Hearing tales of Lou Rogai’s day-job multi-tasking, I assumed he kept Stereofave Lewis & Clarke’s trance-folk hypnotic because it offered a meditative pause. Turns out, though, working as a house painter, landscaper, real-estate help-desk operator, label owner, and father fit together into a rather mellow life. In fact, the day I initially contacted the multi-instrumentalist, he was on his way out the door to go river swimming with his partner and their son near their home in the Delaware Water Gap. Me? Sweating a deadline in Brooklyn.
Keeping with the vibe of getting outdoors, you’ll find “Be The Air We Breath” and its “come outside” entreaty after our discussion. It’s the stirring final track from L&C’s sophomore full-length Blasts Of Holy Birth, released in mid May on Rogai’s “artist-based label cooperative,” La Société Expéditionnaire. Here, and elsewhere, he doesn’t go it alone: On “Be The Air” he’s joined by trapkit-toting Dave Ulrich, Dan McKinney on a Hammond B3, and regular collaborator, Man Man’s Russell Higbee, on harp, synth. (Elsewhere on Blasts, though not here, the Rachel’s Eve Miller usually lends some integral cello drone.)
STEREOGUM: You handle a number of part-time jobs. In the midst of all of that, does Lewis & Clarke end up feeling like another part-time gig?
LOU ROGAI: You would think so, but it has a reverence that is not job-like, and requires more effort. Rather than compartmentalize all of these life variables, it’s more like one big happening, with different areas that wash into each other. Everything becomes part of the other, a family affair. For example, Eve and Russell come up to practice and play with Julian while I finish up work or label-related things. Then Tim from Strand of Oaks comes and babysits — he’s a second grade teacher and has a really amazing bond with my son Julian. This gives us all a chance to take care of our things then we all have dinner and chill on the porch. This is how we all make it work, because everyone is working for each other and the music is an extension of the dialogue that occurs in daily life.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been painting houses?
LR: I started when I was eleven or twelve. I would go on jobs with my father and paint closets and fences, things that weren’t too disastrous to learn on. He was making it work — he was making art, teaching, and would paint in the summertime. Then in high school I worked for a man called Brian. He had some albums out on Atco Records in the early ’70s with the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, who never quite crested. We would be painting some barn while listening to the radio, and the new Metallica would come on, containing orchestral arrangements by his affluent ex-band mate Michael Kamen. It put things in perspective for all of us who were part of that crew.
STEROGUM: What’s the oddest color combo you’ve been asked to slather on someone’s house?
LR: In all these years, nothing has freaked my world in that respect. The names of colors are way more odd than the actual colors. Sometimes people choose a kitchen orange that is way too bright, almost painful, but they don’t want to pay more to have a subdued color mixed and applied, so they live with it and probably go nuts with their choice of “Floridian Blaze”.
STEREOGUM: When did you get into landscaping?
LR: This came later. I think I was 21 when I first worked with the 4 Seasons crew, then off and on a few years ago before my son was born. That’s how Russell and I got to know each other better — he was on the same crew, and we knew each other from around town and shows. Russell would bring his keyboard out on the jobs and play during breaks, the hard-asses and hillbillies thought he was nuts.
STEROGUM: What sort of landscaping are you doing?
LR: I haven’t put in any hours in with 4 Seasons recently, but it consists mostly of driving around the Poconos listening to The Who, telling stories, coffee breaks, frequenting diners, and sometimes you jump out of the truck and mow or weed, whip, spread mulch, dig, etc. Just hanging with everyone. My favorite was Millbrook Village, which is a working re-creation of a Shaker village in the State Park. Eric, our boss and company owner is the best, a recovered alcoholic who used to stash bottles at all of his jobs back in the day and ended up passing out on a mower and ran himself over. Luckily, all he lost were some toes and his heel, which they had to reconstruct from his arm. Picture a synthetic breast-style heel, know as the “Frankenheel” … it grows arm hair and is always squishing out of the side of Eric’s sandal … a disgusting but fascinating sight. Also, he will strike up a conversation with anyone, about anything. Working with 4 Seasons is by far the best kind of landscaping.
STEREOGUM: A friend’s father who does carpentry ended up building a spaceship, or something, on Wayne Coyne’s front yard. Have you had any sorts of projects like that? Pruning a bush into an elephant, or whatever?
LR: Nothing awesome like that, although we did try pulling an Edward Scissorhands on a few occasions. It’s an exercise to find the humor in the gaudy stuff. Like spreading sparkling white rocks in someone’s lawn because they are New Jersey transplants that don’t want to deal with grass. Let me know if Wayne needs a fresh coat of paint on his spaceship though, then we’ll talk…
STEREOGUM: Beyond the outdoors stuff, you also take customer support calls from real estate agents?
LR: Agents who need help navigating the system click on an icon to call a support line. There’s an image of a man wearing a headset and a suit at a cubicle desk. Surprise! It’s really me, for all anyone knows wearing roller skates, a sombrero, and nothing else. There are some interesting characters that call in. I like it, and I can be home with the family. The only thing is I have to keep lists, or otherwise I get distracted. I keep them on small scraps of paper, and in piles … like leaves.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a background in computers or were you trained on this particular program?
LR: No way, before this, I had a Commodore 64 with a floppy drive. My friend Justin owns the company and totally hooked me up when Julian was born. I felt strongly that we should be with our child as much as possible, even that it meant we would not have a double income or be able to afford a house. I made the choice to make less money, but be at home, where our hearts are, and to spend time creating things.
STEREOGUM: I like that all three of these jobs deal, in one way or another, with houses. Nice symmetry. Did one lead to another? You could almost become some all-in-one contractor.
LR: Painting, Landscaping, and tech support for real estate agents … man I need to write a song about this and really be all-inclusive. Coincidence, or fate…
STEREOGUM: There seems to be a strong connection to the natural world in Lewis & Clarke. Do you ever feel strange dealing with real estate and tree pruning?
LR: I am cool with it. I am not directly responsible for ravaging the earth, and I never use toxic chemicals on plants, and use the most eco-friendly paint application and disposal. If it were 40 years ago, I would be coal mining and working with lead paint and that would suck. But I thrive in natural environments, so I do my best to tread lightly.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of the outdoors, what’s the concept of the Blasts Of Holy Birth cover?
LR: Erika Somogyi is a beautiful human being. She was a roommate of Russell and coincidentally a cousin of a Pocono friend. I was quite impressed with her work and asked if she was keen on matching some work for album art, sent her the tracks and all. We kicked around a few ideas, and finally she said she had the perfect “earth womb”.
STEREOGUM: You also run La Société Expéditionnaire, the label that put it out. Can you explain a typical day in that world?
LR: As I mentioned before, It is all inclusive … wake, walk, coffee, emails, calls, more of the same … whatever needs to happen that day, it happens. We stay up all night in the studio and package things, silkscreen, always building. There are a lot of floating and interchangeable variables. Sometimes I forget to brush my teeth or get dressed, or we can just take a break and swim in the river or play music or take Julian to the park. Everyone is together.
STEREOGUM: Does it feel like a break from these other things?
LR: Not particularly, just more of the necessary tasks to make our lives as rich and fulfilling as possible…
STEREOGUM: Do you have a favorite La Société Expéditionnaire release?
LR: I’ll tell you after twenty-five more, but for sure the first release, the Strand of Oaks/Dragon Turtle split 7″. When I held it in my hands, I knew that our lives were not going to be the same. There were hurdles and differences in opinion that once everyone got through, we knew it could be done again.
STEREOGUM: You’re also married and, as you mentioned, a father. “Comfort Inn” reminds me of a sort nighttime lullaby: Two birds with one stone?
LR: Always … all birds with all stones. Adrienne and I are not married yet … we decided that Julian should be old enough to enjoy the ceremony. Aaron Ross penned that tune … that particular song got me through some rough times some years back. I always wanted to thank him for that, as well as share that song and his story. Aaron’s first child was born just around the same time as my son, so there was this kindred spirit. It’s a sad, but triumphant song about minding your graces.
STEREOGUM:Are you able to tour with all these other responsibilities?
LR: Yes, in small doses thanks to technology and a wonderful family and support system. Short and sweet is the motto until we get an Airstream for everyone.
STEREOGUM:Think you’ll eventually drop some of the jobs?
LR: I can cut back hours here and there, but even right now I’m painting the exterior of our house in exchange for rent since my landlady, Dotsie, does not accept records as currency. Although, she might, if I catch her on a good day. But it’s good to try and operate on the barter system as much as possible. Even for recording the album, I traded Dan McKinney hours painting his geodesic dome for his expert stereo mic techniques. That’s how La-Soc goes down, too. Derek from Solid PR gets dinner and chakra work in exchange for being awesome and believing. We all help each other out, trade and support.
STEREOGUM:Can you imagine Lewis & Clarke and the label as distinct, bill-paying full-time gigs?
LR: For sure, it is already a full time effort, it just has to realize itself. It has to be a natural growth, you know? No steroids, no hormones. Things are growing just as they should, and all of us involved are enjoying the process and each other. We are here to save music, and to help each other save ourselves with music, and all of the wonder that surrounds us.
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