Tracy Morgan Freeman isn’t the kind of band that wastes time. They don’t waste hooks. And they don’t waste chemistry when they know they’ve found it.
Will Hooper, Tim Czajka, and Steve Crobar were at the height of a short-lived success when The Royaltons disbanded after the release of their 2011 debut. Euro-influenced and roughed up with ever the Cleveland under-produced, garage-rock character, The Royaltons had spent 2010 and early 2011 as radio regulars, landing spots opening for rising acts like Phantogram and Crash Kings. A conflict of interests between the band’s lead vocalist and songwriter led to The Royalton’s untimely demise and the regrouping of the three original members with new bassist Kevin Timm as Tracy Morgan Freeman. It also led to one of the best songs to come out of Cleveland this summer.
In less than a year, Tracy Morgan Freeman penned the entire Casual Encounters debut EP, including “Falling Out”, the stand-out track documenting The Royalton’s break-up. Channeling the too-often-unappreciated infectious charisma and unselfconscious spirited punk of The Hold Steady and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, the Casual Encounters EP unveils a long overdue spotlight on Freeman’s talent as songwriters. “We played as [The Royaltons] for two years and we had no input on the songs; it was easy that way,” says Hooper. “All of a sudden we had to fill up a set’s worth of material. We collaborated and it just came together pretty fast.” If there’s a youthfulness to the energy of their debut, it could be contributed to their newfound tenacity or it could be contributed to being comprised of four members under a quarter-century old, a rarity for bands with the tight sounds and big hooks of Freeman.
Tracy Morgan Freeman’s Causal Encounters EP debuts this week (August 14) and lead vocalist Will Hooper and guitarist Tim Czajka talked to us about coming into their own as songwriters, playing out as a new band, and recording their debut EP.
The three of you – Will, Tim and Steve — had been playing together for awhile when you moved from The Royaltons to forming Tracy Morgan Freeman. How did you know you wanted to stay together as a band? And that you wanted to stay in Cleveland?
Will Hooper: We’re all from Cleveland, we were born and raised here. There’s nobody else that I’d rather play music with.
Tim Czajka: There was just a really good chemistry with us that we just eventually came back together.
With all the writing you’ve been doing over the past year, do you still have a chance to check out shows as much as you’d like?
W: I live right by Now That’s Class, so I try to go there a lot. There’s a really good scene going on right now within Cleveland. There are a lot of great local bands and cool clubs to play and a lot of kids who really want to see live music and I think it’s a really good time.
T: I agree, and it’s starting to pick back up. Because before it seemed like the majority of the music was the metal scene — it seemed like that was overtaking everything. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But now there are a lot of bands like us, and bands like The Modern Electric, bands like The Lighthouse and the Whaler, are changing that scene a little bit. And I think that’s for the better.
In your first time songwriting together as a band, what have been your main influences over the past year?
W: We all have really different influences between the four of us. It’s hard to say but when you’re in a band you all put your influences together and make your own sound. I like a lot of ‘90s music, ‘60s music, The Beatles and British music.
T: For recent influences, I listen to a lot of bands like Cold War Kids. But I also grew up on music like Steely Dan.
Your first single, “Over the Line”, has this one line: “Everybody takes their time, everybody walks the line”. Was there anything in particular that inspired that song?
W: I kind of took that from Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line”. I thought that was a really cool line and a really strong lyric. It’s more of something anyone can relate to – you’re feeling down and you don’t know why. But that line was a nod to Cash.
You’ve been recording at Bad Racket this time around. That’s a great place and a really talented group of guys. How was the experience?
W: It can be a daunting task to have a whole bunch of songs you’ve written and you feel passionately about. And you have to make them translate onto a recording and sometimes it doesn’t come out right. But this time it was just amazing. Just sort of a magic, it really clicked with us.
T: James and Tom are just great to work with. James was really helpful especially with the mixing, those guys just made it so much easier than past experiences that I’ve had and I know the other guys have had. It’s just a very comfortable environment.
Even back in February when the band was pretty new you started playing shows — Now That’s Class, Grog Shop, Happy Dog, opening for The Young and The Ketamines. What’s it been like playing out as a new band?
W: We kind of know how each other play but it’s all new songs and just a whole different vibe with me being the singer. It’s a different way to approach it. But it’s been a lot of fun and there’s nothing better than playing a live show. It’s the best feeling in the world.
What are you most excited about in the band’s future?
W: It’s just a great time. Sometimes people might think badly about Cleveland but there’s a great scene going on and awesome bands people should check out. And it’s great to be a part of that.
Give ‘em a listen:
Tracy Morgan Freeman is: