveld
Photos by Mike Dillon
“Bobbie and I are still learning to play our instruments,” admits Jaime Parker of the Timid Roosevelts. “With each song we write, I find that we’re getting more musically complex.” Some bands have an aura of cockiness and otherworldly pomp. Instead, the Borden-town, NJ-based Timid Roosevelts don’t deny that they are just getting started and there’s a lot to learn. They come from Bordentown, New Jersey, a suburb of Trenton. They play a ton of small venues around New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Bobbie Parker handles the bass guitar and vocals. She writes most of the lyrics and sounds a lot like Jenny Lewis.
She says the Timid Roosevelts were invented thanks to a high school crush on a history teacher. “His favorite president was Franklin Roosevelt,” she says. All of Bobbie’s classmates wanted a piece of this man. When she received a bass guitar at age 16, she formed a band with her older sister, Jaime. There was already a band called The Roosevelts, so she added Timid to the name, simply because she “liked the word timid.”
Jaime and Bobby met their guitarist, Ricky Lorenzo, while attending Rider University. He started on bass, but moved to lead guitar as Bobbie grew as a bassist.
“Right now we’re just looking to put an EP out,” states Ricky. “We wanna take full control of what we do, ” Including merchandise and publicity. It may be a difficult road for the group to pursue; but they value their freedom as a band too much to do otherwise. They want to focus on touring and building a large group of devotees.
Their first EP, Demography, is available for download at bandcamp.com. Despite their admitted beginner-ishness, the four-track EP does not sound amateurish. They work somewhat in the indie rock vein of bands like Saturday Looks Good to Me and early Rilo Kiley.
Jaime’s percussion involves tons of light tom tappings, shakers and claps. Ricky keeps his guitar lofty and warm, and works like glue for the overall sound. Nothing is too dynamic. It gives the listener a sassy, yet soothing, mid-tempo intimacy. It’s a perfect doorway for Bobbie’s springy voice.
Bobbie has the collectiveness of a solo singer in a church choir; the words are set in stone. She forces herself to sing as if missing a word would be a mortal sin. It’s honestly a beautiful thing. Like a child playing hopscotch while smoking a cigarette – a false sense of innocence shrouded in a veil of playfulness. It is a bouncy voice, going from loud to quiet, and quiet to loud, whispering forgivingly and screaming without remorse.
The trio recollects that former New Jersey Poet Laureate, Amiri Baraka, spoke at Rider University several years ago. I shared with them that I felt that their song “Sleep Deep” resonated well with Baraka’s poem “Somebody Blew Up America.” Baraka’s poem pointed a long and scolding finger at post-9/11 society. The poem not only got Baraka ousted from the position of New Jersey Poet Laureate – but resulted in the abolishment of the position altogether. Whereas Baraka represented an older generation of artists criticizing the new way of the world, the Timid Roosevelts represent a new generation of artists coming to a self-realization under the umbrella of a shattered country. In “Sleep Deep” Bobbie describes the follies of the Bush-years and the frustration of coping with systemized homophobia, imperialism and social aloofness in a spoken word performance. The Timid Roosevelts refuse to perform the song live now because they don’t want the crowd to mistake their meaning: This was a message to the last administration.
I asked the trio how they felt the band would evolve with the recording of new material. “Ricky and Bobbie just graduated from college. So, now that they’re done, Ricky’s gonna be a good taskmaster. Which we all appreciate,” says Jaime. Their newest song “Baby Beluga,” listed on their MySpace page, experiments with new vocal filtration and a heightened political edge. In the song Bobbie recalls a discussion she had with a whale that tells her “there’s nothing in your hands that they won’t take.” It’s great to see this band growing and breaking from their infancy stage. It isn’t hard to see the potential.
[The Timid Roosevelts are playing at Johnny Brendas on December 16. Ricky calls it the biggest venue they’ve ever played.]