Making it big in rock and roll isn’t what it used to be. Bands once had to tirelessly seek discovery by a major record label, then rely on their enormous sums of money to produce and promote their music.
This process fed on itself for decades, before the Internet changed listening habits and music distribution forever. And, while that old-school model’s not entirely dead, it’s unquestionably suffering its last gasps.
Many bands today focus on establishing a loyal local/regional following, playing as many live gigs as possible, while devoting hard-earned money from gigs to produce high-quality recordings and leaning on social media to grow their brand and fan base.
Westmain – a group of four area Virginians – is part of this vanguard.
“You really have to do it on your own now,” says Tommy Rothman, Westmain’s lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter, who grew up in Manassas.
Westmain has built a base of loyal fans attracted to their intriguing blend of grooves, including classic and progressive rock with a touch of jazz, country, folk and funk thrown in.
Westmain’s one album to date – “Glamour Fades” (2012) – also received widespread positive critical reception, and the album and one of its songs, “Sirens,” received several nominations for a Washington Area Music Association award, the much sought-after WAMMIE.
And, indeed, listen to “Sirens” and you’ll realize it’s as good as any pop song you’ve ever heard, with solid lyrics, lush arrangements, gorgeous harmonies and deft guitar work.
True to the band’s commitment to the do-it-yourself model, Westmain produced its first album from money solely earned from playing gigs, the result of being “weekend warriors,” as Rothman puts it.
“It’s very expensive to produce a high-quality recording,” says Rothman. “But we pride ourselves on being a working band and not constantly begging our friends or fans for money.”
Like a lot of stories about how bands oddly, but fortuitously, come together, Westmain’s is no exception.
Rothman was playing a solo gig in 2008 while home from Radford. Ed Zigo, a one-time punk rock drummer who’d recently graduated from the University of Dayton, was in the audience. He was feeling no pain after a friend’s birthday celebration and intended to heckle Rothman. But after Rothman opened his set with a raucous version of Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama,” he was intrigued.
During the set break, Zigo approached Rothman and told him he had an intuition that he needed a drummer.
As it turned out, Rothman’s drummer back at Radford had just graduated and moved back to Iowa.
At the time Rothman was already teamed up with fellow Radford student, and Westmain’s lead guitarist, Paul Davis (who’s from Winchester), in a band called the 20 Somethings – a name Rothman admits still makes him cringe.
“We invited Ed to jam with us and felt really good about it,” he says.
Not long after that, the band was joined by bassist Seth Morrissey (also from the Winchester area), who’d graduated from Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. He’s heavily influenced by jazz, southern rock, Prince and funk music, and was already active in several bands.
“Having Seth join the band really got us serious about playing music,” says Rothman. He says Westmain’s unique sound results from the well-trained musicality of Morrissey
By 2009, the band was regularly playing gigs at bars in and around D.C., Arlington, Fairfax and Centreville. They got further exposure by opening for local legends, Emmet Swimming. They’re now regularly playing Jamming Java, IOTA and Leesburg’s emerging musical venue, the Tally Ho, where they will appear July 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Rothman says fans can expect an EP by the end of the year and they’re already playing new live material. He says the band strives to continually improve songs as they belt them out onstage, collaborating as a group to strengthen the compositions once they hit the studio.
So, how did they come up with the band’s name, Westmain?
Turns out, there’s only one road leading out of Radford University. To get to the town’s one liquor store and small collection of clubs, one has to head west on Main.
“Get it?” says Rothman, laughing.
If you go:
Mainstreet at the Tally Ho, Leesburg
Friday, July 11, 7:30 p.m.
For more information visit: http://www.tallyholeesburg.com