Recently I had the chance of interviewing one of my favorite bands, Robbers on High Street. The main duo of Benjamin Trokan and Stephen Mercado are undeniably funny and told us all of their little secrets. You’ll have to read on to find out all of the details but let’s just say it involves Jordan Knight, a Liver, and Zero Population. The band is preparing to release their third record, the follow up of ‘Grand Animals’. Here is what the band had to say…
So you guys grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, right?
Benjamin Trokan: No
Stephen Mercado: No
BT: You just jumped right into it! (laughs)
Did you guys play any shows around there or was it just strictly talent shows, those kind of things?
BT: No we played our first show there…
SM: Yea that was our first show…
BT: ….and then Stephen was our sound guy for a while and uh…What was that place called?
SM: Club Crannel.
BT: We played the Chance.
Its pretty much obligatory that you play the Chance and The Loft!
BT: We only just played The Chance. Last November or December we played The Chance. You have to be a band for like seven years or ten years, something like that.
I didn’t know that!
BT: We played with Perfect Thyroid. Ever hear of those guys? No? Sorry! (laughs)
SM: Maybe its because, well I don’t know. We’re not really from there, well, we are, but we’re not.
BT: Well yea, that’s fair.
How did the rest of the band come together?
SM: Okay, well…
BT: You go for it!
SM: Um well it started out with Ben and I playing songs together, then we went to college. Then he knew this guy Tomer who played drums in another band and we got our buddy Jeremy to play bass. Then after that, Tomer left and we got our buddy Mike in to play drums and Jeremy had left previously before Tomer had left, and then a bunch of our keyboardists died (laughs)Looks at Keyboardist Dave Sherman It’s not looking to good for you dude! (laughs) But yea, that’s how the lineup came together.
SM: You got all that?
I think so, but the recorder does!
How has the relationship in the band changed over time?
BT: It’s gotten better.
SM: I think so, um we don’t want to kill people (laughs) A lot of bromance.
BT: No it’s totally like a serious group on the road.
SM: Yea like you hear horror stories about bands touring and maybe we’ve had some rough spots in the beginning…
BT: We, in the beginning, used to have knock out, blow ups like people wanted to kill people before we got home.
SM: There was a rough patch.
BT: No but like with this one…
SM: Yea this one is like so harmonious. Like the last tour we went on was actually almost like hanging out at the same time. We all live within a mile of each other, but it’s very harmonious. We all love each other.
How does the songwriting process occur for the band? Is it a collaborative idea?
SM: Well Ben does most of it, but he’s never one to riot, and let’s us give ideas and change things. He’s very good about that. But he does most of it. Sometimes I’ll throw in a couple of ideas and he’ll finish the song. He’s good at it.
You have been working on your upcoming third album. How has that been going?
BT: It’s going pretty good. I think. I mean, the songs are done. I think we’re just sort of fleshing them all out. Fleshing or flushing? I never know. Flushing right?
That sounds about right.
SM: Flushing sounds so gross, like we’re flushing it out.
DS: I’d stick with flushing. I’d say we’re flushing them out.
SM: Flushing them out means like ‘oh we’re cutting songs’
BT: Okay then, we’re fleshing, not flushing!
SM: Either way! (laughs)
Do you feel any pressure releasing your third album since the first two were rather successful?
BT: I don’t feel that at all. I really wouldn’t say the second was big (laughs).
I liked it!
BT: People liked it more maybe, but we loved it more so I can only assume it was successful.
SM: Yea I think everyone is really excited about it (the 3rd record)
BT: Of course it will be like finalized in the studio with handclaps like we just…
SM: Me, you and Morgan.
BT: Yea we need to do a lot of overdubs but like, I mean I like the way it came out. It will be different. It will be better actually.
What is your favorite new song you’ve been working on?
BT: I know my answer.
SM: You first.
BT: I like this song called ‘Watch it Disappear’.
SM: That’s my favorite!
BT: It’s fun to play and fun to play live.
SM: I mean, it’s a great song, you did a great job!
BT: Did that exist? Can we play that back? Did that actually record? (laughs)
How does the new album differ from your previous releases?
SM: I feel like this album is more like the first album, where it’s just gotten a little, well it just rocks a little more. But I think there is a little more development in the songs themselves.
BT: Yea they’re a little trickier I guess. It’s definitely a little more upbeat.
Which do you prefer more, being in the studio or being on tour?
SM: I don’t know the last few tours were pretty rough.
BT: They have, but the last time we were in the studio was not fun.
SM: Well yea, but when we did the first record that was fun.
BT: Yea that was fun…
SM: And the tour we did then…
BT: …was not fun. They both suck! (laughs)
Which is your favorite song to play live?
SM: It will probably be ‘Watch it Disappear’
BT: We do this Kinks cover. That may be my favorite song to play live (laughs). I hate to say it.
SM: That is a very good song to play.
BT: It’s very cool.
Who are your influences, either new or old?
SM: My Mom and Dad (laughs)
BT: I don’t know, I think it’s pretty obvious.
SM: I really like Ray Davies, he likes Ray Davies.
BT: It’s just, I don’t know, late 60’s.
SM: Paul Weller.
BT: Yeah, Paul Weller.
SM: I’ve been into a lot of power popish bands. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. The Clash?
BT: I hate The Clash!
SM: I think you’re influenced by what you know.
BT: I just say ‘Awesome’ (laughs)
How do you choose what tracks you want on the album, and do you ever plan to release the tracks that don’t make it?
SM: Its nice to think of the idea to release a 7 inch of stuff or something.
BT: Yea, I don’t know that we have so much. I guess we have some B-sides, I don’t know who would want to buy it!
SM: That’s fair.
BT: There is only one extra song from the last record I’d want to see the light of day. We don’t really keep track of a lot of songs.
SM: Maybe, it was like 20?
BT: No it’s like 3 or 4 songs.
SM: Really? (laughs)
Do you ever find it hard to bring what you did in the studio onto the stage?
SM: Yeah, the recent demos that we taped kind of got a little vocal happy so there’s like seven part harmonies that are not so easy to sing.
BT: I just like playing it back hearing myself like ‘Me times seven!’
SM: No it’s really, well we have this device that’s like a buddy of ours, and it’s a vocal harmonizer. We were like ‘You don’t need it, give it to Ben!’
BT: I just step on a button!
SM: And you immediately have five Bens! The vocals are tricky, we have to have little vocal sessions.
BT: It pays off.
SM: It’s weird sitting in a room with two to three guys.
BT: I like doing that ‘Ahhhhh’ (sings) It’s a good time.
SM: It’s hard, it’s tough but everyone is pretty crafty and we figure it out.
Do you have a title for the new album yet or is it a secret?
SM: ‘Strictly Business’?
BT: ‘Strictly Business’ or ‘Physics on Patrol’. Uh, ‘Big Sandwich’ ?
SM: Weirdest album title (laughs)
SM: The cover concept is going to be Ben in a blazer, leaning on a piano.
BT: Though what was the other idea we came up with yesterday?
SM: There was one, ‘Robbers Vs. The Electric Eye’.
BT: Oh yea, that would be a good one.
SM: What was the one you came up with the other day?
BT: Oh yea! It was called ‘Your Face, My Fart’. There would be a fart of wind and all of our hair just blowing on the cover (laughs)
What was the first band you were a part of and was it completely awful?
BT: It was with you! (looks at Mercado) and it was completely awful.
SM: It was called Zero Population.
BT: Yea, Zero Population was our first band, but we never rehearsed, we would just write the lyrics to each other and sing how it would be and that was it.
SM: No we had a couple where we had bass and we just thrashed around not knowing what to do.
BT: Oh yea (sings) ‘Zero Population growth, everyone’s gone, nothing’s left, the bomb came down and we’re upset.’ (laughs) Early collaboration, bootleg!
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you while on the road?
BT: I may still have to say the Jordan Knight….
SM: Oh easily, we opened for Jordan Knight in Rock City?
BT: Rock Island, uh, Illinois.
Well you can’t say you opened for Jordan Knight and drop the story!
BT: Yeah next question! I got to cash in my tokens! No we were on tour and it was some kind of fair, county fair rock out. We were touring with that band Ambulance and they were playing some other stage with someone probably equally as questionable and we were like ‘What the hell is going on here?,’ and I think they hated us that’s why. We literally played at three in the afternoon to like a bunch of middle aged women with their fold out chairs that have the cupholders. You know, they just showed up. They didn’t know who the hell we are. They were lined up across the grass.
SM: That was really, really strange.
BT: It was weird.
SM: Then remember the guy before Jordan Knight? When we raided the stage and started dancing?
BT: Right so then some guy before him was this guy named ‘Jerry’ who was going for that tween angle, he’s got a headset and he’s got dancers and he (Mercado) was totally hitting on the guy’s mom.
SM: I was not hitting on his mom! She was very friendly with me. They were all pissed at us.
BT: Yea we danced across the stage.
SM: We had the van running and we were like ‘Okay, Ben was drunk enough to convince him’ and it was like we run in that side, we dance and run. We do it, we get in the van and security comes over and knocks on the window. We roll the window down and he goes ‘Thank You!‘ (laughs)
BT: And JK’s just back there dancing the whole time to Jerry. No he was just drinking beer in his SUV and every now and then he’d roll down the window. And his SUV just got there when Jerry went on and then he came out and was eating it, you know?
Wow that is something I sorry I missed. Best story ever!
What is you favorite album of all time?
BT: Of all time?
SM: Oh….(pause) Maybe my favorite current one…
BT: That’s a tough call, really? What’s your favorite album of all time?
I don’t have one, that’s what I ask everyone else!
BT: So you ask questions that you have no idea what the answer is yourself?
I’ve never had a solid answer!
SM: I don’t have just one.
BT: I mean there is a desert island theory which might include some things…
SM: I think there’s The Cure.
BT: This could be a whole hour!
SM: We could just go on and on.
BT: I still talk about this almost nightly and don’t have an answer.
SM: Definitely ‘Zeppelin III’
BT: I would definitely say ‘Physical Graffiti’. Well it was definitely a big record for me, I mean, it changed my life. I have fond memories of that record.
SM: This is why we should be on an island together!
BT: I might need, Big Star, the second Big Star Record. Anyway you should just go to the next question (laughs)
If you weren’t in Robbers on High Street, what would you be doing?
SM: Um probably what I’m doing now.
BT: Yea probably what I’m doing now.
SM: Bartending, I’d be a bartender.
Where do you see Robbers on High Street in 10 years from now?
SM: Woah um another question I don’t have the answer for!
BT: What did you get this out of a yearbook or something? Who has the best hair….(laughs)
SM: In ten years I see Robbers at either my funeral or Mikey’s funeral.
BT: That would definitely be bad.
You’ll be playing Jordan Knight’s funeral.
SM: No we’ll be opening for Jordan Knight.
BT: No we’ll be playing some sort of get well soon party for either you or Mikey because one of you just had a liver transplant (laughs) and it will probably be Morgan’s liver because that’s the only clean liver I think.
SM: Do you think he would give me his liver?
BT: No then actually he’ll die. You need a liver.
SM: Yea you need a liver.
Maybe a kidney?
BT: Yea a kidney right!
SM: Like I said attending mine or Mikey’s funeral.
You’re going to be attending your own funeral?
SM: Well obviously.
You really aren’t attending if you’re dead.
BT: You can’t really play then either.
SM: You could just pre-record my part!
BT: I’m going to play ‘Glad to See You Gone’ (laughs).
SM: I was not flirting with Jerry’s mom, she was flirting with me!
Was she drunk?
SM: What are you saying? (laughs
Usually when older women are friendly, they’re drunk.
BT: Maybe she was just friendly.
Maybe she just thought you were foxy (laughs)
SM: That’s probably it. Maybe she was lonely.
But could you really be a stage dad to Jerry? Could you give him the support he needs?
(Long pause. Mercado in deep thought)
SM: Clearly not!Check Out More Robbers on High Street Interview and Live Photos after the JUMP