John Paul Roney is sitting in a State Street coffee shop, his wavy blond hair and leather bracelets tempered by a square-knotted necktie and lightweight sweater.
It's a look that fits Roney's hybrid persona - one part rock 'n' roll hipster, one part boy next door. Roney was the excitable frontman of the Profits, the UW pop-rock band that titillated coeds with their provocative single "Sex at Six" until they broke up last summer.
Roney was also a student of law and philosophy during his years at the UW. He grew up in Baraboo and spent seven years of his childhood in the Madison Boychoir. His new band, We the Living, are named after the Ayn Rand book and are guided by the idea that people need to stand for something.
Like the big guitars and big chords ever-present in his music, Roney is all about emotion and bold statements.
"As a musician, I want to set my goals high," he says. "I want to be a better songwriter than Paul McCartney and a better showman than Bono."
In the five years since he began busking on State Street with his friend and fellow UW student Mike Droho, Roney has progressed a lot further than most local musicians. Formed in 2002, the Profits emerged as one of Madison's most popular bands by 2005. They sold more than 8,000 CDs without distribution and drew more than 1,000 fans to theater-sized venues.
Roney and Droho shared frontman and songwriting duties for the Profits. Their complementary energy (Roney's excitability and Droho's restraint) made the Profits lovable.
But the Profits couldn't hold up under the weight of their novelty single, "Sex at Six." The hit may have brought down the house at their live shows and gained airplay on Triple M, but it overshadowed the Profits' identity.
"It was a source of frustration," says Roney. "We wanted to accommodate our audience, but at the same time, we both wanted to move onto something with more substance."
The Profits' four-year run ended in 2006, when bassist Scott Lamps moved to Chicago to open a recording studio and Droho left to pursue a solo career.
Droho's departure was not amicable. His turbulent split is still a difficult subject for Roney.
"I don't talk to Mike anymore," he says, gazing away with a look of regret. "He's an excellent musician and has been a huge inspiration to me. It's a shame that we can't be friends."
Soon after Droho and Lamps left, Roney and drummer Benjamin Schaefer recruited two old friends, Matt Holmen and Stefan Benkowski, to complete the lineup of their new band.
We the Living are poised to sign a major-label contract in 2007. They are managed by Scott Austin, former A&R rep for Capitol and Maverick, who started his own A&R company, Authentik Music. Austin has previously represented Tyler Hilton and the All-American Rejects.
"We've been contacted independently by all four labels," says Roney. "We've been eating a lot of dinners lately on corporate credit cards. Scott is negotiating all of it."
Under Austin's direction, the band have completed a debut CD, Heights of the Heavens, that they will release nationally this fall. Its 10 songs include two from the Profits' 2005 album, Far From You and Your Everyday Noise. It also includes a cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."
"Barometers" was a track Roney wrote as his split with Droho was unfolding, but not yet final.
"I spent all of last summer trying to get a feel for what was going on with Mike through mutual friends," says Roney. "It was my 'barometer' on our relationship. I sent him a message in these lyrics, 'what are we going to do?'"
Another notable track is "History." The song's message reflects Roney's idealism.
"We're put in this world to make a difference," he says. "When I fall in love someday, it's going to be the greatest love story of all time. Someone's got to come along and change history."