If you live somewhere long enough, you experience some form of evolution.
To many, it’s biological. To others, ecological.
Those who have grown up in Lansdale over the past 20 some years have been subjects of a rare and unusual natural selection that is more binaural than biological.
It is an evolution where mainstream churned into an undertow. AOR became DOA.
It is one where the term “underground” is not defined by the style, but by where that style is created and admired.
With evolution comes change. But ask any 20 or 30-something in Lansdale, and they’ll tell you change hasn’t come.
Here, when you’re bored, you do something to bide your time. Some drink, some get high, some play video games, and some jam.
The latter is the origin of a species known as Rough Justice.
The Lansdale-based five piece band made a conscious effort two years ago to fight boredom with its own brand of “rawternapunk.”
In those two years, they have collaborated with other evolutionary local bands on numerous revolutionary shows at venues in the tri-state area, such as The Note in West Chester, North Star Bar in Philadelphia and Mojo 13 in Wilmington, DE.
The band has been the featured band on Stereokiller.com. Last year, the band independently released its first EP, And Justice For Y’All, recorded and mixed by Morgan Tindall.
You can also vote for the band to play the Battle of the Bands at The Warped Tour 2011 at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
Did I mention the band opened up for The Misfits?
The band recently went from a quartet to a five piece, with percussionist Derek Calhoun swapping drumsticks for the microphone.
Thriving with him on the mean licks and sick kicks are drummer Ian Detwiler, guitarists Zach Calhoun and Ken Martin, and bassist Ross Cohen.
Rough Justice’s roots began in March 2007. Derek Calhoun, Martin and Cohen started jamming with a repertoire of covering other bands’ riffs.
A couple shows were played here and there, sometimes under the names God Damn Electric (featuring Phil McIlhenny on guitar instead of Martin) and Epic Titties (featuring Martin on guitar instead of McIlhenny).
It was in December 2009, and Epic Titties had just come off of playing a bill with aggressive metalcore band The Minor Times.
“Zach said ‘I need to play a show,’” said Derek Calhoun. “I called Ross and Ken. They were down. We talked about starting to play and write songs. We made a conscious effort then and there to be a band.”
The first Rough Justice show was March 6, 2010 at Traxx in Colmar.
Derek Calhoun admitted that Rough Justice was the first time any of the band members committed to writing songs.
“Until you’re actually in a band, you don’t know the relationships and the things that need to be done,” he said. “All the other bands were us trying to go out there and perform. It was us getting a leg under ourselves in front of an audience.”
The serious effort has led to Rough Justice gaining respect of other local bands out there, like Marked for Death, Friends With Murder and Person L.
“If we didn’t like a band, we wouldn’t want them to play with us,” said Cohen. “In terms of fans, it’s hard to tell.”
That confusion may lie in the evidence. Go to a Rough Justice show, and it’s hard to distinguish fan from friend.
“I feel like no matter who it is or what we sound like, if we are ambitious and out there doing it, we are helping each other get heard and be a community,” Derek Calhoun said. “I don’t think everyone out there likes our music. But if it appeals to people, awesome. We’re not out to get a contract. We’re playing music.”
Derek Calhoun is a prime example of that 30-something subject who grew up in Lansdale in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He admitted realizing in his early 20s that he could either be upset and not make music, or go out and do it, and make it his own.
“That’s what we’re doing,” he said. “We have a couple years under our belt, and we are doing it, and it’s well-worth it.”
Rough Justice is on the scene—meeting new bands, networking, influencing other people, and influencing themselves.
“We play big name venues with big name bands,” said Zach Calhoun. “We are doing it for the experience of it.”
Martin said Rough Justice is a call from rock and roll to free young hearts and soothe old souls.
“We write music as a soundtrack to our lives, so only chaos can define what is to come,” Martin said. “There is no conversed, defining meaning to what we are doing besides to have as much fun as possible. Life is meant to be lived and experience as much you can while you're here.”
Derek Calhoun said Rough Justice set a goal for itself, and then it was opening up for The Misfits seven months later.
“We live our lives, and we are at a point where we are doing what we have to do,” Zach Calhoun said. “Most of the younger bands form and get on shows here. The big difference is we motivated ourselves to go out to bigger venues.”
“It’s our first leap into a big pond of music,” said Cohen. “We make the first jump into it, and we’re swimming out.”
Yet a pond is only as healthy as the aquatic life habitating within it.
Over the past 20 years, the local music scene has surged and receded, surged and receded.
In the early and mid-1990s, it tidal waved as Pennsylvania hardcore with bands like Dysphoria, Chine, XIII PFP, Soul Grind, Denile, Blue Collar Underworld and Inkling.
The tide moved out and came back with bands like Imprint, CDC and Cetus.
Then the current shifted and brought easier-listening hardcore like The Premier and Nexus.
“It comes in waves,” said Derek Calhoun of the scene. “What is really going on depends on how ambitious and out there and eccentric those few bands are and if people want it.”
Like vultures to a carcass, all it takes is a couple hungry people that want to have it. And once they find it, they continue to come to it.
“They see your passion,” said Cohen, “and they see you are doing it for the right reasons.”
Martin said the band has been able to integrate itself into an awesome scene that is accepting of what it is doing and supporting the band to continue its passion.
“The music itself has not really changed because no matter where we play, it is ultimately for us to play music for people,” he said. “So selfish.”
Derek Calhoun said people in places like Doylestown, Philadelphia or Phoenixville aren’t above coming to Lansdale to see a show.
“A good show is about a diverse lineup,” he said. “If you put a hardcore show on, it has to be hardcore straight through. The best shows I went to as a kid and the shows we play now are shows that are not the same. Everybody is bringing something different to the table.”
Rough Justice could, in fact, be the earthquake that sends a new wave of music into the scene.
Martin said it’s tricky to talk about the local scene when you’re involved in what is happening.
“Before Rough Justice started booking shows, there wasn’t as much of a concentration of rock/punk shows in the area,” he said. “Derek takes time booking and planning shows more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Derek Calhoun has been successful in booking shows at venues like the Lansdale VFW, and .
Ask Rough Justice about the bands riding the surging wave right now, and you’ll most likely hear the names Animalhaus, Drop Anchor, Friends With Murder and Combat Crisis.
Ask Rough Justice about themselves, and you’ll most likely hear some varying fantasies.
“I would say, when I’m playing, I picture being in Iron Maiden,” said Cohen, channeling his inner Steve Harris.
Zach Calhoun sees his ban as a punk/hardcore hybrid.
“We have a classic rock feel underneath it,” he said.
Derek Calhoun—who coined the term “rawternapunk”—cites Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin and The Misfits as influences on the band.
“I leave my memories in my music,” he said. “I listened to a lot of Motorhead, Misfits, Clash, Weezer and Guns N’ Roses.”
Cohen said no one wants to listen to something poppy.
“We write catchy songs with just enough edge,” he said. “It’s heavy and catchy, and that is hard to do sometimes.”
The internal machine of Rough Justice works like any other band: Each member has a rough idea for a song and what happens is trial and error.
“Usually Zach will bring something to the table,” said Derek Calhoun . “I’ll write a riff and show one of the guitar players the riff, and Ross will write a couple parts and figure out the skeleton of it. We expand off of that.”
Cohen said even if each member knows how to write a song on his own, he knows how to write it in the band.
“It’s like a coloring book: We have a blank page that’s black-and-white, and we figure out what colors to put in,” Cohen said. “The songs will write themselves if you let them.”
All of the guys in Rough Justice know where they all stand. With demanding full-time jobs and serious relationships, they can’t just drop everything and go on tour.
“You’re making yourself miserable thinking you’re a rock star,” said Cohen. “It’s rock and roll. Thousands of bands before us have done the same thing we have. We’re carrying on the tradition.”
Cohen said Rough Justice is still a part of the history of rock and roll.
“To us, it’s huge. We’re just as big as any other band making it,” he said.
Rough Justice has granted Martin’s dreams of the rock and roll life.
“I really enjoy working with the boys to get our songs right. I love playing our music live, and I get excited to see people going off,” Martin said. “It would be a great experience to go on a couple of weekend tours to have that experience.”
Derek Calhoun said being in a band takes work, even on the small-time level.
And, while he cannot speak for his bandmates, he is ready to be justified.
It’s not going to stop Rough Justice from ripping stages and shaking cages.
“I want to be the one they are having an opinion about,” he said. “When we’re up there, we’re entertaining. We do our thing and bring the rock. Not everybody will like what we do, but they’ll be entertained.”
Rough Justice will play at Panico’s on June 25 at 9 p.m. with Friends With Murder and one more band TBA.
Rough Justice will play an all-ages show at the Lansdale VFW on Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. with Common Enemy, Stoked on Being Pumped, Trace the Veins, and two more bands TBA. You must be 21 and older to drink.
Visit the band on Stereokiller at stereokiller.com/RoughJustice215.
Follow the band on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RoughJustice215.
For booking, email Roughjustice215@yahoo.com
Note: This interview was conducted prior to Ian Detwiler joining the band.