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Raising the Roof Rabbit

Locals Roof Rabbit describes itself as combining “aspects of punk, blue grass and indie to create a new style of music with a sound that instigates a foot-stomping, hand-clapping dance craze, often associated with fit’s of hollerin’.”

They play with Muscle Shoal’s Lauderdale at this Saturday’s victory party at The Independent, 203 Opelika Rd., Auburn, AL.

Roof Rabbit. Basement of Debardeleben, 2006. Photos by Keith Krome.

When I first met Roof Rabbit’s chief banjo-man, Jason McGee, we lived in an Auburn that was home to a thriving underground music scene … unfortunately we were hardly old enough to relish in all its glory.

Jason was 16, I was 15, and if I can remember a decade and a half back, we met in one of the few ways weird kids could back then — either drama club or band, maybe even both. I was taken aback by this tall fella with bushy hair, most likely because we had the same winter outerwear and worn-down JNCO corduroy pants. Jason was a damn fine drummer who was new to the scene; I think he was from California.

I’d be a liar if I didn’t point out that I was smitten with Jason, his love of They Might Be Giants and that hilariously tiny station wagon he drove at the time. Somewhere in the throes of that one-sided high school romance and many a night spent at Hickory Lane Park (pre Hickory Dickory, mind you), I introduced Jason to one of my best friends, and the rest of that story is reserved for high school reunions and holiday reminiscing.

Around the same time (plus or minus a year), I met Matt Forehand, known now as Roof Rabbit’s mandolin-er and harmonizer. I remember the first time I met Matt. I’d been bumming around in Casey Prestwood’s (formerly of Hot-Rod Circuit) mom’s basement over off of East University Drive (pre-Super Wal-Mart and South College explosion) and somehow Casey managed to get his project Stealing Mikey on the bill with Beauregard mainstays Spackle (which featured Forehand, Jim Tankersley and Andie Nixon) at a last-minute gig at Lil’ Irelands. Surely you remember that spot on Magnolia Avenue: It was conveniently located next to Kinko’s, and supposedly it was THE PLACE to go get your drink on between classes. Unfortunately we were all far too young to know of such things, but somehow these kids, none of them over 17, managed to land a gig there on a Saturday night.

It was an ordeal. I remember someone’s drums falling out of a truck in Casey’s mom’s cul-de-sac. I think it took us 45 minutes to make it out to the main road. This was Auburn, people, it shouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes. When we finally showed up downtown, somehow we convinced the door guy to “X” our hands and let us in (oh, the ABC Board would have loved that one), and we assumed we were all set. After some time, one of the guys (I can’t remember who) came bearing the bad news: Nobody was playing. It was some kind of snafu; the kind only a bunch of high school kids finds themselves betwixt.

For this next part, I really hope I remember is correctly, because it is one of my first memories of Matt Forehand. Forced out onto the (hardly) mean streets of Auburn, this ragtag group of under-18ers was forced to find something else to do. And the only thing Matt could think to do was let out a guttural, angsty growl as he hurled a cymbal atop the Kinko’s roof. I like to think that it is still there.

After Spackle, Matt and Jim Tankersley went on to form inthealtogether, which, for lack of a better term, was just plain ol’ artsy. I broke out their album not all that long ago, and while it doesn’t exactly stand the annals of time, there is an entire track devoted to brushing teeth. Nobody ever said these kids were anti-oral hygiene. (I think Jim went on to work on a performance art piece called “My Teeth are Killing Me” but don’t quote me on that because things got hazy around the beginning of the millennium.)

Matt and Jason both graduated high school in 1997. Jason opted to stick around Auburn, while Matt matriculated at the University of Montevallo (and later College of Charleston). With Matt out of the picture, Jason began working with Jim in a mutated form of inthealtogether. I recall vividly Jim and Jason slaving away to pad the walls of Jim’s one-bedroom apartment to keep their neighbor (who we used to call “Good Deal”) from angrily pounding the walls in response to Jason’s drumming.

It was also during this time that several of us non-musical types banded together to form MonkeyFist, an art-rock outfit whose songs only centered on the sample tracks produced by Casio keyboards. Those tapes are now officially lost, so if you have them, please hook us up.

from left to right: Matt Forehand, Jason McGee, and Michael Grossman.

Toward the end of 1998, Matt returned to Auburn and slipped me a copy of some 4-track recordings he made under the name moniker “Nub.” These recordings, friends, were genius. Many nights were spent in that padded apartment (lovingly called “Lester”) listening to Murfreesboro, Tenn., badass Matt Mahaffrey’s project SELF. By this time, Jason had moved into an apartment across the parking lot, and on one of these evenings, Matt, being one of the most lovable goofy guys you’ve (hopefully) met, accidentally nailed Jim in the mouth with a pocket knife, effectively chipping Jim’s front tooth. I don’t think he ever got it fixed. Anyway, Matt’s Nub tape was gold, y’all. It showed us that the kid meant business.

Now joined with a merry band of locals (Phil McGlynn on fiddle, Brian McLeod on drums and Mikey Grossman on bass), Matt and Jason continue to leave a mark on Auburn’s music scene with Roof Rabbit. Naturally, there is much more to their stories (and that of Auburn’s old and new school music scene), but in the meantime, get acquainted with the more seasoned and mature good-time tunes these fellas are cranking out. What a difference a decade makes, no? So head to Auburn’s home opener, make your daddy proud with a bottle of Maker’s or Jack, delight in the visceral feast of gameday, then head over to The Independent for a raucous good time with my old (and your new) friends, Roof Rabbit.

After 20 some odd years, Sally Tee finally joined the ranks of Auburn expatriates. Although displaced in the Midwest, she still thinks about Jordan-Hare, Auburn city politics, 99.9 Kate-FM and Tino’s on a daily basis. Write to her at SallyTee.Auburn@gmail.com.

About Sally Tee

After 20 some odd years, Sally Tee finally joined the ranks of Auburn expatriates. Although displaced in the Midwest, she still thinks about Jordan-Hare, Auburn city politics, 99.9 Kate-FM and Tino’s on a daily basis.

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