"Does anyone know how to play an E chord?"
It's long past sundown, but teacher-by-day Ryan Scully is looking for volunteers. Invariably, he finds one, brings him to the stage and hands over his instrument — to an unwitting pledge about to be hazed. "I have my guitar set up so that when they come up, I hit the tuning pedal and it just goes crazy with feedback," Scully says with a laugh. "That's great fun."
Welcome to the Rough Seven. The indoctrination comes during "Preacher By Day," a duplicitous rocker off the band's second LP, Codebreaker (Upper Ninth). "Thanks for the massage, buddy/ It blew my mind," Scully sings in his tattered upper register. "Preacher by day/ Meth-snortin' boymonger at night." On record, the squalling solo backs the hollow apology speeches of David Vitter and Ted Haggard. ("That's Ted," Scully confirms affectionately.)
To say Codebreaker follows the Rough Seven's 2010 debut, Give Up Your Dreams, is another misdirection. Half the album is the merry prankster and gospel salvager that longtime fans of Scully's bands (Morning 40 Federation, Charm City Brokers) know and love: "Preacher By Day," "New Kind of Love" and showstopper "Rather Go Blind," an Etta James nod on which ancillary singer Meschiya Lake starts solo and is joined by the band — midchorus, at full volume. "That kicks ass, doesn't it?" Scully says. "We lowered [the signal] for a reason, so that people would turn it up a little bit. They don't realize they're gonna get kicked in the face."
The other half goes back farther, and is for an even more select group: the inner circle that's been around since the beginning. Those tracks, recorded a decade ago and exhumed from a dusty hard drive in Scully's Bywater home, are the original Rough Seven. "That's where this band got its name," he says of his current ensemble, including Rob Cambre on guitar, Ratty Scurvics on keys, Steve Calandra on bass and Mike Andrepont, then and now, on drums. "It really didn't mean anything. There were sort of seven people in the band at one time."
It was the death of Michael Aaron, from heart failure in late 2011, that prompted Scully to revisit the old material. "Opportunity Cost," "Perfect Tree" and Bob Marley's "Do It Twice" are darling love songs mixed by Trina Shoemaker as if Scully is on the doorstep; the germ of "St. Anthony," rerecorded for Give Up Your Dreams, appears just so he could hear Aaron's E-bowed violin again. "I eliminated songs that had never been released before, and I kept a song that had been released already," Scully says. "Some of my bandmates didn't think that was the best idea."
For the new recordings, he enlisted two neighborhood luminaries, Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) and John Porter (The Smiths, Elvis Costello) — the latter of whom, Scully says, accidentally improved the originals. "I was sentimentally attached to the mixes that Trina did. I said (to Porter), 'I don't know if I really want you to remix it. Listen to it and let me know what you think.' Maybe a week later, he calls me: 'Scully, it's all remixed, mate. It's all remixed.' Mike (Andrepont) — the only one who's played on all those songs — we put it on in his car and we almost started crying. He knocked it out of the park, man. We couldn't ask for anything better."Check out R. Scully and the Rough Seven's Had A Home: