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Indie four-piece Rodan formed in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1992 and played their last note together in 1994. In that time the band's core, guitarists Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller and bassist Tara Jane O'Neil, plus a carousel of drummers—Jon Cook, Jon Weiss, and Kevin Coultas—recorded a lot of music but released only one well-received full-length. And though Rodan's seemingly premature close allowed its former members to continue their careers in such notable collectives as Retsin, Rachel's, June of 44, Shipping News, and The Sonora Pine, as well as solo efforts by both Mueller and O'Neil, not every story has a happy ending. Jason Noble died of cancer in 2012 at age 40, and original drummer Cook died earlier this year.
On June 11, some 19 years after Rodan played its last live note, Touch and Go/ Quarterstick Records will release Fifteen Quiet Years, a collection of rarities and live recordings. We talked about band music and memories via conference call with O'Neil in Los Angeles and Mueller in New Haven, Connecticut.
Rodan formed just over 20 years ago and split just less than 20 years ago, so where does the title Fifteen Quiet Years come from?
Jeff Mueller: Well, Rodan was on a tour in Britain in 1994, and we recorded a Peel Session, and Jason and I and Tara, we'd just been talking for years and years and years about trying to figure out a way to license those recordings and be able to release them in some capacity. Five years ago we started talking about it more seriously, and three years ago now we actually got licensing rights from the BBC to release the Peel Sessions. But I guess the short answer is just 15 years of basic silence between our last notes as a band and when we started rumbling about trying to release something else.
So, in a sense, you had a title for this from the first discussion of wanting to do it.
JM: That's exactly right. In all honesty, it would be more accurate to call it Eighteen Quiet Years, or Nineteen Quiet Years. But we just kept the Fifteen Quiet Years because it sounded better, I think.
Louisville, Kentucky, 1992. How do you all get together, and was there any goal other than "Let's get in a room and play and see what it sounds like"?
Tara Jane O'Neil: Well, Jeff and Jason and Greg King had this thing called King G and the J Crew. They became a rock band, they recruited me, and then Jeff, Jason and myself started playing with Jon Cook all day long, every day. And from where I was coming from it was just exciting to make stuff. We really clicked at that moment, musically. I always contend that a lot of great music came out of Louisville because there really wasn't anything else to do with all of our energy but sit in windowless rooms and make up songs together.
JM: King G and the J Crew was a rap band that Jason and I started in high school with Greg King, and Rodan almost was an extension of that, in a sense, because we were trying to migrate the sort of more studio-recording songs that really were never thought of as live music. We were trying to migrate those to being live songs, and what we found was that we kind of could take what we were doing on our own and turn it into something that would make sense if we had an actual drummer and an actual bass player. It was not being afraid to take a lot of chances, and be supportive of each other, and having music be what our entire community centered around at that point.
You've both had long careers since Rodan. What of that band carries over into your music today?
TJO: There's been a lot of music between then and now. I don't know. I think all along our kind of awesome quest, that sometimes was really intentional and other times just happened, but the quest to make these kind of elaborate architectures of music, songs, you know. I think some of that really carried over to my songwriting and arrangements. It's pretty hard for me to just, like, go simple, unless I'm doing sort of drone things. It's hard to say because it's all so rooted and it just feels almost like DNA or something.
JM: Tara and I have been talking a lot about things that we did playing with Rodan. It's a long way away from us at this point. We've changed a lot. Our direction musically has gone all over the place, but the core, the take-home thing for me from back then that I still have with me, is, as far as music is concerned, the artistry of making music. I don't think that there's really a code that we have to stand by as far as, like, structuring songs. I think what Rodan did were just explorations, allowing ourselves not to feel confined to any particular genre. I think the overarching theme to our history as musicians, certainly mine, is that I've never really felt confined to one particular musical style. I think Rodan afforded me that freedom to explore and feel confident that it was OK to play, like, a very quiet song next to a very loud song, or a ballad next to a totally crazy, 15-minute, strangely arranged, jankety rock song.