By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious
Roger Sellers is no stranger to reinvention.
The native Texan has been writing and playing a broad repertoire of songs for the last few years – from acoustic folk to minimalist electronica (and everything in between). But in the process of constantly pushing for new sounds and musical ideas, Sellers recognized a need to split his onstage persona in two. There is Roger Sellers, an affable indie-folk musician; and there is Bayonne, a one-man perpetual motion machine, layering beats and samples over each other to create dense, warm soundscapes that straddle natural and artificial sounds.
Earlier this decade, Sellers relocated to Austin, where he’s found the music and art scene to be much more fertile ground.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really go to downtown Houston to hang very much,” Sellers tells me. “I was a little bit outside in Spring, Texas, which is about 40 minutes from downtown.”
“Straight up suburb city out there,” he adds, with a hearty laugh.
While it seems that Sellers really found his stride once he left for college in San Marcos, Spring is still the epicenter of Sellers’ artistic reboot: He keeps recording gear in his childhood home, and his deep affection for the sleepy Houston suburb is reflected in his new moniker. Bayonne Drive is where he grew up.
“It was a lot of rock and sort of screamo type stuff back in the early 2000s,” Sellers reminisces, almost wistfully. “It wasn’t huge headlining bands but it was local to the area more than anything, and there was this one place, Java Jazz, that felt like the only music venue in a 40-mile radius.”
As he prepares for his first national tour – in advance of a forthcoming Mom + Pop Debut – it is only fitting that Sellers takes a little piece of home with him, even as he remakes himself once again.
When did you really get your first forays into going to many shows and exploring music? Were you going to shows and wanting to perform, or were you performing and then interested in seeing live shows?
I started performing in San Marcos, really. I mean, I was playing talent shows in high school, and shit like that, but I wasn’t playing many shows. It all started in college, to be honest. Music was something I was always doing, and performance came afterwards, mainly. I’ve always wanted to perform, even from when I was a kid, and I loved recording and putting on shows for my parents, but legitimate performing started in college.
You originally released Primitives under your own name in September 2014 and then pulled it, after deciding to release all of your electronic/minimalist material under “Bayonne.” What inspired this series of events?
Well, the main change is something I’ve wanted to do for a while – to have a separation between my electronic, minimalist stuff, and some of my older material, which is a little more folky, more indie-type, I guess. It’s more accessible pop music, really.
I was playing a lot of folk sets and electronic sets, and it was generally confusing people as it was all under one name. They didn’t know what they were going to go see. So, it’s good to have a distinction. Bayonne is the street I grew up on in Spring, and my parents still live there – in fact, I still visit often, to record. So, it still felt like me, and it felt authentic, and I wasn’t doing it for any wrong reasons. It still feels like home, and I also just really like the word. [Laughs]
I’m re-releasing that record because I felt like it didn’t touch enough on what it needed to. I spent a lot of time on it, and the first run of it was completely local. I’ve been developing my team since, and I didn’t really have anybody at that point, until Mom + Pop came along. They gave me some help to actually have it distributed. We thought it would be a good idea to take it down, and kind of act like it never happened, and now show the world what I can do, rather than just showing Austin. [Laughs] At least that’s the plan.
Does this re-release feature any new material or re-workings of songs? Did you consider changing anything, with the benefit of an additional 16 months since putting the album out into the world?
Well, the record is the same, but I am adding two or three new tracks to it – bonus tracks of sort. All the songs transition into each other, so you can tell where that’s going to happen. It’s noticeable that they’re separate from the record. And I think it’s only going to be digitally, or on CDs – not on the vinyl version. And it’s new artwork and new everything. They’ve kind of rebranded it, and I’m treating it as “intro to Bayonne.” [Laughs] An introduction – that’s what it feels like.
There is an inherent duality when putting out music under your real name and also under a stage name. Do you approach composing electronic music and folk-based music differently? You’ve created two public identities – does that separation extend to your process and mindset?
Yeah, I definitely think there are similar elements that influence both of them. In terms of process, Bayonne is based on loops – I use my looper throughout, always keeping in mind the live-performance aspect of it. There’s kind of a bit of an equation to Bayonne.
Whenever I’m working on my folk stuff, it has the same feeling, kind of. They both come from the same place, but there’s a slightly different approach. It’s not based on looping as much, but rather looks to pop music and traditional song structure – there’s more of a verse-chorus situation, instead of loops and then building, and then scaling down. In terms of structure, there’s definitely a difference, but it all feels like the same thing. It all comes from the same dude.
You are releasing this album through Mom + Pop Records, but are still listed on the Punctum Records site under your own name. Do you feel more pressure – internal or external – working with a bigger label?
I guess there’s a little bit more pressure because there are more people involved and more to deliver to. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t get in the way. In fact, I feel like it helps – I tend to work better under pressure in most situations. If there’s a deadline, or a lot to do, I tend to work more efficiently. So, yeah. Yes and no. [Laughs] Not to give you a straight answer there. There’s a lot of pressure, but the pressure helps.
Does it matter who releases your music?
Yeah, definitely! I want to work with people that I trust, people that I like, and that I can see as both friends and business partners. Even working with Punctum was great, and they are still good friends of mine. It just got to a point where there was a bigger opportunity on the table, and they’ve been really cool about it. Mom + Pop has been really helpful.
In the past, you’ve performed solo live – with accompaniment from visual artist Topher Sipes. Do you plan on continuing to perform in this same arrangement or are you looking to bring in other people for the tour?
You know, we worked together for about 4 years, and I talked to him relatively recently. It feels like with this brand change, it might be a good idea to try something new. I can’t speak for Topher professionally, but I know he’s been experimenting with other mediums beyond just projections, so I’ve been working with a couple of other people. I’ve been playing some local live shows in Austin with this guy named Kendall, and it’s much different. It’s impossible to tell if Topher and I will keep doing that, but for right now, we’re on hiatus, I suppose.
You spent your formative years living in Texas, and still live there today. Is there anything about the Texas music scene, broadly, that has influenced you, or are you more of a child of the Internet in your sounds?
Texas music has never really been my favorite thing. I grew up with Clapton and that kind of bluesy stuff, which inspired me to become a musician, but I’m not into usually really into that kind of music anymore.
So, no UGK for you?
[Laughs] No, no. I think a lot of the music that has inspired me is more popular in the North East, and a lot of the places I’m going [on tour]. A lot of Animal Collective, and other strange kinds of music. More unconventional type things. What this band represents has come from other places.
There’s a great music scene here, with a lot of talented people and a lot of openness, as well. And I feel like that’s helpful, as there aren’t a lot of people doing what I’m doing down here, and that’s great, in a way. I don’t want to be in a place where everyone’s doing the same thing or something similar. It helps to stand out, I guess, down here.
Where are you going on tour? Where are you excited to play?
Just the East Coast, and a few stops in the Midwest. It’s not a very long tour, but I’ll be going to a few places I’ve never been to before. It’s like two, two-and-a-half weeks, and I’m really looking forward to it. Going to Philly, Boston, a couple places in North Carolina. I play New York, too, though I play there pretty often. I’ll be playing DC for the first time as well, which I’m pretty excited about.
One thing that made me a little worried is the weather up there. I know it’s been kind of shitty recently, and I’ve never driven in those kinds of conditions before, in January, I guess. I’m sure everything will be fine. [Laughs]
If you had the opportunity to open for yourself – Bayonne playing on the same bill as Roger Sellers – would you do it, and who would play first?
I have done it – a couple of times, actually! It would always be acoustic first, and then electronic, so Bayonne would be headlining it, I guess. [Laughs] Every time I’m done with that performance I’m so tired that there’s no way I could pick up a little banjo or guitar after exhausting myself that way. It wouldn’t feel right.