Scott Roby of 21st Century Goliath
When you rock with 21st Century Goliath, “If you don’t like the smell of beer and sweat, stand in the back.” Fueled by whiskey and rock n’ roll, these boys mean business when it comes to tearing up a stage. Known for their self-released album, “Radio Destroyer,” 21CG has been all across the US playing at local dive bars, opening for national acts such as Jackyl, Skid Row, Halestorm, and everything in between! With Tony Leone on vocals, Adam Ellis on drums, Cameron Ayers on bass, and Scott Roby and Kip Wilson on guitar, I bring you the formula for kicking ass. For the past year, these guys have been busting ass to bring you an album that will knock you right in the skull. Frontman, Tony Leone, knows what I am talking about! I have known many of these guys for a good while and I know how hard they have been working to get where they are today. Scott Roby, a magician when it comes to art and music, gave us a little insight on what to expect from 21st Century Goliath’s upcoming December release, “Back With A Vengeance.”
What got you into music and who is your biggest influence?
Well, it’s been pretty clear to just about anybody that has heard me play that Angus Young is a big one. I still remember the day it happened. My grandma was a wild woman. I loved her to death (she’s no longer with us), but some might say she wasn’t all there. One day when I was a small child, maybe 4 years old, we were shopping at the mall back home in Pittsburgh, PA, just the two of us. We passed a movie theater and there was a big display with a tractor trailer on it that had a clown’s face. My grandfather was a truck driver, as were most of the men in my life at that age including my stepfather later on. As a kid I was into trucks. We saw this poster and she thought, “Oh, this’ll be fun!” So she bought tickets and we went inside. Turns out the display was promoting the movie Maximum Overdrive, which of course was a Stephen King horror film, a detail that escaped grandma until well after the movie started. AC/DC composed the entire score for that film, which I didn’t find out until much later, but I just remember sitting in that movie theater (my first time ever being inside one) and the lights go down, it gets dark and the speakers are cranked and this music pours out. It was huge! It was loud as all unholy hell, and it felt like the Earth was shaking beneath me. Goosebumps rose up, I know my pupils were probably dilated like you see on those cartoons, and it felt like the sound pierced my ears and grabbed me by the brainstem. Shortly after some kid got run over by a steam roller in the movie, the jig was up and she got us the fuck out of there, but the damage was done. A few years later while sorting through some cassette tapes I stumbled upon Back in Black. As soon as I heard the first track, it felt like I had found the Holy Grail. I recognized it instantly; the bells tolling, the ominous feeling, and when the guitars came in I got the most acute, purest feeling of déjà vu you could imagine. Might as well have been crack.
If you could be a stand in guitarist for any band past or present what band would you choose?
Well you might think AC/DC, but for some reason that would seem like a violation to me in some way. It’s hard for me to imagine a non-Young guitarist in that band, even if it was me. What’s a band that I would have really loved to jam with and see the song writing process firsthand? Lynyrd Skynrd. That band is incredibly underrated. I say that knowing full well that they are all over classic rock radio, but I think the radio staples in their repertoire (Sweet Home Alabama and Gimme Three Steps especially) have really diluted the perception of them a bit. That was a fucking hit-making, badass song writing machine. ‘I Need You’, ‘On the Hunt’, ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’, ‘Needle and the Spoon’ just a million badass riffs and hooks, and incredibly good song writing. I would have jumped at the chance to jam with those dudes.
Before we get to the new album, what has 21st Century Goliath been up to since the first album ‘Radio Destroyer’?
I’d say we’ve been doing quite well. We’ve done a couple of tours and played with some pretty big bands. Played UpRoar, then Guitar Center flew us to Cincinnati to play with Slash featuring Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators. We supported Halestorm in our hometown of Charlotte during the Food Lion Speed Street celebration to a crowd of about 15,000 people or so. All in all we’ve been pretty busy!
I know you had to miss a few of those shows. For the people that don’t know the backstory, you were recently released from prison for some pretty bogus charges. Want to talk about it?
Yeah, sure. Like you said, I just got out of state prison after serving nearly a year and a half for assault charges stemming from a barfight. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds though; pretty much some guys who were high on pills threatened me and my friends outside of a bar. Things escalated, and one of them threatened to get a weapon out of his car. I got in between him and his vehicle, and his buddy tried to blindside me. When he grabbed me, I hit him one time in self-defense and he went to sleep. I thought he was just knocked out, but he didn’t wake up for 17 days. The state charged me with a felony assault. I was naïve to the judicial process. I had a clean criminal background and there were several mitigating factors in my favor. He put his hands on me first and I only hit him once, none of which the state disputed. I had a court appointed attorney and I assumed that would suffice. It didn’t. She threw me to the wolves. Even then, I honestly believed that any judge who heard my case would give me probation at best if the charges weren’t thrown out completely. I didn’t realize that a conviction for a “violent criminal” offers prime political opportunity. The judge sentenced me to near the maximum sentence allowed by law in order to bolster his “tough on crime” status. I went to prison on a 20 month sentence as a first time offender for one punch. I ended up serving 16 months with time off for good behavior.
There was a big fuss about that, I remember signing a petition to get you released that had nearly 1,000 signatures on it within the first few weeks.
Yeah, it was pretty outrageous. I remember that petition actually. Other inmates saw that and were like “damn, who is this dude!” haha Stuff like that helped me get past the bullshit. I got letters from friends and fans of the band, and regular updates from my bandmates, who I gotta say did one helluva job holding the thing together in my absence. It was a shitty time for us, but we’re past all of that now and looking forward to new beginnings!
I’m sensing some symbolism behind the title of the new album, “Back With A Vengeance.” Does it correlate with the band’s recent experience?
Absolutely! We’ve grown a lot over that time. The band had to play some of our biggest shows and do two tours without their primary songwriter. Taking the stage a man down is tough already. When it’s the dude who wrote most of the music, that makes it all the more difficult. It would have spelled the end for a lesser band. The resolve they showed is incredible. They got tighter, and developed as performers. It forced them to grow. As for me, I only had access to some shitty acoustic guitars for the most part, but I wore the damn strings off of them every chance I got. I’d have inmates on the yard crowded around jamming out, it was quite an experience. My hands got stronger from playing those POS guitars. Often times since strings were scarce there might have only been four or five strings on the guitar and we had to make due. Other times I used strings that didn’t belong and retuned the guitar to compensate. My playing got better as a result. The constant influx of support from fans also helped me realize how important this band was to people. For all of us really. This band and our experience was something that resonated with people and there was a healthy faction of folks out there who were emotionally invested 21st Century Goliath. What more can you ask for as a musician? I left prison with a new drive. My bandmates were rejuvenated at the prospect of having the full lineup back together. The whole band has a new energy.
There was another thing that happened in prison that contributed to this album as well, right?
Ha! Yeah, I joined the praise and worship band in prison. First off, I’m not big on religion so that was a bit of a pill to swallow. BUT, since the praise band had access to electric guitars, I joined for a bit. The gig came with several benefits, namely that I could plug in a shitty strat and put as many laps on it as I wanted in between rehearsals. I abused that privilege, to say the least. At one point at one prison camp, some inmates actually tried to get me kicked out of the praise band after an impromptu session that included many AC/DC and Guns ‘N’ Roses songs (along with some of the riffs I had been writing for this upcoming album) had a large faction of the inmates crowded at the basketball courts outside of the door of the chapel to listen! Haha I guess they were pissy that I was playing the “devil’s music” in the church! Haha The guards were jamming too, so I didn’t get in any trouble of course. The players I met in prison were very accomplished, and I was introduced to new melodies and learned a lot of things about different styles of music. I spent a lot of time writing and doing finger exercises. Dudes in prison thought I was crazy because I would jog around the perimeter of the yard playing guitar (sometimes with no strap)! They got a kick out of that.
Crazy! That sounds like it would have been pretty cool to see! So how did the name “Back With A Vengeance” come about?
Tony Leone. The riff came out of thin air, and we had it patched together in about 5 minutes as a working piece of music. Tony jumped on it, and when he hit the ‘Back With A Vengeance’ line I knew we had our title track. He makes it look damn easy sometimes. He said he had been sitting on that one for a while. We used to talk on the phone a few times a week for updates, and later to discuss plans for my release show, etc. He’d glean stuff from those phone calls and the experience and put them on the shelf for a tune later on. It all came together with that song. I love it.
You were kind enough to let me hear a few early cuts from the album, and I have to say it sounds fucking huge! It has a slightly different feel than your first album “Radio Destroyer.” What is the main difference?
Well, I think the whole experience of me going away really has lent itself well to us finding our own sound. That’s why the title and the premise really couldn’t be more poetic. ‘Radio Destroyer’ is a good album, and it has done great things for us. Hell it has sold all over the world, but it is a bit derivative in that we were just throwing our influences into the pot and reworking them. A lot of people don’t know that we wrote the bulk of that album before we had ever played one live show. We sat on it for a year hoping to record the next one and stagger the releases, but me going to prison forced our hand. It was a hasty release, for sure. With this new one it is pretty clear that we’ve honed our sound. The other difference is our drummer Adam Ellis. He and I spent months locked up in a storage unit putting these songs together. He’s got a much different feel than the original drummer who played on Radio Destroyer. There’s a lot more groove in this one, versus the more punk influence of the first one. The drums in this one hit hard as shit! Our original second guitarist Grayson Flippin recently resigned, and we picked up Kip Wilson in his place, which also had an impact. We missed Grayson’s ability in the studio, but Kip definitely proved to be worth his salt by laying down some badass guitar with a different vibe, which contributed to the sound as well.
I agree! I have to say “Welcome To The Darkside” is a killer song for me. What’s the story with that one?
As for the riff, that one is a mixture of an old riff I had written awhile ago and a new one that we put together that was similar. We’re into bands like Thunderlip, Valient Thorr and ASG who all have a distinctive groove that has kind of unofficially been dubbed ‘Carolina Rock.’ There are several local bands that we have played with in this area who utilize that style around here, bands like FireFire, The Seduction and (now disbanded) Campaign 1984. All of them have a similar, yet distinctive blend of hard rock and metal as their main element. We wanted to pay homage to that style, but be able to mix it in tastefully with our style in a way that didn’t make the song seem too much like an outlier. That song really captures that groove I think. We’ve obviously made it our own with a few signature tricks! The main difference of course is that Tony is doing his own thing over it, which lends it a different quality. The song follows the experience of two unnamed lovers. One is an evil, greasy rocker; the other is sweet, well-composed and innocent. They meet at a rock and roll show where they have a passionate encounter amid the atmosphere of a full-on rock show and the innocent one is converted into a beer-slinging rocker. I’m hoping it could also apply to hipsters. Fingers-crossed!
What is the song writing process like for 21st Century Goliath?
Most of our tunes start with a riff, but occasionally (as was the case with Cold Hearted Woman) it is a lyric that spurs the process. I’ve also pulled more than a few songs from Adam just jamming on the drums between takes. Mainly we get a riff, jam on it a bit so we can get ideas for a few parts to add to it. We try to structure it in a circle so we can play around it through the parts and loop it. We’ll kind of haphazardly assign one part as a verse, one as a chorus, and the third as maybe a prechorus or a post-chorus refrain. Once we’ve got it kind of loosely assembled, we’ll just jam on it until it feels full and present it to Tony who gleans ideas from the basic feel of the song. We’re getting quite adept at the process by now, it’s usually pretty painless. Luckily I’ve got bandmates that trust my songwriting, and appreciate that I’m going to give them every opportunity to add their stamp along the way. Tony is virtually autonomous, he just kind of comes along at the end and offers up what he’s come up with, and we hammer the song into shape based on how many bars he needs, or any musical things that might embellish a lyric. The thing starts with a riff or a beat, and the lyrics give it the final form. Fairly simple.
So when are people going to be able to hear this thing?
We’re in the final stages of post-production, so it won’t be long. We’ve got our album release party scheduled for December 5th, 2014 at Amos’ Southend in Charlotte, NC with the album being made available on the same day. We’ll be updating people with the album artwork and track-listing soon, as well as debuting a few new tracks in the weeks leading up to the show. We’ve also got a video or two in the works. We’re stoked about it. We’ve got a killer lineup for the release show. Our friends in Beyond the Fade, who recently played UPROAR are on the bill, as well as longtime Charlotte ruffians The Dirty South Revolutionaries, and FireFire who I mentioned earlier and who have recently reunited will be there as well. It’s gonna be a blast.
Describe the most memorable show or festival 21st Century Goliath has played so far.
For me that’s got to be the show that took place the day after I got out of prison. That show was epic for me in a lot of ways. It was a loose set, and we were all drunk, but it was a celebration of the highest order. It just felt so good to get back on that stage after being away from it for so long. I saw tears in people’s eyes when we started up. I got a little misty at some point, but that could have been just drunkeness. Some people I expected to be there stood me up, and I will never forget that no matter what apologies or excuses I have heard, even if I don’t let on. But the ones that were there endeared themselves to me in a way I can’t describe. I’m trying to write hits and do my part to put us on the biggest stages possible as a ‘thank you’ to them, and also as a ‘fuck you’ to the others.
Purchase tickets for the album release party here.