Night Phoenix Rises From the Roster's Ashes

The act taking the stage at Wooly's this week will, at first glance, look at lot Minneapolis-based electronic rock act Roster McCabe. But don't be fooled.

“As far as I'm concerened, Roster McCabe is the past,” said Night Phoenix (née  Roster McCabe) front man Alex Steele.

At first blush, the changes may seem purely cosmetic. But once again, don't be fooled.

“In essence (Night Phoenix) is us,” Steele explained. “It's all the knowledge that we've gained as Roster McCabe, but it was time for an evolution.”

The reasons for that evolution are many, ranging from the band's inner desire to grow and change, to their long-running frustration over the many endured Malapropisms of Roster McCabe.

“We've been called everything,” Steele said. “Rasta McCabe; Rooster McCabe; we've been called Rodger McCabe...One time I was standing outside the Yacht Club in Iowa City and this older couple was walking past the venue. The guy walks past the poster and he goes “Rooster McCabe? They can't even spell their own name right.” Son of a bitch!”

So when Drew Preiner left the band (“Roster McCabe” is actually a combination of Preiner's mother's and grandmother's maiden names), the band saw the chance to start fresh.

“When Drew left, it was a legacy that we didn't feel like carrying on,” Steele explained. “So Night Phoenix is our way of moving on into the future.”

And the band is moving into that future with a bolstered sense of confidence. For years, the band has steadfastly resisted being pigeonholed into an easily definable genre.

“We didn't know what to call it in the beginning because we didn't know what direction we wanted to go,” Steele said. “So we just started by playing everything.”

But nowadays the band approaches their sound with more clarity. The past year has been one of discovery as much as re-invention, and Steele feels like the band has finally found its stride, and is carving out their true identity.

It'll be strange for Roster McCabe fans to think of the band as just now finding its way. The Minnesota four-piece is best known for its relentless touring schedule and for an eclectic, reggae-infused sound that garnered the band a devoted following in the jam-band community.

“That's partially because when we first started touring, we were touring under the genre of “funky reggae dance rock”, which just screams “jam band”,” Steele said. “Now we have a theme that we've been developing over the past year that feel like us a lot more.”

That identity centers around having strong, danceable rhythms and an engaging pop sentimentality, but without giving in to the formulaic verse/chorus/verse drone of pure pop music.

“We've been thinking a lot more about that over the last year,” Steele admitted. “What's going to reach the most amount of people. There's sort of a pop sensibility to what we do. It's structured music with repeatable melodies. (But) it's not about finding that pop standard, so much as just being pleasing to people's ears.”

Night Phoenix's rise from Roster McCabe's ashes is going to be a slow one. For now, both names appear on all of the band's promotional materials, to better allow fans time to make the mental adjustment. Steele expects the transition to last most of the year. But he also concedes that it might never be total.

“It's sort of like a scarlet letter,” he said. “I don't know if we'll ever get rid of it. Shit, more people call me Roster than call me Alex.”

Originally appeared in Cityview February 19, 2014