Kent Lambert of Roommate Explains Why He’d Rather Look Forward Than Look Back

July 28, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

We don’t have a dedicated tour vehicle. Our tour vehicle is whatever van we can manage to rent from a friend or acquaintance every few years when we have a new album out. Or if we’re doing a short regional jaunt we’ll pack a car or two (depending on the personnel and gear involved) and make it work that way. In the aughts I did a couple of tours in Europe that involved planes and trains. In fact, in 2008 I flew to Amsterdam with a bunch of gear, my friend Melvin Wevers met me at the airport and we took a train to a small village, then walked for several miles to a house in the woods where the two of us and some other Dutch musician friends rehearsed for a couple days before playing a few shows in Belgium and the Netherlands. I was getting over a nasty head cold and thought my body might break down on that long, hot, gear-laden trek, but I made it.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

I try to save up some extra money before we go on tour so that we’re not totally dependent on show money for our meals, so we’re not eating cheap shit food every day. Stockpiling stuff like fruit, nuts, and healthy Asian snacks (shout-out to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Chicago and Chun Ching Market in Gainesville FL!) in the van has worked well for us on long drives. When we get to whatever town we’re playing in we ask friends and acquaintances (or the internet) for recommendations. Once in a while we get really lucky and people cook nice healthy meals for us. In Europe a lot of venues (even small ones) have cooks on staff that make meals for the bands.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

It’s difficult to answer this one as we all play a range of different instruments in various bands. I could poll my bandmates on their strings/drums replacement expenses but I’m already bugging them enough about booking shows and whatnot, I’m going to leave them alone. I can talk about patch cables–I feel like I/we spend $100 every 2-3 years replacing bad or damaged cables. I intend to eventually build my own cables using soldering irons and inexpensive parts.

Where do you rehearse?

Our current rehearsal space is our bass player Gillian’s basement. It’s about as cozy as a concrete basement could be–rugs and warm lighting and comfortable seating for guests. It’s a pretty mellow scene, nothing too crazy happens there, outside of the music itself, ha. It did get flooded in a huge storm last month so she and Sam had to take the gear upstairs or elevate it on milk crates. I wasn’t there but it sounded pretty crazy. I’ve heard of more than a flew flooded basements in Chicago this summer!

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

The first song I wrote that ended up as a Roommate song was called “Hudson Crocs,” I wrote it fifteen years ago this summer, um, sample lyric: “It came from outer space to bullshit with The Blob / Freddy’s getting manicured and looking for a job”

Describe your first gig.

The first Roommate show was in April of 2004 at The Hideout. I sang and played keytar and GameBoy, and a ragtag band of friends joined me on upright bass, banjo, glockenspiel and musical saw. I orchestrated a crowd sing-along at the end of the set (a cover of Scott Walker’s “Thanks For Chicago, Mr. James”). The show was a fundraiser and after-party for the Video Mundi festival. The Thin Man headlined. It was a great night!

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I work at the Reva & David Logan Center For The Arts at The University of Chicago. I supervise a bunch of students in the management of an equipment cage/media center, teach workshops on stuff like video editing and green screen compositing, do A/V troubleshooting in classrooms, maintain computer labs and editing suites, and generally support artists who need help using media technology in their work. It’s my favorite day job ever! To loop this back to your first question, one of my primary colleagues at this job is in the band Daylight Robbery. In 2011, before I had this job, I rented his red Ford Econoline van for an east coast tour. And to loop back to your third question, David has been showing me how to build my own cables!

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

My music-related income has increased in the past 5-10 years, but only from composing scores for National Geographic TV documentaries. Due mostly to streaming basically replacing physical formats and downloads, my income from the band Roommate has decreased. As for 5-10 years from now, I have no idea.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I might say that I wish I’d known more comprehensively that the business side of music–booking shows and tours, promoting records, courting and working with and getting rejected by labels and publicists, partnering (or not) with corporate streaming services that pay CEOs millions and artists pennies, etc.–contains immense frustrations, arbitrary gatekeepers and social hierarchies, grotesque corporate vulturism and sometimes seemingly endless work that can be a huge drain on raw creativity… but then again, if I’d known more about that side of things when I started out, I might not have recorded four albums I’m really proud of and formed deeply rewarding friendships with scores of musicians… So actually, I’d rather not look at the past that way. That was then, this is now, right?

Throughout their ten-plus years as a band, Chicago’s Roommate (led by singer/songwriter and video artist Kent Lambert) has occupied a moody art-pop world thick with sharp melodies, evocative textures, and keen commentary on the underside of contemporary culture. Through hundreds of shows across the U.S. and Western Europe and an acclaimed catalog of 2 EPs and 3 LPs, Kent’s songs have guided the band’s evolution from a wide-ranging community of Chicago musicians to the tightly focused four-piece at the core of their seamless new album MAKE LIKE, available this June 23rd from Strange Weather Records. The band will celebrate the new album and its deep back catalog with a June residency at the Hideout in Chicago, appearing five Tuesdays that month to play old and new material in multiple configurations. The residency will showcase Kent and his current bandmates’ other music projects (The Father Costume, Wagster/Lambert Duo, Love Raid), Roommate’s extensive alumni roster (singer/songwriter/guitarist Reid Coker, bassist Anton Hatwich, composer/bassoonist Katherine Young), and various collaborators and friends (Health&Beauty, Rock Falls, Chicago Film Archives).

You can find Roommate online and on the road.