Steel City Soul: Pittsburgh Rock & Rollers The Roof Talk New Single ‘Highway’, Penn State Roots, & More

I find it baffling when talking to folks who grew up in the 60s and 70s and a befuddled look befalls their face when I express my affinity and love for music of that era. “But you weren’t even alive then, how could you possibly be into that?” Because the Golden Era of music transcends time. And I have good taste.

And as generations come of age, and that music gets older and older, little changes because the music speaks for itself. Pittsburgh rock and rollers The Roof are Exhibit A in this evolution.

This young crew was clearly struck when discovering bands like The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, and the like, as their music emulates the sounds of these artists, and they’ll be quick to credit them with their influence.

Comprised of Skyler Scholl (drums), Ivan Zvorksy (bass, piano), Francis Musaraca (guitar, vocals) and Jacob Finkbiner (lead guitar and vocals), The Roof first met in 2015 at Penn State University by chance, with no songwriting experience, and no expectations. But it was their overlapping musical interests that connected them, thus forming a deep friendship and a desire to create.

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After a few years of serenading dive bars and shredding house shows, The Roof has earned a dedicated fan base at Penn State that expanded to Pittsburgh, PA, where they currently set up shop. The band has opened for national acts like New Politics, Waka Flocka Flame, The Brook and the Bluff, Sam Burchfield, Snail Mail and more.

In the summer of 2018, they released their debut EP, Tangled Lives, which was self-recorded & produced within the confines of their college apartment. They are currently working on their next studio EP, and are on the cusp of releasing their highly anticipated single, “Highway”.

We had the chance to chat with the gang to learn a bit more about them, the new single, and much more.

So I see where y’all started out in State College, PA, and now call Pittsburgh home. What’s the music scene like in the area, and do you foresee the band staying put there?

So we moved to Pittsburgh in July from State College. State College was a great stepping stone for us, and we will always have immense appreciation for all the friendships and opportunities gained in our three years of being residents, but we felt that in order to flourish on a grander scale, we needed to establish connections in a larger city! Pittsburgh has been great to us so far, and we always would make the two and a half hour trip to play shows here, even while we lived in State College, so it just made sense to migrate this way!

How did the band come together, and do you recall the moment that you thought “damn we really have something here”?

Skyler: We all met on separate occasions at Penn State Altoona (branch campus of PSU) in 2015. Jake lived above me, and I got Ivan’s number after seeing him walking down the street with a guitar one day. The first time we met Francis, Jake asked if he could borrow a guitar pick, and he said, “sure, as long as he could play us a song.” He sat down with a twelve-string acoustic and did this version of “Ten Years Gone” by Zeppelin, and we were just blown away. At that point, we weren’t really intending to be a band, but we would skip class and just talk and listen to music all night.

There was this shitty dive bar called Pellegrines that had open mic on Wednesdays, so we’d go there and jam till closing time with all the local old heads. Those old guys were the real deal, and the one guy kicked heroin by playing guitar all day. We must’ve played “House of The Rising Sun” 1,000 times. Jake, Ivan and I were still underage at the time, and there was a house drum kit there I would use because I didn’t own my own yet, since I had just recently started playing. They let us have our first “concert” there, and used to let us practice before the bar opened. When we moved to State College, the bar got torn down unfortunately, but we wouldn’t have been a band without that space. We always had this innate chemistry between us, despite our lack of skill in the beginning, but someone asked us for our autographs at this Fireman’s Fair we played at one time, and that was a moment of realization for all of us that we might be able to actually pursue this. 

How does the songwriting process work within the band? 

Typically one person (Francis or Ivan) will bring a song to the band on acoustic guitar, and then we will light up the amps and start to mold it into a full band thing. Sometimes we will work off ideas from a jam session as well, because I record everything we do on iPhone voice memos, so we can get stoned and revisit them later on. 

So your new single, “Highway,” will be released later this month. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this track?

It’s a song about hoping that someone is doing well and searching for good intentions, despite the current circumstances and lack of a desired outcome. 

Can fans expect to see it on an upcoming EP or LP, or is it a standalone single for now?

We have a lot of new music coming, including staggered single releases which will eventually comprise an EP. We also will be releasing one or two collaboration tracks with our good friends in the very near future!

Where was it recorded and who was involved in its production?

“Highway” was recorded in our State College apartment. We had to cut a tour short due to quarantine, so we decided to use that time to write and record, considering all four of us were inhabiting the same closet of an apartment (living room doubled as a bedroom and a studio, haha). We recorded it on our own, and our great friend Nicholas Stahlman did the mixing and mastering for us!

What does a dream gig look like for The Roof?

A performance with full creative reign and the time frame to do it. Improvisation and covers included, in a legendary space, like Red Rocks or Madison Square Garden. 

Speaking of gigs, I see y’all have opened for Waka Flaka Flame, The Brook and The Bluff, Sam Burchfield, and others. What was one of the most memorable performances the band has had?

We performed this show at Rip Roaring Rafting company in Hartford, TN last summer. They set a makeshift stage up for us on the deck and there was a clear view of the Smoky Mountains at dusk. Things got pretty wavy, and we ended up playing a five-hour set. People were dancing on top of the buses that they transport the rafts on, and this old homeless guy kept walking around saying that Hartford was “The melting pot of The Smokies- where destinies collide.”  The various rafting companies in town had apparently had disdain for each other, but the next day someone left a note in the bathroom that said, “Thanks for bringing the community back together,” and that felt really special that our music played a role in that. 

If you could have a drink and/or a smoke with one of your living idols, who might it be?

Skyler- An Old Fashioned with Matt Shultz of Cage The Elephant. 

Francis- A Whiskey Neat with Leif Vollebekk (modern Canadian folk singer). 

Ivan- A Whiskey Ginger with Bob Dylan.

Jake- He doesn’t have any living idols. He said he’s already surrounded by the people he likes to drink and smoke with, but he likes Jim Beam and American Spirits, and dead idols are a different story. 

What does success as a band mean to you?

One meal a day and moving an audience with our music. 

What might fans expect from The Roof to close out the year and going into 2021?

A new wave of songs that we feel are a reflection of the current times, as well as new merch that will be available on our website. We will be a lot more frequent with putting out content, and doing live sessions and collaborations with other artists so stay tuned!

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