S ince March, five of the seven members of Ragtag Romantics have lived on the upper South Hill in a five-bedroom home they call the Ragtag Romansion. The band's drummer finally moves in next month, but guitarist Zachary Croft studies physics at Washington State University, and subsequently misses out on a lot. Today, the Ragtag Romantics (minus Croft) lounge in their backyard, surrounded by a green lawn and a patio covered in chalk art — some drawings and words more appropriate than others.
This is a ska/soul band ranging in ages from 20 to 22, who are in no way controversial. They don't party excessively. Here, the rent is cheap and no one judges the amount of cheese being consumed.
"Most of what we do is play video games," says Tonya Ballman, the group's singer/keyboardist. "It's so nice to come home here. I've never had roommates that I feel so comfortable with."
In actuality, they needed a practice space that wasn't all the way out in Deer Park, where most of them are originally from. In their new basement they can practice their energetic and jazzy tunes until 10 pm (when city noise ordinances kick in), and they rehearse about three times a week. They say it's too bad they can't play longer into the night, as they once did. That's when the writing flow comes.
On brass, there's sax player Nathan Roe, trombonist Kevin Cashion and trumpeter/vocalist Beck Shepherd. Landon Myers kills it on electric bass while drumming falls to Chase Howard, who joined the band last year. The vocalists take care of the lyrics (often exploring the ways that adult freedom changes things), but the music is written collectively. That works with a group so well acquainted with one another.
"I got into this to get a girlfriend," Shepherd admits, as the group laughs around him. "But it hasn't happened yet. I should probably quit right now."
Ragtag Romantics originally came out of high school jazz band, when the two Deer Park-area high school programs came together to jam.
They were called the Bonus Tracks at one point, but when most of them went off to Eastern Washington University, the band idea stalled. Two years ago, after watching The Blues Brothers on repeat, they formed Ragtag Romantics.
The band's mascot even looks a little like Dan Aykroyd. Not only is Oblie — a creepy woodcarving found in Roe's dad's garage, which now sports sunglasses and a suit — on the cover of their 2015 EP From the Very Start, but he's at every show. One time, they even forgot him before a show, and had to turn around.
"It's not the same without him," Roe says.
In the past few months, there's been a shift. It's more than just Oblie and their parents coming out and dancing at shows. Now promoters and venues are contacting them for gigs, and they're starting to get recognized in the local music scene. They won EWU's Battle of the Bands earlier this year and they keep furiously writing new material. That they were named an Inlander Band to Watch this year is the cherry on top. "It's something you'd call your parents about," says Howard.
They're planning a tour this fall and intend to record a full-length album. They say the goal is to play music full-time. For now, they want to take their shows to another level. Even from the recent live EP recording, it's apparent how much this group has improved. Brass lines are tighter, the vocals are more surefooted and the music is an absolute riot.
"People deal with a lot of stress in their lives," Ballman says. "I want people to get into the moment with our band and forget about the other things for a while." ♦
Ragtag Romantics play Volume Fri, June 3, at 6:45 pm at nYne • 232 W. Sprague • 21+