But let's get this out of the way first: The Rosebuds kick ass. Period. End-stop. The trio's infectious debut on Merge Records, The Rosebuds Make Out, is more diverse than it's given credit for, and one of the lucky records that, without the benefit of any major radio or TV play, has steadily increased sales every month since its release in October 2003. The Raleigh-based band has been on the road a good portion of the year promoting the record with live shows -- gigs that have left a lot of jaws on a lot of floors. Word of mouth for this band has been crucial. But it all began in a small independent scene where nobody seemed to go to shows.
"Raleigh and Charlotte are a lot alike," says Kelly Crisp, the band's keyboard player and wife of singer/ songwriter/guitarist Ivan Howard. "We've got good bands and we have a good time, there's lots of good stuff going on but not a lot of venues and not a lot of people going out to see live music."
The lack of awareness occasionally reaches absurdist levels. During the CMJ showcase in New York City last year, a fan came up after The Rosebuds' set dying to know why he hadn't heard of the band and where they were from. He was a student at NC State.
Having now traveled all over the country (the band begins their initial West Coast swing in September) and experienced it with the band, Crisp feels she has a pretty good idea of how an independent "scene" gets started. She cites three key elements: people who want it, a place to get it (good record stores and venues), and an independent or college radio station. The band thing is often a given, she says. Having headlined for Pyramid and Bellglide at The Room in front of healthy crowds in both March and May, respectively, told Crisp something about Charlotte that she already knew about a lot of places.
"If you take those bands outside of Charlotte they could be from anywhere, from any scene, from New York, Brooklyn, Portland, Raleigh or Duluth, it's just at a level that surprises everyone," Crisp says. "When you have something that truly is creative and it sets itself apart, people respond to it. No telling how long it's going to take, but you definitely have something."
As for the commonly held notion that you must have a college in town to have a truly eclectic music scene, Crisp calls it an old wives' tale. While she sees UNCC as a vast resource to be tapped ("How many of them even know places like The Room exist?"), she sees in Charlotte (and Raleigh) the possibility of a scenario similar to Detroit's recent "discovery."
"There aren't tons of people walking down the streets on their way back to the dorms eating ice cream and going, "Hey, there's a live music show tonight, let's go in here,' " Crisp says in a sarcastic tone. "That never happens anywhere."
Instead, it took The White Stripes to shine a spotlight on an already vibrant independent Motor City music scene.
"All of a sudden Detroit has a music scene, whereas before they had a music scene but nobody knew about it yet," she says. "It's because there's a lot of great bands in Detroit, and they kind of band together and create the scene, and if you want to know what's going on that night you can't drive around town hoping to find it because everything looks the same -- desolate. But they've got something that was underground and they had a grass roots movement that said, "Hey, everybody, look at what we've got.' Everywhere has something."
Charlotte's main something may be its ever-expanding population.
"You might not have a lot of (indie music) venues, but what you really have in great strength is tons of potential," she says. "You just need that one band or special someone to put it all together, someone who's really excited about it and who can get behind it and really make things happen."
Looks like Raleigh's got a good candidate for that in The Rosebuds. They sense that Charlotte's close -- just one reason they enjoy visiting so much.
The Rosebuds bring their live show to The Room Friday. The Mersey Sound open, and the music begins at 10pm.