Jason “Potbelly” Rodger has been rocking out for what seems like forever.
A long-time supporter of the punk rock and metal scene, Rodger’s island-grown band Potbelly is celebrating 20 years.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” Rodger said.
Formed in January 1995, the band has seen members come and go, sometimes dealing with drug abuse, family issues, or legal problems, but has nevertheless survived.
Characterizing the band as “punk rock fusion,” Rodger said Potbelly is influenced by a surprisingly broad range of music styles from Devo to Frank Sinatra to Slayer.
“We have elements of all kinds of music wrapped up in our style,” Rodger said.
The band’s original members are Rodger, the singer, and bassist Ken Ball, along with newer members singer Corey “Worthless” Hansen, drummer Jeff Thayer, and guitar players Chris Solis and Christen Ogden “the Magnificent.”
All nicknames are the product of random occurrences and old-fashioned razzing that comes along with playing a long time together.
“We now have mortgages and kids, but it doesn’t keep us from doing what we do,” Rodger said.
David Portnow, a Seattle “behind the scenes legend” according to Rodger, signed the band seven years ago to his label PIG Records. He just re-signed them for another five years and recently bought their entire back catalogue.
“This is a very historic band,” Portnow said.
Portnow said the prolific band has averaged about four albums a year for the last 20 years and sells much of their music in Indonesia.
Rodger was a founding member of the Whidbey Island Pyrate Punx, an organization that supports touring bands internationally. There’s a group of a dozen or so locals who are committed to volunteering their time and homes to host bands, Rodger said.
As a result of their involvement with the Pyrate Punx network, the band has in turn been able to tour in areas that would have been cost prohibitive.
Potbelly and the Pyrate Punx are also very supportive of other local bands like Alcojuana, Solis’ band.
“They rock,” Rodger said.
Besides playing house parties on and off island, a main venue for Potbelly and the punk scene has been Oak Harbor Tavern on Pioneer Way.
“They’ve played regularly here for at least 15 years,” said long-time tavern staffer Steve Despopoulos. “Besides just bringing in area bands, they’ve brought into this little town a lot of musical talent. It’s all through their love and dedication to the punk music scene.”
Longtime friend and former Oak Harbor Tavern bartender Justin Doyle arranged for the band to play their first show there.
“We didn’t have music at all, once we got them in here it was great,” Doyle said. “The crowd of people they bring are totally different than they expected. It’s the greatest group of guys I’ve ever really met, to tell you the truth.”
Rodger said one proud moment was when they played the Island County Fair in 2006. The fair saw record attendance and “the hall was packed,” he said.
The band was also featured in the 2007 documentary “NWPunkrock: 30 Plus Years of Punk in the Northwest.”
In that time, Rodger has created his own record label, PB Records, producing mainly compilation albums of music from punk to metal, ska to hard folk.
“If I like it, I’ll help with it anyway I can,” Rodger said. But, he said, “punk rock is more my forte.”
Today, the band has 98 releases under its belt and has performed more than 1,000 shows from the West Coast to the Midwest. Their music can be purchased at Joe’s Island Music in Langley and online at www.interpunk.com.
Their newest album “EST. 95” is coming out in late February.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the names of Corey Hansen and Jeff Thayer.