De­but al­bum, tour fu­el­ing Rock­et­boys

>‘ Party’ tonight part of busy tra­jec­tory for ris­ing band

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Mark Jor­dan

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Mitch Holt and Bran­don Kinder, the two Mem­phi­ans in the now Austin, Texas-based rock band the Rock­et­boys, never played much to­gether when they were stu­dents to­gether at Hard­ing Academy.

“Bran­don was in a rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful band lo­cally called Dora, and I was in a cou­ple of bands, none of which are worth men­tion­ing,” says gui­tarist Holt. “We had jammed or what­ever, but we had never played in a band to­gether or any­thing.”

But when they co­in­ci­den­tally found them­selves at­tend­ing the same col­lege in tiny Abi­lene, Texas, the pair struck up a mu­si­cal part­ner­ship that has re­sulted in the fast-ris­ing Rock­et­boys. The five-piece band re­turns to the Bluff City tonight to play at the Young Av­enue Deli, a show that is be­ing billed as a lo­cal release party for the group’s full-length de­but, 20,000 Ghosts. The stop is just the third in a 30-city tour the band has launched to pro­mote the self-re­leased 20,000 Ghosts, a run that also in­cludes highly cov­eted slots at the new mu­sic fes­ti­val Next Big Nashville and at the Paste mag­a­zine party at the CMJ Mu­sic Marathon & Film Fes­ti­val in New York City.

When Holt and Kinder first started the Rock­et­boys at Abi­lene Chris­tian Col­lege in 2005, the group packed a very dif­fer­ent sonic punch from the tight, epic, densely lay­ered sound it of­fers to­day. What be­gan as a two-man song­writ­ing project, with Kinder play­ing key­boards and singing vo­cals, slowly ex­panded to in­clude an­other gui­tar and a cel­list. The writ­ing it­self also grew as the band mem­bers learned more and more about the craft and the com­pro­mises of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“When you first start off, you write a song just be­cause it sounds cool and it doesn’t of­ten have struc­ture or the other

qual­i­ties that make it a good song,” says Holt. “But we’ve de­vel­oped the abil­ity to work to­gether to make songs make sense struc­turally as well as just sound good.”

The band made its de­but at an Abi­lene bat­tle of the bands. At the time they did not have a of­fi­cial name, so on the con­test ap­pli­ca­tion form Kinder quickly wrote down one he had been har­bor­ing since high school, Homer Hic­colm & the Rock­et­boys, in­spired by the movie “Oc­to­ber Sky,” it­self based on the mem­oirs of for­mer NASA en­gi­neer Homer Hickam.

“I was watch­ing that movie in high school, and they showed a news­pa­per head­line that said some­thing like ‘Homer Hickam and his Rock­et­boys,’ and I thought then, ‘If I’m ever in an­other band — I don’t care what kind of mu­sic we play — I’m go­ing to name it that,’ ” says Kinder. “It just sounded like a band name, and I though I bet­ter grab it be­fore some­one else did.”

From their base in Abi­lene, the group recorded a pair of EPs and two live al­bums while band mem­bers — in­clud­ing fel­low Abi­lene Chris­tian Col­lege stu­dents Daniel Wheeler (gui­tar), Justin Wise­man (key­boards), and Josh Camp­bell (bass) — fin­ished their de­grees. (While con­sid­er­ing a per­ma­nent drum­mer, the band tours with Texas per­cus­sion­ist Alex Bhore.) In Jan­uary, the band — in­clud­ing sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers such as Holt’s soon-to-be bride — moved to Austin.

“Abi­lene is a great town, but it’s a very small, West Texas town,” says Kinder. “There’s just lot more to do here, a lot more op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially on the mu­sic and pro­fes­sional lev­els.”

The new lo­ca­tion also oc­ca­sioned a new name, with the band drop­ping the Homer Hic­colm moniker to be­come sim­ply the Rock­et­boys. “It worked for a long time, but it was time to change,” says Kinder, who de­spite his af­fec­tion for the name for years had to en­dure peo­ple call­ing him Homer. “With all th­ese new changes — the move, mak­ing our first full-length, we kind of de­cided it was a now or never kind of deal.”

All th­ese life changes are re­flected in 20,000 Ghosts, an al­bum of Cold­play-style pop an­thems that Kinder, the chief lyri­cist, de­scribes as a con­tem­pla­tive, re­flec­tive ef­fort. The ti­tle comes from a quote at­trib­uted to re­formed slave trader and “Amaz­ing Grace” com­poser John New­ton, who said he was haunted by the ghosts of the thou­sands of Africans he helped put in chains.

“That idea of 20,000 ghost was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to us be­cause a lot of the songs we were al­ready writ­ing were about the past,” says Kinder. “Not nec­es­sar­ily in a haunt­ing man­ner in ev­ery song, but in the sense that the past makes us who we are to­day. We just thought that was a pow­er­ful idea for the al­bum.”

Chris Phelps

The Austin, Texas-based Rock­et­boys are fly­ing high with Justin Wise­man, Daniel Wheeler, Mem­phi­ans Mitch Holt and Bran­don Kinder, and Josh Camp­bell.

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