The gang from Little Dickman Records are back with another great New Jersey find. The RocknRoll HiFives are a family band, founded in 2005 by Joe Centeno (of Maxwell’s-era New Jersey band, Plug Spark Sanjay) and his daughter, frontwoman/lyricist, Eilee, then three. “We wanted to have fun, play rock ‘n’ roll and do what we want,” says drummer Evren, the youngest. Their mom Gloree, a technology executive with no prior musical experience, adds, “I never dreamed that I would be playing bass in a band with my family and touring in an RV.”
I guess the story started with leader and daddy Joe Centeno, who made a splash with Plug Spark Sanjay back in the late ’90s/early 2000s. Plug Spark Sanjay was described as a band of mixed identities. Their bio tells me the following: “Part Black Sabbath, part Built to Spill, part Archers of Loaf, these four New Jesuits with their long hair and aggressive guitars don’t fit neatly into any prescribed categories of alternative rock. There’s no mistaking the band’s appeal. Plug Spark Sanjay kicked off a 2001 spring tour in support of its 2000 debut CD, Regular Pinto, before going to Chicago in May to go into the recording studio with producers Bob Weston and Steve Albini to cut its 2001 CD, Fuse Time for the Working Force.”
Centeno’s musical vocabulary has been filtered through a variety of music. Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden provided his foundation in heavy metal, but he wanted to go beyond those basic guitar chords to do something different. He discovered jazz in musicians such as Al DiMeola and Frank Zappa. The group’s use of noise and distortion derive from interests in Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. And Centeno feels the band’s sense of melody comes from The Cars and Blondie. Plug Spark Sanjay released its Fuse Time For The Working Force in late 2001.
Fast forward through all of our lives ambitions and Joe is still making music, only now it’s with his family. RocknRoll HiFive members ply hard trade when it comes to fun-based rock and punk music. Younger members Eilee (vocals) and Evren (Drums) join mom and dad to come up with some of the greatest local rock music I’ve heard in some time. I took a listen to The Beat, The Sound, The Dragon’s Roar and this is what I found out.
First up is a song called “TKO.” Ragged and jagged to the core, the band delivers carefree punk rock goodness to the very heart. Driving bass, guitar and drums hammer underneath Eilee’s vocal attitude. Utilizing the performance moxie of Debbie Harry and the arrangement talent of The Dead Boys, Eilee and company showcase a strong compositional directive. And while Eilee is still quite young, she commands her craft like those many years her senior, and she does it with style.
“El Sueno” is up next and this is probably my favorite on the disc. Eilee is fantastic here, delivering a melodic and addictive vocal barrage while flanked by the rest of the family and their vicious punk rock attack. If you’re looking for music that remains true to what all of us grew up with, this is the band for you. Once again, arrangement and compositional talent shine brightly on this addictive rock and roll gem. The catchy choruses could go on for days, and I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
“You Got Me (Tongue Tied)” is up next. Joe shows his heavy rock roots as he fires alarming salvos of guitar into the intro. Eilee and family harmonize tremendously as well. Bass and drums fire up the middle as Eilee chants and shouts into her fiery verses and choruses. It’s tough to pinpoint just who this band sounds like, but a good point of reference would be B-52s meets The Stooges. 14-year-old Eilee is a hell of a vocalist and has a long and hopefully steady career as a singer on the rise.
“Blast Away With You” hits the speakers next. Combining an almost surf vibe with a poppy, punk-tinged flavored delivery, the band demonstrates performance talent and attitude galore. Joe lays warbling, fender enhanced riffs over Eilee’s candy-coated oral ministrations. I’m floored by the understanding and delivery of the kids. Drummer Evren (12 years old) plays with a sensibility far beyond his tender years. There are guys I know that are quite popular that he stands up to without a problem. Mom Gloree pounds the bass with class on this strange and glorious number.
“Glass Towns” is up next. Guitars chuck and spit under steady bass and drums as Eilee throws down into her own diverse thing. Once again the band delivers upstanding backing vocals as Eilee takes the lead. It makes me wonder how a kid that young handles her talent. I’ve never met them, but I’m assuming that Mom and Dad have prepared both of them for their grand life awakening. Any way you slice it, Eilee is a powerful vocalist, and she does an admirable job on “Glass Towns.”
The last song on the EP is called “Running Nowhere.” Once again the band ultimately hammers into their specific jobs like nothing else I’ve heard recently. The fact that the song construction is this top notch floors me. Not that I shouldn’t expect it, I probably should, but it’s still a great surprise to hear something as good as this is delivered in the way they do it. Synthesizers careen into guitars and bass as drummer Evren nails the whole song to the floor. Joe takes off on some fabulous guitar work, tapping, bending and sliding into home plate at just the right time.
The RocknRoll HiFives are an exceptional band filled with excellent songs and talented players. I know the fact that the age of some of the members might be a big selling point for many opportunities afforded the band, but in the end, the songs are great, and the performances are outstanding.
If you get a chance to see these wonders, do it immediately, as I know that if they are even half as good as they are on record they will be an excellent band to see in the flesh.