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Looner

the sound of steady rock.

LOONER, a Los-Angeles based rock band, is the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Angel Roché Jr. and Zoë Poledouris Roché. The couple has spent the last twelve years seamlessly melding their disparate backgrounds of salsa, orchestral composition, jazz, pop, industrial, and reggae into a signature sound distinguishable by Zoë’s haunting vocals and Angel’s locomotive beats. Their songs are a curious mixture of the dark and the light—piercing lyrics entwine with poppy melodies, and catchy hooks are underscored by fuzzy prog rock riffs. Under the spell of their undeniable style that they call Steady Rock, even covers find themselves LOONERfied in an instant.

Two people from different worlds, the Rochés found a connection in their devotion to music. Zoë, raised in Encino, California, is the daughter of the late renowned film composer Basil Poledouris, and boasts major motion picture songwriting, scoring, and acting credits of her own. Angel, raised on the south side of Chicago, is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, and spent his childhood playing drums in his father’s 16-piece church salsa band. When the couple connected with a fiery kiss at the Viper Room in 2000, they knew immediately they would commit to each other for life—but their musical union surprised them both.

“She unleashed the songwriting monster within me,” says Angel. “I started hearing melodies and playing guitar.” They took a line from a movie, Teenage Caveman, to name their new endeavor, and used a looping technique on stage that gave them a full band sound. Songs would begin with Angel creating rhythmic “beds” on beatbox or guitar, while Zoë folded in a bass line and layers of vocals. The result was finely crafted songs that built to a consuming climax, leaving audiences marveling at the all-encompassing soundscape from stage.

With their live technique perfected, they independently produced three albums: The First Five (2002), Follow the LOONER (2003), and Rules (2004), while Angel was busy playing drums and percussion in Dave Navarro’s and Ziggy Marley’s bands. In 2004, LOONER joined the national Roots, Rock, Reggae tour as the only rock act on the bill, and in 2006, released another album, The Greatest Weakness. By 2009, the couple had added Damon Ramirez (Fungo Mungo) on keyboard and synthesizer, and set out on a six-week cross-country tour that celebrated the release of their infectious pop single “I Love My Tamagotchee” and its B-side, a hypnotic remake of the ‘80s reggae hit, ”Dutchie.” “We wanted to be able to play songs from the get-go, instead of having to build all of them,” says Zoë. “Damon added that fullness.”

But although the band expanded, the Roché’s songwriting remained the same: bare naked lyrics that speak to the ups and downs of human relationships, juxtaposed over danceable beats and unexpected stylistic twists and turns. The Rochés let us in on their intimacy (hear the desire in Angel’s voice on “While She Sleeps” when he sings, “Does she dream of how our life will be”), while they allow us to recall our own passions (instantly relive a magical moment through “Ordinary Woman” as Zoë sultrily croons, “When our fingers touch/I lose my breath ‘cause you’re too much.” We feel her betrayal as our own in “Had None”: “You saw what you wanted/You took what you wanted/And now you walk around/As if you had none”, and find our own fortitude in “Don’t You Know”: “You can do anything you try/To those who say it’s just a waste of time/One great big kick right in the eye.”

LOONER’s latest lineup includes Michelle Rangel (Go Betty Go) on bass and newcomer Yuichiro Asami on guitar, and the band is currently releasing songs one single at a time from their new album Year of the Ox, a nod to the Chinese astrological sign for the year both Angel and Zoë were born. It is a sign whose telltale trait is determination, the songs on the album were written during another Year of the Ox, while the couple was expecting their daughter, Jesse, who has made them even more resolute to rise to the top of life’s waves. “Make It Happen” is a call to action anthem that strikes at the heart of anyone who ever had a dream. “Sunshine” is about allowing love to shine through the darkest hour. On YOTO, LOONER’s depth of songwriting holds up a musical mirror and reflects the realities of life, while providing a lose-yourself-and-dance good time!

“LOONER is our life project,” says Zoë, and Angel adds that because their goal is to try every style of music, they may just be getting started. “We want to be just hitting our stride when we’re fifty.”

by Joy Rosenberg