Benji Rogers, lead singer and songwriter for the New York City-based band Marwood, says he doesn't mind commuting from Manhattan to the Washington area a few times a week to do shows.
"I think it's important, as a musician, to be versatile," Rogers said, explaining that he'll gladly brave a long commute for a chance to play for a receptive crowd. Although Marwood is a quartet -- the other three members are guitarist Rob Overbey, bassist Brett Conti and drummer Mike Talbot -- Rogers has performed solo at many D.C. area open mike nights, and he and Overbey have traveled to Europe to play as a duo.
"We're a song-oriented band," Rogers said. "So as long as we can get the songs across, we're okay."
Still, Marwood rocks best when all four players get together, as they will Wednesday at Rock Bottom to rouse the crowd with straightforward, intelligent songs that one critic described in a bit of an oxymoron as "alternative mainstream rock."
The difficulty of describing Marwood's style is a long-running one for the band. "Whenever people ask me 'What do you sound like?' I just say we sound like a rock-and-roll band," Rogers said.
"But rock-and-roll has really changed in its sound," he said. "I look on myspace [a popular Web site for young bands] and see all these descriptions like 'post-punk emo,' and I have no clue what that means."
Marwood has earned comparisons to R.E.M., Counting Crows, Black Crowes and Squeeze, but Rogers cites influences including Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, LL Cool J, Neil Young, '80s "hair metal" bands and the soulful southern rock of Little Feat. "My dad used to sit me up on the stereo when I was a kid and play 'Dixie Chicken.' "
The British-born Rogers worked as a roadie and absorbed the inner workings of acts such as Def Leppard, Phil Collins and Genesis before heading to the United States to begin his career.
Evolving from a solo act to the Ben Rogers Band (featuring Overbey) and then to its current lineup, Marwood has released three self-distributed CDs -- "Regular Flips" (2002), "Radio Personalities" (2003) and an eponymous EP this year.
A single, "Soulless," has been getting airplay on one of New York City's Clear Channel outlets, XM satellite radio and a number of college stations, and the band has toured extensively on the East Coast. You can hear samples and learn more about the band at its Web site, www.marwoodband.com.
"The Internet is kind of a double-edged sword," Rogers said of the high-tech world. "In the old days, if you couldn't get to radio, you could get to people playing live, and they would have to buy a CD to hear you . . . they'd have to make an effort; whereas now they can go to LimeWire or file sharing. There's less of an emotional connection with the actual band itself.
"Having said that, there's never been an easier way to reach people around the world," he said. "It's a chicken and egg thing -- great, someone in South Africa bought my record. Now how do I get there?"
Spoken like a true road warrior.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
Rock Bottom is at 4238 Wilson Blvd., inside the Ballston Common Mall, at Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard, Arlington. Admission is free and limited to those 21 and older. For more information, call 703-516-7688 or visit the Web site www.rockbottom.com and click the "locations" link for the Arlington venue.
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