Raise up Roof Beams
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Raise up Roof Beams

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"Interview with Penn State's The Daily Collegian"

Raise Up Roof Beams
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The Harrisburg-based coed band brings an unusual style to its shows

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By Travis Talbot
For The Collegian

A Thursday evening just like any other Thursday evening was occurring at Penn State last week. Intoxicated students stomped through the streets while others whiled away hours studying for midterms.
But something else was happening in a cozy, intimate setting in Waring Commons in West Halls, something many were not prepared for. A banjo, a ukulele, an accordion and other out-of-the-ordinary instruments rallied for an all-out folk-rock invasion. The band Raise Up Roof Beams began its set.

"I've never been to Penn State," Nathan Robinson, the lead vocalist and acoustic guitar player said right before the act, as a chattering audience brushed the comment off.

Then the music began, and the energy emanating from the band soon quieted the crowd.

"Raise Up Roof Beams" is a Harrisburg-based band that evolved from the song-writings of Robinson while he was a sophomore at Messiah College. Though many members have come and gone, the band's core now consists of Robinson, Justin Arawjo, Harrison Gordner, Alan Carroll and Kelly Musser.

Arawjo might have the most eclectic role in the group, using instruments such as the mandolin, the banjo, the lap steel, the accordion, the melodica and some back-up guitar. The other members are right behind him in terms of instrumental diversity, though. Robinson, on top of his vocals and acoustic guitar playing, also energizes the music with a harmonica. Gordner plays the drums, the marimba and other percussion while Carroll adds the keyboard element, and Musser plucks the string bass and complements Robinson with back-up vocals.

"I picked up harmonica when I was living in Spain; I played on the street a lot," Robinson, slightly slouched in his chair, remarks after the show in another room. He studied abroad in Spain, and his harmonica playing drew the attention of many German tourists who would request Metallica and Rammstein covers.

"Rammstein is not harmonica music, unfortunately, so they did 'hast' me at times," Robinson adds -- immediately acknowledging the corniness of what he just said.

The band also acknowledged many of its influences, ranging from Bob Dylan to Bright Eyes, with a little bit of Ryan Adams and some bluegrass in between. It all shows in their music.

Robinson's vocals can be said to have an interesting mix of the trembling-yet-powerful voice of Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, and the hopeful passion heard from the voice of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum.

The instruments and melodies that his voice overlays make Raise Up Roof Beams an oddly accessible folk-rock band. Maybe banjoes and accordions don't exactly appeal to the greater youth but with Raise Up Roof Beams the blend of folk instruments makes for a compelling sound that isn't necessarily your traditional folk-rock.

"Labels aren't that great," Arawjo comments, referring to the band's folk-rock categorization, "but we are definitely influenced by folk and rock."

"We're whatever happens when folk and rock make babies," Carroll notes.

The band has recently released their first full-length album, Fingers and Photons. The lyrics to all of the songs on the album greatly vary in concept, but one concept does underlie many of the tracks -- a concept that is almost universal in the music realm.

"Most of my songs are about ex-girlfriends," Robinson says.

Robinson is also in the army reserves, and notes the dichotomy the army creates in his life is present in some of his music. It is especially apparent in "Carried Away," a song in which Robinson hypothetically discusses being called to war, and questions if this looming, life-altering aspect of his life is worth it. In the song, he laments through questioning: "Didn't I have other plans than this? /...didn't we want to get married?/ wasn't I carried away every time I saw your smiling face?"

"All of the lyrics come out of personal experience and also from the books that I read," Robinson adds.

The band's actual name, Raise Up Roof Beams, is a tribute to J.D. Salinger's novel Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.

"The quote [from the book], 'Raise high the roof beams, carpenters' is about preparing for something wonderful that's going to happen and expectance," Robinson said.

And that's really what Raise Up Roof Beams, is all about -- hope and community.

"We're really about making music about people ... and about sharing experiences with people in a very positive way -- we're all about community and how community encourages music," Gordner said.

In a small venue in Waring Commons in the remote setting of University Park, a Penn State audience got its chance to belong to that community.
- The Daily Collegian

"Indie-Music.com Review of Fingers and Photons"

Reviews: Raise Up Roof Beams ~ Fingers and Photons
Posted on Saturday, November 04, 2006 @ 09:21:19 EST
Topic: Reviews

Artist: Raise Up Roof Beams

CD: Fingers and Photons

Home: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Style: Folk with indie rock mentality

Quote: "If you’re an indie rock fan looking for something rootsier, then this is your band."

By Jamie Anderson

If you’re an indie rock fan looking for something rootsier, then this is your band. Nathan Robinson (guitar, ukulele, harmonica and vocals) and Harrison Gordner (drums, percussion and marimba) are the center, with a revolving band of side players that includes banjo, bass, mandolin, lap steel and more.

There’s an appealing raw quality here. No repeated takes smoothed into pablum, just a bare presentation that fits the songs well. The lyrics are sometimes cryptic, like classic Talking Heads, but it’s all about the feel. Hang on every word and you’ll be distracted. Take it in like a whole piece and leave the nitpicking to someone else. It sounds like they’re having a freakin' good time recording this so join in dammit.

Nathan sings lead, an odd vibrato lurching through each song, like Tiny Tim but in a lower register. At first it felt quirky, but it grows on you. “Cradled” is a sweet song, his vibrato really conveying the emotion when he sings, “She cradled that cello as I have always wanted to be cradled” and baby, you believe him.

“Burning Building” starts with “My body is a building burning,” a great opener for a song with a strong percussive guitar, forceful mandolin and driving drums. “Pablo Picasso” presents a series of images about a relationship, kind of muddled and abstract like a Picasso. The underscore of tambourine and shaker is really cool, too. There’s a banjo that starts “Egypt” then gradually builds with bass, drums, and strummed acoustic guitar. “Faux Revolutionary” is refreshingly snarky.

If you like your folk with all the i’s doted and the t’s crossed, then go buy a John Denver album. If want something full of raw energy, get this one.

- Indie-Music.com

"Review: Fingers and Photons from Raise Up Roof Beams"

Fingers and Photons, the first full length release by the Harrisburg based Roof Beams, is an 11 track album with puissant vocals and brilliant instrumentation throughout. If you are into folk, indie, rock, pop, punk, blues, jazz, or any type of music really, we recommend you check out this record. From the first time you listen to Fingers and Photons you get the impression that something amazing and unique, yet oddly comforting and familiar, is happening in your ears.

The words "existence should not be a reason to grieve- but what if it is" travel from the ears and quickly into the spine- striking you like an unsettled nerve. You will find that a large part of Fingers and Photons plays on your imagination. Nathan's lyrics first come across as simple and easily defined. Upon second listen, however, you realize that this may not be the case and that when more thought is put into the seemingly straight-forward lyrics you may find that entire verses (or entire songs) can have a different meaning than originally anticipated.

The CD is exceptional all the way through. You quickly realize that the Roof Beams are more than just raw and enjoyable lyrics but are also an eclectic group of musicians with an impressive arsenal of instruments. Harmonica, lap steel, banjo, claps, keyboards, marimba, and our personal favorite- the accordion. It's all there and it all fuses together to create a wonderfully folky vibe.
- York Music

"Raise up Roof Beams Claim Local Crown"

One constant in local music has been the folk-group Raise Up Roof Beams. The band has sustained the same devoted following, playing coffee shop to coffee shop across the eastern United States. While Fall Out Boy wannabes wailed about novels they've never read, Beams managed to deliver sincerity every time they performed.

This prolific young song-writer has composed a fresh, beautiful, and original album. Its made up of heartfelt ballads (Concept, Cradled) and more upbeat tunes (Burning Building, My Forbidden Fruit). Nathan can quake like Conor Oberst and drawl like Dylan. Hes capable of suffering in his music without coming across as whiny or wallowing.

Some other highlights include the road-tested Egypt and Pablo Picasso. One can only hope that this album somehow falls into the right hands, because Raise Up Roof Beams will be well on its way to indie-folk darlings status. - Max Orenstein

"Fingers and Photons Review"

“Road trip back to Egypt, for I am sick and sick and sick of the Promised Land, but all of your monuments and money can not touch the milk and honey of my Canaanite lover: she has a steady hand.”

That is the first verse of lyrics from the first song I heard “Egypt” and from the outset Dylan’s influence both lyrically and musically is obvious. Formed only two years ago in the summer of 2004 Raise Up Roof Beams features Nathan Robinson on vocals, guitars, harmonica, ukulele; Harrison Gordner on drums, marimba, percussion; Just Arawjo on mandolin, banjo, accordion, lap steel, melodica and Alan Carroll on digital piano. Of these four multi-instrumentalists it is Robinson and Harrison who form the bands backbone, with other musicians filling in from show to show in an ever changing and fluid line up.

Their sound is rooted in folk although the presence of indie, rock and country influences can be heard, although in a much more subtle way. Plenty of appealing and varied instruments on each track provide backing for Robinson’s philosophical articulations – “even fire seems cold when it is written in stone. No one reads what you write in stone.” Steady, driven beats and fitting harmonies, carry the songs on as the tangly, sometimes understandable, lyrics unravel throughout the song. However I’ve only been listening to these for the past week or so, I’ve listened to Dylan since I was born (my dad is a fanatic) and still don’t understand half of it and that fact certainly doesn’t take away from my enjoyment.

I feel already that I have fallen into the trap of talking about Raise up Roof Beams as The Next Bob Dylan when they’re not at all. It truly is a shame that every, slightly folky* young male singer with something a bit more substantial to say than the usual “I love her, she loves me/I love her, she doesn’t love me” clichés is automatically described in the media as The Next Bob Dylan. Robinson’s lyrics are full of interesting quirks and his voice has the same kind of appeal but Bob isn’t Jesus, we’re not waiting for his second coming and anyway, there is a perfectly good Bob Dylan still making albums. Sounding very much like the first Bob Dylan.

I have to admit I have only heard five of Raise up The Roof Beam’s songs so can by no means claim to possess the definitive guide to their music, but what I have heard is good. Verging on brilliance in some places; the musicianship is controlled and accomplished, on vocals Robinson switches from near speaking spontaneous prose to shaking melodies and the band has a close nit feel to it, even with some musicians not being permanent. I’d certainly like to hear some more.

*And that can mean anyone with a guitar in their hands.
- Northeastintune.com

"Interview of Nathan Robinson from Raise up Roof Beams"

Published: February 2007
Story: Keith Wilson

Socrates is credited with the famously simple maxim, "Know thyself." Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard followed many years later in his footsteps and expanded on the notion, holding it to be of utmost importance.
Socrates? Kierkegaard? Does Fly Magazine know itself? Allow me to explain. I recently had a fascinating conversation with Nathan Robinson of Harrisburg-based band Raise Up Roof Beams. Philosophy and literature are the primary underpinnings of his lyrics, his writing and, it would seem, his band's overall approach as well. So, whether or not Fly Magazine knows itself well enough to wax philosophic to the tune of 19th-century Danish philosophers, we can't talk about what makes Raise Up Roof Beams special without it.

The unique thing about this whole story is that this is just what Robinson and his bandmates are trying to do with their music. Robinson pointed out and reiterated numerous times that he is interested in music as community, and in people's lives, needs, hopes and dreams. He says, "A lot of my music is very literary and philosophical in nature, but we play music for everyone too. "We're a very people-oriented band."

When asked whether or not he was concerned that people would view Raise Up Roof Beams as pretentious or inaccessibly self-absorbed like Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes (an admitted influence), Robinson responds, "I think as a band we are much more interested in people's issues." He goes on to explain that while the writings and thinking of philosophers may be at the root of the themes in his lyrics, this shouldn't be a stumbling block for any would-be listener. On the contrary, the very questions that Kierkegaard and Socrates sought to explore, if not answer, are simply human questions that we all ask. Robinson points out, "At least these philosophical questions that people have, these existential questions aren't only asked by people who have read philosophers. Everyone asks these questions in their own way, and I think that it's important to make philosophy accessible to other people as well... not just people who sit around and drink brandy and think about how sad they are."

One of the first things that struck me about Raise Up Roof Beams when I visited the band's MySpace page prior to our interview was an apparent juxtaposition that is not usually found in the world of fragile, navel-gazing, ultra-literary indie-rock. While there seems to be no denial of their intellectual pedigree (even the band's name is taken from the title of a J.D. Salinger novel), the members also seems to have an explicit desire to extend themselves beyond the confines of the intellectual elite, or the aloof crowd of crossed arms that you are likely to find at any smarter-than-thou indie-rock show. The experience of listening to the arrangements that Raise Up Roof Beams create for Robinson's songs is described as "mellow-yet-driven beats of hope and progress until it finally occurs to you that it is not all about being sad." Robinson insists, "It's not about [dwelling on your sadness]. It's about reaching people who have thought about these things but haven't always had a way to put them into words."

Are the members of Raise Up Roof Beams concerned about listeners and audiences making sense of all these admirable aims to raise the overall consciousness through their music? Robinson is very relaxed and at peace about whatever level of comprehension occurs for listeners and concertgoers. He realizes that not everyone will care to sink his teeth into the weighty matters and abstract-picture lyrics. Robinson says, I'd say we've probably played a lot of places where people don't get it. And that's OK."

In fact, Robinson's general approach to his music and his band seems to be in keeping with that kind of relaxed acceptance of whatever is handed to them. The complex and pithy lyrics that help define Raise Up Roof Beams' unique acoustic indie-rock are in stark contrast to his very simple and straightforward view of everything. Clearly, like any musicians, the members of Raise Up Roof Beams would love to have opportunities that would expand their fan base and bring their music to a wider audience. However, they are in no hurry to get there. Robinson is content to take their journey one step at a time, one listener at a time. He expresses a real desire to make music that isn't for any elite group, but instead is for, well, "people." Robinson also knows that not all people will want to go along for the ride, but he calmly accepts the knowledge that not everyone they encounter will be the ideal Raise Up Roof Beams listener, whom Robinson describes as "people who like independent music but also read a lot of books." But again, he simply says, "That's fine, and we try not to exclude anyone through that. But at the same time ... there's a definite demographic that would probably be turned off by lyrics about Kierkegaard and the 'Brothers - FLY Magazine


"The Ezekiel Demo" (2004)
"The Shivering Cold EP" (2006)
"Fingers and Photons" (2006)
"Oh, Great Paradox" (2007)



In the summer of 2004, Raise up Roof Beams (an allusion to the novella by J.D. Salinger) was born out of Nathan Robinson’s (guitars, ukulele, harmonica, vocals) interest in songwriting and quickly growing catalogue of original folk songs. Through practice and mutual innovation, Harrison Gordner (drums, percussion, marimba) reined in Nathan’s raw energy to create a mixture of folk and indie rock that sounded fresh and poignant. They played local shows, put together a rough recording, The Ezekiel Demo, and added organ to the mix during that spring.

The addition of good friend and fellow local musician Justin Arawjo (mandolin, banjo, lap steel, accordion, melodica, guitars) in the fall of 2005 was just the change necessary to fill out their sound as they moved toward a more folk-influenced and intricate sound and Nathan’s lyrics delved deeper into his personal experience. Justin had been making music for years with folk and punk bands on a local and national scale. The band expanded again in 2006 with Alan Carroll [digital piano] and Kelly Musser [upright bass, vocals] rounding out the five-piece. Kelly's trained bass and gorgeous vocals layered with Nathan's inspired and erratic vocal and guitar performance dance over Alan's deep and rhythmic piano chords to give the Roof Beams more life and body than ever before. The most obvious influences to their eventual collective sound are Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, the Decemberists and Bright Eyes, with more discerning listeners detecting the subtle presence of Neutral Milk Hotel, Radiohead, The Avett Brothers and mewithoutYou.

The band’s song repertoire is deep and fertile, with raw emotive indie rock mixing in with delicate and ambient folk-inspired journeys into Nathan’s literary and philosophically challenging words. Their growing list of songs was brought to fruition with their first full-length record, Fingers and Photons, which was self-released in March 2006 after the bands first self-supported US tour. Hundreds of shows and dozens of songs later, Raise up Roof Beams is now playing shows in support of the May 2007 release of their second full-length recording, Oh, Great Paradox, which features their developing sound and matured songs in a patient display of musicianship and soul.

Raise up Roof Beams has an organic and pure energy that communicates thought and beauty in a way that any fan of music can appreciate. Their compelling live show is dynamic and raw, and the audience finds itself surrounded by the powerfully intricate instrumentation and unexpectedly honest lyrics communicated with passion, conviction, and human understanding beyond the band members' years.