Story & Photography by Kail Rose
We recently sat down with Des Rocs at the House of Blues in Dallas during his supporting leg of The Struts’ Young and Dangerous tour. In an endearingly perfect New York accent, he shares with us his passion for unbridled rock music. “My goal is to ignite an unapologetic rock revolution in the world. I want to spread rock n roll that’s worth listening to.”
I first caught wind of his act coming highly recommended by a respected fellow music photographer. Soon after, I was delighted to discover Des Rocs would be opening for Grandson on his No Apologies tour, which I was scheduled to cover in April. The set was everything I’d hoped for and more. It was joyfully wild, eccentric and sweaty, something akin to a young Elvis Presley performing an electrifying Arctic Monkeys set. I couldn’t wait to share. Of the tour, he recounts; “It was an electric tour, very politically charged and darkly emotional. For six weeks we were on a tour bus going to sold out show after sold out show – all 22 of them.” I came away with similar sentiments, and yet his set managed to set the Des Rocs name upon a towering new precipice; getting more notice than I think even he realized. I emailed him the very same night, asking when we could interview. I lucked out, learning of his Dallas set the very next month.
He’s been recently and repeatedly named as one of the rock genre’s young revolutionaries. Ones To Watch attributed a genre overhaul and a rock music renaissance to a select few artists, with Des Rocs at the top of that short list. It’s my most pressing question. “It’s definitely time for it. Rock is the worst genre of music, and for a reason.” He asserts, “All of the innovation and experimentation is being done in pop and urban – artists taking chances, which is paying off. People are moved by that experiment. But your regular run-of-the-mill alt rock band today sounds the same as they did in 2007.” He goes on to describe your average four white dudes in front of a cinder block wall, clad in skinny jeans and a white tee… and I can’t help but agree. It’s become a pretty predictable genre. Blandness is not befitting to any genre – but the solution, a-la Des Rocs – is greater experimental culture in modern rock. “I’m going to push rock into a weird twenty-first century place, drag it kicking and screaming if I have to,” he says.
Since no artist can find their place without the influence of those before them, I ask about his own musical upbringing. He talks of Elvis, Talking Heads, Queen, Roy Orbison, “a lot of blues, pop and rock.” Influences which do, indeed, come through in an average Des Rocs track. None of which are even close to average at all, really. It’s a delicious blend. Big rock with massive energy, it pull so many delightful tidbits from others; a bit of fuzzy guitar here, a confident coo, followed by a soul-shattering riff and a high-flying leap from the kickdrum. It’s wrapped with his own signature brand of energetic confidence and one hell of a howl. Quoting so many varied influences, I have ask about genre authenticity. Is it important to find a sound and stay true to it? “Culturally, (authenticity) is relevant… tradition is important.” He replies. But we get the feeling that Des Rocs isn’t really about staying true to a single tradition, rather the opposite.
It’s a recurring theme in this conversation. To what degree is the image as a trailblazer, revolutionary, unapologetic artist important to Des Rocs? He pauses. “I… I don’t really care.” Emphatically, another pause. “I just put out the music; if you like it, you like it, and if not… then great. I’ll just make these records in my bedroom.” He grins, his passionate New Yorker accent so potent. It’s clear I’m speaking with an artist who so clearly loves his craft and just won’t apologize for creating a sound that speaks to him.
I ask what his songwriting process is like. “It’s everything and anything. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a full song written in my head… I voice note it out, piece by piece. Somewhere in my phone is Let Me Live Let Me Die the first time it came to me.” A pause, and he continues after hesitating; “It’s really sporadic. Basically, my process is me trying to figure out my process.”
Which really, very honestly, is an excellent answer. Those artists who’ve found a prescribed sound and stick to a narrow vision really don’t help themselves, least of not in their live performance. And failing to stick to the prescribed is an area in which Des Rocs excels spectacularly. “You have to musically convey the energy without the fine-tuning and precision of a produced sound. The “so-and-so-bands” (name removed) of the world are lacking a sense of drama and tragedy.” He pauses, almost to catch up to his thoughts; “you have to be a fucked up individual to put on a live show that really moves people. There has to be a dark spot in your soul. Stuff today tends to be very sterile.”
He goes on to suppose, with another slight pause; “I think some of the best live stuff comes from twisted souls sitting in a basement in Ohio, who maybe don’t have a great recording but their performance is magic. We need to give those people a chance. Where else are we going to get the next Elvis or the next Prince?” From here, I point out that perhaps we’re looking at him. A notion met with a hopeful shrug and a smile.