Roger Sellers: The Human Rube Goldberg Machine

Words by Nate Abernethy
Photos by Alisa Longoria


Primitives strikes me at first an inappropriate title for the new release by Roger Sellers. Full of modern bleeps and bloops, a never ending exponential growth of sounds and even a rich psychedelic cover display by visual artist Topher Sipes the album would seem poised for an over the top trippy journey straight to the future. However the fundamentals of what Sellers is doing are self-professed “pretty basic stuff.” While really a half-truth from the humble musician, there is a definite theme throughout the album of employing simple techniques to continuously build at a grand design. Like an overworked human Rube Goldberg machine, Sellers stacks task upon task to create something truly majestic.

Roger Sellers

Roger Seller’s 2011 album Moments has been an almost permanent fixture on my rotating stack of vinyl that find themselves pulled from the shelf and piled directly next to the record player. A somber and moody minimalist set of tracks, even the washed out album cover brings about bluesy feelings of rainy days and depression. It’s the perfect record to kick your feet up to and have all the deep soft contemplations of bullshit as its softly piercing ambience washes over you. This had been my only exposure to Sellers up until a late night Fun Fun Fun show in 2013 where he was billed alongside everything from jazzy rock to backcountry folk. Perplexed but intrigued, I witnessed Sellers clamber onstage with a full band, and steal the show with folksy Americana that was familiar yet unrecognizable from the electric melancholy I had grown to associate him with. It solidified the declaration, “Roger Sellers is not a DJ.”

With Primitives, Sellers continues to evolve leaps and bounds, bringing a strikingly more sunny disposition  to the tracks. Sellers may speak through machines but instead of masking his vocals with overdone effects and showboating, he opts for subtlety that boosts his natural voice and shocks as you’re taken aback by a surprisingly angelic timbre from a fairly modest and goofy guy. It’s easy though to be distracted by the vocals and not give credit to the constant supervision and control Sellers manages with every other aspect of the live composition. The delicateness of the instrumentation is constantly in peril; a sweaty finger slip is all it takes to throw the whole thing off. Seeing Sellers live is an experience in itself, as he does something to a degree no other front man can or should do: becomes completely lost in his own music.

Roger Sellers

With the first dial turn Sellers closes his eyes and seem to leave the room, feeling out the static as if perplexed. A semi-improvised intro leads into the first track as peaceful oceanic gurgles give way to brief robot strangling, then quickly elevates to a serenade as melancholic howls kick in. At first he’s patient and subdued with nuanced creaking loops like a cricket slowly rubbing its legs together, remaining crouched as he groans straight from the belly. By the time he’s smacking the shit out of the drums though, Roger is in full control. Another tribute to the Primitives title, Sellers describes the use of percussion as “very tribal,” but to my eyes he appears like the most enthusiastic member of a drum line determinedly marching in place at a Bowl game. As soon as he sets down the drumsticks and leans towards the microphone his head swaggers into command as he practically spits onto the microphone like a kinky lover.

While Roger Sellers is essentially a one-man band, in reality the live shows are a collaboration between two artists who speak their own secret language. Topher Sipes and Roger Sellers have been partners in crime and art for nearly four years, with Sipes providing visual projections, album designs, poster creations, you name it! Sipe’s visuals elevate the live show to another level and hints towards Primitives ancient basis and juxtaposition of natural and modern. Are those rushing lights highway traffic flying by or a waterfall trickling down? Sipe’s visuals feel fluid and mildly improvisational, adapting to their surrounding environment as well as the music. With every snare slam Technicolor swoop that fills the air, observing the visuals is reminiscent of a child watching clouds: free to determine their own interpretations but recognizing a general purposeful shape…except now it’s like those kiddos are gobbling acid.

Roger Sellers

Primitives stands alone as achieving the one thing that has always been missing from Sellers’ discography, a record that delivers the authentic feel of his live performances. While there’s no true substitute for the real thing, the wholly rounded sound of tracks like “Appeals” with its sparse songbird keys finding their rhythm just as a crisp clear voice cuts through with a chorus, shows Sellers comes as close as possible to replicating the live experience. Then the drums hit and you’re really in trouble, notes fly by like you’re stomping across a never-ending xylophone in an overachieving sequel to Big’s Chopsticks scene. “Should I dance? Should I be in some weird zen state?” You don’t know anymore because by the time you think you have the track figured out a fuzzy voiced outro gives way to a whole new mind fuck. The entire album is a flawless and balanced transition, but its moments like “Steps” with chiming notes and abrupt little doo woop like moments escalating to lightly accentuated vocals and day dreaming that remind me what a departure this is from Seller’s darker and more atmospheric material. Even the collaboration doesn’t end merely at the live performance, as Primitives silhouetted album cover by Topher Sipes is a mirror image of the same splash of color surrounding Sellers’ at the live show.

Roger Sellers

Primitives may seem like Sellers stepped out of the Delorean with some gift from the future, but his highly adept ability to build upon simplicity and the tribal tonality of his energy and execution reflects a much more ancient and natural feeling. In a bizarre way Primitives serves as a superior rival to Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreak. Taking fairly basic techniques and using his knowledge, skills and ear for melody he has assembled a modern day masterpiece. Primitives is available now on Bandcamp or at Punctum Records and is currently on tour with dates remaining in Fresno, Reno, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas, Marfa and Dallas.

Nate Abernethy is a magical sprite we captured and forced to write for us. He somehow also wound up with a twitter account @NateAbernethy