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Columbus musician rolls with various bands

SARAH PFLEDDERER / Asst. arts editor

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This is part of our weekly series titled “Columbus’ Own,” where we profile a local band every week.

Eric Rollin has immersed himself into more than a few genres of music, and he’s seen the ins and outs of plenty of venues around Columbus in the past decade. Those figures don’t matter most, though. For Rollin, it’s about collaboration.

“I think it’s very important to play with as many people as possible if you’re a musician and you want to succeed,” Rollin said after arriving to his rehearsal with The L.E.S. Crew – which stands for Living Energy System – after 10 p.m. Monday.

Rollin rushed to meet with his bandmates directly after a rehearsal held late with another group, Project NOVO, involving saxophonist, Jack Novotny.  

Before starting its rehearsal, L.E.S. gathered around a lengthy wooden table in a house neighboring Columbus State Community College’s Bridgeview Golf Course. Scratching his head as someone played keyboards in the background, Rollin named off a few groups and projects he’d played with in Columbus, including current involvements with Stretch Lefty and The Apes.

L.E.S. percussionist Joey Gurwin had to remind him of some past projects and the six albums he’s released collectively with other groups. No. 7 is in the works with Project NOVO, and it is expected to finish the album by the end of April, Rollin added.

“If you want to make a living in a city like Columbus, Ohio, playing music, then you have to be involved a ton of different projects. It’s necessary,” Gurwin said. There was a unanimous shaking of heads around the table from the rest of the crew.

Rollin, a full-time vocalist, said he devotes at least six hours a day to his musical career.

“Some people say I’m a rapper, but I prefer the term MC,” he said.

Tony Fancelli, L.E.S. bass guitarist and second-year in business at Columbus State, said he was impressed with Rollin at the start.

“At the time when Eric joined the band, I thought he was the dopest MC in Columbus. He’s just got a talent,” he said. “He’s got a knack. What more do you need to bring to a band than that?”

Without a side job, Rollin spends a portion of his time with his 2-year-old daughter, Madison. Smiling, he talked about Madison joining him on stage Saturday at the 18th Annual Hip-Hop Expo held at the Columbus Convention Center.

On St. Patrick’s Day, he performed at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion with Stretch Lefty.

“We went on and there was like 500 people in all green,” he said.

It was his first time performing at the LC, but it didn’t match up to his favorite Columbus venue, the Riffe Center.  

“The Riffe Center was the best place I’ve ever played because the sound was on point and we got paid a fair amount of money for a fair set time,” he said.

Rollin found an interest in music in his high school architecture class. He said his class was allowed on the Internet and he used the Web to tune into different songs and artists.

“I just listened to music instead of working on architecture s—,” he said. “That’s how I started with music and writing and stuff.”

He credited his dad, though, for making jazz his favorite genre.

“I guess he used to drive me around Interstate 270 because I could never go to sleep and we listened to jazz, so I think that’s why I like jazz,” he said.

Directly after graduating from Gahanna Lincoln High School in 2001, Rollin started performing around the city. He recalled playing his very first show with another MC, Bobby Fischer, at Gordy’s Restaurant in Westerville.

Reflecting on his attempts to play the drums and the trombone in sixth grade, Rollin said he’s content with sticking to vocals for now, which his bandmates appreciate.

Adrian Jusdanis, a third-year in philosophy at Ohio State and violinist for The Apes, referred to Rollin as the group’s “closest affiliate.” The Apes, an improvisational band that plays jazz, rock, Balkan and hip-hop, performs about once a month.

Rollin plays about half of the shows, Jusdanis said. He said Rollin is “just always killing it” when he joins the band.

“It’s awesome hearing his powerful, yet velvet-smooth voice over our classic music,” he said. “Eric’s a really adept free-style rapper. Sometimes we’ll just lay a beat down from scratch and he’ll just pick it up.”

Rollin said although he enjoys freestyle, he prefers writing albums with a positive spin instead. He wrote a song for American Eagle Outfitter’s summer clothing line last summer.     

Rollin said he aspires to tour around the country and eventually overseas. Thus far, he’s covered some of the Midwest and the East Coast, playing in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and Kentucky.

He said the most fun show he ever played was in Newport, Ky., at the South Gate House, which he described as a “mansion” owned by the person who invented the Tommy gun.

“The place was so old that the floor was bowing, and we had people jumping up and down,” he said. He also said he was concerned the floor might break due to the large, rowdy audience.  

ComFest was the largest crowd he’s played to, but with modesty, he said the size of the audience isn’t all that important.

“I just love music,” he said. “Anytime I’m playing music, I’m happy.”

Rollin is scheduled to hit the stage next at 9 p.m. Saturday at Scarlet and Grey Café, where he will MC the BusTown Hip-Hop Clinic. Tickets are priced at $7 for those under 21 and $5 for those 21 and older.

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