Left to right: Jack Kaiser, Erik McIntyre, Robbie Dylan, Jonathan Tatooles, Josh Alfano
Photo by Rachel Spooner
On a chilly Thursday evening at a local Atlanta dive bar, one might not expect to walk through a portal and be teleported back to the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. But when Ace Monroe is playing, it’s hard to remember that you’re not in the 1970s or ‘80s witnessing musical greatness in a dim, smoky room.
Begun in a dorm room at Belmont University by Josh Alfano, lead guitarist, and Jonathan Tatooles, drummer, the band soon gathered members from all over the country who had flocked to Music City—Robbie Dylan, lead singer, Jack Kaiser, rhythm guitar and vocals, and Erik McIntyre, bassist. Each brings their own unique flair and musical influences, making their product utterly unique and full of geographical nuance.
“We're not really a Southern rock band. We're not a California surf rock band,” Alfano said. “We make rock ‘n’ roll-- it's kind of for everybody."
The crowd at the concert proved this: the audience ranged from the very youngest the venue would allow inside (18 years old) to folks who more than likely lived through rock ‘n’ roll’s prime. I watched one member in particular—an older man with long gray hair and a leather jacket—and as he watched Ace Monroe play, I could see a certain spark in his eyes: hope, perhaps, that rock is not dead.
I met up with the band before their show at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta on Feb. 9. They were sitting in a huge red leather booth in the restaurant section of the venue. In a lineup of everyone in the place, the five men could be easily identified as members of a rock band just based on appearance—slouchy tees, long hair, and various washes of denim. McIntyre’s rose-tinted lenses were a highlight of the gang’s accessories, as well as Dylan’s slew of necklaces. Kaiser must have shown a picture of Jimmy Page’s dark curls to his barber—the resemblance was uncanny.
Upon introduction, I was immediately met with warm smiles, handshakes, and compliments on my thrifted clothes—which I could hardly hear due to the music blasting through the bar speakers. We moved to a different part of the space, only to find the music even louder—no rest for the rockers, I suppose. Giving up on finding a quiet space in the bar to talk, I was then led back through the restaurant and into the Atlanta Room, one of the two music venues in the bar.
An hour before door time, it was almost eerily quiet. A room like that isn’t built for silence. The once-black painted floor was scuffed to reveal gritty concrete, evidence of years of dancing and moshing since the bar’s doors opened in 1994. Posters and autographed pictures of past acts were plastered over every inch of the walls—you could almost feel decades of music echoing from every nook and cranny.
“I feel like there's some cities around the country that you can tell it's a city where people are into music. And Atlanta is one of them for sure,” Alfano said. Atlanta was the second city that the band toured in, Buford being the first.
We crossed the small space quickly, filing one-by-one into a cramped, gear-stuffed green room. It was completely covered in logo stickers from bands who had played at the venue in the past—so much so that you could barely see the color of the walls. There was hardly anywhere to stand, but the band worked together to make a perfect makeshift interview space, meanwhile pointing at the stickers around the room and commenting on them. They cleared opened beers and water bottles off a small table, around which we all stood under a bright fluorescent light.
Ace Monroe is clearly a brotherhood—I was even witness to their fist-bump handshake shared between the five of them. They’re a perfect mix of rugged rock and down-to-earth goodness. Perhaps their name is the best example of this—they didn’t sit for hours and argue over the title of their band, trying to put words together that sounded cool. Ace Monroe is actually a person—a student that Tatooles met in his microeconomics class, in fact. “The most rock ‘n’ roll thing ever,” Tatooles said sarcastically.
The arguing does come around, though, during the songwriting process, according to the band. “We all have very, very strong opinions. But when we do come up with something as a unit, it's so cool,” Dylan said. With so many influences being brought to the table, differing opinions are inevitable. But, as the band was laughing, Alfano so wisely added: “It takes a little friction to make the wheels go around.”
And the wheels certainly do go around... and around and around. Ace Monroe isn’t just a well-oiled machine; they’re a shiny, purring sports car going 100 mph. Their on-stage dynamic is magnificent—not a single beat missed, not a single lyric dropped. The work and care they put into their performance is obvious and very much appreciated, especially by the barricade of devoted fans who were lined up as close to the stage as possible: they could have reached out and touched Kaiser, Dylan, and Alfano.
But the members of the band aren’t untouchable rock gods, despite Kaiser and Alfano’s habit of stalking towards anyone that is filming the band with their phone and teasingly shredding their strings right in their face. Ace Monroe makes it a point to send the love they receive right back out into the audience, often pointing at and talking to fans during their set. Before their encore—for which the audience begged—they even led a rockin’ rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a fan in the front row.
“Can we cuss in this?” Kaiser asked during the interview, almost shyly. When I answered yes, they let loose a stream of gleeful expletives. I asked if they could describe their music in three words. Tatooles: “Bad. F*cking. Ass.” McIntyre: “Loud. As. F*ck.” Raucous laughter filled the small room, mine included— what’s a rock band without a little good-natured indecency?
Even with the occasional dirty word, it seems that Ace Monroe is relatively clean-cut, especially compared to the chaos-driven members of their favorite bands, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Guns N’ Roses. “Believe it or not, we’re educated,” McIntyre joked after giving an eloquent history of his background and musical influences, which were namely Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Beatles.
Aerosmith was a band that everyone could agree on, especially me. Alfano and I, in particular, bonded over our love of The Bad Boys from Boston. Imagine my surprise when a song from Aerosmith’s second album appeared on the night’s setlist. They performed a masterful cover of “Train Kept a Rollin’” in the middle of the show, which made me stand up from my note taking and rock out. Alfano gave me a wink and a nod during the guitar solo.
During the interview, they had all informed me that their stage outfits that they would appear in later were thrifted, and it truly looked like models from some Nashville vintage store had just taken the stage to start setting up their gear. Red leather, silk scarves, green velvet, tight pants, shiny belt buckles—it was a Steven Tyler, Jimmy Page, mullet-sporting storm of fashion. Dylan was notably missing during this, which left me wondering what his outfit would look like.
The show opened up with “Lighting,” the driving first track of their self-titled album, released in November of 2023. It was an electric intro, with Alfano, Kaiser, and McIntyre charging the front of the stage at the first chords and Tatooles wailing on the drums. Dylan appeared onstage in a flash, decked out in black leather, belting with a strong, raspy texture that made the air spark and sizzle. The fire within the audience of about 50 had been set off, soon to be fanned into a blaze.
“The Hangman,” a gritty, drum-heavy thing with a dirty riff, and moaning, bluesy “Workin’ Like a Dog” followed, building up tension that exploded with “Gospel,” the first song the band wrote together. Kaiser and Alfano surged together at center stage for a joint guitar solo. Even the ever-mysterious McIntyre broke out of his shell and stood on the speakers at the front of the stage for a grooving bass solo, playing over the audience’s heads. Dylan left at one point, leaving the four instrumentalists onstage for an improvised jam session, which left the audience entranced.
A true highlight of the night was Tatooles’ drum solo halfway through the set. He was let off his leash, wild curls flying as he erupted with energy. Much of the audience had their phones up to document the spectacle in front of them. Tatooles teased the audience with scraping anticipation and explosive gratification. Once he was done, flushed and sweating, he was met with rapturous applause.
Renewed with energy, the audience rejoiced as the band returned to the stage and truly brought the heat with “Summer Heat,” a windows-down jam. A cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” followed, with Kaiser taking over the mic for the second verse. The outro was wild, unbridled, headbanging madness: hair-flipping, drum-pounding, string-shredding, screaming chaos. It was glorious.
The second the final note was silenced, the audience screamed and chanted for an encore, which Ace Monroe all too happily obliged. After some on-stage deliberation, they closed the night out with “Ghosts,” a sassy, gravelly thing with a bouncy Motown feel. Even the most hesitant audience members were bobbing their heads to the beat with a smile.
After the show, the band greeted fans by the merchandise table, disheveled, sweaty, and grinning—and yet, not one hair on McIntyre’s perfectly coiffed mane was out of place. I was greeted by name with words of appreciation that I sent right back to them—the show was truly phenomenal.
This was the band’s fourth time playing in Atlanta, and their third time at Smith’s Olde Bar. I slyly asked if they’d be back soon with new music, but they caught me and gave me cleverly vague answers about their plans for the upcoming year. “Lots of touring,” said Alfano. “A lot of firsts for 2024,” said Dylan. “And some seconds!” Kaiser piped up, eliciting a laugh from the whole band.
Ace Monroe was my first rock show of the year, and I left the venue feeling cleansed and renewed. There is something about rock ‘n’ roll that is like an addiction—once you start, you can’t stop. And I certainly got my fix from Ace Monroe’s rip-roaring riffs, screams, and beats that feel straight from the ‘70s and ‘80s but have an undeniable unique and modern flair. They’ve certainly lived up to and earned the coolness of that microeconomics student’s name.