Flower People

It’s early on a Friday morning in February, and five members of the Roseline are standing around outside a quaint blue house in East Lawrence.

Waiting on the missing sixth member, keyboardist Ehren Starks, they discuss the best place in town to get a latte (Milton’s? Wheatfields? Conoco?). They talk about how to please spouses (by triple-folding bathroom towels and correctly closing cereal boxes, someone offers).

Lead singer Colin Halliburton (no relation to Dick Cheney’s multinational corporation) nervously checks a wall clock inside the house. Bassist Paul Winn complains that ever since he moved two blocks across State Line Road into Missouri, he has been deluged by bad luck. His mailbox has been assaulted three times, a gas leak caused the evacuation of the neighborhood one night, and the realtor failed to mention the crack house next door.

Starks arrives, two steaming coffees in hand, and the small talk evaporates. Ten minutes later, they’re off, tearing down the Kansas Turnpike, bound for Fort Worth, Texas, in a clunky, crowded white van towing a U-Haul trailer.

This is the Roseline’s second road trip. The first was more or less a disaster.

The story began in 2004, when Halliburton and Winn (who’d been chums, along with Starks, at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park) were tossing around the idea of playing gigs together. Halliburton had just dropped out of art school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he’d been studying photography — “The people just rubbed me wrong,” he says — and Winn was stumbling his way through the University of Kansas, uncertain whether the business degree he was earning would be worth it.

Upon returning to Lawrence, Halliburton put down the camera and picked up a guitar. He promptly mastered the instrument and began filling tape after tape with songs.

“Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop,” says Halliburton, who’d never previously penned a tune, let alone strummed a guitar. He gave one of the tapes to Winn, and Winn dug it. “Halfway through, I called Colin from my car and told him we absolutely had to do something together,” Winn says.

So they did.

“Busy House” by the Roseline from A Wall Behind It (Domino):

After jamming together, Halliburton and Winn hatched a plan to pester Starks, who was freshly home from several months in Italy, to join the fun. But Starks balked. Burned out after a series of grueling tours with previous acts (including his longtime band the Gadjits), he was skeptical of diving into the scene again. Still, these guys were old friends.

“If I was going to join a band, it had to be with these two,” he says.

Ultimately, Starks signed up after local drummer Joe Rankin enlisted his services.

Then came the Nashville incident.

Hungry and untested, Halliburton posted several of the budding band’s songs on MySpace. Then he got a phone call. Promising the Roseline the moon, a sleazy Los Angeles showbiz pusher who’d picked up Halliburton’s number started shoveling all kinds of bullshit in the fledgling group’s direction.

He told Halliburton that the band’s music sounded like Cash. He told them he’d single-handedly helped Alanis Morissette break big. They bought the load like awestruck teenagers who’ve been offered their first six-pack of beer, and when the huckster invited the musicians to Nashville to play, Halliburton and company packed their bags and hit the road.

“He said I was the next Norah Jones,” Halliburton says, shaking his head.

When the Roseline rolled into Nashville, however, the guy didn’t bother to show up and the club gig he’d promised never materialized.

“All we got was a phone call in the morning, the night after we were supposed to play,” Halliburton says. “He told us we should come down and play at Starbucks or something.”

Winn later texted “turkey” to the guy’s phone, and the band went out and got shitfaced. “We ended up having a pretty fun time,” Winn says. “We kind of knew what we were getting into,” he admits. “And we learned that the music industry is full of shady people.”

Armed with a valuable lesson, the band returned to Lawrence and set to work on an album in late 2005. Guitarist and pedal-steel player Jeff Jackson and singer Julia Peterson joined these early sessions. Zeroing in on just a few of Halliburton’s hundred or so tunes was a challenge, but the band’s debut, A Wall Behind It, successfully merged the contemplative lyrics, reminiscent of Neil Young, with twangy, Ryan Adams-like rock.

The group’s two-year journey from dream to fruition paid off financially, too; the Roseline has been able to recoup the cost of recording at Black Lodge Studios in Eudora.

That album came out six months ago, and the Nashville memory is quickly fading into just another funny story.

Now, zooming through southern Kansas and into Oklahoma, spirits are high, even though there’s a long drive ahead to Fort Worth.

Driving eight hours to play one show seems slightly insane. But the night works out well for the Roseline. The gig is at a boxy, windowless, white-brick bar called The Chatroom Pub, and the band is opening for local favorites the Theater Fire. Though no one (other than half a dozen regulars) is around when the Roseline tumbles in, the bartender assures the band that by 10, “it’ll be absolute madness in here.”

Turns out, he’s right. The Roseline performs to a crowd of nearly 50, many tapping their feet and nodding their heads appreciatively throughout the show. Despite being crowded onto a stage that holds approximately one drum set, the band pulls off a stellar set, unveiling some of its new work along the way. The crowd swells, and this six-piece from Lawrence leaves to uproarious applause.

In many ways, the Fort Worth experience is the future for the Roseline — though, ideally, the band would like to string more shows together to make travel financially worthwhile. In June, the group will hit the studio again, going to work on a sophomore album that’s tentatively called Lust for Luster. It’ll feature 10 to 12 songs, and the band hopes to take it on tour in early fall.

“We’re thinking about smart touring,” Winn says. He admits that most of the band members have families and jobs and can’t afford to go on the road for months at a time. “We’ll try to target a few venues around the Midwest, for example,” Winn continues, “and play long weekends or something, especially in places where we can get on the bill with bands that will draw good crowds.”

Plans never work out perfectly, of course, and though this road trip was a success, the van broke down on the way back, less than 10 miles from Lawrence, billowing smoke from the engine.

“It was some kind of O-ring malfunction or something,” Halliburton reports later. “Five hundred dollars to fix it,” he says.

But the Roseline is just launching, and no broken-down van’s going to get in the way.

Categories: Music