NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rob Romano asked to meet us at Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts, where he’s a senior majoring in printmaking.
Our meeting pulled Romano away from a performance art piece that had involved a man walking around pots and pans. It's a Mason Gross thing.
Romano is the frontman of Professor Caveman, a band popular in New Brunswick’s basement scene.
The band's original psychedelic surf-rock vibes now features Latin Bossa Nova undertones and a more prominent punk-rock influence, creating a mélange of genres that work together harmoniously.
The band has become angrier and bolder—it’s grown past the carelessness of a summer’s day.
Professor Caveman was founded by Romano during his freshman year at Rutgers, but today he is the only remaining original member.
Band members include Romano on guitar and vocals, Louise Ardine on bass, Mike Madden on drums, and, recently, Erica Butts on guitar, synth, and backup vocals.
“Won’t you take me to funky town?” is part of the short description on their bandcamp website, an appropriate indicator of their sound and persona.
Their first album, the six-track CD "grape.," was released in February 2014.
"Prof. Caveman Vol. 2," their second and most recent EP, takes a detour from The Beach Boys and Best Coast to a more experimental route.
Romano recalls Professor Caveman “bouncing between people, filling them in” before settling on its current members. When asked how that affected the band’s sound, he replies, “I don’t know how our sound has changed, but it’s definitely different.”
When listening to both their EP’s side-by-side, the development is steady, creeping up on you.
They start off with 1960's-inspired surf-rock and delve into a more grungy 1990's sound, taking the listener on a journey from the Beach Boys to Nirvana.
It’s evident that they have a wide range of influences.
Romano says the band's top musical influences are Jimi Hendrix, Minutemen, and Maps & Atlases, all three of which are represented throughout the band's music.
Other influences include Black Sabbath, the Pixies, Mac Demarco, and Modest Mouse. But he says what really inspires him is, “anything that’s like, three people and they’re just killing it.”
He is also inspired by what Professor Caveman could be in the future: “I wanna make some music that’s never been made before.”
Romano is main songwriter, but each band member contributes to the development of a song. This is apparent in their second EP, which features a collaborative effort with vocals from the band's other members.
Professor Caveman is, unsurprisingly, very involved in Rutgers. Romano makes all the graphics and does all the screenprinting for the band’s CDs and merchandise in a Mason Gross classroom.
His most popular design (not fit to be printed in this newspaper) originally stemmed from an assignment he had to do.
Professor Caveman has also played at 90.3 The Core’s Corefest, a student-run New Brunswick radio station’s annual celebration of local bands.
But, Professor Caveman is also involved in the New Brunswick music scene.
The scene has been flourishing since the 1970's, back when the drinking age was 18, and bars regularly hosted live shows (and were open later).
But the closings of beloved music venues like the Roxy and the Melody Bar, combined with recent uncertainty about the future of the famous Court Tavern had the effect of pushing the music scene underground, unintentionally encouraging the basement/DIY (do-it-yourself) scene that birthed Professor Caveman.
“You had to make yourself involved,” says Romano, speaking about the early days getting Professor Caveman off the ground. “Anyone can be a part of it if they make an effort to go out to a lot of shows and network and things like that.”
Romano told us about crashing at another band’s place during Professor Caveman’s tour this summer, a band that was returning the favor after Romano had previously given them a place to stay.
“The whole point is… giving and receiving,” says Romano. “Even though it’s called do-it-yourself, it’s really about helping each other.”