2008-12-19 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

Rattrap Captures The Local Music Scene

By Michelle Romano

The guitarist for the local band Rattrap Bumpkin, Mike Benedetto, 23, leans back in his swivel chair. From behind his black-rimmed Ray Bans, his eyes are tired. When speaking, his heavily New York-accented voice is low and his words are drawn out.

"I'm exhausted, sorry," he explains. "I haven't slept all weekend. I've been all over. I went out Friday for a show and just got back this morning. Today

early this morning] I was recording with a bunch of people from Rockaway."

Right now Benedetto and the band, comprising longtime friend Bryan Frasier on bass and his cousin Chris Stanis on drums, are hustling. Besides juggling everyday life and full-time jobs, Rattrap meets twice weekly at their recording space in Astoria to rehearse and are booking gigs two to three times a month. On top of that, the band must self promote.

After years of hard work, Rattrap just released their first self-titled album under their own label, "Make It Hurt."

Like many local bands that create for a love of music, the album's production was independently funded. The members paid for the CDs out of pocket, Benedetto recorded the tracks on his digital 16-track recorder, Stanis' girlfriend designed the CD jacket and the band and their friends collaborated on its promotion. Earlier this month, Rattrap assembled in native Rockaway to play a two-to-three-hour set at the Tap and Grill for an album release party.

"When we come to Rockaway we get our Rockaway friends that don't take the train all the way out to the city most of the time," Benedetto says. "We get to hang out with a lot of people and have fun. It's just fun coming down here."

Benedetto, who is also embarking on a solo career, would classify his acoustic solo work as folk. But he is unsure how to describe the band's music. After some deliberation, Benedetto chooses "garage rock" as a suitable genre and adds that a lot of people have called their style "pirate music." He says "everything and everyone" has influenced their style. They're big fans of musicians like Tom Waits, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Doors.

Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA) Board of Directors member Tommy Burke has his own opinion of Rattrap's style. The band mates are members of the RAA and Burke has watched them perform and grow as musicians.

"The music is very much its own," he says. "There's nobody out there that sounds like them."

The passion is there. Benedetto says he and the band are all about music. When they're not working or playing, they're going to shows. In fact, Benedetto struggles to recall what Frasier and Stanis - whom he's known since high school - do for work.

Benedetto, who wears a guitar pin on the collar of his jacket, took 60 credits at Kingsborough Community College, all in music, and worked as a music recorder before he was laid off. Now, he focuses on his career, booking gigs and making music. To make ends meet, he takes side jobs painting houses and working construction. His black jeans and skate sneakers are splattered with white paint.

"What I'm doing now is playing music full time," he says. "That is my job, trying to book as many shows as I can. It's hard to play the bills, you gotta hustle."

Rattrap Bumpkin, whose name was inspired by Frasier's old pet python and Benedetto's fondness for the word "bumpkin" as indicative of a small town, is one of the many bands that comprise the growing Rockaway music scene.

Fostering the movement is the RAA They have open-mike nights every Thursday in Fort Tilden's sTudio 7 building for musicians to come practice, perform and hang out. And it's growing in popularity. The program was only scheduled for summer and retained its popularity well into the winter months. Burke says the RAA gets up to a dozen musicians on any given night and more than 100 musicians call themselves RAA members. At the open-mike program's inception, Burke recalls, only one band would perform every couple of Thursday nights.

"Now there is a music scene in Rockaway," Burke says. "It was always playing in bars, now there's an element of playing for people who want to hear music [as opposed] to playing in bars and playing over people not listening to you."

Besides their open-mike nights, the RAA also lends equipment and instruments to musicians, and holds largerscale live-music nights, such as their solstice parties. Saturday, December 20 is the Winter Solstice Music Event, at which 12 bands will perform. Indicative of how the music scene has grown, there will be 15 musicians playing didgeridoo.

Breezy Point summer resident Kiernan Duffy Goodman says she likes listening to the artists at the RAA.

"I enjoy the shows at the RAA much more than at the local bars," she says. "They are a lot more relaxed and the atmosphere is usually a lot calmer and cooler, friendlier. There is a different vibe and group of people, also."

Burke says the music, especially that of Rattrap, has a distinct sound he calls "Rockaway Blues." He holds responsible the beach lifestyle and the close proximity to the ocean.

"These are all surfers and lifeguards in the neighborhood whose parents brought them down to the RAA and now they come on their own," Burke says.

Although Benedetto is from Broad Channel and Stanis is originally from New Jersey, Rattrap is a Rockaway band. It was born almost 10 years ago in the bungalows at Beach 101 Street, where Benedetto and Frasier 'messed around' with a bass and an acoustic guitar.

During the summer, Benedetto says the bungalows were filled with everyone's family hanging out, but after Labor Day, it was their "own personal playground." One of their songs, "Come and Go," is about Rockaway and mentions the bungalows at Beach 101 Street. When they were torn down, Rattrap was especially affected.

"It sucks," he says. "You don't even know what it was like. That was our place … all our families, we grew up right in those places. It was great."

Rattrap has grown since their days in the bungalows. While they've just jumped a hurdle in their latest album release, they're not slowing and settling down anytime soon. Benedetto says he would like to play at the Siren Music Festival in Coney Island, even though getting on the program would be challenging. He also says he wants to go on tour around the U.S. with the band as an opening act for other musicians.

"For them I hope they do everything that they want to do," Burke says. "They absolutely can make it. With a little more time, and help from RAA and friends, they can be on the radio someday."

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