Photos by Jayne Quan
“So... what do we talk about?”
This is what Jordan Hudkins, lead vocalist and guitarist of Rozwell Kid, asks me 40 minutes into our first date. It’s his first first date in seven years, my first date in a year and a half, and, to be honest, I don’t know what to talk about either. I was at a loss for words and barely able to maintain my cool the moment I showed up to meet him at the Olive Garden in Midtown Manhattan. To assure things went smoothly, Jordan brought the rest of the band along for our romantic evening. So, between me, the four band members, one of their girlfriends, a waiter, and a photographer, there’s enough back-and-forth among everyone that I don’t have to steer the conversation all the time.
“Do you want to practice as if you’re going on a date, as if this were a real?” I ask, as if I didn’t already have four separate futures planned out for me and each bandmate. “We could make it a Bachelor sort of situation. So you all get to date me, and then I hand over the rose or...”
“I don’t play games,” Jordan immediately replies before the words could finish leaving my mouth. “That’s the first thing you know if you’re dating me: I don’t play games.”
“He hates playing games,” chimes in Adam Meisterhans, the other guitarist.
“So, yeah, dating,” Hudkins interrupts. “I guess you get to know each other, right?”
That’s step one, buddy. I think to myself, the putdown mostly directed toward myself.
Here is what I know about Jordan, just from talking to him on this date for 20 minutes: He’s the “star,” though he would never say he is. He’s the self-deprecating center of attention with the quickest comebacks, who writes most of the songs for the band and is the genius lyricist behind songs like “Baby’s First Sideburns” and “Kangaroo Pocket,” as well as the rest of the songs Rozwell Kid plays, too. He once misspelled “fashion” in a spelling bee as a kid (he forgot the H) and his teacher promptly mocked him by putting on David Bowie’s “Fashion.” He, as mentioned, does not like games, he’s from West Virginia, and can pronounce anything on the Olive Garden menu with the confidence of a 70 year old Italian grandma (who, yes, you would find in an Olive Garden. It’s for family.). .
We make it through another few minutes of small talk about coffee, taxis, and growing up with older siblings until, once again, Hudkins asks, “What do we talk about now? What else do you do on a date? What other kinds of questions do you ask?”
Usually, if it were anyone else, or the circumstances any different, I would have ended the date right there, either by having a friend call me or jumping out of the Olive Garden window and never calling the guy again. But there were three other people there, ready and willing to talk about dating. That’s why you always need a backup date, for your current date.
“I’ve only been on one date. Ever,” Adam chimes in, saving what could have been an awkward silence where the words “Uh, I don’t know? Do you… like stuff?” would have escaped out of the hole in my head where I put food.
“Just one?” I ask, incredulously. But the juicy story I thought would come turned out to be nothing more than one about Christmas shopping and going to IHOP with his other friends, bringing her along. Adam is still dating that girl, and she’s been sitting right next to him on this date. Bringing your girlfriend to a first date is a total power move, but then again, on a first date, you have to bring your A game.
Currently, Rozwell Kid is one of the funniest and most sincere bands in the game, and probably have been since their debut in 2011. The first song I heard by them was “Kangaroo Pocket,” off their 2014 record Too Shabby. During the chorus, Hudkins sings: “If I do everything that I should/When do I do nothing at all?” a feeling I think we can all relate to. Their sound, armed with Hudkins lyrics, make their music a kind of existential, infectious indie surf rock. The songs feel like inside jokes when you listen to them, but are self deprecating to the point that you just want to give all of them a hug and tell them life is gonna be okay. Dudes love them—like, really love them; just take a look at any of the comments on their music on Bandcamp. While some of those commenters and fans are trying to prove themselves to either the band, or the world, that they “get” Rozwell Kid, there’s really not much to “get.” Their hearts are on their sleeves, their emotions right there in the lyrics. They’re one of the few bands in music that takes themselves very seriously, yet not seriously at all.
On stage, and in person, the foursome acts like an improv team, without any of the pretension of being on an improv team. You can see it in their banter, their back-and-forth teasing of each other that make any goals you had besides being their best friends go right out the window.
Of the four, Sean Hallock, the drummer, is the quietest and most reserved, even after being the only person to boldly order a glass of wine. He also thinks the steam coming up from the New York City sewers could be distilled into some pretty clean water, an idea we quickly shut down, but that doesn’t mean he’s not onto something (looking at you, NYC).
“Have you ever been on a bad date?” Hudkins asks me. The tables have turned. I tell them yes, let them in on my strategies for getting out, and, as I’m about to ask if they’ve done anything similar, I notice the guys have already started talking about how they’d get out of a bad date.
“What would your escape plan be? To get out of a bad date?” Jordan says, looking at Devin Donnelly, the band’s bass player.
“Climb out the bathroom window,” his answer is so confident it leaves you wondering if he’s done that before.
“Just leave?” Jordan asks.
“Just leave. Just go,” Devin adds.
“I’d just say, ‘Oh, I have to go to work right now.’ And I would just leave,” Adam adds.
“And they’d be like, ‘You are so unemployed,’” Devin jabs.
“Oh, I just got a job and now have to go to it,” Adam adds, mimicking holding a phone.
“What’s that, new boss?” Jordan says, now pretending a utensil is the phone. “I’m hired? I’ve gotta be there now?”
Adam: “When can I start?”
Jordan: “Right now?”
Adam: “Ten minutes?”
Devin: “I’m so sorry. I just got a job at the President’s house. I have to go.”
Adam: “The President’s house.”
Jordan: “‘I just got a job at the bank.’ What about you, Sean? If you had to get out of a bad date, what would be your escape plan? Unless you already have one, that’s you’ve used before. “
Sean: “I’m really close to just going out for a smoke and never coming back.”
Jordan: “I know what you could do. Act like your mom called you: Yeah, I’m on a date, it’s going really well. Yeah, I think she’s perfect!”
Adam: “I think she’s going to invite me up. I think she’s the one. I think she’s ready to meet you.”
Jordan: “I can’t wait for you to meet her, Mom. I love you so much, Mom. She’s just like you.”
Adam: “Do you have your mom’s ring? Could you Fed-Ex that to me, overnight? To the Seventh Avenue Olive Garden.”
Jordan: “I love you so much, Mom. I can’t wait for you to meet her. She’s the best. You’re going to love her, Mom.”
Adam: “I’m at the Avenue of the Americas Olive Garden. I need that ring.”
Jordan: “Mom, can you text me a picture of you?”
And with that, we leave. On the way out, I mention how much I feel like we were all family now, because of the setting. “That’s how you want to feel after a first date,” Jordan said.
It's true what Olive Garden says about Olive Garden: When you're here, you're family.
Annalise Domenighini is glad life is not as endless as the breadsticks at Olive Garden. Follow her on Twitter - @bananalise