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Photo: Roberto Chamorro

Whole Lotta Soul: Eli “Paperboy” Reed Wears Influences on His Sleeve

Full disclosure: I’m a total sucker for a retro-inspired sound. Add crooning vocals, soulful instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics to the mix, and I’m sold.

A girlfriend introduced me to soul singer Eli “Paperboy” Reed about a decade ago (fun fact: she went to the same high school as Reed in a Boston suburb and was super proud of this fact) and I was immediately smitten with his modern-day take on the genre. Since then, I’ve seen him play DC venues multiple times – most memorably with a full brass band at Rock & Roll Hotel – and listened to his records incorporate everything from blues and gospel to R&B and pop sensibilities. But soul always remains the foundation of his signature sound.

With a new album, 99 Cent Dreams, out on April 12 – produced in Memphis by Matt Ross-Spang with Ken Coomer (Wilco) on drums – and a tour that includes a stop at The Hamilton Live on May 4, I finally had the opportunity to pick the artist’s brain about reinventing what has come before and making it his own. We chatted on the phone recently when he was at home in Brooklyn doing some spring cleaning about life as the father of a two-year-old, how DC has the best Ethiopian food (duh) and what soul music means to him.

On Tap: I want to start with a question that sometimes mildly offends musicians when I ask it, although I’m not completely sure why.
Eli “Paperboy” Reed:
[Laughs] I’m very excited to hear what the question is now.

OT: I find that so much of the music I love is a reinvention of older sounds. With soul being the backbone of yours, and as a musician on the soul scene for more than a decade now, how do you reinvent that sound with each new album and keep it fresh and true to you?
EPR:
I think it’s a good question. I think if you had asked me 10 years ago when I started out, I might’ve been one of the ones who was offended. I think that I’ve come around to the idea that I don’t mind wearing my influences on my sleeve. I hope at this point in my career that I’ve been able to make records that people can identify [with] sounding like me. Everybody takes from something. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to deny it or be upset about being called a revivalist or whatever. I guess just at the heart of it, the point is that people want to put your records on and listen to them, you know? I think that my goal has always been to make music that I want to listen to and love.

OT: I would for sure say you have a signature sound that’s all your own. Your music feels like something I can dance to, and Top 40 isn’t that for me, do you know what I mean?
EPR:
Sure, well that’s great. I think that’s also part of the goal for people like myself or any of the other artists that are clearly very influenced by 60s soul music is to provide their listeners with something they can enjoy that they might not otherwise be able to find on the radio or at a show. The fact that you can come out and see me play live and enjoy yourself and dance is something you can’t do with a record that’s 50 years old.

OT: Very true. So tell me about 99 Cent Dreams. How long was this record in the making?
EPR:
I have a daughter now who’s two-and-a-half and I had this idea that I was going to write a lot of this record while I was home on paternity leave and that didn’t really happen [laughs]. Once she started daycare, I buckled down in earnest to write the songs. Thankfully, there’s a really amazing community of musicians and singers and songwriters here in Brooklyn, and a lot of people were able to just come over to the house and sit down with guitars or on the piano and write. It was a nice chunk of time that I was able to set aside at home with my family and also work with a lot of people who I really respect. It was a very productive time period for me.

OT: Did you draw on home life – being a parent and a husband – at all during the songwriting process?
EPR:
Absolutely. I think these are songs that are really representative of my current situation and how I feel about my wife and my family. I feel like it’s a more settled record, that’s for sure. But in a good way. And I don’t think that makes it any less soulful or any less emotional. I think it’s just a different kind of feeling that I’m drawing on.

OT: I have a two-and-a-half-year-old as well, and I grew up playing classical piano. I’ve been wondering when to start teaching him how to read and play music. As a professional musician, have you already started thinking about teaching your daughter how to play an instrument?
EPR:
We play music together in the house all the time. I’m not really trying to do the lessons thing. For me, the idea is just to have [music] be around, and I want her to pick up on things that she likes to do. I want to let her figure it out for herself. As long as we can listen to music together, that’s enough for me.

OT: Are there any songs on the record that are particularly close to your heart or that you think listeners will really connect with?
EPR:
I like “Tryin’” a lot. It’s a song that I wrote from my wife’s perspective. She’s the one in the family with the 9 to 5 job, and sometimes it’s a tough life to have a 9 to 5 gig and try to come home and be a parent, or a husband or a wife.

OT: When did you have that moment of, “Okay, I’m all in, I’m doing this” about soul? Why was it the genre that you connected with the most?
EPR:
Soul music is kind of the quintessence of all the things that I love – blues and R&B and jazz and gospel and country music – put through the lens of a pop format. That’s something I could wrap my head around as a performer: how to do that and do it in a way that I felt was original and that people would be interested in hearing.

OT: Do you feel like your sound has changed a lot over the past decade in terms of sticking to soul, or even your live performances?
EPR: I had a period where I made a pop record that came out on Warner Bros. and for one reason or another, it didn’t really connect. Then I kind of went the opposite direction and made the My Way Home album, which is more [of a] gospel record. I felt like I had to do something that was just for me. I’m incredibly proud of that record. It felt cathartic and necessary. When it came time to make this album, I wanted to do it in a little bit more of a controlled and thoughtful way. I feel like it became what I wanted it to be, for sure.

OT: Are there any sounds or genres you’d like to explore or pursue in the next few years? What’s next for you?
EPR: I’m still buying gospel records all the time. I love gospel music. It’s an endlessly deep well of inspiration for me. Man, there’s so much, you know? But for the most part, I come back to the same things because I think there’s so much to discover in the genres that I love. There’s still records that knock me out. I’m finding new music every day and it’s still amazing how much good stuff there is that is undiscovered.

OT: Who would be your dream co-bill for a future tour?
EPR: Probably Beyoncé [laughs]. I think Beyoncé pretty much takes the cake for all of it.

OT: What’s your favorite part of playing shows in DC?
EPR: Ethiopian food, man. Ethiopian food in DC is the best. There’s a particular place and I’m forgetting the name, but every time we play in DC, I stop in Alexandria at this tiny Ethiopian place in a strip mall that’s open until 2 o’clock in the morning. We go there after every show. It’s SO good.

Eli “Paperboy” Reed plays The Hamilton Live on Saturday, May 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $15-$20. For more information about the performance, visit www.live.thehamiltondc.com. Learn more about Reed at www.elipaperboyreed.com and follow him @elipaperboyreed.

The Hamilton Live: 600 14th St. NW, DC; 202-769-0122; www.live.thehamiltondc.com

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Only Plays the Hits

The Black Cat main stage is buzzing on March 25, and the opener, Yves Jarvis, hasn’t even gone onstage yet.

This is the second year in a row Homeshake, solo project of Montreal, Canada-based Peter Sagar, performs for a sold out crowd in DC. His show last year, which we also covered, was at Union Stage on the Wharf and next year, he should probably play the legendary 9:30 Club.

Much like yesteryear’s show, the crowd is generally young. (However, there are some old heads spaced throughout the room.) Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t shut up during the opener. To be fair, Jarvis didn’t set himself up for success. There was little indication that he was going to be playing, and he performed most of his songs on an acoustic guitar.

There’s little wrong with an acoustic guitar, but there’s a also a time and place for it. Like the Best Damn Open Mic night at Boundary Stone. (Disclaimer: I work there.)

Anyway, he gets off the stage at some point. Nobody knows when, and Homeshake comes on sometime after. Finally, the crowd tunes in.

Sagar starts off with “Early,” the opener off his latest record Helium (2019). It’s a down-tempo instrumental played on keys and sets the tone for the record as a whole.

Helium has a similar feel of the first Homeshake record In the Shower (2014), but with the hi-fi quality of Fresh Air (2017). It also has some standout singles, e.g. “Like Mariah,” which literally slaps, and “Nothing Could Be Better.”

The record was panned by Pitchfork, though some might call this a badge of honor. The reviewer gave the record a 3.5/10, reasoning that it has the “snap of limp celery.” He’s right actually, but I still listen to the record. It’s “cat in your lap” type music, a morning go-to alongside the infinite bisous record period (2019).

In admitting that I like the music, I’ll concede that the live show is not worth going to. I should have known this because I was in the Union Stage crowd last year, when Homeshake played and I didn’t like the show then either.

The formula: is open with a track off the latest record, move into singles off of the previous record and then move back to selections from the latest record, all while playing songs exactly as they were recorded.

This is to say that beyond a joke or two, the live show doesn’t  add much to the experience of the music. If you’ve heard the record, then you’ve heard the live show. Nothing will surprise you.

Some people enjoy concerts like that, and that’s fine. Sunday night at Black Cat, the crowd ate it up, much like they did last February at Union Stage. However, I like to be surprised by a live show. 

For more information on Homeshake, follow him on Twitter.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Barrie Has the Best Time at Ground Control Touring Showcase

The first set I caught upon arrival in Austin, Texas happened to be Barrie, and I regret to inform all the bands I’ll see in the future, that they have big shoes to fill. I’ve only been keen on Barrie for about three weeks now, thanks to the modern miracle of the Spotify algorithm. While I much prefer finding music organically, every now and then the robots (are they robots? What IS “the algorithm?” a column for another day, perhaps) prove that they know me better than I know myself.

I’d been on a kick of lo-fi pop, mostly in an effort to summon the weather I associate with this kind of music: breezy, 70s, driving with my windows down. It must have worked, because I hear back home in DC you’ve had such fortune. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to the music! That’s why we’re all here, right?

Much in the vein of No Vacation or Hana Vu, Barrie bring an 80s bedroom-pop vibe to the ever growing alt-pop table. They’re more than welcome here, though, because their camaraderie oozes from their sound and made me want to go home and hug my friends (hey guys, I miss you!).

Bassist Sabine’s clearly having the best time, riffing her silvery lines off Barrie’s (the band’s namesake) guitar playing. Guess what? Now I’m having the best time too. This band’s proof that with the right group of people you can do anything, and anything can be fun. I hope they stick with each other and keep summoning the feeling of spring weather forever.

Photo: Michael Andrade

The Sundry Shades of RDGLDGRN

“We put a song on the Internet and it spiraled from there, but we thought it was justified because we had something unique that stood out.”

Marcus Parham, one-third of RDGLDGRN (pronounced Red Gold Green), tells me the backstory behind the success of the band’s 2011 hit “I Love Lamp” while on the road to Raleigh, North Carolina for a show later that evening. The guitarist (RD) and his bandmates, bassist Andrei Busuioceanu (GLD) and vocalist Pierre Desrosier (GRN), continued to gain popularity following the release of the track, even collaborating with Pharrell and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.

The Reston-based, multi-genre trio actually played together as another band before RDGLDGRN, with a fourth member identified only as Blue. Even though their partnership spans nearly a decade, Parham says the three are just scratching the surface.

“We’ve just created so many memories,” he says. “We went to Europe a bunch of times, and we’ve played cruises and stuff. It’s all these different things. It’s all growth.”

RDGLDGRN brought a unique blend of different genres to the music scene when they first hit airwaves, combining elements of hip-hop, rock and go-go music to concoct an original sound. Their backgrounds play a part in the diverse sounds of their musical style.All three artists hailed from other parts of the world before settling in the DC area.

“We have so many different influences, so it makes sense that our music is always changing,” Parham elaborates.

Going back to their initial self-titled LP, the focus was almost entirely on the band’s use of rock and hip-hop. On the releases that followed, including the band’s most recent drop Red Gold Green 3, they slowly set out to reveal their entire repertoire. For instance, the last record shifted away from their heavier guitar riffs and established a more electronic sound as the album’s foundation. Parham says he feels like the band is still just making an extended version of their first album.

“We’ve [always] shown more of our palette. [We’ve] shown all the things we can do from day one. It’s not that we’ve gotten bored of a sound and evolved per se; it’s just us giving our fans a taste of everything we do.”

Not much has changed for the group apart from their music, including their process. The guitarist says they still record songs in their parents’ basements when in the DMV. Of course, they make use of professional studios as well, but they want to maintain the same authenticity that put them on the map.

“We never lost that. We haven’t changed; that’s just who we are. We record whenever we have a thought or idea, and the beauty of technology is we can do it wherever.”

The name on their albums remains the same, too. The group decided to repeat the title a la Led Zeppelin 2 and 3 in an effort to get the name’s phonetic pronunciation stuck in people’s heads.

“Our band name looks like gibberish, so it’s not something that people remember instantly,” Parham says candidly. “To make it easier, we decided to stick to our brand.”

Even with Red Gold Green 3’s February release and their busy touring schedule, he says the band is set to drop more music throughout the year.

“Any time you get music from us, it’s more of who we are. We have two EPs and another album that are already far along in the process.”

The band is set to return to its de facto hometown for ShamrockFest at RFK Stadium on Saturday, March 23. While fans can expect popular hits, Parham assures there will be some DC flair added to their set.

“Different people from the area [will] come and play songs with us,” Parham says. “We’re definitely from different places, but we’re DC at heart.”

ShamrockFest is from 12-8 p.m. on Saturday, March 23. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.shamrockfest.com. For more information about RDGLDGRN, visit www.rgldgrn.com.

RFK Stadium: 2400 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.shamrockfest.com

Photo: Courtesy of Deerhunter and 4AD

Deerhunter Broadens Sonic Palette On New Album

Much has been said about Deerhunter that has nothing to do with their music. The band’s outspoken and unapologetic frontman, Bradford Cox, continues to captivate the music press with his thoughts on any topic imaginable. But Deerhunter is a band, after all – a five-piece operation based out of Georgia, each member bringing their own musical background and solo projects to the table. What has attracted listeners to the group is not a candid comment on the state of the music industry but their dense and developed sound that’s only improved with time.

Enter the band’s new album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, released earlier this month. Described as “a science fiction album for the present,” it draws from specific events – revolutions in the streets of Russia in 1917 on “Death in Midsummer,” Labour Party MP Jo Cox’s death on “No One’s Sleeping” and themes of ecological destruction weaved throughout. It clocks in at just 37 minutes but packs a punch both sonically and thematically.

Deerhunter’s drummer Moses Archuleta spoke with us in advance of the band’s March 2 show at 9:30 Club, detailing the intricate technicalities that make their new record so different from anything else they’ve ever done before. As he explained their process for writing and recording, it became increasingly clear that as much was transpiring in the notes of this record as in its lyrics.

“The album is simultaneously very familiar to fans of Deerhunter, and hopefully comforting and enjoyable in the way of it not being a wild departure,” he said. “But I do feel like there are definite things that are different and interesting and unique about this album because of the process it went through.”

Archuleta said that while the breadth of topics approached on the new album makes it next-level, there’s more at play here. Roles were solidified, band members went through life changes and people matured. That’s all evident, especially to Archuleta, who found ownership of his role as drummer a beneficial addition to the process.

While internally becoming masters of their musical domain, the band sought outside inspiration from musician Cate Le Bon, who produced the album and gave the band the jolt they needed to weave in the multifaceted aspects of the record in a cohesive way.

“There had been a magnetic pull to try and do something a bit different,” Archuleta said of Le Bon’s involvement, which included singing on “Turnung” and playing harp throughout.

“Sonically, [the album is] very full and rich sounding. We’re all older and it feels like a much more mature effort overall. Cate was a big part of that as far as having that sort of direction. It was an artistic camaraderie that was new and interesting to work with.”

The band also toured with new material before even beginning to record it, a process unlike anything they’ve endured before. And while it was helpful from a technical standpoint, their songs became living, breathing things that changed when it came time to record.

“It’s interesting because we became overconfident,” Archuleta elaborated. “We were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to nail this.’ And then you start to realize that you’re trying to make a different point with the record than with the show. So that was a self-deception in some ways. On the flipside, the positive things that were working had been so rehearsed and nuanced at that point that it allowed for a lot of creativity to happen.”

Now that Archuleta and his bandmates have added another piece to their creative tapestry with Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, they’re sharing it with fans on tour. Don’t miss their 9:30 Club show on Saturday, March 2. Doors are at 6 p.m., tickets are $25. For more on the band, visit www.deerhunter.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Kyle Gustafson for The Anthem

Kacey Musgraves’ Gentle Revolution

Kacey Musgraves stands before an audience of a few thousand at The Anthem, exuding a calm but taut command of the stage. The Grammy and CMA-winning singer-songwriter guides her band through the final lines of “Golden Hour,” the enveloping, intimate title track of her most recent album.

She sings the post-chorus refrain “Yeah, I know everything is gonna be alright” like she’s leading the audience through a group-exhalation of all the world’s pressures. Musgraves flashes the smallest hint of a wicked smile before letting the words “golden showers” ring through the theater.

The crowd grins and guffaws in response before she smirks mischievously and says, “Y’all know you like it, shut up!” The moment would seem pretty unthinkable at any other country concert, but such irreverence and boundary pushing are part and parcel for Musgraves, whose been leading something of a soft-power revolution in the country world.

At this sold-out stop for her Oh, What A World Tour you could find purple-haired punks and salmon-shirted preps, glitter-glammed queens and cowboys wearing ten gallons standing shoulder-to-shoulder, wrapped in awe as they sang along to every word, from the country chill-wave opening of “Slow Burn” to the final, triumphant, rhinestone-disco kiss-off closer of “High Horse.”

That audience reflects the work Musgraves has been doing for the last six years of her touring career: bringing her own brand of country out of dirt road wonderlands into hard-walked city streets while maintaining the validity of both.

Long before she spent the last year opening for Little Big Town and Harry Styles, Musgraves was rocking the rhinestones with Katy Perry. It’s a vision of country music that is inclusive and almost democratic in its own way, where Musgraves is less trying to bring the country to the people and more trying to make a country with the people.

“I know that country music isn’t the most inclusive of environments,” Musgraves commended near the end of her set, “So, it’s really f-cking cool that you guys don’t care!”

Her sound has evolved alongside the growth of her audience and spread of this mentality, although less than you might think. Songs from her first two records, which leaned more into the traditional country palette, nestled comfortably into the celebratory sound of “Golden Hour.”

“Die Fun” from Pageant Material picked up a slapping, early Maroon 5 meets the dance floor bassline that had the room grooving; the twang of “High Time” glided along the pedal-steel melody to the rafters.  The biting message of “Merry Go ‘Round,” reverberated across every ear drum, pushed into our aural passages by the arena-pulsating power of the new keyboard, bass-punctuated arrangement.

The songs that comprise “Golden Hour,” all of which were played in one form or another across the 90-minute set, were an ideal match for the cathedral-like space of The Anthem. These are unhurried songs that need time to settle to be fully absorbed, and the acoustics aided this sonic osmosis.

The wide-open, booming-across-the-plains sound of “Space Cowboy” reverberated into every corner of the venue, carrying the full weight of her wit and melancholy with every word. Songs like “Rainbow,” “Wonder Woman” and “Oh, What a World” rose like the sunrise as hymns of self-empowerment, introspection and compassion.

As Musgraves launched into numbers like “Space Cowboy,” “High Horse” and “Follow Your Arrow,” the cornerstones of her catalog of laureate wit rebukes – they seemed less like tell-offs and more like communal celebration, a group exorcism of all the ills that motivate those songs.

It proved another small step in her revolution, as she brings country music into big venues without the bombast and swagger of her more industry-accepted peers, to choose honey over vinegar. It reflected her utopia vision for country, one where space cowboys riding in on high horses are welcome, as long as they let everyone follow their arrow.

For more information about Kacey Musgraves, visit here.

Photo: Amanda Demme

Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross Find A New “Home” Onstage

On “Home,” one of her first songs in a decade, veteran pop star Ashlee Simpson sings,  “this little house that I made for myself, keeps me occupied…keeps me satisfied.”

It’s a far cry from the twenty-something vocalist who triumphantly cried, “got stains on my t-shirt and I’m the biggest flirt” on the title track of her debut album Autobiography nearly 15 years ago.

However, “Home” is much closer to another couplet from that disc, featured in the soaring pre-chorus to a little, international smash hit called “Pieces of Me.”

“It seems like I can finally rest my head on something real, I like the way that feels,” the tunestated.  

That little house, that something real for Ashlee Simpson, 34, has been a loving marriage to actor and singer Evan Ross, two young children and a life out of the spotlight, at least until recently.

Simpson and Ross, the son of American music icon Diana Ross, put out a six-song EP this past October as the duo Ashlee + Evan. It’s the first new music from Simpson since she released her third album, Bittersweet World, in 2008 and the first since Ross dropped the single “How To Live Alone” in 2015.

The music on the Ashlee + Evan EP ranges from intimate, easy, breezy tunes like “Home” and “I Do,” to electrified, sultry club numbers like “Paris” and “Safe Zone.” There’s a lot of growth in these songs and a maturity to the sound, but still features elements of the winking edge and fist-pumping fun that made Simpson a household name and Ross an emcee who shares the mic with the likes of T.I. in the first place.

Both Simpson and Ross are making a long awaited return to their second home, the stage, for a run of club dates this month. Tonight they’re stopping by Union Stage at the Wharf for an intimate, energized shows. On Tap caught up with the two via email to talk about being back in the studio, and on the road, tease out a preview of the set list and see if there is any more new music down the pipe.

On Tap: So tonight will be the first time either have you performed live in front of an audience in sometime. How are you feeling? What are you thinking in the lead up?
Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross: We are so excited and can’t wait to get in front of our fans, friends and family. We’ve been working hard on our live performance so we hope everyone has as much fun as we do on stage.

OT: Ashlee – I know that a lot of your previous musiOT: Both of you have been on hiatus from the music world as you’ve been starting your new family, belated congratulations by the way, but did both of you miss performing while you were away? 

AS and ER: Definitely, it’s been so nice to be home and spend time raising our family, but performing is in our blood. We can’t wait to get out there and meet our fans.

OT: Had you been working on material in these intervening years or did your new songs come much more recently?
AS and ER: We’re always working and singing to each other. But these songs came to us pretty quickly recently. It felt so natural and fun to work together in the studio.

OT: Your EP is a mix of acoustic and produced electronic tracks. How will you be adapting them to these live spaces?
AS and ER: You’ll have to come to the show to see!

OT: Will you go for more of the sound of “I Do” and make these intimate, quiet shows or do you still want that big, electro-pop sound?

AS and ER: Our EP is definitely intimate, but we love to dance. We’re performing some old stuff and also performing some covers to keep the energy high. We want fans to sing along and forget their outside life for the hour they’re with us.c reflected a specific time and place in your life. How do those songs resonate with you now?
AS: Performing these songs now is so fun and takes me back. I was going through so much at that time, and I feel like young people have things to say and it’s really important to remember that.

OT: Do they mean something different to you now as a mother, as a performer in this new space with Evan?
AS: No, these songs were such an important part of my life then, and it’s very cool to sing them now and have my husband be a part of it.

OT: What are you most looking forward to about playing this short run of shows?
AS and ER: Being able to have fun with each other on stage, see familiar faces again and for it to inspire us for what’s to come.

OT: Where do the two of you seeing this new musical venture going: A full album, a larger tour; another tour period?
AS and ER: We’ll have more music out together soon but we’re also working on our own projects. Plus who knows which city we’ll end up in next after this run?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross‘ performance is at 8 p.m. tonight, doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information about the performance, visit here.

Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com

Photo: Courtesy of Manmade Media

DeVotchKa Dives Into New Era

It has been seven years since indie-folk rockers DeVotchKa released a new album. While a break like that is hardly unusual in the music industry, the seven-year hiatus seemed lengthy for a band that was putting out new albums – including film soundtracks – every one to two years for a decade.

Even more surprisingly, the Denver-based quartet went quiet following their major arena tour in 2012 that saw them at the peak of their popularity. Frontman Nick Urata admits that despite DeVotchKa’s accomplishments like producing the wildly popular Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, he wasn’t enjoying the band’s success as much as one might expect.

But his feelings of disconnect were not for nothing. Spurred on by feelings of detachment from his music and audience, DeVotchKa traded the big arenas for smaller, more intimate venues. It was at these smaller shows that he saw the connection the crowd had with the lyrics. This would drive Urata to take time with the band’s next album – developing the lyrics, revisiting them and letting the words drive the music.

Released in August, This Night Falls Forever marks the return of DeVotchKa – a band whose sound is bigger and whose lyrics prove more authentic than ever, but with all the signature characteristics their fans know them for. Ahead of the band’s stop at U Street Music Hall on December 12, we caught up with Urata to reminisce about the past and look ahead to what’s in store for DeVotchKa.

On Tap: How do you feel about coming up on your first album SuperMelodrama’s 20th anniversary, and playing with bandmates Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King for two decades?
Nick Urata:
Wow, well you know, pretty scary when you put it in that frame [laughs]. We released that album in the year 2000 and man, it’s been quite a journey. For us, it seems like just yesterday. But I’m actually really proud that we’ve held it together this long.

OT: Not a lot of people can say that.
NU:
No. If you’d ask me back then, I would have laughed in your face [laughs].

OT: Do you feel like the chemistry between the four of you is the same after all these years, or do you feel like you all have changed?
NU:
I think we have grown up together. And the chemistry is even better right now because we’ve been through a lot together, and so now we’re just like a family. And you know, in your family you can have massive disagreements and still get together and have dinner.

OT: What drew you and the band to the folksy, Eastern European-inspired and sometimes dark sound you all have and what keeps you going back to it?
NU:
I was always fascinated with it. I wanted to create the kind of music that I wasn’t hearing and I was able to find the same people that wanted to help me with that. We’ve always been drawn to that sort of palette – that gypsy, folk sound that we have. And in those early days of traveling around playing hostile environments, we found that really broke down barriers and connected with people.

OT: You grew up listening to that kind of music, right?
NU:
Yeah. I think that was a big part of it, too. There was a lot of sentimentality to that music, and when I was trying to write my own stuff, I was just kind of searching for who I was and that was the kind of stuff that was deeply ingrained in my bones.

OT: I would imagine a lot of people could relate to that. For example, I’m Italian and I also grew up listening to that kind of music. Frank Sinatra was always playing in my grandparents’ house.
NU:
I’m glad you said that because I think that was a part of it, too. I can relate [with] one story. We got booked at this bar in one of the subway stations in New York. But when we got there, the staff was very angry, the patrons were angry and the bar manager was acting like he was going to kill us [laughs]. But when we started playing and brought out our accordions, that same big, tough, scary guy came up with tears in his eyes and said that his grandfather played the accordion. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

OT: Your 2012 tour saw the band playing big arena shows and at the peak of popularity, but you were having a bit of an identity crisis. Could you elaborate on where you were in your life at that point?
NU:
I don’t want to sound too negative, but the main problem was I had lost my connection with [the music]. We got to the end of that album tour and release and unfortunately, I sort of hit a low point and had this emptiness. In the end, it was good because it forced me to rebuild and the rebuilding process was the album [This Night Falls Forever] that we just released.

OT: Why the switch to playing more intimate venues?
NU:
We came up that way [in smaller venues], and I just think there’s a purity to it. I was losing the connection with the crowd and it wasn’t feeling as natural as when we’re in a smaller place where everybody has a good seat and everybody’s part of the show.

OT: How have all of your professional experiences over the last couple of years influenced your new album?
NU:
The experiences made me want to go back to really focusing on the lyrics and letting the lyrics guide the song. The lyrics really drive where the music goes. That was one of the reasons why it took so long [to make the new album], because the lyrics take a long time to develop. Because of all our experiences with writing and arranging for orchestras and producing soundtracks, we were able to have a big, epic sound as well.

OT: Where did the album name, This Night Falls Forever, come from and what does it mean?
NU:
A lot of the songs and subject matter deal with the fact that your entire trajectory romantically, or even your destiny, can change in one night. You never see it coming, you’re never prepared for it and I just wanted to capture that feeling that this night is going to be with you forever.

OT: Moving on to your upcoming tour, how do you handle having so many instruments onstage?
NU:
It can get a little overwhelming and sometimes it doesn’t work. We end up having to each haul a lot of suitcases around [laughs]. But going back to our origin, it was one of the reasons we all connected so much because we have a love for picking up new or underrated instruments and bringing them into the fold and making them do things that maybe they weren’t meant for. So bringing them onstage is definitely a part of that.

OT: It’s been a few years since you’ve done a tour. What are you most looking forward to and what should people coming to your shows expect?
NU:
I think we’ve done a good job of performing the new songs live, which was a challenge because they are large and epic on the record. We’re doing a nice mix of our past albums with our new songs and new instruments, and we have a few new guest players. It’s going to be a good time.

OT: Any final thoughts?
NU:
Man, I think I’ve added a lot! No, I just wanted to add how excited we are to get back to DC. We didn’t mean to take so long to put out a new album, but these things take time. We hope it will be the beginning of a stretch of new albums and a new period of creativity.

Catch DeVotchKa at U Street Music Hall on Wednesday, December 12. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Learn more about DeVotchKa at www.devotchka.net.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Photo: Greg Gorman

Rufus Wainwright Celebrates 20 Years at Strathmore

On the day of his breakthrough album’s release in 1998, Rufus Wainwright walked into a café expecting to be noticed. But when he took off his sunglasses, he remained unrecognized.

“I was believing everything people were saying to me: that I was going to be a massive star and make lots of money and become this legendary figure,” he says. “That’s not the way it went. But I have nothing to complain about. I’ve worked a long time and very hard, and matured. I learned the reality of being an artist and have done quite well.”

His self-titled debut album did quickly establish him as a singer-songwriter to watch thanks to songs like “Foolish Love,” “Millbrook” and “Sally Ann.” Not only did Rolling Stone name the record one of the best of the year, the publication also honored him with its Best New Artist designation. His follow-up album Poses came out three years later, another critical darling.

“Not long after the first two records, I realized that like my parents [who were folk singers], you’re only going to be as good as your live show is,” he says. “So I started doing a lot of solo shows to supplement my income and made it about what I could do as a troubadour. That has really gotten me through a lot of tidal waves of economics that have occurred since.”

Wainwright will perform songs from both albums at The Music Center at Strathmore on December 8 as part of his All These Poses tour to commemorate his debut album’s 20th anniversary.

“For the first half of the show, I come out and do most of the first album and intersperse with a couple of other tracks,” he says. “I am promoting a new record too, which is only available at the concert, so I’ll sing some of those songs.”

He’ll also be telling some stories about his family and what inspired some of his songs, and the early days of his music career. Then, for the second half of the show, Wainwright will play Poses top to bottom, complete with lighting effects and costume changes.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “We have the wonderful Rachel Eckroth opening up the show, and she’s also in the band. People are going to really enjoy hearing her.”

Over the years, Wainwright has released seven studio and three live albums and won countless awards. One of his most beloved recordings is the Grammy-nominated Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall paying homage to icon Judy Garland.

Besides being a celebrated pop singer, Wainwright has also found a calling in writing operas. In 2009, his much-admired Prima Donna premiered at the Manchester International Festival and has traveled the world since. His second opera Hadrian opened to critical acclaim this past October in Toronto.

“I discovered opera when I was 13 and was completely transfixed and transformed into this rabid 70-year-old opera queen all of a sudden. I couldn’t get enough of those old recordings, and it’s almost like the art form chose me and devoured me.”

Each of his operas took about four years of intense work, but nearly 10 years of thinking about them and getting them to where he wanted them to be. They are labors of love for Wainwright, and a big part of who he is.

“I also realized early on that I could use some of opera’s musical ideas and concepts and transfer them to my songwriting.”

The singer is finishing up his new album and aiming for a 2019 tour. Last month, he released a video starring Emmy winner and Glee star Darren Criss for his new song “Sword of Damocles,” which includes a powerful message addressed to President Trump.

“Damocles is a story where there’s a sword hanging over a tyrant’s head to show that when there are rulers who are belligerent, there’s a chance for danger for everybody involved,” he explains. “It’s directed toward Trump, but I feel it’s really directed toward everybody because no matter what happens, that sword is eventually going to come down.”

Don’t miss Wainwright at Strathmore on Saturday, December 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39-$89 and can be purchased at www.strathmore.org. Learn more about the artist at www.rufuswainwright.com.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5200; www.strathmore.org

Photo: www.4uprince.com

Prince’s Musical Magnificence Lives on Through 4U

Honoring a genius like the late Prince requires a particularly artistic tenacity few artists can reach. The short list includes 4U, the official Prince estate approved symphonic orchestra who delighted Prince aficionados on September 15 at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Art’s Filene Center

In the grand wood-paneled amphitheater, 4U offered both familiar and unheralded renditions of Prince’s catalog. Hits as notable as “Little Red Corvette” and “When Doves Cry” even made guests in the upper tiers croon, as the 20-member orchestra reminded attendees why loving Prince is an uncontrollable sensation.

Songs not popularly played on radio stations during his glory days still sat well with listeners, as the audience tried their best to catch the melody and hum along; it was as though they were connecting with royalty despite the barriers between life and death.

Despite his absence, the voice of Prince was heard and his essence was felt. It was most obvious as jiving and clapping was seen throughout the grounds as if Prince had resurrected for once last performance to say I love you all.

4U’s full-scale production was curated by Questlove, and included imagery offering a glimpse into the world of Prince. Shown on stage were handwritten notes, classic black and white inspired short films and history-making concert performances all honoring the culprit of their collective joy.

The night created a rare occasion where past and present intersect, allowing the two to coexist, creating new memories for the future. Generations came together effortlessly, amplifying the significance and legend of Prince.

It was appropriately grand and continued past the encore of “Purple Rain,” when no one wanted to leave because the truth would set in shortly after; the idea that we have heard the last of the artist formerly known, but never forgotten as Prince.

For more information about Wolf Trap’s fall schedule, please visit their online calendar.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1645 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1868; www.wolftrap.org