Taking it to The Streets
by Ashley Graham
Robbers officially started only two years ago in the summer of 2002, but Trokan and guitarist Steve Mercado had began playing together at the age of thirteen in Poughkeepsie, New York, inspired by bands like The Kinks and Led Zeppelin.  While Trokan ventured to New York City and met drummer Tomer Danan, back home Mercado was reintroduced to bassist Jeremy Phillips, an old acquaintance.  After the the band's first bassist moved to the west coast, Jeremy took over and Robbers on High Street were formed. 

While New York boasted a supportive music scene, having it attached to their name also had its pitfalls.  Robbers have dealt since the release of their debut EP "Fine Lines" with comparisons to New York City music heroes The Strokes.  In fact, nearly every one of their reviews mentions such a comparison, which Trokan says is unavoidable.

"They have to compare us to someone, I don't really think we're trying to sound like that band, there would be no point in that.  I think people compare us to The Strokes maybe because we are from New York and because we are coming out after The Strokes.  It's kind of a weird position.  People always ask us about that comparison, but you read almost every review of new bands and it's almost always The Strokes... I've seen articles about bands from New York, like The French Kicks and The Walkmen, and it's all 'Strokes, Strokes.'"

"I'm not even that big of a fan of theirs, it's not a band that we follow.  But people have actually pointed out parts of our songs and said 'Yeah, that's kind of Strokes-ish.' The comparison is valid in some way, but it's not like a constant decision we make."

Instead, Robbers are focused on making a name for themselves independent of the rest.

After their tour last spring with The Sleepy Jackson and On The Speakers, Robbers headed out this summer with Ambulance LTD.

"We love being on the road.  This tour has been a lot more fun for us than the last one," Trokan says, commenting on the experience thusfar. "It's been going pretty good actually.  We played on the West Coast and that was all pretty good shows."

When asked about the make-up of the crowd, Trokan is a little more hesitant.

"We played a really good show in Sacramento," he says and then laughs, "but not a lot of people were there to see it.  It's really random.  I feel like it's hard to say.  Some places there were people there to see us; there were some people in San Diego, and I'd like to say maybe Seattle.  Most places though I don't know, based on the response I don't think most people knew who we were."

Though playing to unknowing crowds every night might seem a discouraging prospect, this is the time for Robbers to test the waters before the release of their full-length LP in January.  For now, they are trying to get their EP into the hands of as many as possible.

"It was more the record label's idea to put out an EP to build up a little bit of a following before we release the record.  It made sense to us because we hadn't been a band that long.  When we recorded the EP we'd only been a band for like a year or so with this lineup, so it was a nice way to sort of ease into it.  Releasing an album you'd get a lot of 'Who the hell is this band?'"

Robbers already seem to know how to avoid some of the mistakes made before them.

"The name Robbers on High Street comes from the lyric of an old song we used to sing before Jeremy joined.  And when Jeremy joined I think he suggested using that as the band name.  Then when it became the name we had to drop the song because it would be kind of," he laughs, "playing our theme song. That'd definitely be a mistake to make."

And Robbers want to avoid all the mistakes they can.  For now, they continue down the road with the present in mind.  Though time will tell whether they will last or not, the members are simply glad to be doing what they are for the time being.

"I don't like to get too far ahead of myself," Trokan says. "I don't know what will happen. Bands are so disposable, it's very hard to say.  We'd like to just be able to do this and yet somehow also pay our bills and somehow get by.  That's our immediate goal."
Robbers on High Street - August 8, 2004 - photo credit: Emily Finkel
On their long trek down the road to success, New York City band Robbers on High Street have already experienced some of the highs and lows that will prove great stories if they ever do reach the top.  On a faulty cellphone in a seemingly signal-less pocket of Minnesota, Robbers lead singer Ben Trokan did his best to detail his experiences.

"We were driving to Seattle from San Francisco a couple days ago and our van started smoking.  We had to stop at this place called Ashland, Oregon. It was just this weird, new age, hippie sort of town.  All of these middle-aged former hippies and these dirty hippie-punk dreadlock kids.  And all the restaurants were really expensive and we were like 'Where the fuck are we?'  It was an adventure, I guess."

Trokan describes his stories with the excitement of the new and unknown.  Robbers are not yet a jaded road-worn band of humorless musicians, but are instead a charming gang of four, simply trying to find a voice in today's tough market.  They drive a van cross-country, they can't afford the food in Ashland, Oregon, and they play every night to crowds that don't yet know their songs.  When asked what will set Robbers apart from the rest, Trokan jokes.

"Why do we think we're better?" he says, laughing. "Maybe, I don't know... because it's sort of the things we focus on doing; trying not to put some sort of gimmick or look in front of the songs.  We're just sort of into writing songs that we like and that we like to play and that I would hope people could kind of enjoy."
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