When Robert Jibby answered an online ad back in March, it merely stated that a band needed a drummer. The ad didn’t mention the dress code. There was nothing about how he would be signing on for a medieval-themed band that plays original ’80s-inspired rock music while wearing tights, smocks, chain mail and velvet.
“It wasn’t until after I heard the music, and really liked it, that James [Trocke] told me I would have to wear a costume,” says Jibby, a tall, polished marketing professional one would never suspect is in a band, let alone one wearing period clothing. “I remember telling my wife, ‘How am I going to do that?’”
But Jibby, who had taken up the drums in recent years and had only played in a Christian rock group, was convinced to keep the beat for Trocke’s band, The Alliance.
Just south of the Canadian border in Bonners Ferry, the group practices in a dungeon of sorts — James and Coleen Trocke’s basement. The walls are decorated in an appropriate theme, lined with colorful banners and battle-axes. It’s here that James, the lead singer, has taught his six-piece the songs he’s written, practicing for hours on end during the weekends — the only time the members, who dot the North Idaho map, can congregate.
James started The Alliance 20 years ago when he and his wife were living in San Diego. Back then, it was just a “normal” rock band that he says sounded a lot like a pumped-up Kansas or Rush. Intrigued by the courage of knights and their devotion to their king, James decided last year to turn his band into a medieval rock group.
What he’s created for the stage is a rock opera of sorts. Swords clash as double guitar solos soar, a prince finds his princess to an incessant trap-set beat, and in the end, good triumphs over evil.
“We actually discussed the idea of a medieval-themed band 20 years ago when we were engaged,” says Coleen, who plays keyboards. “I remember saying then that I could paint the sets. It’s been so cool that it’s happening now.”
The challenge was finding new bandmates to round out the sound. Once Jibby (who also took over the band’s marketing) was on board, more joined up, with Gary Buettner and Evan Cookman on guitars and Josh Bladzik on bass.
“It was hard to find the right people to ‘get this,’” says James, who goes by “King James, the Lion Hearted” and affects a British accent onstage. “But what’s so special about this band is that with every song we’re telling a story.”
James has had some of the songs since the band’s inception; others are new. A brand-new album, Writing on the Wall, featuring some of the more than 20 songs performed at their shows, was released last month.
Despite having an album, which doesn’t include all of the actual members, the band’s current incarnation has only a couple of shows under their sword belts.
They first unleashed their spectacle at the Schweitzer Fall Fest in September. For the first full hour of the set, rain hammered down on the tent-covered stage with a castle backdrop; a speaker even blew.
“We thought we might get electrocuted,” Jibby says.
But despite the downpour, the show in front of the band — artfully choreographed by the Trockes, featuring a dungeon-wall backdrop — persevered, and a group of curious onlookers were pulled into the spectacle.
Friday, The Alliance kicks off the Spokane Renaissance Faire weekend with an indoor performance at the Bing Crosby Theater; Saturday, they head up to Sandpoint for Oktoberfest. But the Renaissance and Middle Ages, the latter period the one to which the band pays tribute, are completely different eras.
The anachronism is not lost on them.
“So yes, we’re a band in medieval costumes playing rock music playing for Renaissance festivals,” Jibby explains. “It’s all very confusing. We’re not even quite sure where we fit in.”
Actually, standing out is the whole idea. James knows his band’s tack could be taken as a way to get noticed — a ploy of sorts — but he doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing. He has a story to tell with his music, even if it’s all been told before.
“Of course, in the end good always wins,” he says. “But what we’re doing musically, we’re so new and fresh, once people see us, I think it’s going to catch on.”
The Alliance • Fri, Oct. 4 at 8 pm • Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague Ave. • $12 • All-ages • bingcrosbytheater.com