"This was the flier to our first show, December 9, 2001," he says. "And Smoky is spelled wrong. And look at this — 'Rocky Mountain Skullbusters.'" The band once got a nerdy facelift as "Smoky Mountain Skillbusters," sounding very much like an itinerant high school math team. "Honest to God, one paper actually listed us as Smoky Mountain Skullfuckers," he laughs. "That's wishful thinking on someone's part. Back when we all shared a place, we collected all the misspelled ads and tacked them up on the wall in a police evidence bag — as evidence of how people weren't giving us respect.
"We've had a million good times. How else can you get to hang with your best friends in the world, play music, and embarrass yourself out of state?"
Normally, this would be the point where Roberts (or anyone who's just made what he believes to be the finest album of his band's eight-year) career would be telling you about the future. But that future will not extend beyond the band's Hollywood Alley CD-release party unless divine intervention is summoned and a giant cash bonanza is dropped on Roberts and company right now. The band members all have day jobs and families, and the pull of wanting to make music on your own terms is no match against a tanking economy. The idea of pressing a CD a year and being able to finance a tour with its sales seems like a fleeting memory.
Says the 38-year-old Roberts: "I would play this music for the rest of my life, but I don't want to just be playing the same songs I was when I was 29, and if I can't devote the proper time to writing new songs to where I feel good about it, then we're just stroking it. I'm just not making my life better. I could be taking my kids to karate class.
"Honey Bear [Matt Haselow] doesn't want it to be our last show. He works at an airport in Milwaukee, he has a wife and two kids and has to leave a month-old baby to come do a CD-release show. Dylan (Underkofler) doesn't care if it is our last show or not, and Rob (Davis) would play again in a heartbeat if I wanted to do it. Up until this point, we've been able to do really good work, but I can see how difficult that would be to maintain from now on."
While the band may have not been able to financially sustain itself through gigs and CDs, Roberts insists they succeeded in making music that confounded people, demanded their attention, and gave them something to talk about at work the next day.
"It's once-in-a-while kind of music, not the sort of thing you put on when you get behind the wheel of a car unless you plan to take a gun and go berserk at some point."
Lest you suspect the band is just trying to bolster its CD-release draw during a recession, rest assured that unless they decide to do a one-off show somewhere down the road, this is the last chance you'll get to see Smoky Mountain Skullbusters as a real living, breathing, barfing entity.
"Look, if we decided it was the last show and didn't tell anybody, and people just assumed they could catch them next time, they'd miss us and that would seem like a real asshole move. People would be pissed at us. Everyone that comes to the show is getting a CD in their hand."