Photo: Emily Chow

DC’s Bad Moves Talks Power Pop Ballads & Collaborative Process for New Record

By day, the foursome behind DC-based power pop band Bad Moves span career paths – from labor union organizer to NPR music editor. But by night, bassist Emma Cleveland, drummer Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and guitarists David Combs and Katie Park are focused on their budding music career.

Still beatific from their successful SXSW showcase this spring, the band has been keeping busy with their upcoming LP Tell No One. The record comes out on September 21 via Don Giovanni Records in conjunction with a release party at the Black Cat.

“A lot of the songs on the album deal with themes of having secrets that you keep inside, and the repercussions of either keeping secrets or coming out with them,” Cleveland says.

The band alludes to a few family secrets of their own on Tell No One while still maintaining a degree of mystery. Secrets of sexuality and criminality are woven into the limericks set to the band’s peppy, kinetic beats. Yet the truth is, the album is not about divulging secrets.

Instead, Tyler-Ameen says it’s about “exploring the things that are traditionally considered taboo [that you later realize] are markers of identity, yet you feel when you’re younger you’re not allowed to fully own.”

Tell No One is expected to resonate with all, as did their self-titled EP.

“I don’t know if we necessarily started the band thinking in particular about a demographic,” Combs says. “I don’t know if that’s a word we even used with each other.”

Instead, Bad Moves relies on chance when creating music that sits well with their broad audience – the chance that their personal experiences, or the feelings evoked from those experiences, will be commonly shared.

The bandmates have relied on each other to craft their sound over the past three years, drawing on 90s pop punk and rock sounds that resonate with most older millennials. Combs says he and Park were the main collaborators on Tell No One, and then brought in the rest of the band to “shape it more in our own collective image.” Bad Moves has no lead singer, so the four musicians each share equal vocal responsibility in the band.

“Our intention is to take the focus away from one particular identity as being the central face of the band,” Combs says.

Picking a band name – on a car ride to a recording session at American University – was one of the only items on their ever-growing to-do list that didn’t require too much thought.

“One name I remember pushing for – and now feel relief that we didn’t go with – was Bad Wiz,” Cleveland says. “That would have been bad.”

Combs chimes in, “We also had Wet Hands. It’s hard to know what kind of name will suit your needs early on.”

The process of forming their sound, on the other hand, was a different story. Cleveland says the band made a lengthy playlist of power pop – around 180 songs – that inspired their eclectic sound. The first track on the playlist, which coincidently had the most impact, is “Looking For Magic” by the Dwight Twilley Band.

“You can tell from the lyrics that there’s a sort of desperation,” Combs says of the 1977 classic. “There’s this thing that eludes to magic. There’s a sadness to that sentiment, but the energy of that song is really lifting, inspiring and powerful. It’s a song that’s not ignoring that the world is a hard place to be in, but it’s also something I can put on that will push me through – and that’s what we want our music to do.”

Don’t miss Bad Moves at Black Cat for their record release party on Friday, September 21. The Obsessives and Ultra Beauty will open. Doors are at 7:30, tickets are $10.

Learn more about the band at

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490;

Photo: Trent Johnson

Bad Moves, Good Vibes at SXSW

Bad Moves makes the 90s kid in me perk right up, transporting me back to the days of (early, and therefore good) blink-182 and other pop punk guilty pleasures. The DC-based foursome took the stage at Sidewinder on Tuesday night, kicking off the Don Giovanni Records showcase at SXSW.

The first thing I noticed as we approached the stage was the vintage orange leather briefcase (or maybe music case?) to the left of where the band was setting up. Straight out of a Wes Anderson movie, the bag caught my eye when boarding our JetBlue flight on Monday night just 24 hours before. I found the coincidence exciting, and then Trent quickly reminded me that duh, they’re a DC-based band and we work for a DC-based magazine, so of course the chances we’d be on the same flight were high.

Nevertheless, I was still geeking out about the orange Wes Anderson bag and continued to have all the happy music geek moments when Bad Moves took the stage and played an energetic, impossibly catchy set that had everyone moving (impressive given that this was one of the first shows of the night and most everyone was still sober and recovering from a long night of music – or travel, in our case).

Emma Cleveland (bass), David Combs and Katie Park (guitar), and Daoud Tyler-Ameen (drums) offer something unique to a lot of bands in that they all sing – and harmonize quite well – in most of their songs. They even include layered hooks in some of their songs, often pairing female and male vocals together as they carry the tune. The effect works, and you’re drawn in and start to sing along with them in your head (there’s something to be said for the beauty of simple lyrics, no?)

The band tackles a range of subjects, from climate change to having “gay feelings at church camp,” and approaches them all with the same combination of playfulness and serious musicianship. Their look – orange bag aside – is cool too, with a mermaid tint to Park’s short locks and a shaggy mop on Combs. My favorite set moments were Cleveland’s little punk bounce in multiple songs, and the line “Being no one isn’t so bad” repeated in “Get Slow,” which gave me all the angsty feels of my formative years. Ah, teen feelings.

The band’s single, “Cool Generator,” is definitely fun too, though not my fave of the set. It does have a cute music video, and a super catchy hook. The set was memorable, and I’d love to catch them back on our home turf again for a longer show – and to find out who owns the orange bag. (Are you tired of hearing about it yet? Because Trent definitely is.)

Learn more about Bad Moves here.