January 20, 2022

Rollin’ Rust never sleeps

CHS grads’ band work toward their dream full time

Photo provided by Rebecca Girouard

The Rollin’ Rust, from left, Jim Hearn, Jim VanDeuson II and Kyle Dennis, are all Cortland High School graduates

The Rollin’ Rust is trying to figure out which songs should go on its debut album.

“We’re trying to come up with what we are playing best,” said Jim VanDeuson II, of Manlius, the lead singer in the Americana band.

“We want to get down to 10 to 12 songs. We have 14 to 16,” said Kyle Dennis, a Cortland drummer.

“We’re watching people’s reactions,” said Jim Hearn, the electric guitarist, who left his lab job in Colorado to join the band.

VanDeuson, 27, Hearn and Dennis, both 26, all Cortland High School graduates, formed the three-piece band earlier in the coronavirus pandemic. They will appear Dec. 31 at the Center for the Arts of Homer, opening for Driftwood.

The band is in the middle of a $20,000 kickstarter campaign to fund “The Rollin’ Rust” album. It’s a 30-day effort, asking for any support. The all-or-nothing appeal launched Dec. 5. If it doesn’t raise the money for the project by Jan. 4, they will not receive any donations.

“We are on our way,” said VanDeuson. tallying about $6,400 by Dec. 10.

Dennis and Hearn share an apartment on Main Street in Cortland, where the band practices.

They are looking at Another Recording Co. in Omaha, Neb., to make their album in 2022. It’s the same studio that did VanDeuson’s solo album, “Dilation” in 2018.

VanDeuson toured the country a couple of years ago, lining up gigs, writings songs and playing, with his girlfriend, Rebecca Girouard doing videos and recordings, promoting VanDeuson’s work along the way.

Half of that kickstarter money is to get a publicist to promote the band, get on Spotify and festival circuits, VanDeuson said.

Rollin’ away from rusty jobs
The band formed in April and started touring in October. But they’ve been playing together on and off since they were 14.

“They were going to help me record,” said VanDeuson, who worked at an architectural design firm before going into music full-time.

But instead, the two quit their day jobs and committed to the band. Dennis was a phone salesman for Verizon for seven years and Hearn did lab work at several companies since college. Their Rollin’ Rust name comes from their rusty, salty cars that carried them toward music and away from rusty office jobs.

“Right before this (Verizon) wanted me to take over a store in Massachusetts. If I did, I would have missed out on this opportunity,” Dennis said.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Kyle Dennis practices drumming Dec. 7 in his Cortland apartment.

They toured in Ohio, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and are back in the area, lining up more gigs.

“We have been working the last four to six months. The Kickstarter is our door. It’s our first step into the industry as a real act,” said VanDeuson, who’s dad, James, is also a musician who had a music store on Main Street, Cortland.

“The thing that is different about what we are doing, we a starting a regular business. We have to invest in it,” VanDeuson said. “Be broke, make money, be broke. There are lots of ups and downs.”

Leap of faith, backed by work
Lonnie Park, a music producer with a recording studio in Freeville, plays in several bands, is up for a Grammy for work on a new age album and understands that a full-time music career is a “huge leap of faith.”
It’s complex to navigate.

“I think like any business, first you need a sound business plan with realistic numbers looking at revenue streams and their likely potential,” Park said. “Hopes and dreams are what gets us all in the business, but they don’t pay the rent. Now every artist also needs to be a business-minded marketer and manager.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the music business happens off stage and the work is non-stop,” Park said.

VanDeuson said the band messaged The Purple Fiddle in West Virginia to see if they could play there. “They hired us for Friday night,” VanDeuson said. It was a huge score. “Driftwood is playing there and we are not at their level.”

“Luckily we are a genre that is listenable. When we play, my mom can listen to it, and her best friends,” VanDeuson said.

Park said musicians need to position themselves to be lucky.

“That is not just with the way you write and produce your music, but also where you are geographically and the relationships you develop,” he said. “Unlike so many career paths, the music business is far from a linear journey. You must be malleable and adapt to whatever opportunities arise.”

‘Trying to make something happen’
VanDeuson said he writes 80% of the lyrics for a song and then brings them to the band.

“It all comes from Jimmy’s brain,” Dennis said. “He’s always making up songs. I never stop being amazed.”

“Kyle writes all the percussion,” VanDeuson said. “Jimmy writes all the lead and rhythm coming from the electric side. (The songs) are all so different from when they start.”

Several themes are emerging. Travel, for one.

“It’s about getting out of your hometown. It’s about, like, trying to do something with your life,” Van Deuson said. “Maybe against the grain … trying to make something of something, when people don’t think you can.”

Other songs are about depression or social justice.

“Feeling crazy while doing it,” Dennis said. “When you’re living in a van, ‘am I doing the right thing?”
The men are building a five-window school bus. “We just bought that,” VanDeuson said. “We will take that if we are going for a week.”

They are very excited for the Center for the Arts show. Driftwood may be from Binghamton, but it’s well placed.

“Driftwood is a huge national act,” VanDeuson said. “They have made it.”

“We saw them in Portland, Oregon,” Girouard added.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jim Hearn, left, and Jim VanDeuson II play guitar Dec. 7 in Hearn’s apartment in Cortland.

The stretch
Jim Hearn said The Rollin’ Rust really stretched themselves on their tour.

They played a venue where the manager wanted them to take few breaks. They had spaced out their play list around intermissions and ended up running out of songs.

“We were playing songs on the fly, making stuff up,” said Hearn. Still, 30 people kept dancing, Dennis said.

“I said to Jimmy, ‘What have you got?’” VanDeuson said.

“I don’t have much,” the guitarist admitted.

“Not much” turned into a confidence builder. Now they know each other and cover for each other if a mistake is made. They can handle the hurdles.

The next day after the on-the-fly gig, they were playing outside in the rain, with 45-degree weather, in front of four people, Dennis said.

But they were appreciative, VanDeuson said.

“It’s cool to share those moments, day after day, with friends,” Dennis said.