Roger Sellers: People see me perform with a table of electronic equipment with headphones and immediately think that I’m a DJ
Imagine folk-dance-americana-electric-symphonic fusion, where Philip Glass, Sufjan Stevens, and Joanna Newsom all groove to late night ambient house music in George Martin’s livingroom – that’s where you find Roger Sellers. Roger paints vivid aural landscapes where his multilayered instrumentation pierces through the terrain like musicological formations, as they compile higher and higher. Compelled by the splendor projected, you climb to the top of his finely crafted mountain. Just as you catch your breath, Roger takes your hand and shows you his panoramic view; at that moment you absorb the deepest beauty that inherently waits within his profound concept. With four self-produced albums of professional quality under his belt, Roger Sellers’ songs attest to the erudition of his musical training and confidence as a master of recording. We spoke to the ambitious, Texas-based musician about his career and the perks of being an independent artist these days.
How did you get in touch with music as a listener? What made you start experiencing with your own music?
Music was always something I’ve been passionate about since I was a child. The earliest memory I have experiencing music was sitting in my parents’ bedroom when I was between two and three years old watching “Eric Clapton Unplugged”. I loved it immediately. Something about the way the musical instruments and performance worked together seemed to spark something in my undeveloped mind.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence your musical taste throughout the years?
I grew up around Houston, Texas. My parents were extremely supportive of my fascination with music and my abilities to perform it. The area that I lived in didn’t have much a music scene, but I think that helped me build more of a relaxed, non-competitive approach in my earlier years. This made it easy to progress because I did it more for fun than any other reason.
Your project is often labeled with the ever so popular ‘folktronica’ tag, which usually raises more questions than it explains.
As many artists tend to say, it’s hard to properly identify exactly what I do creatively. It is something that comes from inside and just happens. There have been many influences that have helped shape my overall sound, but I have defined my music as eclectic. There are many different sounds and styles throughout the discography, though I do believe there have been many consistent elements like minimalism, strong melodic lines, repetitive nature, and percussive momentum.
If you would have to name some of the musicians that kept you inspired throughout the years, who would you mention?
Some of my favorite bands and artists that have continually been a source of inspiration to me include Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Pinback, Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, The Beach Boys, and The Flaming Lips. I’ve learned in recent years that many of my great friends’ music inspire me more so than any other, though.
You literally play every instrument. Guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, bells, organ, piano, drums… Where did you learn all this at such a gentle age?
Much of the instrumentation was learned simply because I never had a band to play with in my younger years. I became obsessed with recording and layering instruments together, which often lead to me falling in love with the instrument itself. I played the piano, drums, and guitar by ear at a very young age. I consider them my staple instruments. Everything else honestly came mainly through recording.
How did you come up with the ‘Roger Sellers is not a DJ…’ slogan?
That slogan started mostly as a joke. There were a few publications, a couple of years ago, that would label me as a DJ. I thought, “well that’s just not correct”. I think some people see me perform with a table of electronic equipment with headphones and immediately think that I’m a DJ. The truth is, most of what they are hearing was recorded organically, by me. I’m also singing and looping live drums on stage. I have nothing at all against DJs, it’s just simply not what I’m doing.
I was rather intrigued (in an absolutely positive way!) by your first album’s cover. What is the story behind that?
My sister took that photograph, actually. Years ago there was an infamous homeless man in Austin known as Leslie. Leslie was an exuberant character and peace activist living in the streets of downtown Austin that everyone came to know and love. Apparently, he was often spotted outside of a talent show, sometimes flashing the crowd through the window at Esther’s Follies on 6th street. I think this is where my sister caught that shot. I always loved that photograph.
A previous album of yours, ‘8 Songs’ had a really interesting concept two years ago: it was released in a steady progression, you were writing the album as it was simultaneously being released. How did you get the idea to do this and how was the audience’s feedback? They had one week to download each song for free, how many people were involved after all?
‘8 Songs’ was quite a spontaneous decision. I had been going through extreme writer’s block and it had been over a year since my last release. I figured it was time to make something happen so I set deadlines for myself – one song – written, recorded, mixed, and mastered all in one week for 8 weeks. Setting these deadlines drove me to finish each week. It also made for some very honest work because it gave me no time to second guess. Whatever came out originally would probably be part of the final mix, which made for more creativity.
Making your music known and organizing a tour is not an easy task these days, but you were creative enough to set up a fundraising campaign for this reason on IndieGoGo, which turned out to be a great success. Tell us a little about the process and the results, what’s next for you when it comes to touring?
The IndieGoGo campaign was a way to get my feet off the ground in terms of publicity and touring. I’ve toured before but never as long as I did in 2014. I needed to be prepared for anything being on the road for that long. On top of that, I was working with a publicist for the first time, which is difficult to do when paying out of pocket. I was truly amazed at the results. So many people were greatly supportive of what I was doing. It was an overwhelming, emotional time for me when it exceeded the amount I needed.
How do you feel about being an independent musician these days? You need to organize everything for yourself, you’re constantly trying to be creative, but you also need to feed yourself and have a regular daily job.
It’s extremely tough being an independent musician these days. Jugging a day job with all the e-mails and connections, while trying to stay creative gets overwhelming sometimes. There are certainly ups to it though. Being able to make every decision without being swayed by upper management is certainly a perk. I sometimes miss the days when I had less responsibilities and could create as much as I wanted. It’s at the point now, though, that a team and management will be very helpful.
What type of music do you enjoy these days?
What I’m listening to and find inspiring is constantly changing. I find that inspiration hits hard at random times and is difficult to manage when it happens. Here recently I’ve found myself enjoying Mac DeMarco, Avey Tare, Rob Crow, Dan Deacon, and Kishi Bashi. I’ve really been enjoying a lot of local talent including Jesse Dalton, Taft, The Deer, Isaiah the Mosaic, and plenty more ATX bands.
What are your plans for 2015? Are you going to focus on touring or you will be back in the studio getting ready for a follow-up album?
Probably looking at a little bit of both. I’m going through a shift in management and the overall way I’m going about it. I’m looking forward to get in the studio soon to release a new record sometime in 2015 as well as touring, just nothing is announced yet.
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