— Local Rock band with West Virginia roots headlines U.S. tour.
Jordan Hudkins is the frontman for Kearneysville-based Rozwell Kid—a band that played its first show in Shepherdstown in October 2011, and now six years later, is about to release its fourth album, “Precious Art” (June 23), and set off on its first headline U.S. tour from July-August.
Rozwell Kid is comprised of Hudkins (guitar, vocals), Adam Meisterhans (guitar), Devin Donnelly (bass, vocals), and Sean Hallock (drums, vocals)—all guys with a connection to the Eastern Panhandle. In fact, Hudkins graduated from Shepherd University in 2008, and like most origin stories, formed Rozwell Kid as more of a natural progression within a journey that could have gone in quite a few different directions.
“I grew up in a musical household, and always had a musical interest as a kid—my dad was a high school band director; my mom was a church choir director—that sort of thing,” he explained. “I found Rock in my pre-teen years, but I never really thought about being a musician until college. I really just wanted to be an actor.”
Hudkins calls Cowen, West Virginia (Webster County), home, and admits it wasn’t exactly a hub for the arts. “There wasn’t a music scene, no bands—I think my graduating class was maybe three hundred and fifty kids.”
So when he arrived at Shepherd University in 2004, his expectations were both met and exceeded. “I had a couple friends from high school at Shepherd as well, so that made it a little easier, but overall, I was just overwhelmed with being in a place where I could actually walk next door and see someone or walk down the street and get Chinese food,” he said. “I kind of got caught up in the whirlwind of being in a place where I wasn’t just in my room in this house on some back road. I started hanging out with people and making all these new friends and having these new experiences.”
Artistic at a young age, Hudkins entered the graphic design program at Shepherd, and eventually turned his focus away from acting, and towards music.
“I just lost touch with theatre and acting. In terms of music, there were actually a pretty steady amount of shows happening on campus and in Shepherdstown, so that really opened up my world as well.”
Up to that point, he’d been playing guitar at home in his bedroom for a couple of years in high school, but never anything more than just playing along to his favorite bands. That changed pretty quickly during his freshman year. “I met some friends and started playing music with them—which I found combined my love for music and my love for performing,” he noted.
He also continued to expose himself to the ever-evolving music scene in college. “At Shepherd, I learned a lot more about subcultures—local bands, regional bands, and small independent record labels.”
Hudkins took his experiences home with him after his freshman year, along with a renewed sense of purpose. “I’d been playing with a friend but we needed a drummer, so I set up a drum kit at home that summer and learned the drums,” he recalled. “At the same time, I started writing original material. When I came back to school, I began sharing it with my friends and guys I’d been playing with my freshman year.”
He didn’t build on the music that he’d written much initially, but he did eventually sync up with Meisterhans—a friend from the year before. “Adam, who’s in Rozwell Kid now, has been a phenomenal guitar player for as long as I’ve known him. We wanted to form a classic rock band and play around town. And then our friend Tucker joined on base, and we formed The Demon Beat.”
The Demon Beat was more than just an experimental three-piece garage rock band. The trio played anywhere and everywhere, and put out records. “That was a pretty bold through-line for the rest of my time at Shepherd, and even for four years after I graduated,” added Hudkins.
From their first show at The Daily Grind in Martinsburg (around 2005/06), The Demon Beat soon found themselves evolving from parties and local venues to regional events in North Carolina, New York, Pittsburgh, and Ohio. “This area is actually pretty great for that because, in a month, you can pretty much cover an East Coast/Mid-West tour from this central hub and still maintain day jobs.”
Hudkins graduated with a graphic design degree in 2008, and turned most of his attention to The Demon Beat—all the while continuously writing his own material just as he’d been doing since that freshman summer. And then, a friend who operated a recording studio in Morgantown (WV) offered to record a few tracks, and he was very pleased with how they turned out. He eventually recorded ten total songs, whenever he had time between The Demon Beat shows—to complete a record—playing all the instruments himself.
“I ended up putting that album on the Internet with no real plans, under the name Rozwell Kid,” said Hudkins. “At some point, Adam played the record for another band who were recording at the house we all lived in in Martinsburg. They [Donnelly and Hallock] said if I was ever interested in playing the stuff out, they’d be happy to help.”
And in the way that certain storylines spill into and become the storyline, Rozwell Kid was formed in 2011. “The time with The Demon Beat was an extremely valuable experience for what we’re doing now with Rozwell Kid—we cut our teeth in a way that was very genuine and difficult.”
The new band played its first show at The Blue Moon in Shepherdstown in 2011—opting to let whatever success came their way happen organically. But they were good, and when you’re good, word spreads. They were soon asked to play more shows, and eventually Hudkins had ten more songs, and eventually a label out of Connecticut contacted them. And by the fall of 2014, Rozwell Kid did its first U.S. tour—by pretty much saying yes to everything.
In the span of a year—through the fall of 2015—the group did two more full U.S. tours (28-30 shows, over six weeks, each), a booked appearance at South by Southwest®, and a quick winter East Coast/Mid-West trip for good measure. In 2016, they went abroad for the first time—Europe and the UK—which was followed by an Australia tour soon after.
“We certainly gave it our all every night—nothing was lazy,” Hudkins stressed. “But the approach wasn’t forced. More and more opportunities came up, and luckily, we were open-minded and excited enough to take them as they came. We eventually met our (current) label [L.A.-based SideOneDummy Records], we made our new record, and we’re about to go on our first headlining tour of the U.S.” (For clarification, if needed: “headline” means Rozwell Kid is the main attraction.)
“It’s been pretty surreal to go from standing at the Train Station in Shepherdstown wondering how we would ever be big enough to play there to watching fans in Toronto and Italy sing along to our lyrics, and now headlining a tour where people will literally go to a show in California, or elsewhere, just to see Rozwell Kid,” Hudkins emphasized.
“Sure, it’s a grind; it’s a ton of work, but what in life isn’t if you want to be successful? You have to truly love it. The schedule and travel is hectic—the quality of life at times is challenging. And you have to constantly work at it. You have to remain passionate, and use the milestones as motivation.”
Huge summer notwithstanding, as far as what the long-term future holds for Hudkins and Rozwell Kid (which he refers to as Power Pop and Rock)? It’s a question they’re asking themselves more and more these days. “After the last few years of what feels like legitimate forward momentum and growth, it has certainly pushed that question forward: what is the goal?” he indicated. “If I could write music and record and perform it live—and make a decent living doing that—which I think is pretty attainable at this point—I could live with that. It’s obviously not the cover of Rolling Stone or selling out Madison Square Garden. At least not yet.”
“Precious Art” comes out June 23, and will be available on vinyl, cd, cassette, and throughout all major digital outlets via SideOneDummy Records. For more information on this summer’s tour, the new album, and any upcoming local appearances, click here, and find Rozwell Kid on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.By Mike Chalmers