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Norfolk, Virginia, United States | INDIE

Norfolk, Virginia, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Folk


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This band has not uploaded any videos



""You'll never see anything like it. The man's so talented your girlfriend may leave you for him, but I really couldn't blame her.""

"The man's so talented your girlfriend may leave you for him, but I really couldn't blame her." - Weekly Volcano

""Think gritty Bob Dylan meets old chain gang songs with a punk rock snarl.""

"Think gritty Bob Dylan meets old chain gang songs with a punk rock snarl." - AltDaily

"Free Times Feature"

I had a conversation not too long with longtime Free Times contributor Kevin Oliver recently about how there's always one act at the St. Pat's in Five Points festival that seemingly comes out of nowhere, that seemingly no one has heard of, and steals the spotlight, turning in the best performance of the festival. (See: Foxy Shazam, 2010; Alberta Cross, 2009.) Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you this year's hands-down do-not-miss act: Furious, ragged-but-right one-man-band Phillip Roebuck.

We could talk bonafides: Roebuck's been a featured guest on the late John Peel's legendary BBC1 radio show; he's been lauded by the likes of No Depression; and he was a featured performer at the 2004 All Tomorrow's Parties Festival. (Bonus points in my book: He's down with legendary independent musician and recording engineer Steve Albini, who brought Roebuck to All Tomorrow's Parties and says Roebuck is "both a delightful oddity and the purest kind of genius.")

But bonafides can be inflated, misrepresentative. It's Roebuck's singular, fiery solo performances that can't be beaten. Attacking his banjo like a high-plains Kerry King, working the neck with preternaturally nimble fingers and a bottleneck slide, Roebuck's pickings are simultaneously jaw-droppingly intricate and haymaker powerful. He kicks and stomps and shouts and shrieks and howls; his performances are spirited and rousing, filled with frenetic banjo flailings and thumping drums that come from a Depression-era apparatus Roebuck cobbled together himself.

Indeed, Roebuck's style is indebted to hardcore's ferocity and intensity as it is rustic folk blues, as much The Replacements as it is Robert Johnson. Roebuck's dug deep into Delta blues and Appalachian soul, filtering it through amphetamine-punk intensity and New York City subway performer fluidity. Its roots are deep in the insect-bitten, shotgun shack South, but the tunes that radiate from Roebuck's soul carry an experimentalist bent that keeps him rooted in the present, far away from any old-timey nostalgia act.

In other words: He's an absolute genius. He's a true modern-day troubadour. And you'll be kicking yourself if you miss his set. P.Wall - Free Times

"Making the Case for Playing Your Heart Out"

To sum it up quickly, Phillip Roebuck’s music is big and it’s loud and it’s awe-inspiring.

Think gritty Bob Dylan meets old chain gang songs with a punk rock snarl. And because of that irreverence to genre (Roebuck actually despises musical classifications), his music appeals to a lot of different tastes–in particular, those that feel that ‘as long as it’s good, I don’t care what genre it is’. The lyrics are bluesy and personal–Fever Pitch was written in the wake of a disastrous divorce, during what seems to be the darkest hour of Roebuck’s life. But his songs are also open and honest, real, and easy to relate to. Most importantly, there’s hope in them.

To be in a room with Roebuck while he’s performing is a very thrilling thing. He is one guy, making a lot of noise on a number of instruments at once, and singing so passionately you’d be vegetable to not be moved by the whole of his performance. As Pfac’s Marketing Director Mike McGrann commented succinctly, “Philip Roebuck is one of the most unbelievable performances that I have ever seen.”

From just a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear that Roebuck is dynamic, very confident, and extremely personable. Come to find out he was once hired by Spike Lee to perform in a commercial and talk about being a street musician–the spot aired during the 2000 Academy Awards–if that’s not dynamism, I don’t know what is.

But he’s also just a guy figuring things out and taking life as it comes. Personally, I’m a fan of Roebuck’s music, and I could have written a gushing piece about the power he brings to his performance. But I wanted to find out instead what was driving it; where this man has been and what has happened to him that makes him write and sing the way he does. At moments during our interview he was markedly quiet, silently reflecting upon memories with twinges of sadness or regret. It was clear that the strength in the songs is met with equal amounts of vulnerability in him.

Roebuck was born in Norfolk into a huge musical family (“I think I have 60 cousins, something like that”), so big that they have a music festival every July out in Pungo. Roebuck’s first band, in fact, consisted of him and five cousins.

He was also an only child. His father, a singer-songwriter, moved Roebuck and his mother, then a hairstylist, around the country in pursuit of a musical career. By the time they moved back to Virginia Beach, when Roebuck was in junior high, he had attended 19 different schools.

In high school Roebuck was versatile; surfing, performing in theater, and by then, he was also performing in clubs he wouldn’t have been allowed into otherwise. He was also constantly songwriting. “It always just flowed for me, although the better songs were harder to come by…but you write 10 or 12 of them and boom, you find a good one.”

Much like his music now, Roebuck was influenced then by folk (Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, and the music has father was making) as well as punk rock. Punk he was introduced to by his Uncle Kenny, whose band had once opened up for the Ramones.

“I identified with the energy [of punk rock],” he says. “It felt so passionate, and it was nothing like anything on the radio. The music felt visceral, felt real to me in a way that no other music had. And that, still to this day, is really the kind of music that I want to make.”

After high school, Roebuck went to Philly to attend acting school. After a couple years, he quit, moved back to Hampton Roads and started a band, The Hollowbodies, with his cousin Shea Roebuck. In 1993 the two moved to New York and not much later signed with A&M Records. Phillip also signed as a songwriter for Warner Brothers. He was only 23.

But then, as fate would have it, the label was bought by Universal the same month The Hollowbodies’ debut single was to be released. One minute the Roebucks were ready to hear their songs on the radio, get the acclaim they so wanted. And the next, there was nothing.

“Looking back now, it’s kind of sad that [we got signed] so quickly because I was so spoiled instantly. I thought that’s just how life’s going to be from here on out–I was going to be rich, and making records and flying all over,” he says jokingly. “I had no idea what was down the road.”

After The Hollowbodies split, Roebuck started performing in the New York City streets. In fact he taught himself to play the banjo by playing for 8 hours a day every day for 30 days in a row, down in the subway. And slowly, he started building the one-man band, adding in whatever he needed to get the job done; a suitcase as a bass drum, drums on his back, a cymbal here or there.

“Playing on the street has always been a holy thing to me. Those are real musicians. It was never the opposite, like, oh that’s pan-handling–which some people see it that way. It was always, to me, the pinnacle. If you could play in the street, you must be really good.”

Life was good for Roebuck again. He’d recorded a solo album. He was playing with a band called Brooklyn Browngrass, essentially a band of buskers, who had a strong run in Williamsburg those days. He’d fallen in love in Brooklyn, married, and had two babies, Phin and Ruby.

Life got even better when he and his young family moved to LA in 2003. “It was awesome. I was doing really well in LA. My acting career was taking off, my music was jamming, I was going to Europe a lot. Good things were happening.

“And then my wife left me. Took the babes. Moved back to Seattle, left me in LA. And it shattered me.”

That seemed to be the turning point in Roebuck’s life. He wrote Fever Pitch in his sadness and recorded it with Steve Albini. He tried in vain for three years to make his marriage work. He moved back to New York. “Then fate stepped in. I got sick and moved back home.”

Granted that’s quite the short of it. In the course of all that time Roebuck recorded five solo albums and over a dozen more with numerous bands. Last year he wrote an operetta for Julliard. He built a recording studio at his mother’s home here. By no means can anyone say that he’s seen a lack of success.

But it seems the best is still yet to come for Phillip Roebuck. For one, he still speaks of “the kind of music I want to make,” and he admits he doesn’t really like any of his albums. More importantly, he’s currently signed with two labels, one in Europe and one Stateside. And he is soon to embark upon tours on both continents in support of his forthcoming album.

“It’s a new era,” he says of it, with a smile.

And that smile–that is what is in his music that makes people love it. It’s hope. After the high highs and the low lows, the successes and failures, the love and the heartbreak, he has a smile and a song to sing. It absolutely just lifts you up.

“Good music really comes from life experience. Go get your heart broke and I’ll listen to whatever you want to sing me.

“I respond to people’s pain; when we push through that. All of us have had suffering and had our heart broken. And I think that seeing people’s effort and their hope in their eyes, and hearing it in their music… That’s the kind of music I want to make.”
- AltDaily

""He plucks that banjo like a madman, like the devil himself.""

"He plucks that banjo like a madman, like the devil himself." - New York Press

""Whirling one-man banjo ninja is in fighting form.""

"Whirling one-man banjo ninja is in fighting form." - Europe Intelligence Wire

""There's no niche or category to file this under. It's just simply amazing.""

"There's no niche or category to file this under. It's just simply amazing." - Autopia

""He is both a delightful oddity and the purest kind of genius.""

"He is both a delightful oddity and the purest kind of genius." - Steve Albini

""A stone-cold classic airs or graces, just pure musicianship in action!""

"A stone-cold classic performer that blasts all other singer-songwriters out of their soporific, arrogant, self-obsessed torpor with his pinpoint melodies, frantic enthusiasm and homespun, heartfelt wordplay, one-man-band Roebuck's lightning fast banjo (dude can shred quicker than Kerry King man!) and incessant hotstepping to the beat really will get your juices flowing. Aided by yet another pristinely sparse Steve Albini recording that just lets Roebuck do what he does best, live, in the flesh, no airs or graces, just pure musicianship in action, and my god is it catchy!" - CollectiveZine


ALL ABOARD THE BLUES (2010/compilation) Errorcraft
GLORY ROAD (2009/compilation) Errorcraft
ATTACK OF THE ONE-MAN BANDS (2007/compilation) Rock & Roll Purgatory
FEVER PITCH (2006) Manual Records
ONE-MAN BAND (2004) Socialist Records
INERTIA (2004) Manual Records
BROOKLYN BROWNGRASS (2002 w/Brooklyn Browngrass) Self-Released
ONE-MAN BAND RECORDINGS (2001) Manual Records
THIS IS NEXT YEAR (2001 w/The Boggs) Arena Rock Records
WE ARE THE BOGGS WE ARE (2001 w/The Boggs) Arena Rock Records
UNDER THE MATCHLIGHT (2000) Manual Records
SIMPLY IRRESISTABLE (1999 soundtrack w/The Hollowbodies) Restless Records
VIVA LA DREGS (1998 w/The Hollowbodies) A&M Records
LAME (1995 w/The Hollowbodies) A&M Records
MEGA MAN (1995 soundtrack w/The Hollowbodies) Atlantic Records
HANDPRINTS II (1994/compilation w/The Hollowbodies) Wax Puppy Records



"Think gritty Bob Dylan meets old chain gang songs with a punk rock snarl."

PHILLIP ROEBUCK is a Virginia-born songster and bare bones one-man band. With punk rock intensity, Roebuck stomps out beats on a classic, depression-era drum apparatus, while strumming the banjo with a fierce ragged-but-right style.

Although he has played over a thousand shows in venues and on festival stages in the U.S. and Europe, Roebuck can just as easily be seen performing on a street corner in New Orleans or New York City, where he has spent nearly a decade honing his skills as a one-man band.
"He plucks that banjo like a madman, like the devil himself."
New York Press

"A stone-cold classic airs or graces, just pure musicianship in action!"

Two albums recorded by Steve Albini
John Peel Show - BBC 1
All Tomorrow's Parties, UK - main stage
Green Man Festival, UK - main stage
w/Ralph Stanley
w/Nina Nastasia
w/American Music Club

"Whirling one-man banjo ninja is in fighting form."
Europe Intelligence Wire

"There's no niche or category to file this under. It's just simply amazing."

"You'll never see anything like it. The man's so talented your girlfriend may leave you for him, but I really couldn't blame her."
Weekly Volcano

"He is both a delightful oddity and the purest kind of genius."
Steve Albini

"I've seen a lot of cool sh@# in my day. I've seen John Elway win back-to-back Super Bowls. I’ve seen Pete Townshend shred his hand mid windmill, and then finish Quadrophenia. However, never before have I seen anything quite like Phillip Roebuck. Never. Roebuck's a mess of hair and sweat, stomping about, shaking the stage. You hear his banjo, tearing through rocking, unorthodox licks, like Uncle Dave Macon on a whiskey and speed binge. It's a sight to be seen. More importantly, it's a noise to be heard. Phillip Roebuck is a one-man band. The title's no lie. Among banjo traditionalists, Roebuck is often considered a hack. By looks alone Roebuck might be considered a novelty. He's neither. Roebuck is an artist as pure as they come. His style is his own. His music is unmistakably his own. He plucks like a madman and stomps like thunder."
Matt Driscoll