He isn’t sure who said it, but Roark likes to quote the critic who noted there really are only a few subjects artists tend to explore. "Love, death, fear" says the singer/songwriter. "You can always tie everything back to these fundamental things. I strive to do it my own way." And what is Roark’s way? With his pitch perfect tenor and instinct for pure melody, Roark delves into those suspended, transitory moments between people. Roark is for fans of John Mayer, Damien Rice, James Blunt and Chris Martin. And though he’s too modest to say so, with his new album, Break Of Day, Roark just might usher in a new era of pop music that matters.
It is a solo album, but Roark didn't make Break Of Day alone. Chris Badami served as producer, engineer and – for old time's sake – drummer (they were band mates in the New Jersey-based Casual Blue). The pair teamed up at Badami's Portrait Recording Studios in Lincoln Park, NJ, to make the CD. “It was invaluable having Chris,” says Roark. “We're great friends to begin with, and having a great personal relationship was a solid foundation for a great musical relationship.”
Break Of Day kicks off with the buoyant “Never Felt So Lucky,” based on a train ride through the Italian countryside. “I typically write sad songs,” says Roark, “but I made a conscious effort to have some joyful songs on this record.” The sarcastic funk of “Into Pieces” contrasts with gospel-flavored soul of “Movin’ On,” Roark’s take on a break-up song. “This was pulled from the best of my break-ups,” he says.
Ballads like “Perfect (Today)” and “Broken Smile,” with their bittersweet acoustic flourishes, highlight Roark’s burnished songwriting skills. But he can rock, too, as he shows on “Brighter Side,” “Song from T.V.,” and the Queen-like “Letters,” an ingenious song told from the perspective of two letter-writers through the mail.
Showing a poet’s feel for skewed perspective, in “All of the Riches,” Roark takes on the persona of a just-deceased man reflecting on a life just ended (“It’s a final resting place/At a quite unusual time/There’s a smile upon my face/Like it’s born of red wine”). Says Roark, “For some reason I'm obsessed with my own death. You can get caught up in it, wondering what you learn at that last moment.”
He ends the album with “Take It Slow,” an intimate acoustic-flavored song with a meter that lives up to its title yet still moves with inevitable propulsion. It’s an artful metaphor for Roark himself, a musician with a restless heart always a beat ahead of the world around him.
A native of Pompton Plains, NJ (about 30 miles from Manhattan), Roark grew up enamored of a wide variety of popular music, from James Taylor to Kurt Cobain to Toad the Wet Sprocket. “I was born to be a musician,” he says. “I always loved singing, theater, even Italian opera. My parents were shocked when I didn't go to music school.”
“I worked for a Fortune 500 company,” he says. “It was terrible. I'd rather be a struggling musician.” Thanks to his friendship with Chris Badami and Ace Enders of The Early November, he was able to showcase for Love Minus Zero Recordings in 2005. It wasn’t long before he clinched a solo deal (the first artist signed to the LMZ label) and the making of Break Of Day was underway.
As a songwriter, Roark subscribes to the approach of poet Robert Frost, who once described his art as “freedom in harness.” Says Roark, “Most every lyric I write has to rhyme. I need the restraint; otherwise there are too many ways to say things. Also, a lot of my guitar playing is rhythmic in nature. I'll never be a shredder, ripping out crazy solos.”
No one is likely to miss that once Break Of Day reaches fans. It’s a testament to Roark that he skirts the boundary lines of contemporary pop while remaining true to the singer/songwriter tradition that inspires him. He will no doubt inspire many in the months and years to come.
“I made the songs I heard,” he says of the new album, “and I gave it my best effort. I hope it will connect with people, because everything came from the heart.”