DC’s Young Rapids have been categorized as everything from indie to art rock to dream pop. And despite having just finished recording their third full-length album, they still seem to be finding themselves musically, which is perhaps what continues to keep listeners along for the ride.
The group tracked what would become the nine-song album Everything’s Perfect, out later this year, while isolating themselves in a friend’s house in the George Washington National Forest for days at a time.
“We would just play music for 18 hours a day, and in doing so, I think we actually made a pretty cohesive record, but we didn’t set out to do that,” says guitarist Alex Braden (who also adds that it’s their best record yet). “The funny thing is that the record actually sounds more urban – more like we live in a city than the previous two records, but it was written mainly in the woods.”
Abandoning the idea of making a record based on a predetermined concept – the method that arguably produced faults in their sophomore album, Pretty Ugly – the band seems confident that something much stronger emerged.
“I do remember there were plenty of arguments about ‘What does Young Rapids sound like?’ Like, ‘Is this a Young Rapids song or is it not?’ And I think once we gave up on that, things [came together],” says vocalist Dan Gleason.
The biggest challenge in making Everything’s Perfect, and for the band in general, is determining who is actually going to play which instrument on any given track.
Drummer/bassist Joe Bentley notes, “It’s sort of an interesting source of frustration that’s kind of unique to this band. A lot of the time the song is there, but then it’s like, ‘Who’s going to play what?’”
These guys are smart. It’s fun to watch them bicker and pick at each other. They’ve been playing, experimenting and growing into legitimately talented musicians who want to do it all, and have been carving a musical space together in the District for nearly six years.
“In a city dominated by business and politics, for musicians to stay here and thrive here, they have to enjoy the struggle,” Gleason says. “I think the people who stay here stay here for a reason, and maybe it’s because they like that push and pull.”
With the rest of us, they lament the loss of house venues and artist lofts, spaces like Paperhaus and Union Arts.
And while they agree that artist-to-artist support is strong, there are crucial elements missing on the scene. Braden believes DC is in need of more objective artistic tastemakers, people who offer “truly thoughtful critiques,” while drummer Colin Kelly notes a lack of cross-genre collaboration keeping music from really exploding in the District the way it did in the early 90s.
“I think bands need to break out of their genre zone, as far as the other bands that they gig with. Stop thinking in terms of ‘Well, we’re this kind of band so we can’t play with that kind of band that’s doing this other kind of rock ‘n’ roll or whatever,’” Kelly says.
The band’s upcoming show at DC9 on July 13 will certainly break those barriers. In addition to playing alongside members of The Flaming Lips, the band will be joined by classical pianist Mary-Victoria Voutsas and a mini-ensemble of her students, who will accompany Young Rapids on “a few of the synthier numbers.”
“We’re not getting any simpler,” Braden says.
So what makes them keep at it? For Bentley, it’s an opportunity to communicate without words.
“[To have] four people who can sit in the same room and not ever say a word and just communicate with sounds – I think that’s what keeps us all doing it. I think we would be doing it even if no one was paying attention, anyway.”
“I’m not sure I would do it if there was nobody around to hear it. If I’m going to devote time to polishing something and finishing it and perfecting it as best I can, I don’t want that to stay with just me. It’s like if a tree falls in a forest, you know?”
The disparate energies of Young Rapids both meld and clash. Listening to their records isn’t satisfying, but it makes you want to see them perform, to be in that room, to be a part of that musical conversation and hear the tree fall.
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Photo: Courtesy of Young Rapids