There’s a tiny room upstairs at the Troubadour in West Hollywood that’s poorly lit and has a beat-up couch. A table in the corner holds a cooler filled with beer and pop; the names of bands you’ve never heard of are scratched into the dark wood beams, the whole space echoing with the ghosts of musicians past. Tonight, the room belongs to local indie rockers Help the Doctor (HtD). Jason Roostaeian (bass, vocals), Solomo Poyourow (drums), Phuong Nguyen (lead vocals, guitar) and Robbie Kang (guitar, keyboards, vocals) alternate between talking it up with fans and pacing the Troub’s narrow walkway. After they hit the stage, their set features HtD originals reflecting their influences — Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins — and has the packed house singing along.
A week later, Roostaeian momentarily postpones an interview because he has to sign some forms in the UCLA Medical Plaza. Bass player by night, by day he’s Dr. Jason Roostaeian ’02, M.D. ’06, a plastic surgeon at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and an assistant clinical professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. In fact, all the members of Help the Doctor are doctors. Kang and Nguyen are plastic surgeons, and Poyourow D.D.S. ’07, M.D. ’10 is an oral surgeon. The quartet met in 2011 while doing their residencies at UCLA.
“Phuong came over to my house; we were going to go to the UCLA-USC football game,” Roostaeian remembers. “He saw my guitars, and we started jamming.” The band came together organically from there. Poyourow was Roostaeian’s intern; Kang, a competitive pianist, rounded out the band’s sound. Their name originated during rounds, quoting a faculty member who’d cajole residents with “Help the doctor” when a resident was unable to respond to his query.
“Our first gig was at the Troubadour. I set it up after we gave the booker a short demo,” says Roostaeian. “From the time we met until we played our first show was five months, and the hardest thing was to come up with a whole set.” That first performance sold out, with the band supported by a host of colleagues from around the hospital. Their following has grown beyond the campus medical community, and they’ve been playing sold-out shows around town at venues that include the House of Blues, the Roxy and the Viper Room.
Other than putting a little cash into recording a few songs, all of the money Help the Doctor earns goes to charities like Facing Forward, an organization that provides funding for surgeries to correct cranial, facial and congenital malformations.
Given the seriousness of their day jobs, being parttime rock stars provides a welcome respite for the members of Help the Doctor. “I always wanted to be a surgeon. I love working with my hands; that’s how I got into playing guitar,” says Roostaeian, who emphasizes that it’s medicine, not music, that’s the priority. “Playing in the band is a way for us to have fun and raise money for charity. There’s a rawness to it, a great release of energy for us.”