Last December, Roof Doctor lead guitarist/vocalist Mark Harper looked to his friends’ bands for “the best musicians he knew,” and borrowed them record his own material. It was evident after only two practices with Alex Stackhouse (guitar), Chet Williams (bass), Sean Reilly (bass), and Kevin Paschall (drums) that the group possessed enough chemistry to identify as a band in its own right. Last week I sat down with Harper to discuss Roof Doctor’s path – from starting out at the notorious North Philadelphia Maggot House where Harper and guitarist Alex Stackhouse live, to the band’s current plans, and their recently crushed dreams of beefing with Conor Oberst.
TK: Have you been working on anything new since the release of your EP I Am Going To Die back in July?
MH: Yeah, yeah. I Am Going To Die was recorded from February to May in the basement of Maggot House, but we’ve been pretty busy playing and writing new stuff.
TK: Did starting the band inside Maggot House influence your style?
MH: Absolutely. I never listened to punk at all, I was totally new to the whole DIY thing. The people there had a big effect on me. I want to keep playing house shows—I’m not really big on playing a lot of bar gigs. When you play at house shows and colleges people are more enthusiastic.
TK: What’s your favorite show you’ve played?
MH: Oh, just last weekend we played a show at Rowan University. It was really crowded and super energetic. It was just cool because you could see all these kids from the suburbs who had never experienced shows like this, whereas in Philly kids are used to these kinds of shows and places.
TK: What do you love about smaller performances like that?
MH: When the energy of the band matches the energy of the room; I love when people try to sing along and know—or don’t know—the words. We play to make people happy, and if we can make people dance and sing and mosh or whatever, then we’re winning.
TK: I guess people do know your lyrics now that you’re getting more popular- you just won the “Featured Artists Poll” for The Deli Magazine, right?
MH: Yeah, that was in August.
TK: How did it feel to get publicity like that?
MH: It was satisfying, but we won the contest because my friend Josiah runs the Twitter account for Jesus M. Christ and just totally exploited it because we wanted to win.
TK: So “Jesus” was tweeting about you guys nonstop?
MH: Yeah, it was nuts.
TK: Do you guys have any other publicity tactics or—
MH: Well, actually we wanted to start a beef with someone, so we contacted Conor Oberst—
TK: Wait, wait. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes?
MH: Yep! We emailed his agent and said, “I heard that Conor Oberst was interested in starting a beef with my band, Roof Doctor, and we would like to accept this declaration of beef.” Then I basically listed rules for the beef like, “We ain’t a dang pretty boy like him, we have no intention of making the beef personal, we will the keep it entirely professional, and since we share a similar target audience it could get really dirty.”
TK: How did that work out?
MH: We actually got an email back from his agent thanking us for contacting them but Conor “is not available for beef at this time.”
TK: That’s too funny. So earlier you mentioned you were writing new stuff—do you have a full-length album in the works?
MH: We’ve been recording in a studio in South Philly. It’s going to be called Mobile Freedom Home.
TK: How are you inspired for writing content?
MH: When Roof Doctor started, I was really just writing this stuff to write honest folk; I don’t think people put as much time into lyrics as they ought to.
TK: How does the writing process for this record compare to the writing process for your EP?
MH: We want them to pair as sister albums; Mobile Freedom Home is basically about how being sad is wrong—it’s illogical to be sad. It’s definitely more cohesive than I Am Going To Die. There’s reoccurring themes, reoccurring lyrics. I wrote I Am Going To Die when I was still in college and didn’t know what I was doing with my life. Mobile Freedom Home is more about how it feels to miss home, how it feels to be home, how it feels to lose your home.
Keep your eyes open for Mobile Freedom Home in spring, and in the meantime catch one of Roof Doctor’s two shows this weekend- tonight at The Church of the Advocate with Little Pirouettes, Mumblr, True Gold, and Candice Martello. Details for the all-ages show can be found here. Tomorrow night they will be playing at an acoustic set at 2057 East Susquehanna Ave in Fishtown with Baltimore’s Teen Suicide; details for that show can be found here. Below you can check out their performance of “Soda Jerk” and “Family: Mark Do Better” from a show in July.