By 6:30 on a Friday night in October, hundreds of fans waited anxiously for Frantic Ian to take the stage at the First Lutheran in Throgs Neck.
Ten minutes later, the bespectacled guitarist lit into his first full punk folk melody with irony-laced lyrics, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt with a rooster on it that said, “chicks dig me.” As the last note faded away he yelled out, “Sines and cosines, baby!” The crowd went wild.
Ian Rousso, 24, as he’s known off stage, is an average 20-something on a mission to have fun and learn everything he can about biology—and perhaps women, too. He has made the Bronx his adopted musical home and the borough has adopted him right back. Hundreds of fans sing along every time he plays a show with Bronx Underground, a grassroots production company.
Rousso looks like Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, but sings like a more melodic Bob Dylan—artfully and musically tone deaf. He calls himself “Bob Dylan with balls,” and said he “writes songs that are serious yet somewhat sarcastic.” Rousso said he loves his solo career because of the opportunities it allows. “It’s gratifying playing something you wrote on your own,” he said. “There’s no one to answer to except the fans.”
He released his first album as a free Internet download on Nov. 8 and said that he owes a lot of his success to Bronx Underground, a group dedicated to providing venues and audiences for local musicians.
“Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, I can’t tell you what it means to me that Bronx Underground considered my contribution to the scene relevant enough to have me play their 10th anniversary show,” he said at his gig Oct. 8 on the Throgs Neck stage. “I can’t tell you what it means to me to have been a part of this scene for so long.”
He joked that he’s probably going to be playing at Bronx Underground’s 20th anniversary show as well.
“How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb” released to much fan fare. So far over 100 people have downloaded it, a success for a self-produced and marketed album. It was originally titled “How to Disassemble an Atomic Bomb” until he realized that it was too similar to U2’s 2004 album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”
“Bono’s always trying to cramp my style,” Rousso said of the mix-up.
The antithesis of a rock star, Rousso is a junior biology major at the City College of New York and he’s very focused on school. A majority of his posts on Twitter and Facebook concern studying for biology and chemistry exams with a few pleas peppered in to download his new album, “How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb.”
“Music is mainly a hobby,” Rousso said. “Right now, school is my number one priority.”
Despite his focus on academics, the Upper West Side native has made a name for himself in the Bronx music community. He’s been in and out of Bronx-based bands for six years. Most recently, he performed with a band called Frantic Zero which eventually became part of Rousso’s solo identity when he left about a year ago. It’s a fitting name, considering he speaks in rapid-fire, like he’s trying to cover all his conversational bases at once.
When performing, Rousso owns the stage and commands attention, especially when powering through a “Sublime” medley, a 90s group popular long before most kids in the Bronx Underground audience were babies.
Part of Rousso’s appeal is that he sings for not only himself but for his audience. His songs chronicle what it’s like not to feel particularly “cool,” but to be relatively O.K. with it. His song “Get This Right” is about being young, having no real direction but hoping that things will work out. He sings about getting lost in his thoughts to his favorite band while on his way to a record store.
“Thought about the world that we live in and all the things we want to change,” he sings. “Remembered the songs that pushed us through reminded us how we should do it. I hope I get this right.”
Rousso combines Bob Dylan harmonica melodies with Dashboard Confessional personalized lyrics and a Ben Folds-type vocal artistry that’s not particularly impressive but sucks you in with its raw honesty. He’s not trying to impress, he’s trying to express.
“How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb” is similar but instead of lacking direction he laments his lack of success with females. On “Journey to the End of the Horizon” he sings “like a little boy who’s walking on his first stepping stone” to detail how new relationships make you feel like you know nothing even if you’ve been down the road before.
The new album also offers a hilarious and melodic cover of “Bed Intruder” the autotuned spoof of the viral video “Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wife” which shows Antoine Dobson who ranting to television reporters after a intruder climbed through his sister’s window late at night.
Rousso’s fan base has grown because he’s down to earth and fun to watch, plus he offers acoustic jam band-like performances to a scene largely dominated by electric guitars and jacked up amplifiers. Also, he loves his fans.
“Frantic Ian is awesome, he does really great acoustic sets in the city, said John Blattner, 17, of Throgs Neck. “As soon as I walked into the show the other day he pointed me out and dedicated a whole set of Sublime songs to me. Great time.”
Rousso’s influences include many Bronx-based bands including “A Moment’s Worth” and “Drew Torres” as well as “Jawbreaker”, a New York City band that’s often credited with influencing and starting the early 90s emo music movement which featured song lyrics heavy on personal emotions, often sad and slow.
On Nov. 29 Rousso will be performing and celebrating his album’s release at Angels and Kings, an East Village concert venue, which often features local talent. The show starts at 6 p.m. and is free.