New Jersey’s Rock N Roll Hi Fives Hit the Road for Spring Break
Family Rock Band Plays Winston-Salem Guitar Shop
It might be getting harder and harder to alarm one’s parents and to broadcast a sense of alienation and rebellion out into the world. Rock and roll used to do all that. But — what with pop-cultural appropriation, and Gen X child-rearing strategies of acceptance, normalizing the sound and style of the Ramones and AC/DC — the kids of the 21st Century need to explore new modes of behavior to demonstrate their bad attitudes. Musical taste isn’t enough anymore. That’s the feeling one can get when listening to the Rock n Roll Hi Fives, a rock band from New Jersey made up of a brother-and-sister pair (drums and vocals) backed up and abetted by their parents (mom on bass, dad on guitar). This is rock, but it’s also wholesome two-generational fun. It’s almost confusing.
The Rock n Roll Hi Fives will play a family-friendly show at Heyday Guitars in Winston-Salem on Sunday, April 9, at 6 p.m.
Lots of parents — often it’s the dads — have thought that their talented and musically inclined kids would make for a kick-ass band. The Shaggs, the Beach Boys, the Jackson 5 — many greats have been launched by proud parents. The Rock n Roll Hi Fives took shape as an off-the-cuff family activity when father Joe Centeno, who’d played guitar with bands in the ‘90s, got a drum set for his daughter, Eilee, who, as it happened, wasn’t much interested in making beats. But when her younger brother, Evren, started playing the drums a little, Joe backed him on guitar, and Eilee joined in with some singing. It only made sense for Gloree, Joe’s wife and the mother of the two children, to start playing bass and turn their casual basement jams into a full-on rock band. They’ve since released three EPs and play at least a few shows almost every month, while keeping the kids close to home so that the rock routine doesn’t distract from their schooling.
“It was just for fun, to express the music,” says Joe, “and now it’s something real.”
The band has been playing for three and half years, performing shows around New York City, New Jersey and taking occasional summer outings and spring-break mini tours, like the one that’s bringing them to the area. Hitting the road, loading in for soundchecks, and hanging out in clubs is something that Joe had experience with.
“I played in bands, I did a lot of touring,” says Joe. “When my wife and I had our first child, Eilee, I took a break from that.”
In the New York area, where Joe has plenty of musician friends who still have working bands, word got around that the parents and children had worked up some material, and his old pals asked the Centeno family to be the opening act at some rock shows. Not wanting to appear too loose, the band kicked into gear.
“We started becoming serious,” says Joe. “We don’t want to look foolish.”
Over the years, Eilee, who’s now 14, started playing a theremin. Music nerds know that the theremin is that far-out hands-free early electronic instrument that sounds something like a singing saw, a violin and a human voice, famously used to spooky effect by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys on “Good Vibrations.” Eilee plays one of the newer Moog-produced theremins that can be pre-programmed and selected to play in certain keys and modes, making the tricky intonation of the instrument less of a problem in a live-rock setting. Plus it adds a cool visual flourish to the Rock n Roll Hi Fives’ shows, seeing a teenager make wild isometric moves and dramatic hand chops while generating sound from the air.
“The theremin is fun for the live stuff. We make it sound more like a lead guitar. It beefs up our sound,” says Joe. “It’s amazing to watch.”
There is something captivating about watching a nuclear family go nuclear with the rock riffs. It’s more School of Rock and less Partridge Family. (“That’s kind of our Little Mermaid,” says Joe of the family’s taste for the Jack Black comedy about indoctrinating straight-laced youngsters into the cathartic joys of rock abandon.) The Rock n Roll Hi Fives have verifiable crunch and snarl. They’re a Chuck Taylor Converse All Star and skinny jeans kind of band. The Ramones would be proud. Singer Eilee looks and sounds like she’s made for frontwoman status, slinging her hair, growling, jumping and generally rocking out. Her brother, Evren, does impressively solid and energetic work on the drums, holding together the music like a sturdy retaining wall made of nicely placed bricks.
Eilee is into female-fronted rock. She’s a big fan of the Go-Gos, Joan Jett and Blondie. She likes Amy Winehouse, the Foo Fighters, and the Beatles, too. Evren is more of a metal-leaning rock fan; he’s down with Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Van Halen. They all like AC/DC. (One can hear all the aging-rocker parents out there letting out a sigh of relief about their hope for the musical salvation of future generations.)
After a typical show the members of the band routinely get stopped by parents from the audience who are enthusiastic — even a little jealous — about the family rocking together. Eilee says that some of the younger adults in the crowd have at times appeared stunned by the exuberance and force of the half under-age band. Audience members may have anticipated a cute novelty, not one with such bark and bite.
“A lot of them weren’t expecting our music,” says Eilee.
Joe says he hopes to be grilling hot dogs before the show, weather permitting, and basically cultivating a laid-back family-fun feeling at the music store. He’s got advice for any parents who feel inspired by what they see:
“Maybe buy your kid a guitar before you leave.”
Wanna go? The Rock N Roll Hi Fives play Sunday, April 9, at 6 p.m., at Heyday Guitars, 414 Brookstown Ave., Winston-Salem, 336-749-9249, heydayguitars.com. It’s free and kid friendly.