Whether or not Noel Rochford considers himself an influential part of the ska scene, the 22-year-old artist and his ska-fusion band UNRB are representative of the genre’s expanding sonic boundaries.
The inherent skankiness is ever-present despite a sound that delves into punk, reggae, funk, New Wave, jazz, Latin music, prog rock and even polka and classical music realms. Rochford’s theater background comes out in charmingly precise vocal stylings — one part circus barker, one part Frank Sinatra — and in his self-assured showmanship on uke.
Rochford picked up ukulele several years ago on a week-long trip to Hawaii, after his hosts gave him a starter ukulele as a birthday present. “I think I got it on the third day of vacation, and I didn’t do anything else.” He’d picked up euphonium in high school band and at the time was trying out new instruments to replace it. It was the uke that stuck and electric ukulele was where he ended up. “There’s something about it… I’ve never nailed down a reason. It’s fun, it sounds good, it makes me smile when I play it.”
Bassist friend Nic Giordano was the first to hop aboard when Rochford decided to form a band. They met drummer Eric Lair at SPC, and each member of the four-piece horn section — trumpeter Ben Datin, trombone player Andy Pilcher, Dan Smith on tenor sax and Matt Weihmuller on baritone sax — was scouted out via Craigslist. All of the musicians’ varied backgrounds, paired with the unorthodox instrumentation, amount to UNRB’s sound, which Rochford sums up nicely: “I’ve got the musical theater voice, and the electric ukulele — I love odd instruments, the weirder it looks the more I like it. Nic started off on punk rock electric bass but now he’s going to school for upright, so you hear both influences. Eric loves Avenged Sevenfold on the drums so he’s got these crazy beats, but he mellowed out and started listening to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers and funk, specifically James Brown stuff, so he’s got that power but he reins it in with the right amount of groove. And the horn players, they all come from either marching band or jazz band or concert band, so they know how to play well as an ensemble and get that good tone production and play the horns as a unit. But they’ve also been in ska bands and know how to rip solos.”
A CD release show this past May for thoughtfully droll debut full-length Inform the Masses drew upwards of 300 people to State Theatre on a Saturday night. Not bad for a two-year-old band, though Rochford is humble about it. “A lot of what UNRB has done, is because of the positive atmosphere that other people have helped instill. I wouldn’t be this way if it wasn’t for them, and now I’m trying to help give it back. That’s how the ska scene works. It’s this never-ending cycle of positivity.”
Great write up. I was just talking to friends about this yesterday.
I was surprised when he didn't have the band, but once he got going I…
Love that he covered "Love Vigilantes." Wish I had gotten to see that.
i'm a pretty recent fan, but in the short amount of time that i have…