The voyeuristic nature of being over 25 and watching teen dramas is not lost on La Rocca. ‘You have to try and not get involved with the stories,’ warns bassist Simon Baillie. ‘Then you don’t get hooked.’ It’s not life on the road that has led to such infatuations though, more the hunt for their own songs, which have been used in the One Tree Hills, OCs and Laguna Beaches of this world.
‘It’s weird, it does give you a buzz, like the first time on radio,’ continues Simon, younger brother of lead singer and La Rocca’s main creative force BjÃ¸rn. His tired looking sibling then tells of a One Tree Hill scene set in a record store where the band was actually mentioned: ‘some writer put it in the script and a character said to check us out. It’s bizarre but it can have an effect.’ Sitting in a quiet Dublin hotel bar with a by-now cold coffee in front of him, the band’s custom-suited drummer Alan Redmond chimes in, ‘Yeah, because of our MySpace page as well, it’s kinda weird that we know if The OC was on in the Czech Republic the night before. You get 20 mails from Prague about how people liked -The Truth’.’
The Truth is both the name of their debut album, released last year on Dangerbird Records in the US and this year in Ireland, as well as the title of the long player’s most accomplished tune. The band’s style – pop melodies, early-seventies Stones keyboards and pumping drums – has been honed in Los Angeles for the past few years. Think The Replacements gatecrashing a decent Supergrass recording session and you’ll get an idea of their tunes.
It was back in 2001 that La Rocca first came together at Cardiff University, when Dublin-born journalism student BjÃ¸rn, and sociology-studying-general piss-taking Burnley keyboardist Nick Haworth met Redmond. With Simon arriving from Bristol University soon after to play bass, things began to move for the band named after a dank, downstairs bar in Bristol ‘with this massive hole you crawl through to get to the dance floor’ as Haworth puts it.
A year of playing the UK followed, before heading over to Dublin, where 18 months of toil brought a well-received EP with Wet Clay in 2004, as well as ‘Irish tours that lasted about five days’, according to BjÃ¸rn. Record company advice saw them circling the wagons for a trip to the 2005 SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.
‘I think even then it was turning into something different,’ BjÃ¸rn says of the phenomenon that has become the Texas event. ‘It used to be a reputable place for acts to go: that was the whole idea of it. To a certain extent it still is, but now you’ve got major labels that use it to showcase signed bands. It’s becoming something different.’
It was in Austin that La Rocca inked a deal with an LA-based publishing company and took the decision to relocate Stateside. Redmond, who by his own admission has something of a -band manager head’, explains, ‘There was no point in going over for three weeks of the year. The intention was that we wanted to concentrate on America and we had to get out there and tour. It chose us rather than anything else.’
In an eventful few jaunts across the US, La Rocca ended up with a host of tour tales to tell. Like the time their tourbus broke down in the infamous Eminem-spawning hole that is Eight Mile in Detroit and promptly had its windows smashed in. Or the time when all their equipment got stolen in Philadelphia, when they gambled in ‘a big B&B for five days’ on the Nevada border; and out of nowhere one of their first singles – -Sing Song Sung’ – became a hit in Australia.
All the while, though, they were building up a solid fan base, who they soon found out included super-producer Tony Hoffer, whose credits include Beck, Belle and Sebastian, The Kooks and Dave Gahan. Hoffer subsequently came on board to record The Truth and for two months, the band deconstructed songs that had been the cornerstone of a live set for the guts of three years. Hoffer was instrumental in this process, his vast experience recognising that not everything that sounds great on stage works in a studio setting. ‘You could be banging at a drum or keyboard and it sounds like shit, then it suddenly comes through the desk and he can make sense of it,’ recalls Haworth, who looks a bit like Mani without the years of overindulgence.
‘Tony would say -okay I like that take, but this time we’re gonna take that guitar and record it up in the toilet’,’ smiles Redmond. ‘There was a particular sound, apparently, which was much warmer, and a particular type of mic that suited. When you know what mic suits the sound of the toilet, there’s got to be something there.’
The result is anthemic; with three minute blasts like -Sketches’ (which was recently a heavily-rotated Phantom favourite) sitting between loving laments like -Non Believer’ and -Goodnight’. In the nicest way possible, BjÃ¸rn’s voice sometimes dips into drunken singalong, which adds to the sense of warmth. The ‘sketches of a twentysomething life’ that BjÃ¸rn sings about on this debut album will continue on a new record ‘towards the end of the year’ says the lead singer, adding that next time out they wouldn’t mind George Martin to produce. ‘Fuck it,’ he grins. ‘You may as well try.’