The Phil Collins effect

Roger Sellers brings regular-guy glory to Bayonne

0
Roger Sellers makes lush, layered pop music under the moniker Bayonne.
Jackie Lee Young

Roger Sellers is at his parents’ house in Houston when he answers my call. He’s back stateside after a whirlwind run of dates in the U.K., France, Netherlands and Israel — all over the course of 12 days.

That’s the way the last few years have been for Sellers, who operates as the one-man electro-pop project Bayonne. Touring isn’t new for the multi-instrumentalist; he’s a working musician based in Austin — you have to keep moving to make it. But the last two years have seen a significant uptick in the number of days Seller spends on the road. His knack for building layers of shimmering, hypnotic loops has put Bayonne on the lineups of SXSW, Grandoozy, Bonnaroo, Shaky Knees, Generiq in France and Mad Cool in Madrid. 

It’s a dream slowly but surely coming true. It’s also a total head trip.  

“There’s a lot of times where I feel super confident in what I’m doing,” Sellers says, “and then there’s other times where I don’t feel that at all, you know? It’s a tough world to try and share your stuff. Everybody has their opinions and everybody has such good taste in music” —  sardonic emphasis on such — “I can battle depression at times … there’s financial insecurities. In this industry there are ups and downs. No matter how well you’re doing it can just be difficult to maintain confidence in yourself.”

Sellers channels the highs and lows of life as a working musician into his new album, Drastic Measures. Driven by his penchant for romantic piano melodies and crisp, dramatic cadences, the album takes a buoyant look at maintaining relationships and sanity when, suddenly, your dreams turn 180 degrees and start coming full throttle at you. 

“Common sense should tell me that the ones I sin against/ Say goodbye,” Sellers sings in the title track. “Taking drastic measures/ For the ride/ Promising my family and the friends I never see/ That I’m alive.”

True to his word, it would seem, Sellers is taking drastic measures. He’s home, in the house he grew up in on Bayonne Street in Houston. It’s where he learned to skateboard, where he learned to play piano after watching his older sister learn. His stage name is like a piece of home he carries with him.

Growing up in the ’80s, Sellers was a lot like everyone else in America at the time: obsessed with Phil Collins. 

It all started with a live concert VHS cassette of Eric Clapton and Friends from 1986, the apex of Collins’ career, the year “Land of Confusion,” “Sussudio,” “Invisible Touch,” “Don’t Forget My Number” and “Take Me Home” dominated the radio simultaneously. Collins drummed for the concert, with storied session musicians Greg Phillinganes and Nathan East on keys and bass. 

About three-quarters of the way into the show, Clapton takes a less commanding space at stage left and addresses the audience:

“Now’s your chance to hear that song again,” he says, unfurling his arm in Collins’ direction. “The one you’ve been waiting for… the beautiful, the wonderful Phil Collins.”

And there he is in a powder blue bowling shirt, his mullet blowing softly from a fan somewhere on stage. That unmistakable opening — the muted, pattering drums, the ominous, organ-like synth — elicits whoops from the audience. The crowd belongs to this unlikely hero as he launches into “In The Air Tonight.”

Sellers, maybe six years old at the time, was sold. 

“Just the way that he played the drums; he had the [headset] microphone… it was so cool. You know, like, for a little boy,” Sellers says with a laugh. “So I started obsessing over him for like five or six years.”

Nourished on a steady diet of Clapton Unplugged and the aforementioned live show, Sellers developed a fascination with music. He learned to play piano, drums and guitar. His taste in music shifted in that natural way it tends to as we grow and make new friends. He listened to modern folk from Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens. In college he discovered Steve Reich’s rich and varied catalog and was drawn to his pioneering work in minimalism. 

But Sellers’ love of surgically crafted pop hooks and melodramatic drum breaks is still evident in his work. His 2016 release Primitives was built completely around loops, offering the outline of a pop song more than a fully formed one. Sellers creates a fully realized pop album with Drastic Measures. It’s fuller than his previous release, more kinetic, while still hewing to Sellers’ minimalist inclinations. 

Watching that live show from ’86, it’s easy to see Phil Collins’ appeal. He’s a regular guy doing something that scares the hell out of most people: sharing his emotions in all his regular-looking-guy glory. That’s what Sellers is, with his thick mustache and scuffed up sneakers. He’s a regular guy, no question about it. 

Call it the Phil Collins effect.

But watch Sellers bounce from piano to guitar to drums to marimbas to synth in the live loop version of his song “Spectrolite” and he suddenly doesn’t seem so regular anymore.    

ON THE BILL:  Bayonne. 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, Lost Lake, 3602 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Tickets are $12-$17, lost-lake.com