How Six College Friends Became an Indie-Soul Band

The Rooks (left to right) at the band's first acoustic show at  Brooklyn's 61 Local : Connor Schultze (Bass), Garth Taylor (Lead Vocals), Graham Richman (Guitar), Spencer Hattendorf (Saxophone). 

The Rooks (left to right) at the band's first acoustic show at Brooklyn's 61 Local: Connor Schultze (Bass), Garth Taylor (Lead Vocals), Graham Richman (Guitar), Spencer Hattendorf (Saxophone). 

Everyone has an idea for a passion project that they want to bring into the world. Whether the idea is for the next great American novel or the next great Instagram clothing boutique, a lack of action is usually what prevents dreamers from becoming doers. I caught up with Garth Taylor, lead singer of The Rooks (and, my birthday twin since middle school), at the Brooklyn, NY stop of their 2016 Summer Tour  to learn how he and five college friends acted on an idea to become a full-fledged band of (Indie-soul) brothers. 

The original six members of The Rooks met while attending Wesleyan University. Many of us had performed in other on-campus live music projects, and by 2010, we were performing in a 13-piece, motown-funk band called Mad Wow. In the fall of 2011 we formed The Rooks as a six piece lineup of keys, sax, guitar, drums, bass and lead vocals. Since we each had a fairly long history of performing together, the prospect of a new group wasn't surprising or unrealistic. However, The Rooks, at it's onset, was created as a vehicle for us to enter the professional music industry after graduation– a concept that was certainly more of a risk, considering the general pressure for job security every college grad feels. Spencer (Sax/Vocals) is the one who initially approached me about the idea of making a real effort to have the group be our bread and butter. I was skeptical at first, but just young and energized enough to feel like it was now or never. Shortly thereafter, we met as a group in the spring of 2011 to set those plans in stone and brainstorm what our two-year game plan would be. By the summer of 2012 we were all (more or less) living in New York City and on our way to performing as consistently as possible. Since then, three of the original members have moved on to other exciting life projects, but not without laying very serious groundwork for our live show, and recorded material. As of 2015, the core of the group remains Spencer, Graham and myself, and we've had the great fortune of bringing many talented new players on the road with us for our show schedule!

Everyone certainly had their own instruments, but Rooks members do have a habit of always swapping out gear, buying new pedals, keys, bells, whistles, etc. Many of us can spend hours in a music store (we actually did, while we were on tour this summer, shout out to Sweetwater in Fort Wayne, IN for the amazing tour, Instagram videos coming soon!) in May of 2011, members of the group met at Spencer's home in Massachusetts to begin writing material for the group. I wasn't able to attend because, at the time, I was the business manager and performer for a Martha's Vineyard-based a cappella group called the Vineyard Sound, of which Spencer was also a member. I had to get the house set up, and business in order so I missed the initial meet up. Spencer brought live recordings of some of the song ideas, and we worked away at them a bit during that summer. The band didn't first get into a rehearsal until September 3, 2011. And I believe we had our first gig at a frat on campus, Psi U, (of which Graham is a proud alum) on 11/11/11. By then we were able to put together about six original songs, and some covers as well. Wesleyan has a very supportive live-music culture so we were able to have a warm official welcome. I think if you look deep enough on our Youtube page you can find videos from that first show. After that point, we worked towards recording some studio material with our buddy and sound engineer, Jared Paul, put some content up on Youtube, recorded some acoustic videos and just tried to get the word out on campus and build some semblance of a social media presence. 

One of our strengths has always been our business mindedness.
— Garth Taylor

Folks, the hustle ain't easy. Of course you sacrifice, time, sleep, energy, and personal space when you enter into the kind of band we have. Just surviving in NYC as a single person feels like it takes those things. But along the way people missed family events, birthdays, time with significant others, actual relationships with significant others, and at some points, we sacrificed the actual relationships with each other. One of our strengths has always been our business mindedness, but at times that can get in the way of relationship with each other as people, it's a delicate but very important balance to maintain. As we've gotten older and more mature musically and emotionally, I feel like we've progressed in all of these areas. 

When we first started out we all worked full time jobs, and made our show schedule work with six different job expectations. Within the past two years we've shifted from that model as more people stopped working full-time in favor of having more creative time with the group. So in that sense, you forfeit health insurance, paid time off, and steady paycheck. That said, we try to take time to appreciate a lot of the success we've been able to enjoy as we work towards becoming more full-time. Some of which are still pending, so stay tuned!

I think the group is open to defining and redefining that term as we continue to grow. Of course you want to have a successful album, or a great music video that people love – but that marker is more indicate of "fame." Ultimately, I believe that success for us is still in line with the original intent of the group – to be a financially sustainable group and share our music with as many people who will listen. We just got home from a three week tour through the northeast, midwest and south, which was the longest run of shows we've ever done. That in itself was incredibly validating, but even more so were the new friends we made. These were complete strangers who had made it to the show because of a friend of a friend, or because they came for another band or because Spotify told them to. When the audience member leaves the show satisfied, and you've given it your all, that's success to me. But I mean, we do have bills to pay so get your Rooks swag online at