On the Fly: Steve Roehm

Neighborhood Trio 1
From left: Steve Roehm, Dan Schwartz, and Josh Schwalbach of The Neighborhood Trio.

From Lionel Hampton to Milt Jackson to Stefon Harris, vibraphone players have always had style. Steve Roehm is no exception. Bespectacled and bow tied, Roehm is the vibraphonist for Minnesota-based bands The New Standards and The Neighborhood Trio. The latter will be performing at Terminal 1-Lindbergh this Wednesday, August 26, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Airport Mall.

The New Standards, which Roehm formed in 2005 with pianist Chan Poling (of The Suburbs) and bassist John Munson (of Semisonic), has a global following and diehard local fans (the band’s annual Holiday Show is a Minnesota institution.) The Neighborhood trio is Roehm’s latest collaboration, with Dan Schwartz on acoustic lap steel guitar and Josh Schwalbach on upright bass.

“The group doesn’t carry the same name recognition as The New Standards, which is nice,” says Roehm. “It lets us fly under the radar and do things like play at the airport. It’s also an outlet for me to write music.”

We caught up with Roehm in advance of the show to find out what we’re in for (trust us, it will be a treat). Here’s what he had to say.

What can we expect to hear this Wednesday?

Dan Schwartz and I write most of our music. Our tight, catchy arrangements pull from country, funk, and pop influences. We offer a laidback, yet energetic performance that will offer a break from the hustle and bustle of travel.

Vibraphone, lap steel guitar, and upright bass—it’s an unusual mix of instruments. Why does it work so well?

Lap steel is often associated with country music; vibraphone is associated with jazz. Upright bass is used in both genres. The lap steel’s earthy sound complements the rhythmic energy of the vibes, while the bass adds groove. The blend of instruments defies genres and gives us freedom to create melodic pop that is approachable, yet fresh.

When did you pick up the vibraphone?

I learned to play vibraphone at the University of North Texas. At the time, I was more interested in drumming and joined a band that toured the country. When I moved back to Minneapolis in the mid-90s, I picked up vibraphone again.

You’ve traveled the globe on tour. What’s your favorite city in which to perform?

You really can’t beat New York City. The New Standards have played Joe’s Pub, Lincoln Center, Central Park, and City Winery. It’s always a treat.

Where do you get the best reception?

Our hometown fans are always great. Whether we’re playing the opening for the new Vieux Carre in St. Paul, the Dakota in Minneapolis, or our sell-out holiday shows in the 2,500-seat State Theatre, we are always welcomed with open arms. We received a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which allowed us the opportunity to play in old opera houses across Minnesota from Detroit Lakes to Fairmont. The theaters were beautiful and the audiences were welcoming and attentive.

Any crazy travel stories?

Several years ago, The New Standards played in Shanghai, China. An earthquake hit China while we were there. John, Chan, and I were at the Shanghai Museum and didn’t feel a thing, but there were reports of swaying on the upper floors of our 36-story hotel.

You just won five days off and 300,000 frequent flyer miles. Where do you go?

I love to fish and a fishing trip to Canada or Alaska would be great. On the other hand, relaxing on the beach in Costa Rica or Belize with my wife would be amazing, too. I could name a dozen other destinations on my bucket list.

If you could play any stage in the world which one would it be?

The Sydney Opera House. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, and the opera house is so iconic. It’s the most audacious, bold, far-away stage I can think of. Plus the greenroom deli tray is probably a spectacle.

Click here to watch The Neighborhood Trio perform, “Shag.”