Newark Star-Ledger, 2/4/05

Up-and-coming band varies its repertoire

Star-Ledger Staff

Despite its name, Skyline Rodeo is not a country band. Not even close.

The band -- which will perform at Uncle Joe's Bar in Jersey City on Saturday and celebrate the release of its debut album "Long Drive to Iceland" with a March 5 show at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick -- is a rock band with a dual personality.

The New Brunswick-based quartet is tightly wound, for the most part, filling its songs with spiky guitar riffs, vocals tinged with a hint of a snarl, and abrupt, stop-and-start rhythms. But it is also capable of launching into expansive, leisurely instrumental passages.

The band evokes this dichotomy by combining the beauty of "Skyline" with the frenzy of "Rodeo."

"We had gone through all sorts of band names, and no one was happy, so we took a list of words we liked, and skyline and rodeo happened to be next to each other," says guitarist Steve Bumgarner, 26, of Somerset, who forms the band with singer-guitarist Morgan Chen, 31, of Highland Park; bassist Mike Alfano, 31, of Lawrenceville, and drummer Joe Dingerdissen, 29, of Somerset. "It just happened to work, and it matches our sound a bit."

Before forming Skyline Rodeo, band members were in New Brunswick groups like Dewey Defeated and Slow Wire. Bumgarner, Chen and Dingerdissen started playing together in 2002 and added Alfano in early 2003. They put out a self-titled, three-song EP late that year.

"Long Drive to Iceland," which is being released on the band's own label, Mighty Ming, is available at shows and in a handful of stores. Everyone attending the March 5 record release party will receive a free copy. The band plans to begin selling the record through its Web site ( soon, and hopes to get it into more stores.

The album features one of the band's instrumentals, "Peppermint Patty." Another one, the seven-minute "Primer Premiere," was on the EP.

"I think the reason we come up with instrumentals is we write differently than a lot of bands," Bumgarner says. "A lot of bands, I think, have the lyrics or the vocal lines and build the song around them. We usually put together these sometimes-complex instrumental passages and then we're trying to think of ways to creatively put the vocals in as well. In some songs, it just seems like vocals don't have a place."

Showing confidence in its instrumental side, the band made "Peppermint Patty" the leadoff track of "Long Drive to Iceland."

"A lot of people warned us if you send it off to reviewers or clubs, they're going to be turned off by an instrumental," Bumgarner says. "But that one's relatively short (2 1/2 minutes), so to me it just feels like an intro to the CD."

Plus, he says, "it's a driving theme for us, to leave the listener not knowing exactly what's going to follow."

The album's odd title is taken from a line in one of its songs, "Tomorrow I'm Self-Aware" ("Long drive to Iceland is all I need"). Bumgarner says the band likes the phrase because it evokes the same expansive feeling as "Skyline." But there's also a message behind it.

"People always think they can get whatever they want if one additional piece is in place, and they're always making excuses, like 'If one thing comes through for me, my life would be different,'" Bumgarner says. "We all think that's B.S., so a long drive to Iceland ... it's like someone saying, 'Well, I'll just take a long drive to Iceland and figure it all out.' But you obviously cannot drive to Iceland."

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