Written by Madoline Markham
Jason Kloess and James Mason travel the road together. They sing of love found and love lost on stages on cruise boats, in mountain towns, and inside an occasional distillery in a cave. As The Roosevelts, their press materials call them “brothers in song—not blood, though maybe beards.”
But it comes to writing, they stay in separate rooms—separate houses even. One of them will write something and send it to the other via a voice memo, and the other will tweak it and send it back, ping ponging back and forth to work out tensions over sound and tempo. Why? They’d argue too much if they were in the same place, just like brothers. Mason gravitates toward a folksy vibe, while Kloess (a 2003 Mountain Brook High School graduate—hometown shout out) tends toward Southern rock. Mason usually starts with a lyrical message, and Kloess leads with the musicality and marketability until they find a middle ground that gets people together and has them clapping along.
The Roosevelts are still looking for the right tag line for their sound. The best phrases they have come up with are “Americana rock” and “Southern raised indie rock,” although they have heard “bearded Taylor Swift” (one they wouldn’t necessarily endorse) and “’70s sensibility about harmonies and lyrics” (a high compliment).
Speaking of bonding points, both Js learned to play guitar and a love James Taylor music from their dads (Mason was actually named after James Taylor). They both played in bands in college, Kloess in Auburn and Mason in Sewannee, Tennessee. Ironically, neither set out to turn music into a career. Mason had his eyes set on medical school and Kloess an MBA. But as fate would have it, a mutual friend from Birmingham/Sewanee introduced the two fresh college graduates after they had moved to Austin. Their first show together was opening for a hip hop act. “That’s the kind of stuff that happened in Austin,” Kloess says.
It was in writing “Cold Sheets” that Kloess and Mason first found the sound that would become The Roosevelts. It was also the song that led to another “aha” moment—when a crowd started singing the chorus louder than they were: “If I could have you tonight, I’d wrap you up and I’d hold you tight, pretending like we still believe in a love that felt so right, ‘til something broke and turned out a light.” “The songs have been meaningful to us for a while, but that’s when we knew they were meaningful to other people,” Mason says. Well, that moment and the time when Mason got a request for a woman in Canada to hand write the lyrics to “Baby You Can Break My Heart” for a tattoo.
If their first EP Cold Sheets went down like wine, the new record The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn, which debuted at No. 5 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter list in April, is a bit harder, capturing the energy they have on stage. One track, “This is Life,” was featured on ABC’s show Nashville on Season 4, which is fitting since the duo moved to Nashville a year and a half ago to pursue music fulltime. Since March, The Roosevelts have played in new places and familiar cities like Birmingham—where Kloess gave a shout out to his parents at WorkPlay. Next up is a return to another home to play Austin City Limits.
Yet another band brother bond is beards (say that five times fast), although they weren’t there from the beginning. The producer for their first EP had seen them in suits, clean shaven on cover art, and knew something had to change. “Be a man and grow a beard,” he told them. And the moment they grew out, reviewers started writing about their beards. “Then we were stuck,” they joke.
In keeping with their bearded branding, they recently started making beard oil, a “conditioner for beards,” from essential oils in Kloess’s kitchen. Seeing how they are both Eagle Scouts, each The Roosevelts Beard Co. oil is named after a national park, and 10 percent of proceeds are donated to the National Parks Foundation. It’s appropriate too, since Teddy Roosevelt started five national parks during his presidency (although, they note, the 2014 Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelts didn’t help the band’s Google search rankings).
The Acadia oil smells of firs and pine trees, a fragrance familiar to Kloess from trips to Maine with his family, while Big Bend it more reminiscent of smoke, camp fire, and leather (inspired by Mason’s trips there while growing up in Texas). “Now we have to visit more national parks…for professional development,” Kloess says. Maybe Ken Burns’ The National Parks documentary can inform some stops for their 2017 tour?
- What they’re listening to: Dawes, James Vincent McMorrow, Gabe Dixon, Sturgill Simpson, Rockin’ Vibes on Spotify
- Bham favorites: Anything from Saw’s, Continental Bakery bread
- Where you’ll find them after show: Carrigan’s or Jackson’s for drinks, Over Easy for breakfast
- Beverages of choice: Whatever local brewery or coffee is recommended (Kloess), Centenario tequila (Mason)