(article originally published in Star News, with additional Q&A below)
By Brian Tucker
Instead of a vacation the Centano family goes on tour. Mom Gloree calls it their “tourcation.” They are the Rock n Roll Hi-Fives, a New Jersey pop punk, garage rock and roll band that began as a way to make family memories. Mom plays bass, dad Joe plays guitar, and teenage siblings Evren plays the drums and daughter Eilee sings. Learning and playing music together in the basement led to much more – shows, music videos, a tour in Japan, and albums.
Their newest, Re-Introducing the Rock n Roll Hi-Fives is out on vinyl and they return to Wilmington, their fourth visit, once again performing at Gravity Records, joined by local band Street Clones.
“Gravity Records, those were our first shows in Wilmington,” Evren said with the family by phone from their home. “We love the people, the city, and every show has a great turnout.”
“We get so much love there. The range of people who come to see us are young kids through older people. It’s just so cool,” said Gloree who learned to play bass to form the band.
Joe played in bands and toured until Gloree became pregnant. He became a stay-at-home dad, playing guitar around the house. Making music with the kids happened naturally – he’d write songs and have the kids bang on things, as early as eight months old. Later he recorded songs with them, enlisting help with lyrics.
“I would ask for words and phrases – oh, I need help with a lyric here,” Joe said, “And make up a song around that. It became like that, snowballing into something, and then school started and things slowed down in that sense. But we always kept going, just writing together like that.”
When the kids were old enough to attend school things slowed down but they continued to write, with Joe as a director of sorts. Teaching Evren to play the drums at age eight, Joe would begin with a riff, or a song written on guitar, and they’d shape it.
“I would say, just play beats you feel comfortable with. As he was doing it, I’d say, it’d be cool if you tried going to the floor tom here, or maybe adding a crash here, and emphasize this change I’m doing on guitar. Then he would understand more of the concept of writing together. Instead of directing, I would try to make it innocent and more like we’re working together.”
Eilee writes the majority of lyrics, leading the band with cool sugar-and-snarl vocals. At fourteen she wrote “Running Scared,” a rocker with a positive outlook.
“She said it was about living your life and not looking back on decisions that you make,” Joe said.
“A lot of times we end practice with that song, so we end it on a positive note,” Gloree added.
Evren mentions Eilee is about to be a junior in high school, which brings up the question about band longevity following graduation. Will they go on hiatus, or write and record during vacation breaks?
“I think we have a couple more years to think about that,” Eillee said.
Evren added, “Mom and dad always say one day they want to be at our shows when we’re making music with people that we meet.”
“That would be awesome. Right now we take it as it comes. We’re going out on a six week adventure, our tourcation,” Gloree said. “We’ll be pushing our vinyl, visiting a bunch of record stores. Who knows what will happen.”
“It’s cool to have the vinyl after years of doing this,” Evren added. “It looks cool. You get to hold this big cover. It just feels official. We have so many classic vinyl albums, we’re like them now. We did it.”
Is this the family vacation each year?
Evren – It is like a family vacation. We’re going to hit up some beaches in Florida, maybe check out the Wilmington beaches.
Gloree – We do a mix. This is definitely our vacation. When we were in Japan, we did six shows in Japan in April and we extended the kid’s spring break. We had one off day in Tokyo and one off day in Kobe, tried to mix it up so we work, we play our shows, and then we vacation. We call them “Tourcations.”
How did the band get to Japan?
Evren – We were tagged in an Instagram photo by a Japanese artist’s drawing of us in watercolors and posted on Facebook. The caption said “we love the RocknRoll Hi Fives, we hope they come to Japan.” We saw on Facebook my dad was getting a bunch of followers with Japanese names. We met a record label called Custer Core and they knew the person who drew the watercolors.
They contacted us and said they brought over a band called The Wimps from Seattle to Japan, and we can do that with you guys. They said they wanted us to come to Japan, we’ll get you shows, release your record in Japan, and make this an enjoyable experience. It was the craziest thing that could ever happen.
Gloree – We didn’t have passports and the kids had never been out of the country.
Evren – Only RV travel. If we could do that, it was twenty hours of traveling, we feel like we could do anything. Not speaking the language was a big problem but the people we met helped us. When we traveled on the subway, we had to map it out because we couldn’t read anything.
Gloree – It was hard to venture on our own. Within the rock and roll community a lot of people speak English. But outside of that community, it’s not as prevalent as some of the places in Europe. Culturally, it was incredible; it was ordered chaos in Japan. It was very crowded but everybody follows the rules and they were very serious in a good way. Every venue we had a sound check with proper sound people and amazing equipment.
Evren – The shows would start at seven o’clock which was great because you have all your energy, you don’t get tired or anything. You’d get to the venue at four o’clock and each band would get their own sound check. They were such nice people, they would ask us to sign CDs. I would write in Japanese symbols and lettering “rock and roll.”
Your show, it’s a great way for parents to introduce their kids to music. What are responses from people?
Evren – Some people do say they were inspired by to play music. So yeah, I guess it does inspire some adults wanting their kids to get into music.
Gloree – There have been a few times where kids, I don’t want to say they were in shock, but we’re a rock and roll band, there’s nothing kiddy about us. They see two kids up there playing and I think it’s a little confusing to comprehend.
Sounds like a great way to make family memories.
Gloree – That was our intention actually.
Joe – When we first started to play and write songs, I said these are really cool songs, we should go and record an album and have it as a keepsake. I reached out to a friend of ours that has a recording studio. I asked if he’d be into recording some songs with my family. I said, listen we’re really bad, we’re really young. I played him some demos and he said yeah, let’s do it. He was real patient with the kids and everything worked out great.
So no home recording, you went right to the studio?
Evren – Dad would bring the camera into the basement and we would play our songs and upload them to Facebook, I guess that was the closest to recording that we ever got.
The band’s sound coalesced early on?
Gloree – Yeah, definitely. We just wrote better songs lyrically, and were more skilled as time went on. But that pop punk sound, garage and rock and rock and roll, yeah.
Technology has become shorthand to making music. Is it harder to introduce an instrument? Does that make sense?
Joe – It makes a lot of sense. I think because a lot of the music they listen to, popular music, is made shorthand that way. But they have the School of Rock’s coming up, you see a lot of kids taking part in that, taking lessons, and starting bands. You hear a band like Car Seat Headrest or The Regrets, these are young groups playing really good music.
Gloree – I have to give it up to our schools too. Both our kids were in music in schools. At least in this area, all these kids are learning instruments, not shorthandedly. For our kids it was a combination of the both.
Are you the director in a way, helping to shape what becomes songs?
Joe – Obviously there’s some direction because I was teaching Evren drums at eight, teaching him beats, saying something like, you might want to add a crash here. I always started off with coming down with a riff, or a song written on guitar, and I work on it with Evren. I would say, just play beats that you feel comfortable with.
Evren – That would fit.
A family making music is ideal these days. So many kids are staring at screens.
Gloree – Make no mistake, we’re all looking at screens all the time, and it’s just like a balance, just like anything else. What’s really cool is we have this connection as a family around music. So many times I hear Eilee coming home from school and asking Joe did you hear the new song by so and so. Actually, Eilee and Joe are going to see Superchunk tonight. Evren will some into the room and Joe will ask, have you seen this drummer?
What positive aspects can you share about the kids growing up playing music?
Gloree – I’m amazed at the progression both our kids have made. Eilee and her stage presence, the way she commands the stage. When she first started she was good with the audience and then middle school came and it got a little different. And in the last year she’s become a real front person, not just a kid and its cute, and a family, she’s fronting a rock and roll band. That’s been amazing.
I’ve been amazed with my son the whole time. When we started he was nine years old, and for a nine year old to keep the beat consistently through a 30 and 40 minute set, you play a set and you take it for granted and then you turn around, and it’s oh my goodness, this little kid is holding together for us.
Writing lyrics, everyone or just Eilee?
Joe – Usually Eilee writes 90% of the lyrics. I’ll come up with, as I’m writing the music, I usually have an idea of a chorus or a melody and I’ll say this is what I had in there if you want to build on that or go your own direction. But I’d always have something there if for her if she wants to build on it or she takes it and writes her own lyrics to it.
“Tongue Tied” has a big feel to it.
Joe – That song was more of an indie rock vibe with a garage rock feel. I wanted to go with something really explosive with the intro riff and wanted to make it really explode and come up with this rock and roll, garage rock-y verse. That song is kind of unique for us because of the three different influences there, the fuzzy sound of Flaming Lips and then it goes into indie rock. We try to write sometimes more intricate stuff but it doesn’t really work for us and it becomes a little darker and we like to stay on more, fun positive songs work for us as a family.
Gloree – And they work for us live too. When we play live, to have those high energy songs, it helps us and people watching enjoy it.
The new vinyl, that’s new material and early material in one release?
Evren – Its old and new material. We like vinyl as well its cool to have vinyl after years of doing this. It looks cool, and you get to hold this big cover. It just feels official. We did it. We have so many classic vinyl records, we’re like them now, we did it.
What about the future?
Gloree – It depends on what they want to do. That would be awesome. But right now we take it as it comes. Next week we’re going out on a six week adventure, our tourcation. When we get back we’ll see what happens. We’ll be pushing our vinyl while we’re out there, visiting a bunch of record stores. Who knows what will happen but we’ll take it as it comes.