ROOKIE Speaks On Their Debut LP And Touring With Cheap Trick

Photo courtesy of Alec Basse, Bloodshot Records.

Listening to ROOKIE’s new self-titled debut album, which is now available on all platforms, is like sneaking a look through your dad’s old vinyl collection on a Sunday evening after he’s fallen asleep on the couch watching Back to the Future, and I mean that in the best possible way. The Chicago-based rock group’s songs sound refreshingly new and original while simultaneously feeling like they would be right at home lovingly tucked in between a couple of Bob Seger and Allman Brothers records.

Max Loebman, guitarist and vocalist for ROOKIE, explains that mutual love for the classics helped to bring the group together. “It started out as two or three bands that had shared members, and we would stick around after practice, just a few of the guys, and hang out on James Gang songs and Chicago. Which lead us to going ‘wait, why don’t we just have one band?’”

Loebman was speaking from inside the cramped Rookie tour van as it drove through rural Indiana. I could picture Loebman, drummer and vocalist Joe Bodenaro, guitarist and vocalist Christopher Devlin, guitarist Dimitri Panoutsos, bassist Kevin Decker and keyboard man Justin Bell cramoped together inside the van with all of their gear like one big rock n’ roll burrito. “We’re blasting Zeppelin,” said Loebman.

Recorded over the course of roughly a year both at home and at Chicago’s Treehouse Records, ROOKIE’s debut album is a sonic menagerie of roots, Americana and classic, power chord drive rock. The vibrant, all hands on deck chorus of the second track “I Can’t Have You But I Want You” is an immediate highlight. “One Way Ticket” and “Sunglasses” sound like they were personally crafted by the gods of Trans-Am highway cruising songs, and the folksy “Elementary Blues” is an excellent acoustic detour.

“We all write and collaborate,” said Loebman. “For some of the songs on the record Joe would write the tune and have the full idea fleshed out and we’d all learn the parts and put our own spin on them. Other songs, in particular ‘One Way Ticket,’ I had the shell of it and brought it to the band, and everyone kind of worked together to build it into what it became.”

After a couple years of playing shows predominantly in Chicagoland and the wider midwest, ROOKIE landed a gig supporting classic rock legends and fellow Illinois natives Cheap Trick for eight shows on the east coast leg of their early 2020 tour.

After a couple years of playing shows predominantly in Chicagoland and the wider midwest, ROOKIE landed a gig supporting classic rock legends and fellow Illinois natives Cheap Trick for eight shows on the east coast leg of their early 2020 tour.

“We caught word of it a little ways back and it fell through for a different tour with them. So I was kind of in the mindset of expecting it never to happen. And then maybe a couple weeks before it was like ‘it might be a possibility for next month’ and then, you know, a couple days later it’s like ‘it’s happening’ we were all like ‘f*** yeah.’”

Cheap Trick’s pop-rock anthems had been an enormous influence on ROOKIE’s sound. Loebman said that the whole ordeal didn’t really register for the band until they were on stage with a wisecracking Rick Nielsen during the first soundcheck.

“He asked us ‘where are you guys from?’ and we said ‘Chicago’ and he said ‘you don’t look like it’ and then he shredded his guitar,” said Loebman.

While the packed theaters and tight schedules of the tour were a large adjustment from the small clubs and DIY venues of the Chicago scene, Loebman explained that the support from both the crowd and Cheap Trick themselves made the whole thing worth it.

“It was really an honor, those were some of the biggest rooms we’ve played,” said Loebman. “They were really kind to us.”

Like many other bands, many of ROOKIE’s upcoming tour plans were scuttled by the COVID-19 outbreak. In lieu of an album release show, which was also rescheduled for September, ROOKIE streamed two short live-stream sets through their Facebook page. The first featured the full band, while the second was an acoustic session with Loebman and Bodenaro. Even without an audience, ROOKIE still kept their signature spirits high and played as if they were at Wembley.

“Looks like we got some viewage,” said Loebman at the beginning of the second stream. “Shall we?” said Bodenaro.

ROOKIE’s self-titled debut album is available for streaming now on all platforms!

Originally published 3/26/2020 on UIC Radio.