ABOVE: RESERVED FOR RONDEE. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER HURLEY.
Soap stars can be surprisingly—and disarmingly—multi-faceted. Take Billy Magnussen and Tom Degnan, for example. The dramatic duo cut their acting teeth on shows like As the World Turns, where they were primarily celebrated for their buff bodies. But both are currently cropping up in other TV series (think CSI and White Collar, respectively), indie flicks (Magnussen appears in, among other things, Damsels in Distress), plays (Magnussen is involved in a forthcoming Christopher Durang production) and even commercials (Degnan endorses Verizon Wireless). In addition to these artistic and commercial accomplishments, however, the guys are also super savvy when it comes to churning out tunes. Magnussen mans the guitar and Degnan plays bass in their three-year-old New York-based band Reserved for Rondee.
The fun-loving rock outfit comprises other noteworthy members as well. Actor and jack-of-all-trades Trevor Vaughn assumes the role of endlessly entertaining lead singer, elevating RFR’s live performance to riot-inspiring heights. Nick Fokas, a professor of Greek and Roman history by day, rocks second guitar and, I might add, has a way with cats (namely playing with the one I’m fostering during our interview). Warren Hemenway, at one time a preacher who worked with an orphanage in India, supplies the percussion. The product is a stellar set, as audiences at their intimate but jam-packed concerts around town can attest to. Now they’d like to take it to the next level: an album. They’ve released a five-track EP, but the songs don’t stop there. So the fivesome got together and launched a Kickstarter campaign. Peep their sweet pleas via video and donate here.
Need more reasons to extend your support? Check out a show and get to know the dudes a bit better below. We sat down together Tuesday and what follows are some of the things that came out of our conversation. From hilarious anecdotes about first forming to a poignant perspective on what music means to them, their responses run the gamut. Read on for a few laughs . . .
NELL ALK: First off, what inspired you all to form a band?
TOM DEGNAN: The love of playing. Every day is a new adventure. Just having fun. We’re learning as we go. As long as that sense of enjoyment for creation stays with us, we’re going to continue to play.
ALK: How did you land this animated lead singer?
BILLY MAGNUSSEN: Trevor actually auditioned for the band twice. We were like, “Dude, we just don’t feel it’s going that way.” I can’t believe we turned him down.
TREVOR VAUGHN: Third time was a charm!
ALK: How did you and Billy meet?
VAUGHN: When he was auditioning for North Carolina School of the Arts, about ten years ago. That’s the first time I was ever introduced to “the carnival.” [laughs] I was [witness to] a lot of different auditions [at the university] and usually it was “stoic professionalism” amongst the “serious artistry.” But Billy’s natural sense of fun just infected the place from the very first day. And that has kind of been the driving force of this band—fun.
ALK: Given all the fun you’re having, who in the band cracks the whip?
DEGNAN: The whip is not off limits. Trevor’s good cop, Fokas is bad cop and Warren’s the boss. Billy and I are usually the ones who are out of line.
ALK: Remind me again how you two met? [laughs]
MAGNUSSEN: We were on As the World Turns together. We played brothers on the show. Our friendship started there. We would punch each other in the face, in the nuts, while we were acting. Our characters are supposed to hate each other, but we actually got along really, really well.
ALK: My grandmother loved that show, but it was well before your time…And now, no more soaps.
DEGNAN: It’s a huge shame, because a lot of wonderful actors are out of work in New York. There were a lot of amazing people I met on both One Life to Live and As the World Turns.
ALK: What about you, Billy?
MAGNUSSEN: I couldn’t be more thankful to get my start on a soap opera. It was the hardest job I ever had. Got to practice in front of the camera, like, every day.
DEGNAN: That’s one of the great things about doing a soap opera. You’re in front of the camera every day. It totally throws you in the deep, sink or swim.
ALK: And what have you been up to since, apart from forming RFR, which I’ll get back to in a minute?
MAGNUSSEN: Since then, it’s been TV and a lot of independent films. I’m so happy and blessed to have all these opportunities. But I’m also working on somebody else’s project.
ALK: Speaking of, what was it like working with “it girl” (or “anti-it-girl”) Brit Marling on The East?
MAGNUSSEN: Awesome! Smartest girl I’ve ever met. Hands down. Brilliant. Her story? She had a graduate degree from a top tier school and turned down a job with some big company. She went to LA, said she was going to be an actress. She wasn’t getting auditions, so she started writing her own films. She’s wonderful. Delightful.
ALK: Who knew? So, why the name “Reserved for Rondee”?
DEGNAN: We were tying to come up with names back in 2009. Giant Sandwich, Six-Inch Heels, We’re the Kids Your Parents Warned You About, Backless Straps, Hands Opposite. We couldn’t come up with anything definitive. Then, we walked in to a bar in Murray Hill for Game 2 of the World Series, between the Phillies and the Yankees, and our friend Ronde had reserved a table. [This placard read:] Reserved for Ronde. We added an “e.”
ALK: And the rest is history. She must love you guys for the homage . . .
VAUGHN: Ronde is kind of awesome. We live to please her. It’s kind of like God. How often is God really pleased? How often is he really like, “Whoa?“ Usually he’s like, “Come on, guys.”
ALK: [laughs] Apart from the funding, what else prompted this Kickstarter campaign?
MAGNUSSEN: We want to feel like our fans have been involved in making our first album.
VAUGHN: It’s been sustained by them. I don’t think we would be a band unless it had been affirmed live.
ALK: On the topic of concerts, how would you sell yourself to people who haven’t heard you yet?
VAUGHN: There’s a quality in terms of what we do live, which is something that we are confident in. A lot of musicians don’t fully know how to do [it.] It’s a struggle for musicians to learn how to be showmen, in a way. To learn what it means to bring it. To bring it live.
FOKAS: Capturing that magic is the hardest challenge. [laughs]
MAGNUSSEN: You can’t teach what Trevor Vaughn does.
DEGNAN: It’s a real good time. You’re going to see Trevor probably do some high-flying aerial acrobatics. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen. He may jump off the stage, he may dance with you, he may try to do pull-ups on the rafters of the ceiling. But Trevor Vaughn will do something that will blow your mind.
MAGNUSSEN: Melt their faces off.
FOKAS: Something might catch fire.
VAUGHN: I go through shirts. Shirts come off. I don’t usually dazzle the crowd with my mediocre body. But, I go through two or three shirts a concert.
ALK: Noted. Beyond the live experience, how would you describe your sound?
FOKAS: A cross between Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync.
VAUGHN: I think we’re deeply based in classic rock sensibilities and also ’90s grunge.
ALK: In your opinion, what is the function of music?
VAUGHN: Music is a way to demarcate the best experiences of our lives. It keeps time in a way that our memory, from day to day, doesn’t record. It really helps create the soundtrack to people’s lives.
ALK: [Nodding] So, what does music mean to you?
VAUGHN: It’s what we send out to aliens just to let them know, like, “Please don’t destroy our planet.” There’s beauty here. I think music is the divine expression of numbers, and numbers are something that we can’t refute. Music is like that, in a beautiful way. We were here. Once upon a time, this was us. Art should illuminate our better angles as well as not be afraid to hold the mirror up to what’s less than that. Music is for everyone. That’s what music is.
CATCH RESERVED FOR RONDEE PERFORMING AT ARLENE’S GROCERY ON MAY 12 AND AT MERCURY LOUNGE ON JUNE 6. CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT THEIR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN THROUGH MAY 25.