Photography by: Sam Hanson
By: Zeke Hanson
“In The Year 2000” (It sounds better if you have Conan say it with a flashlight under his chin), Cameron Crowe released the film Almost Famous. Philip Seymour Hoffman played the character “Lester Bangs,” a reluctant mentor to the main character “William Miller.” Miller shows up, bright eyed, bushy tailed and very, very young. He later talks his way into a touring journalist role by calling a band incendiary, but before all that Hoffman tells him that he’s arrived, “just in time for the death rattle” of Rock & Roll.
Almost Famous takes place in the early 1970’s and when it comes to the classic sense of Rock & Roll, that was the beginning of the end. There are some exceptions to be sure but those bands that were famous then are still famous now and, in many cases, still touring.
Enter Des Rocs (Danny Rocco). Now on the road for just over a year, under his solo banner.
This isn’t something he just jumped into. He wasn’t hatched yesterday with a born to rock tattoo.
“For me, it was a very natural progression.” Des Rocs is sitting with us at a sparsely crowded pre show in Iowa while opening for The Struts. “I’d been making records my whole life, in punk bands and stuff, and then it got to a point where I was able to do that and not have a full-time day job or anything. It naturally transitioned me being on the road for which I am very grateful. I’ve always done the double grind of working a day job, writing and recording all night, until music was able to take over the other one.”
Rocs has been in bands for most of his life and has had success in those endeavors. For example, his former band; “I was in this much poppier band, where I was a duo with another guy [Gerry Lange] for many years.” They were with Epic Records at the time. Rocs continues, “We toured with some amazing artists, like Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco and Weezer. We actually played right here with those guys one time. It was an amazing run. But I felt over that time there was really something missing in that music culture that defined the records I grew up on like Elvis, Talking Heads and Roy Orbison and all that energy. We were a duo in this old band and the other half got very ill and he wasn’t able to tour anymore. He [Lange] said, ‘you know, you have to do your own thing.’ So, I went away and dreamed up a new project that was just me and my vision entirely for a modern Rock & Roll project. Drawing on things I grew up with but produced in a way that is ultra-modern and that sonically competes with everything on the radio.”
Even with that success, the hunger was still there and the drive was insatiable. “Starting anything from scratch is tough. To put out one song to nobody, and it has a little < sign on Spotify, less than a thousand... it was really tough. And that was only 14 months ago, so it was a very lonely path just sitting alone, making records. It’s very different than being in a ‘band’ band. But at the same time, I know exactly what I want to do and what I want to create. So, to be a dictator creatively, is kind of ideal, and not have to navigate any politics.”
One song. One listener. At a time. Realpolitik or not, that is one hell of a grind.
“One song. One at a time. Because, another thing about Rock is all the innovations with Pop and Urban. Rock is so fucking stale, it’s insane.” Rocs elaborates, “Any rock artist today is four white dudes up against a brick wall and you don’t know what they’re from, what they stand for, and they sound like a band from 10 years ago or 10 years from now. All the innovations in pop and urban, especially when it comes to release schedules, they put out a record every damn week, they put out music every Friday with Drake’s of the world.” Stripped down, even on the road, Des keeps breakneck hours, “I produce very quickly and I work very manically, so I’m able to compete with that release schedule. I want to put out a song every 4-6 weeks until the day I die. We were on music Friday this week while we’re on tour. It’s super important. No other rock artist does it, no other rock artist can work at that manic pace. My nightmare is to go away for three years, put it out to nobody, and I think through that more modern release schedule is what’s really helped us grow the way we have.”
While he appreciates the groups, he’s been able to tour with throughout the years, Rocs hopes that crowds have been paying attention. “My goal is to headline as quickly as possible. The support slots are great for exposure. I would never ordinarily come to Sioux City so I’m being exposed to lots of people that I would never normally see. If I was a headline, I could headline LA, I could headline New York, but there’s a lot of country that I can’t headline. So, to get my message out there to the people, for the ground game, is the goal and then transition into headlining end of the year.”
The part of art that’s fun to see is the end. It’s the chaos that goes unseen that audiences don’t appreciate in the same way.
You can be a fan of other artists. You can support their goals and even cherish their work but to get into that state of mind with a singular focus, you have to put blinders on. Rocs says, “I exist in a completely wide-open lane. Everybody else in the genre is either a parody or just picking up what’s left over. I’m gonna be the fucking Kanye West of Rock & Roll. The genre needs to be turned upside down. It needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21 st century and that’s the mantle that I want to helm.”
This permanent New York born and bred Rock & Roller has a barn burner brewing, so you better buy a ticket while you still can. “It’s the same show you know, it’s the same show for everybody, same show for three people as it is for 10,000. Every time. That’s important.” If you have the chance to see him in a small venue, you better get on the get, he’s got a busy year planned. Lalapalooza is coming up along with several other festivals, so mark your calendars.
Just like the performers who champion the movement. Rock & Roll is one step away from life support.
Rock & Roll has been put on notice.
For immediate gratification, check out Des Rocs on Spotify. You can also hear his song “Let Me Live, Let Me Die,” on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina now streaming on Netflix.
For the sake of some perspective, and for self-shaming, I’m going to let you in on a little Behind The Scenes for this last question. Des, like so many of the artists we cover, let us in amidst the chaos of their pre-show. While we were winding up the interview, I moved to take a photo of he and Sam for posterity…and found that I hadn’t taken my camera off a 10 second timer. I got a great blurry photo of a table, but I wish I had a picture of my face as I stared at my settings as if I’ve never in my life held a camera in my hands. I’d like to take a moment to personally thank you, Des Rocs, for not walking away with two middle fingers flipped behind you in that very moment.
The dude is incendiary.
You can catch him later this summer opening for The Rolling Stones – July 23rd at Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia).
Follow along @iamdesrocs
Desert Island / Titanic
Bleeds: Do you have a preference? Desert Island where you can take three things with you OR Titanic, you’re playing the song as it goes down.
Des: (No Hesitation, literally none) Titanic. I would play Bright Eyes “First Day of My Life.” I think there’s some irony to that.
Bleeds: I would listen to that in a minute.
Des: While you die. Yeah. There’s a sense of irony there.
Bleeds: Thank you for taking the time.
Des: Thanks for taking the time for me.