TUCKER ROUNTREE, THE lanky lead singer and guitarist of Total Slacker, a young lo-fi Brooklyn trio, describes his band’s fuzzed-out melodies in terms of the lazy, hazy vibe in which they were conceived.
“It’s like hanging out on a sunny day in the park. You’ve got some guitars and friends and some 40s, definitely, or a joint. A joint would be nice,” Rountree explains as the three band members sit in a Bed-Stuy pub. “And then that’s what happened.”
By “that,” he means Total Slacker’s languid, hallucinogenic pop, music that’s soaked in echoing distortion and sarcasm. But the group’s dynamic is far more complex and animated than his lackadaisical depiction, though it’s clear the three don’t shy away from any psychedelic predilections. Rountree’s early mentor was Eric Johnson, a Grammy-award-winning guitarist, and bassist Emily Oppenheimer is a classically trained pianist and guitarist. So don’t let the band’s unambitious name fool you. They have their first 7-inch record, Crystal Necklace, coming out on Impose Records in June, and a whole album’s worth of music written—Total Slacker is just waiting for the right label to come along.
Total Slacker emerged last summer through a series of fortuitous meetings that at times sounds like the script for an indie movie. Both Rountree and Oppenheimer used to live near the Bedford L stop (now they’re cohabitating in Bed-Stuy) and after meeting at a Laundromat, where Rountree noticed Oppenheimer reading a book about the Trail of Tears, they began listening to old Breeders and Weezer records and crafting songs together.
“We started writing them just as jokes, because we both wrote music on our own anyway,” Oppenheimer says. “But then we decided we really liked the songs, and we were like, ‘Let’s try these out with a drummer, just for fun.’” Then they went through a very long phase of trying to find just the right person for the job.
“We tried, like, five or six different drummers. And we compare them to onenight stands, because,” Rountree explains as Oppenheimer laughs, “each one was like, ‘Well, we have to try ’em to see.’ But then it got really gross, and then it was like, ‘I’m not going to call him back again.’” Then, one fateful day last summer, Oppenheimer saw Ross Condon, with whom she went to high school in Santa Fe, N.M, across the room at the Williamsburg venue Monster Island. Oppenheimer was too nervous to approach him when she recognized him. But Rountree, of course, was not. “I walked over to him and said, ‘Yo, dude, you went to high school with my girlfriend. This is so cool,’” Rountree says. “And our second question was, ‘Don’t you, like, play music?’” Condon, despite having played drums casually with friends, said he didn’t play, really. But Rountree and Oppenheimer would not be deterred.
“We were like, ‘Do you wanna learn?’” Oppenheimer says.
“‘Because we’ve totally got the songs.’ And we also had three shows lined up,” Rountree adds. “It was like, ‘We’ve got these silly songs and we fucking just love havin’ a good time.’ And I think part of that turned Ross on.”
And once Condon joined the fold, his love of meditative electronic and psychedelic music from Krautrock to Studio One dub began to stretch the structure of Rountree and Oppenheimer’s once-concise pop songs.
“I think all of our songs got five minutes longer when he started playing with us,” Oppenheimer says.
“I used to joke that I turned them into a jam band,” Condon adds.
And though Rountree, because of his tall, lean frame, floppy hair and penchant for extended guitar meanderings, has drawn comparisons to Thurston Moore, he finds more in common musically with early ’90s indie pioneers like the Pixies and Nirvana, and the lo-fi noise punk of contemporaries Wavves and Thee Oh Sees. He also says the ’70s punk of The Stooges and The Ramones are influences—if they were slowed down to a lethargic pace. Rountree references a scene from the Richard Linklater film, Slacker, as a perfect exemplar of the band’s sarcastic lyrical approach.
“There’s this acoustic guitar player on the sidewalk… and the guitar player’s like, ‘She wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole. Well, maybe it was a 5-foot pole… It was a 1-foot pole. She wouldn’t touch him with a 1-foot pole,’” Rountree says. “And I was like ‘What the fuck?’ But it was so beautiful and perfect.”
>>TOTAL SLACKER May 22, Shea Stadium, 20 Meadow St. (betw. Waterbury & Bogart Sts.), Brooklyn, no phone; 8, $TBA.