An Exhaustive Narrative History of Roppongi’s Ace…
Roppongi’s Ace was born on the East banks of the Hillsborough River in the summer of 2005. Its parents are Alex Spoto and Max Norton of Tampa, FL, and the band’s history is a deep and invigorating one,
That summer was a time of innocence, it was a time of growth, it was a time of self-discovery. Roppongi’s Ace wasn’t yet a band. In fact, it wasn’t even a thought in the boys’ heads. All they could think about were the inescapable pangs of youth: trampolines, driver’s licenses, 2-stroke boat motors, hi-fi stereos, mowing lawns, and cheap guitars. The boys had become friends at parochial school, sharing school-boys uniforms and a love for thicknasty rock n’ roll music. They’d get high by jumping on a trampoline in Max’s backyard and then listen to his dad’s Taj Mahal records. It wasn’t long before Alex and Max were itching to start a band…
So Max and Alex began their musical careers as a raunchy, vintage-inspired two-piece garage band, except instead of playing in a garage, they played on a back porch—thus their self-described brand: “porch rock”. Alex was outfitted with a sparkly-blue Danelectro guitar, leftover from Papa Angelo’s glam-rock days before he settled down into a career in psychotherapy. He sang through a massive, broke-down gold sparkle Kustom PA, and Max beat on a silver sparkle Gretsch drum set named “Ambassador Sparkles”. The band was originally named after Max’s drum set. However, after a few gigs, conflicting interests with a U.K. based House/Electronica group with the same name led the boys to do some soul searching for a new name. The soul searching was unsuccessful, and as recourse, the boys turned to a suggestion by Max’s older brother Jesse (watch for him later). For a philosophical, ontological, grammatically-correct explanation of the band’s name, click here.
After a bay-area wide tour as Roppongi’s Ace, the boys decided that it would behoove them to have some proper recordings. At the time, Alex was an overnight DJ on WMNF 88.5FM, and became acquainted with fellow DJ and musician Stephen Hammill (from Life of Pi) who also happened to nighttime as a sound engineer. Since the two were both night owls, they inevitably ran into each other on the job, and Stephen was nice enough to record Roppongi’s Ace. The recording session took place after hours in a small, independent South Tampa bookstore, where after 3 long days and 3 longer nights, a musical child was born: a 6-song EP. The EP was released on cassette tape only and was individually labeled in crayon by one of the band member’s grandmothers. Unfortunately, they sold out within a week, and have been unavailable ever since.
The Tampa Years:
Soon after their initial recordings, whilst jumping on the trampoline, Roppongi’s Ace had a metanoia. It was time for the Ace to grow from being a boy band to a man band. The simplicity of two was to become the wisdom, strength and complexity of three. It was over the summer of 2006 that the band went through several different line-ups, existing for the most part as a 3-piece with their good friend Nathan Cress on bass. In this incarnation, Roppongi’s Ace ripped through every parking lot, storefront, record store, and cheap bar in the entire city of Tampa. Soon thereafter, the band was ready to attempt recording once again…
As men have want to do, the band had to do this one themselves. Using borrowed computers, mics, and stolen software, the band tried to update their sound with a fresh wave of tighter, louder, more talented recordings. After nearly a month holed up in the back porch turned recording studio, the band ran out of money, patience, and hope. They did not know how to use ProTools. They did not have soundproofing.Then, a fierce summer lightning storm pierced the band’s dreams of a new record before the vocals ever got recorded, frying the band’s computer like an egg.
Brokenhearted, it took Roppongi’s Ace a couple months to rediscover their vigor for rock ‘n roll. Max began a solo project where he sang and played banjo, covering only “Luke the Drifter” songs, and Alex turned to Tai-Chi and abstract finger painting. It wasn’t until one Norton family Christmas that a jam with Max’s older brother Jesse rekindled the flame of rock. Jesse Norton joined Roppongi’s Ace for its most thrilling incarnation, adding shirtless bass and harmonica stunts and a mean goatee to the band’s already hairy sound.
Roppongi’s Ace grew their sound out of the cooped-up, slow-burning Tampa Bay music scene. They cut their teeth on the Ybor City bar circuit, opening for Dr. Dog, Voxtrot, the Black Diamond Heavies, Earl Greyhound, the Six Parts Seven, Will Quinlan, and Have Gun, Will Travel. Their many twang-heavy contemporaries in the scene weighed upon the Ace’s fuzzed out garage sound, and Alex’s stints playing fiddle and mandolin with the likes of Wil Quinlan, Ronny Elliot, and Toby Bonar brought Roppongi’s Ace into the fold of Tampa’s burgeoning Americana scene. The band developed its heavy, fuzzy, loud-as-all-hell garage sound through the lens of the Tampa twang, and this growth process is what originally led Into the Night.
Today Is the Day:
The band returned to the scene with a vengeance; however, at the height of their popularity, a break was once again in order. Alex and Max took off to finish woodworking apprenticeships. Jesse moved his animation business to New York. While spending time apart, Jesse became a cigar aficionado, Max took up organic farming, and Alex grew a mustache.
After a year, the band came back together for a scorchingly hot summer in Tampa as older, wiser, more physically fit men. Having meditated on their work, it was time to make the definitive debut record. Roppongi’s Ace collaborated with local Americana wizard Steve Connelly at Zen Recording Studios in St. Petersburg to create Into the Night. The record was made in a week, tracked mostly live with pedal steel player Tommy Cooper sitting in to bring out the twang in the fuzzy mélange that is Roppongi’s Ace. Connelly’s production gives the Ace the “Tampa sound”, marrying grit, soul, and twang with the band’s raw and stripped down rock and roll antics. In many ways, the record serves as a retrospective of a rock and roll band incubating for several years in the sleepy Florida music scene.
Roppongi’s Ace still calls Tampa home, but with members spread out all across the Eastern seaboard, the band plays to whomever will listen, wherever they will listen. They are no longer just a “Tampanian” band, they’re an American band. On the road, Rockin’ Rob Pastore joined ranks with RA as resident steel player and serial soda sipper. Into the Night is out and available for purchase here on our website, on CD Baby, and as a digital download on iTunes. If you would like Roppongi’s Ace to play your wedding, bar/bat mitzvah, fraternity/sorority house, high school reunion, hangover, etc. pick up a tin can and give us a holler.
Words From a Friend
The Roppongi I’ve come to know is a cultural mishmash of low class street thugs, pimps and your upper echelon of Boss wearing coke head stockbrokers. Where the only differences lie skin deep in their blackened souls. It’s the place where expats go to die and are reborn into Bosch’s hell in “Garden of Earthly Delights”. It’s the place Dante wrote about. It’s the place your mother warned you about. If it were up to me the place should be lit up with street signs warning all who approach, “Don’t take your soul into Roppongi or you’ll leave without one.” A hedonistic heaven where all your twisted nightmares come to life.
Forgive the cliché, but Roppongi’s Ace takes a step back into the good ol’days, before Roppongi turned to a single shade of darkness. They don’t belong in the now, their time was the time of before, it’s the times of sentimental past, so far back you hardly remember. A time when time didn’t exist, when your soul was whole and the blurred dreams you now have were clear and crisp as youth itself. They are the remaining light, the remaining hope in a lightless world that has become Roppongi. Their music shines through the drudge of everyday life and tears through you with an energy and exuberance that rocks you to the core. They are the hard-roader’s, when musicians took the difficult path and never settled for the easier road to fame and fortune. Their sacrifice, is the perfection we hear when they rise to the stage. The only darkness that remains in Roppongi’s Ace is the black stage of anticipation before they rock your world!