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The Daily Tar Heel

From Basements to Bright Lights

Roman Candle sets rock scene on fire.

Now, almost two years later, as Roman Candle prepares for a tour of the United Kingdom, a spotlight on MTV and a performance at the College Music Journal Music Marathon, one thing becomes starkly apparent: Nothing has changed.

"We gave Dr. Covach our CD during the first couple weeks of class, and at the end of the year we honestly had no idea if he had listened to it or not," said Skip Matheny, lead singer and guitarist of Roman Candle. "Then we came in on the last day of class, during the exam, and our CD was blasting over the speakers. He made us stand up and wave to the whole class while he praised the CD."

"That was probably the single most inspiring moment in our musical career, even though it happened before our musical career really started," Logan Matheny said.

But that moment, despite modest intentions, lit the fuse of Roman Candle.

After Covach shared their work with their class, the brothers put the first Roman Candle EP, Roman Candle, on sale at School Kids -- the Franklin Street mainstay for independent music.

"It was amazing how quickly people were buying our music," said Logan Matheny, drummer. "Every time we would go into School Kids they would ask if we had anymore albums -- and we were making every CD in our basement with our one CD printer. All of a sudden it was like we were popular. It was shocking."

Their album quickly became one of the highest selling at School Kids. As a result, interested calls from major labels began pouring in. Struggling to maintain complete control of their sound and also eager to find a label that would work with and not against them, the brothers finally got a phone call that sparked their interest.

It was Trevor Pryce, massive defensive end for the Denver Broncos and owner of Outlook Music Company, who promised the fledgling rockers the freedom they needed.

"When Trevor first called me I was driving a forklift in Portland. He said he loved what we were doing and told us that the last thing he wanted to do was put us in a studio with a producer," Skip Matheny said. "So instead he just bought us all new equipment and restocked our basement."

And it has been Pryce's flexibility that has let Roman Candle take its garage sound into the streets without ever leaving home. "Trevor has unyielding faith in our ability and vision as musicians," Logan Matheny said. "And that is so flattering and fun -- because we can call him up with almost any idea and as long as we can rationalize it, he'll give us the money to do it."

Riding on its local fame and the financial support from Pryce, Roman Candle went on a six-month tour with more than 70 shows that just ended in the town that birthed the group -- Chapel Hill.

"This is still our favorite place to play because it feels like coming home," Skip said. "We can play a tiny show at a place like Linda's (Bar & Grill), and people will come singing our songs, and no one is afraid to tell us that they liked our work.

"That is the coolest thing -- having a normal person just come up and thank us for playing."

And the diverse, supportive local music scene also inspired their work, Logan Matheny said.

"Chapel Hill is great because the music here is so innocent. You can see a kid walk out of a class angry -- red-faced and bleary-eyed -- but he can step up on that stage and forget all about it. ... And that is all we're trying to do, express ourselves."

But what started off as two brothers exploring their musical interest has exploded -- and is garnering national attention. Roman Candle, in the coming months, has many places to go and people to impress.

Next week, the band will perform at the Cutting Room as part of the College Music Journal Music Marathon. Furthermore, it will be appearing on the cover of the newest issue as a promotion for the festival.

And in last week's CMJ's Top Ten Most Added Songs, which gauges play time songs get on college radio stations across the nation, Roman Candle's Latin-inspired love song "You Don't Belong to This World" ranked ninth. MTV's special "You Hear It First" will feature the band this winter, it will appear on the World Cafe program, and it even has a U.K. tour planned for several months next year.

Bassist Carter Gaj put it best: "Our future's so bright, I gotta wear shades."

With all of the good news and praise, you would think Roman Candle would be getting a swollen head. But just when you think the band members are getting too big for shows at the local dive bar, they rekindle their home-grown feel.

Roman Candle is a major band with a local attitude, which means despite the money and madness, despite the shows and signings, despite the groupies and gold albums, it will still enjoy -- more than anything -- playing "Happy Birthday" for a fan.

Quiet and composed, keyboardist Timshel Matheny, Skip Matheny's wife, summed up the band's sentiments. "Above all else, we are just thankful."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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