Some local bands are barely noticed while they’re active. Others are missed long after they’ve broken up.
Roma di Luna is among the latter. What began in 2006 as a folk duo of then-husband-and-wife Alexei Moon Casselle (vocals, guitar) and Channy Leaneagh (vocals) evolved into a big roots/blues band that included James Everest (bass), Ben Durant (guitar), Ryan Lovan (drums), Jessie Daley (vocals), and Michael Rossetto (banjo).
In 2010 a shout-out in Rolling Stone about the group’s album Then The Morning Came brought them national recognition, but in 2011, Leaneagh told City Pages that the band was folding. A month later, the band cancelled their farewell shows without explanation. Casselle and Leaneagh divorced; he diverted his talents to hip-hop outfit Kill the Vultures; she catapulted to fame with synthpop project Poliça. So it came as a surprise to many earlier this year when Roma di Luna announced a reunion show for April 7 at The Cedar.
We caught up with the members of Roma di Luna to find out what they’ve been up to in the six years since their last show.
City Pages: Alexei and Channy, given that you used to be married, was there any hesitation about reuniting musically? Any awkwardness about playing with your ex?
Alexei Moon Casselle: For me, personally, it wasn’t a thing to agree to a reunion show and play music with Channy again because we’ve already made music together since the divorce, as Poliça and Kill the Vultures, and despite whatever issues we had in the past, we’re successfully co-parenting and raising a beautiful young woman together, which is way more demanding and intense than getting together for rehearsals and playing a concert together.
Channy Leaneagh: Alexei is one of my oldest friends and our daughter is really looking forward to the show and she’s a huge reason I wanted to do it again. She was one of our biggest fans.
CP: How has the time apart benefited the band?
AMC: Each member of Roma has been immersed in their own creative outlets in the time that [the band] went dark, and those experiences, and the ongoing teachings of life have only deepened our appreciation for the special dynamic and music that we create when in the room together, and given us more depth as individuals.
CL: Yes, like Alexei said; time does wonderful things. We spend a lot of our rehearsals talking and catching up. The music and the memories we’ve made together is not something to take for granted.
James Everest: We all individually kept working on music, growing so much while away from Roma. We’ve come back together with so much more confidence in our own skins, it seems, and so appreciative and comfortable with each other.
CP: What has each member been up to during the time away from Roma di Luna?
AMC: I focused most of my time and energy into Kill the Vultures: completing the Carnelian LP and touring in Europe to support it. I also released albums with Mixed Blood Majority and Crescent Moon/Andrew Broder.
CL: Social media really exploded in the post-Roma era, so now you only have to look up our individual Instagram or Facebook pages and all our intimate details are for the taking.
Ben Durant: After the break up James, Ryan, and I played together a lot to blow off steam and terrorize practice spaces. That included backing up Toby Thomas Churchill, playing as a trio, in various improvisational groupings, and also with Channy, Jess, and Alexei at different times. We have yet to release our 8-track tape Yoga Pants @ Sparta recording. I also play with Guitar Party and do some recording.
Jessie Daley: I finished my master’s degree in clinical social work and have since been working as a therapist at a community mental health center. I started the band Fraea with my friend Drew [Preiner], and we wrote a lot of music, put out an EP Bend Your Bones, and played some shows. Also momming my two little boys, playing Legos, and doing a lot of dishes.
JE: Yoga Pants! Ben and Ryan and I knew we wanted to keep playing music with each other, but once it wasn’t as Roma, we were unleashed to play whatever we wanted, stylistically. It was super therapeutic to just have fun playing music with each other and being super creative. Ben and I got pretty crazy with the pedal boards. And Ryan got drum pads. We called ourselves the Grave Trio and started playing some shows.
CP: How does it feel to be playing and singing together again as a band? Did the chemistry come right back or has it been a slower process to find your groove again?
AMC: I thought it was going to take longer to find our collective groove, but we fell into the same frequency pretty quickly. Roma is more family than just a band. We’ve always enjoyed making music together and being in each other’s lives, so it doesn’t feel like work to rehearse. It feels like an excuse to hang with really good people that you haven’t seen as often as you’d like to.
CL: In our time off from Roma di Luna, Alexei, Jessie and I all sat in with Ryan, James and Ben’s project Grave Trio and other collaborations at different times, so we had the opportunity to create with one another outside of the original line-up. There seems to be even more comfort in knowing each other from multiple sides.
BD: We’ve all explored lots of different musical directions, but the music we made together seems to exist in its own place. As soon as we all got together in a room again we went back to that place.
JD: For me, it kinda feels like we jumped into a time machine. It feels the same, but almost more solid, more wise. I think that comes from all of us growing musically and also personally. It’s like a more content, more grounded version of ourselves doing what we always did, and it feels really good. It is also fun to sing backup vocals again, it’s like being a human puzzle piece and a totally different role from fronting a band.
JE: I got chills that first night we got together again, wasn’t sure what to expect, and even though we were trying to remember the tunes and specifics, the feel and connections to each other came right back. And to rediscover these amazing songs – many of them have an iconic, timeless quality to them that feels huge now that we get to play them again.
CP: What is each band member’s favorite song from the Roma di Luna catalog?
AMC: Damn. Not sure I have one favorite, but if I had to pick a solid candidate, I’d choose our version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” That one always gets me.
CL: Alexei’s “Soldier Song” is one of the most powerful anthems against America’s oppressive past and a call for bravery against it that I have ever heard.
BD: I’d have to say “Starling.” It seems to walk a nice line between folk and Deadhead excursion.
JD: I love the song “Plenty,” that was the first Roma song that really gave me a lump in my throat. And I will hop on the “Aeroplane” bandwagon too, because that one is a beauty.
JE: Yes to all of the above. Honestly, I get excited about playing every one of them, each time. There’s such a wide range of moods and styles and emotion across the catalogue. And everyone cares so much about getting them right, doing them justice. I’ve been particularly enjoying “Envisioning” because it’s pretty different and was one of our later tunes that we never recorded or released on a record, still feels pretty “new,” and not of a particular style.
CP: The community has obviously missed Roma di Luna given how quickly the reunion show sold out. Has this changed your mind about playing together again in the future?
AMC: It was very humbling to see that people were still interested in seeing a Roma di Luna show, given that it’s been years since our last show, with no hint at a reunion. However, our decision to play again was both a desire to serve our greater community in some way, and the mysterious element of the timing being just right: everyone was available, in a good headspace, and wanted to make it happen. I’m not really sure what we’ll do as a band after the reunion show, but whatever it is, it will be because it’s what is best for the collective.
BD: It is wonderful that people are excited to hear our music again. I am, too. It will be an evening with lots of hugs and high fives.
CP: You probably could have chosen any venue for the reunion show. Why did you choose the Cedar?
AMC: We chose the Cedar for the reunion show because that is by far the most important venue to us as a band. It was there that we played our first “big” show, early on in our group’s history, which effectively bumped us from just another folky, acoustic outfit around town to the unofficial house band of one of the more respected venues in the Twin Cities. The Cedar is very much in the fiber of our being as a band; it simultaneously commands respect and is welcoming to all. It has been the quintessential venue to see us play because it is both large enough to get a decent crowd in, and yet still very intimate and the audience members are there to listen and to share an experience with the performing act. I can’t say that about most places I’ve played in my career.
BD: What Alexei said. Plus we can re-live the time when we got to hang out with Mavis Staples after our show together at the Cedar, which was the best thing ever.
JE: The Cedar is one of my favorite venues in town -- their programming, their mission, and the sound and feel of the room is incredible. Roma’s music has always worked a very dynamic spectrum, from big and loud to hushed and whispered, and the Cedar offers audiences a space to experience all of it. There was only one venue we wanted to play this show at, nothing else compares.
Roma di Luna
With: TiWakan and special guests
Where: Cedar Cultural Center
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 7
Tickets: Sold Out