Roger Sellers exudes energy. You can feel it when he pounds on his snare. When he cranks up the reverb, howling into his microphone. You can see it when he wipes the beads of sweat rolling down his brow and stretches his hand at the audience and then towards the ceiling. He sings as if he’s been stabbed in the heart by his own lyrics—wincing as he bends in out of dimly lit corners. They’re almost too true to handle without catching something in his throat. He belts “And I know there’s something else / something else, something else / and you’d rather not hear it from me”.
When you creep down the rusted metal stairs that lead into the pint-sized basement venue, Elvis Guesthouse, you might immediately find yourself engulfed in a glowing warmth. Part of that is referring to the friendly staff and the row of candles that line every open countertop and table, creating an atmosphere not uncommon to New York City, but rarely done right—leave it to the people behind Baby’s All Right to pull it off—but the other part is referring to the actual heat in the place—probably because of all the candles. It’s hot as hell in there. But if the heat was a ruse to sweat me out and make me buy a drink, they surely succeeded. Regardless, the venue, a stageless, oddly shaped room, aided Roger Sellers in nestling himself into a little corner and drowning himself and the rest of the audience in his music.
When he pivots over to his half-drum set, the crowd—really 20 or so people with unhinged jaws shifting in their spots, retreat a few steps back to brace for what will surely sound like booming claps of thunder in the mouth of a hollow cave. And as they sway side to side, governed by Sellers’ idiosyncratic time signatures, he grips his melody, crouches beneath his blinking lights, closes his eyes and rests his cheek on his pedal board. He falls under the spell of his own music. My assumptions concluded by this action are only positive. I beam with respect to a musician who can fall asleep to his own music in front of a crowd. Don’t mistake this though — it wasn’t boring. I wasn’t whispering negativities about his fatigue under my breath. All I could do was smile. It looked as if he was listening to the lyrics he wrote and fell back into the exact mindset he was in while writing them — the ones I always imagined he wrote in the dark with faded ink, in a journal that’s all too torn and frayed at its corners to not have been used every fucking day.
That sort of stage presence, even if there isn’t actually a stage, should not be mistaken as easy. It’s cultivated after years of having your heart pinned to your lapel. It’s cultivated after countless errors, lost opportunities and bad decisions. A stage presence like the one Sellers masterfully radiates is unmistakably sincere. I could stare at him play for hours and never get tired. I even managed to take some photos too, before the light creeping from the windows behind us completely expired. When only candles lit the room, I put my camera away, grabbed my drink to keep it from rumbling on its coaster any longer and gaped at the marvel that is Roger Sellers.