[intro-text size=”25px”]A game of cat and mouse with Cleveland’s most mysterious musicians[/intro-text]
It was mid-June, hot, and muggy enough for a sweat T-shirt contest, and I’m poking around social media for any info I can get about Go Roger, an eclectic, secretive Cleveland band that caught my interest with their positively ill new music video for “Skillet,” a retro hip-hop Cleveland anthem. According to the video details, it’s the first single off of Go Roger’s first release, a double EP, pussEPeace.
Initially, I suspected that Go Roger is a reformation of an old local band called Kill Roger, known for subversive themes and frenzied live shows. After scouring the internet, the only connection between the two bands and mention of pussEPeace was sourced to another local publication’s recent article. It was an interview with a spokesman for Go Roger named “Go, aka No One Body” who spoke of a vague “movement” among other musical aspirations.
It sounded batshit crazy. My interest was piqued when I analyzed the article’s only image—a photo of the band. A yin-yang of opposing men, hands open as if eagerly awaiting communion, are being touted as the faces of Go Roger. Every inkling of my intuition tells me that if I was remembering the band correctly, these guys are not the puppet masters of this organization. I reached out to some old friends in the music scene, hoping to get in contact with Go.
Hours later I received the strangest, most intriguing restricted phone call of my life. An odd masked voice on the other end of the line knew my name, who I was, who I wrote for, and abruptly arranged a meeting for the following Saturday. The call was short lived, but I squeezed in an inquiry about Go Roger’s past life. I was shut down with a puzzling statement: “There is no past.” They hung up, and I was left wondering exactly how hard they were fucking with me.
On June 18, a scorcher, I arrived at a diner in Lakewood. Surprisingly, I was greeted by the same men from the photo. Maybe I was wrong; these guys are Go Roger. I was introduced to the jovial P.M.P., eagerly awaiting breakfast, his stoic companion who simply stated his name as “Mike Jones,” and a photographer they brought named Egnal who snapped shots in the background and said nothing. Notably, no one went by the name Go or No One Body.
We took a booth in the back and ordered. The coffee arrived, and I opened my notes to initiate the interview when Mike Jones took and passed them to an unknown man walking by our table. Before I could utter a complaint, P.M.P. said. “Use your brain.” Unconventional. I was ready to wing it, and my first question was actually a no-brainer. This is a rough memory transcript of the conversation:
Dan Bernardi: Tell me about yourselves, your style. Who is Go Roger?
P.M.P.: Is that important?
DB: People usually want to meet the minds behind the music.
P.M.P.: Isn’t it more about the music behind the minds?
DB: Well there’s always more to the story. The origin, the inspiration, the approach.
P.M.P.: Who cares?
DB: Haha. Our readers and your listeners will care, if they like
P.M.P.: But is it really our sound if it’s in your head?
And this went on throughout the course of breakfast. They had essentially flipped the interview on me, but I was too engaged to notice. Eventually, I posed a simple question: “What is your vision?” P.M.P., derailed, replied, “Ah, you want the banger? Later.” We left the diner and I was ushered to their car, at which point I realized that this story is bigger than a confusing breakfast reverse Q&A. Something was clearly being hidden and I wanted to know more than ever exactly what the hell was going on.
The duo drove me to a relatively seedy motel and inside granted me an early one-man viewing party of their second video single, “pussNpeace.” The polar opposite tone of “Skillet,” it’s a darkly hypnotic fever dream dedicated to ex-Cavs guard Delonte West. The video, which was released days later, features two masked men, presumably Jones and P.M.P., in a trippy mix of serenity and insanity. This was my first taste of something real on this trip, but I just couldn’t imagine why they’d bring me to skeezville to view it.
When I exited the motel, an Uber was waiting to take me to an inconspicuous house at the edge of town. P.M.P. was parked on the porch when I arrived. He welcomed me to an extension of FYOComfortzone Studio, a collective of hive-minded artists who come together for maximum creative output on a multitude of unspeakable projects. As I entered the house, crowded with the band’s friends and associates, I was shown a slew of allies’ names immortalized on a sign-in board before being taken upstairs to a near-empty room.
On the floor behind a laptop and speakers sat a silent masked figure, straight out of the “pussNpeace” video. Based on body type, I assumed this was Jones post-costume change and that I’d finally get to hear pussEPeace. Instead the speakers emitted a series of elk mating calls for roughly fifteen minutes. My irritation level began to climb until the masked man began mixing epic beats around the moans. What is the meaning of this? It was poetic, and off-the-charts bonkers and I was in a state of ultimate curiosity when P.M.P. pulled me from the room and led me to a dimly lit, cluttered basement.
An elegant man sporting dreadlocks sat idly at the drums, Jones stood nearby, and P.M.P. sat me down for a rehearsal for the upcoming album release show, “PeaceFest.” I asked for more details and was only told,“Before the fall.” I expected the trio of men to start the session when out stepped two masked men who began to jam in front of me. After a short, vigorous set, P.M.P. introduced the drummer as THCobra, the bassist as Deep, and the vocalist as Go. These must be the true masterminds behind Go Roger.
I was jonesing for a logical explanation, but before I could get a question in, the band rushed out of the room. P.M.P. escorted me from the house and handed me my notebook, a pair of headphones, and a Discman with final instructions to take the RTA back to my car. I inspected the Discman at the nearby bus stop. Inside was a burned copy of a pussEPeace demo and a note reading “Use your ears.” The bus arrived and I began a stop-and-go RTA joyride in my own personal headphone bubble, surrounded by the comfort of strangers and Cleveland. This must be the banger.
There was no warning for the sudden extreme changeableness of pussEPeace. Aside from the songs with videos, I have no names for these tracks, but each shifted wildly in tone and theme. Fueled by a cryptic hip-hop mentality, the double EP is a two-part slip and slide of energy and emotion, hype-inducing electronics, and relaxing soulful melodies, all interspersed with bizarre rhythmic deviations. Rapped and sung by a fluctuating chorus of mystery voices, the lyrics capture notions of peace, anger, nostalgia, humor, and confusion—all of which I strongly felt during my bus ride back to reality.
Amazingly, and likely meticulously planned, as the album ended, I reached my final stop. I got in my car and opened my notebook to review the unused list of unanswered questions when I spotted the only note entered that day, in someone else’s handwriting: “Use your words.” The truth is, Go Roger’s story is hidden within the music and the mystique. By their design, I couldn’t tell you their influences, how they formed, or their plans for the future, but with a rare fusion of art and experience, they may just be the most ambitious band in the land.
I began work on this story, attempting to make sense of it all, when about a week later we received a manila envelope at the PressureLife office…It was full of polaroid pictures of me, my day with Go Roger, and even snaps from one of our magazine meetings held after I’d done my interview. I’m not as creeped out as I am mystified. In the end, I was as much a subject of theirs as they were of mine, and will definitely keep my eyes and ears peeled for what comes next.