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Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com
Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com

Christine and the Queens find Freedom in Fluidity

Attempting to write about anything Christine and the Queens does seems to rail against everything the artist stands for. As someone who is constantly transforming herself and her music, why even bother to describe it? To put it simply: she makes others feel seen by making herself visible.

The pop project of Héloïse Letissier was born from a period of rejection and failure turned to triumph and transformation. On her first album, Chaleur Humaine, Letissier became Christine and sang of heartbreak, self acceptance and rebirth through her musical character.

What followed on her sophomore album, Chris, ushered in a new era for the artist, but strengthened what she does best: embrace the fluidity, the uncertainty and the absurdity of life through music and movement.

As Chris (to which she is now referred onstage and off), the singer cut her hair and her name, and traded her tailored suits for a sensible, but sexy, pairing of joggers and a red top in her live shows. Her dancers are similarly dressed, in an ode to the 80s and 90s fashion and sounds that heavily influence her second record. During her show at the 9:30 Club, Chris bleeds a song beautifully into Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror at one point.

She knows she didn’t invent the confident and hungry sounds of pop she employs on Chris and in her live shows. But what she has done – using these sentiments, sounds, moves – as her own feels revolutionary. Her requests for love and attention are left on Chaleur Humaine as Chris has come to take those things, because she knows she deserves them now. Her live show is a display of confidence and unfettered desire. She does not and will not feel bad for wanting or being wanted, a radical declaration from a queer woman in 2018.

Chris’ ability to occupy so many spaces at the same time and constantly reinvent herself is a reminder that nothing is concrete. Fluidity in appearance, sexuality, sound and feeling is a fact of life. Watching Chris and her dancers brings to mind Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s declaration that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” If that is true, Chris has found the antidote, on her records and especially during her live performances.

Instead of allowing herself to be enveloped by a world where anything could be, Chris takes all possibilities for herself. Her ability to embrace, to transcend and to just be radiates onstage and will encourage you to similarly embrace the fluid, the messy and the desiring parts of yourself. The world needs more freedom, and Chris is here to liberate herself (and you) along the way.

 For more on Christine and the Queens visit www.christineandthequeens.com and follow her on Instagram @christineandthequeens and Twitter @queenschristine

Photo: Ray Polanco
Photo: Ray Polanco

The Many Lives of Toro y Moi

Chaz Bear has written, recorded and released music under a host of names over the years, but is perhaps best known for his work as Toro y Moi. One of the most successful names to come out of the chillwave movement in the early 2010s, the Berkeley, California-based musician has done much more than simply be part of the larger scene. The release of his most recent effort as Toro y Moi, Boo Boo, saw a more introspective and stripped-down era for Bear. He’s lent his production talents to some of this year’s most exciting up-and-coming artists like Tanukichan (who’s signed to Bear’s label Company Records, an imprint of DC’s own Carpark Records) and Astronauts, etc. We caught up with the artist ahead of his 9:30 Club show on November 12 to chat chillwave, community and what’s next for one of the hardest working names in music.

On Tap: Your album Boo Boo sounded like a slight departure from the more electronic-influenced sounds of your previous efforts. What were some of the themes surrounding this record?
Chaz Bear:
This record was written in 2016, a time when I was going through a change, and that’s what the record is about. It’s not really about a relationship with another person. It sounds like that, but it’s more of a relationship with society and about how to navigate the world in hectic times.

OT: You came onto the scene during the chillwave zeitgeist in the early 2010s. Were you ever worried about being associated with one of the first trendy blog rock genres? Do you care how people classify your music?
CB: It was never intimidating to be part of the genre. I always felt like it was helpful and useful to be connected to a scene. I’ve always used it to my advantage. It’s definitely easy to want to play into it and satisfy the listeners you have, but my goal with Toro y Moi is to explore as much as possible. I want to grow and explore different types, styles and sonic palettes, whether they be lo-fi sounding or shiny and hi-fi. I think that’s the whole challenge for most, if not all, listeners: to take down those sonic barriers and enjoy music from everywhere – all genres, all qualities.

OT: Your background is in graphic design. Has your work in that field influenced your music at all?
CB:
Graphic design initiated the conversation in my head about taste and style – what I think I want to present and how I want to present myself. That carried on to music as well. Before I got into graphic design, my music was more of the times: emo and post-punk stuff. I never really referenced music from the past until I got into graphic design. It taught me how to achieve and maintain a sense of timelessness.

OT: In addition to your own work as Toro y Moi, you’ve been producing work for artists like Astronauts, etc. and Tanukichan. How does approaching these projects differ from your own solo work?
CB:
When working with new artists, the first thing that I’m drawn to is a person and their actual character. If their music is good on top of that, they become a friend who makes dope music and it’s like, “Oh man, we should make more music together,” and we just go from there. The motivation behind making music with friends comes from the idea of building something together within our community. Everyone on Company Records is based in the Bay Area. It’s a label that’s sort of eclectic in the sense of [having] a lot of different genres. It’s also still very honed in with a community vibe.

OT: Speaking of community, Berkeley recently honored you by declaring June 27 “Chaz Bear Day.” What was it like to be recognized by the city in such a public way?
CB:
That was a really big turning point for me because I hadn’t realized that my presence was so impactful. I needed to truly think about how the city was looking at me and where I wanted to go with this. It was truly flattering, and it still is an amazing thing. It was kind of like more of the city recognizing you for your good work. That’s really all I can do: keep working.

OT: You’re also overseeing the aforementioned Company Records. What are your goals for the label, and how are you choosing who to sign and work with?
CB:
There’s two ways to approach it: working with new and younger acts and working with your peers. Everyone I’m working with, I’ve known them first not as musicians. I like that approach more. I do feel like we’re all around the same age – 20 and 30-somethings – and we all started playing music around the same time. But some of us didn’t get the exposure, so I think bringing up the community is what I’m focusing on and making sure there is a solid, level platform for everyone I’m rising with. It will make the city better, it should make the Bay Area better and inevitably it should make (laughs) everything a little bit nicer.

Toro y Moi will play 9:30 Club on Monday, November 12. Tickets are $25 and doors open at 7 p.m. Follow Bear on Instagram and Twitter @toroymoi. His next album Outer Peace will be released on January 18 via Carpark Records. Learn more at www.toroymoi.com.

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

Photo: Dan Ball
Photo: Dan Ball

Unheralded Lucero Soldiers on through 9:30 Club

Lucero‘s upcoming concert at 9:30 Club will hopefully serve as a reminder of how hard longevity is for rock bands and why the accomplishment is worth celebrating. Returning to their “home away from home,” Lucero will feature new literary songs fashioned by solo singer and lyricist, Ben Nichols, who has written their heartbreaking hits since the band’s inception in 1998.

For 20 years, Lucero has toured under the radar, serenading listeners across the country. Even with 12 albums under their belt, Lucero sometimes sees blank expressions when their name is mentioned. Fortunately, this does not deter them from traveling year-round for an ever-growing following throughout the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

The band’s current lifespan was unexpected for the four-piece band.

“I didn’t think it would last, but I had this romanticized idea of starting a rock and roll band and piling in a van and traveling the country,” Nichols says. “I never planned on changing the world or becoming The Beatles. I just wanted to be one of those garage bands that get in a van and play punk rock shows.”

Despite playing for two decades, the band doesn’t lament mainstream notoriety, as Nichols humbly insists, “we are not a slick, professional-type band. We have shot ourselves in the foot numerous times, probably. Poor decision making here and there.”

“I think there are only certain music listeners that are going to appreciate what we do,” he continues. “It’s not for the general public, even though our crowds keep growing. It’s never going to be mainstream; we don’t want to be.”

Content with their status in the music industry, Lucero prides themselves on maintaining artistic integrity.

“We are a small business, a working band,” Nichols says. “We’re not rich and famous, but we get to do what we love doing, and we’re paying the bills [while] doing it. We ended up exactly where we wanted to be.”

Nichols’ life has traditionally provided much of the inspiration for the band’s often emotional music. However, the latest album Among the Ghosts features a generally fictional narrative drawn from books and old war letters.

“I wanted to become a better songwriter,” Nichols says. “It’s easy to write down a diary entry and have raw emotions spill out on the page, which works sometimes, but we’ve done a lot of that in the past.”

The reach of the new LP is broader, meant to connect with different listeners.

“There’s a song, ‘To My Dearest Wife,’ [and] it’s kind of about a soldier being far from home and writing back home to his wife,” Nichols explains. “There’s an impending battle, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He says [in the letter] kiss our baby girls.”

“There are things I can relate to in this song that aren’t about me,” he continues. “Obviously, I’m not a soldier. I’m not in a war anywhere, but being gone from home is tough. I have a two year-old baby daughter back home, and it’s a different kind of heartbreak being on tour now.”

For a time, Lucero was touring 200-250 shows a year, but has recently scaled back to an average of about 140 per year.

Though the style and years have changed Lucero, their tone has largely remained unchanged.

“I like old rock and roll songs,” Nichols says. “There’s nothing wrong with songs about girls, songs about having a good time. I do a little bit of that, but I like dark, sad songs too.”

To engage their following, Nichols constantly strives for consistent resonance between the band and fans.

“Writing these songs have really gotten me through some tough times,” Nichols says. “To hear from those who have been through tough times and hearing that our music helps [is] big. Hearing about soldiers in Afghanistan… and it helps get them through, those are very nice stories to hear.”

Even though Lucero has accomplished more than they originally set out to, the band still has more goals for the future.

“I would love to have Stevie Nicks’ voice on some of the stuff we’ve written,” Nichols says. “Especially with the Among the Ghost record, her voice would actually fit right in there perfectly. That would be a dream come true.”

Lucero will perform at 9:30 Club on October 14. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at www.930.com.

Learn more about the band here and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @luceromusic.

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

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez

St. Lucia Brings New Record To Life On Stage

Some bands have the ability to sound great on a record but struggle to bring that same quality of sound onstage. Others are the opposite, captivating in real time but less inspiring later on. Since the release of St. Lucia’s first EP in 2012 to their new record Hyperion, they’ve proven time and time again that they’ve hit the happiest of sonic mediums.

Jean-Philip Grobler (the group’s founder, frontman and primary songwriter) and company make the perfect music to soundtrack an early fall road trip with earworms like “Dancing on Glass” and “Elevate.” They also consistently sell out iconic music halls, including their last run at 9:30 Club. In fact, they sold out two New York City shows at Pier 17 ahead of Hyperion’s release. Grobler is adamant their live show has helped them realize the full spectrum of their music, set them apart from peers and has garnered them a loyal fan base through the years.

“I loved making the album,” he explains. “It’s a grueling process, but it’s necessary. Through that process, I fully rediscover who I am as a person and an artist each time. The record really comes to life onstage, through people seeing and hearing the songs performed live. Sometimes [listening to a record] is too much for people to absorb. It’s like hearing just the audio of a movie and thinking, ‘What exactly is going on?’ and then seeing the movie and hearing the audio, which makes way more sense.”

St. Lucia is preparing to bring even more energy on this tour, which kicked off at the aforementioned sold out Pier 17 dates. Grobler and his bandmates will be back at the 9:30 Club on November 5 and 6.

“I feel like out of all of our records, [Hyperion] is tailor-made to be played live because it was constructed as a ‘band in a room’ kind of record, even though there’s also a higher production value there,” he says.

“We have the craziest production lights and rigs we’ve ever taken on tour, and we have this custom video content.”

Aside from the bells and whistles, their live show is part of their identity at this point.

“We believe in playing music as a band, but we also believe in bringing a show so that people get more than maybe what they would expect from the size venues that we’re playing.”

While their lush, breezy sound will have you dancing in your car on a daily commute as much as in front of the stage in concert, don’t write them off because of their pop-leaning sound – especially in this contemplative full-length effort. The band is more than meets the eye, or the first listen.

“I feel like in music and art in general, it more celebrates what’s f–ked up and negative,” Grobler says. “People, for some reason, believe your art more if you’re a dark person. I’m making this music that’s very positive and uplifting, but I think it’s important that all art has balance – that it explores the dark and light sides of the human condition. Having Indy made me think a lot more about that. To me, it comes across on the record and it feels like it’s a deeper exploration of both ideas.”

Indy is, of course, Grobler’s son with his wife and St. Lucia bandmate Patti Beranek. She was pregnant during the writing and recording stages of Hyperion, and that life-altering experience for both naturally gravitated into the sound of the album. Global chaos and impending first-time fatherhood led him to meditate on what kind of good and bad things in the world would greet Indy when he finally arrived.

“I would definitely call myself an optimistic person. I’m quite romantic and I think the world is beautiful. But I also see how it’s f–ked up in a lot of ways. A lot of the album is just dealing with being that kind of person in this world. We have this very positive vibe to our music. From the outside, I think for people who listen to darker music, it can be difficult for them to make that jump. But I think if they did, they would find something good in it.”

The reciprocal relationship music creates between artist and listener lies at the heart of everything St. Lucia creates. As excited as he is to inspire listeners through a record and in person, Grobler thrives off the energy and excitement fans new and old provide with each new album.

“When you start touring [and] you see people singing along to the words, that’s such a moving thing. There were so many moments of self doubt in making all these records. I think it’s natural for an artist to experience that. You go through this really grueling pilgrimage and process of making a record and then you release it, and you’re f–king terrified of what people might think. But then to just see how it moves people – and we haven’t seen it yet with this record – I’m really, really looking forward to that.”

Move and be moved with St. Lucia at the 9:30 Club on Monday, November 5 and Tuesday, November 6. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32.50. Learn more about the show at www.930.com, and about the band at www.stlucianewyork.com.

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

Photo: Chris McKay
Photo: Chris McKay

MC50 Kicks Out Jams For Freedom

For 50 years, “Kick out the jams, motherf–kers” has been one of rock ’n’ roll’s most ecstatic, transcendent rallying cries. When it was first heard blasting out of the streets of Detroit, it went beyond music. MC5, or Motor City 5, the Detroit rock band that helped paved the way for punk, employed it as a cry to their fellow youth – for energy, for justice, for racial equality and yes, for some righteous, roaring jams.

Does MC5’s music still embody that call to action and exuberance? Can a band that aspired to spark revolutions both political and musical light those same fires today? Those questions lingered in the air as the crowd awaited the group to take the 9:30 Club stage on September 13.

For the latter question, the answer is, “Probably not.” People’s politics and goals change with time. In fact, the most political the group got was when lead guitarist and founding member “Brother” Wayne Kramer sermonized about the participatory nature of democracy, imploring the crowd to go vote before launching into the swinging, proto-punk “The American Ruse” from MC5’s second album Back in the USA. The band has little reason to try and instigate the same musical battles it waged across Midwestern concert halls at the onset of the 1970s because generally speaking, they won.

Kramer and the original MC5’s victory is seen most prominently in the very musicians who currently make up the band. Joining Brother Wayne for the MC50th, the all-star rock supergroup celebrating the Motor City 5’s fiftieth, included Soundgarden’s lead guitarist and human tidal wave of sound Kim Thayil, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty on drums and, relative newcomer, Marcus Durant of Zen Guerillas out front as an eerily ideal stand-in for original vocalist Rob Tyner. All of these bands had longer, more successful and prominent careers than MC5’s originals, yet they all joined collectively to revive the music – that’s how deeply ingrained this band is to rock’s DNA.

At the 9:30 Club, these all-star musicians did not gather to fight yesterday’s political battles but to remind everyone in the room – from the graying hippies to the Washingtonians in their finest punk rock threads – how potent this music is. The supergroup ripped through MC5’s breakthrough album Kick Out The Jams, bringing everything from backyard boogie garage rock of “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa” to the metallic boom of “Come Together.”

Kramer himself best tried to channel the spirit of 1968, leaping and dancing across the stage while unleashing his signature high octane, high register steam whistle solos. Gould and Canty conjured the crushing force of Detroit’s factory days in the rhythm section while Thayil, who usually summons sound waves like tsunamis in Soundgarden, stepped back into rollicking, prototypical rock guitar shedding.

The surprise of the night came as MC50 closed their run through of the famed album with “Starship,” the nine-minute-plus, space-meets-early-noise-rock closer that features a verse of poetry by the Afrofuturist jazz leader Sun Ra. As the song’s familiar verse-chorus-verse structure gave way to amorphous, borderline atonal, pulsating free fusion, the MC5’s spark shone through brightest.

You can hear echoes of “Starship” and “Kick Out the Jams” across the frontiers of rock today. In fact, it was appropriately reminiscent of the avant jazz stylings in some of the work of DC’s own Priests.

As Durant wailed on a miniature saxophone and Kramer wandered cosmically along thefretboard, the MC50th embodied the original message the MC5 pushed, one that punk embraced and spread to a whole generation: freedom. MC50 served a reminder for everyone in the crowd, anyone who would listen, that the central promise of American music – of the United States of America – is to create what you want.

It was a joyful, noisy reminder that American music, from avant-garde jazz and death metal to Lady Gaga and Usher, celebrates at its very core the idea of liberty we all cherish.

For more information about the MC5 and the MC50, check them out here

Photo: www.930.com
Photo: www.930.com

Mura Masa Brings His Minimalist Multi-Instrumentalism to 9:30 Club

Alex Crossan took the 9:30 Club stage without much of a fuss on Friday night. Mere moments after the lights dimmed, he took his place while beaming white lights washed over the various musical equipment stockpiled around him. Aside from the myriad of musical tools, there seemed to be a minimalist approach to the stage design, as he opted for only his name – Mura Masa – to appear behind him in white Helvetica on a solid black background.

Virtually every color was represented by lights throughout his set, but only one at a time. The performance itself had very few frills  and honestly, it wasn’t a bad thing. The strategic and somewhat conservative approach to effects was my first clue that the main focus of this show from beginning to end would be the music itself.

Mura Masa did everything himself, from playing drums, guitar and keys to singing and working the soundboard. The 22-year-old, Guernsey-born artist is a mega-multitasker. And aside from being a multi-instrumentalist, he also produces his own music and writes his own songs.

It was amazing to see him constantly rotate from instrument to instrument before chiming in vocally without missing a beat. Since much of Mura Masa’s music features collaborations from artists like A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, Cosha (who recently switched over from the moniker Bonsai), NAO and more, naturally he needed a versatile vocalist to accompany him for his DC performance. He brought out London artist Fliss as his collaborator for the night, and she took on the various features in her own style.

Whereas Mura Masa couldn’t give us much stage presence (most likely because he was playing literally all of the instruments onstage), Fliss did with ease. She imbued the crowd with energy as she danced across the stage, swinging her long braids to the beats Mura Masa meticulously constructed.

I was very impressed by how similar to Charli XCX she sounded when she sang “1 Night,” and she provided a terrific cover of Cosha’s vocals on “What If I Go?” and “Nuggets,” as well as NAO’s on “Firefly” and her newest Mura Masa collab, “Complicated.

Though Mura Masa’s music lends itself really well to some vocal instrumentation, to me it still seems to be less about what’s being said and more about the overall feeling it gives you. It was a wholly positive experience, though I admittedly wasn’t incredibly familiar with his music beyond the uber popular tracks.

The crowd was comprised of people I’d imagine you’d see at a college frat party, but the overall mood was far less raucous. I’d chalk that up to the music and the way it was presented, because it never really came to a boiling point.

During his last song, Mura Masa expressed his gratitude to the audience for coming out, but much of what he said I couldn’t make out because of his thick British accent. After he left the stage, those of us watching in the audience lingered to see if he might come back out for one more song. But the lights went up and we collectively realized he was gone for the night.

Mura Masa will be on tour on the West Coast for the rest of the month. For more information about tour dates, click here, or check out his website, Twitter or Instagram.

Photo: Anna Gaca
Photo: Anna Gaca

Japanese Breakfast Brings Her “Soft Sounds” to 9:30 Club

Michelle Zauner, better known as Japanese Breakfast, took the stage at the 9:30 Club in light-up sneakers that slightly resembled moon boots, jumped along to her song “Machinist” off her most recent release Soft Sounds from Another Planet, and told the sold-out crowd with an unwavering degree of cheer, “This is about being in love with a robot!”

Throughout the night, Zauner continues to tell the crowd what each song is about, letting her audience in on her creative world she’s now cultivated across two albums. Even on tracks from Psychopomp, her first record, which deals with the loss of her mother, you can feel the healing energy that comes from expressing those experiences through music.

Her band matches her energy and talent throughout the night. Adding to the unique onstage energy is her husband Peter Bradley on bass. When Zauner and company begin to play “Til Death,” she looks to Bradley and quips, “This song is about marriage.” She’s quick to add “Gross,” getting a good laugh out of the already smiling crowd.

Her conversational tone in both her comments and her lyrics adds to her relatability, something that has earned her well deserved critical acclaim. Coupled with her onstage enthusiasm and wildly good cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” Japanese Breakfast is a live act not to be missed.

Learn more about Japanese Breakfast here.

Photo by: Krystina Brown
Photo by: Krystina Brown

Matt and Kim Bring “Almost Everyday” to 9:30 Club

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to see Matt and Kim headline their second sold-out show in a row at 9:30 Club. The raucous euphoria of all the acts combined was the equivalent of eating sugar straight from the bowl or jumping on a trampoline in an anti-gravity chamber.

Future Feats set the precedent with their infectious blend of pop punk-tinged tunes. As the crowd slowly trickled in during their set, their upbeat rhythms helped build excitement for the acts to come. I came in just as they turned the lights up and took a group selfie with the crowd from the stage. Soon after, they finished out their high-spirited performance with “27,” a carefree, acoustic-driven ode to the morning after a night of birthday shenanigans.

Tokyo Police Club took the stage next, a band that I fell in love with in 2011 after the release of their highest-charting U.S. album Champ. Their music is oxymoronically lively and laid back at the same time. David Monks’ vocals lilt so smoothly over the cheery guitars and percussion, like a surfboard that effortlessly careens over whatever kind of wave the sea can throw at it. The sound is so L.A. that you’d never guess they were really from Ontario, Canada.

The camaraderie between members of the band was immediately visible when they started performing. During the guitar solo in the first song, and for a few other moments later on in the show, all of the band members circled the drummer and jammed together, which showed how much they genuinely enjoy playing music with each other.

I was excited to hear some of my favorite songs by them live including “Breakneck Speed,” “Frankenstein,” “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” and “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” as well as some of the newer tracks from their dual-part 2016 EP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness (a nod to the legendary Smashing Pumpkins album) – and their new single from this year, “New Blues.”

Matt and Kim were the last to grace the stage, but first members of the sold-out crowd greeted them by (successfully) starting the wave and sending it up to the rows in the balcony. The dynamic Brooklyn-based duo built on that energy with their entrance, backed by “Für Elise” and what sounded like a baby reading the script projected on their background display. Right when it got to the part where it said, “Hold on, it might get bumpy,” the dude standing next to me bumped into me and spilled his beer on my arm – as if on cue. That was an indicator of the messiness and chaos to come, but strangely, it only made me more excited to see what Matt and Kim would get up to next.

Their entire approach was reminiscent of a mixed-media art project, which is fitting since this pair met at Pratt Institute. It is a trademark of theirs to incorporate other artists’ work into their shows, and somehow it all works well together. Going beyond the standard fare of lights and smoke, they projected a mishmash of graphics (like one of Kim dancing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge) and memes (like the classic Oprah meme) on the display that played on the wall behind them for the duration of their set, and had little dance breaks to songs like DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here)” and Princess Nokia’s “Tomboy.”

Our show morphed into an album release party since Almost Everyday was set to drop that midnight. To celebrate, they threw T-shirts, confetti, balloons, blowup dolls and pool floaties (which became vehicles for crowd surfing) out into the audience. They also performed a few tracks from the new release like “Forever,” and an older song of theirs called “Yeah Yeah” that’s been pulled from all streaming services due to record label shadiness (according to Kim).

Matt also took a moment to give us some background about the band’s hiatus last year, which was due to Kim’s meniscus and ACL injury. Matt says he is “more proud of this album than anything in his life.” After the hiatus they were both happy to be back touring because, he said, “I’ve done this for my entire adult life and this is all I wanna do.”

But besides Matt and Kim’s high-energy performance, what really made this night so much fun was the crowd. Kim actually made a little mistake during one song because she said she was so amazed by how lively the audience was. Toward what I thought would be the end of their set, they played “Daylight” (the only song of theirs that I knew well before that night) and went offstage. The crowd was so hype that they came back and did another song for us. This whole night reminded me of what’s so special about concerts that aren’t in large stadiums, and that’s being able to interact with and experience music with the people who make it up close.

For more on Matt and Kim, click here. 

Photo: Kate Bellm
Photo: Kate Bellm

Kate Nash Looks Inward, Moves Forward

Conventional wisdom will tell you that looking back is generally not something you do when attempting to enter a new chapter in life. But for British singer-songwriter Kate Nash, the opposite proves to be true. The indie pop artist took to her teenage diaries for inspiration while working on her new album Yesterday Was Forever, released on March 30.

“I had a point where I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to continue with music as a career,” Nash says. “I was back and forth from LA to London and going through a lot of archival stuff, and I just pored through all my diaries and had been reflecting on them so much because it was the 10-year anniversary of Made of Bricks.”

Made of Bricks is Nash’s breakout album, hitting the pop scene with a force both sweet and powerful back in 2007, and ultimately catapulting to No. 1 on the UK charts. Last year, she embarked on an anniversary tour in the UK to commemorate this well-loved album dealing with themes of girlhood, crushes and finding a distinct sense of self – all ideas Nash seems to be revisiting with a new perspective on Yesterday Was Forever. Aside from finding inspiration in her own diaries, Nash has also been reexamining what it means to be a teenage girl in 2018, and how that definition has changed for the better over the years.

“I think the teenage girl has totally reclaimed being a teenage girl, and it’s something that you can’t just take advantage of and diss as much as you used to be able to,” she says. “It used to be like, ‘Oh silly little teenage girl writing in her diary,’ and I would be really insulted by that. But now, I think we’ve moved past that and teenage girls have fought for themselves to be heard and taken seriously, and I think that’s f–king amazing. [This album] is a celebration of that. I’m going back to my pop roots a little bit and just trying to be as raw and honest as I can – as I always feel like I try to be.”

The rest of this year sees Nash on an expansive U.S. tour for her new album, including a stop at 9:30 Club on April 30. With new music and a beloved catalog in tow, she says she’s working not only to craft a setlist that her fans will love, but also to cultivate a joyful and inspirational experience for everyone in the audience.

“There are four records to squeeze in now, so that’s kind of challenging. You want to give people new stuff, but then I feel like people come to shows because they also want to hear stuff they know already. It’s finding the right balance […] and finding something that makes sense, and creating this kind of journey onstage. But I think that my aim every time is to just have the funnest time ever. I want people to leave my shows feeling really pumped up and like they can do anything, almost as if they’ve been to one of those conventions where they’re like, ‘You can do this!’”

Nash says she’s excited to reconnect with her growing fanbase while on tour this spring, and quips that she’d like to “see if there’s any wrestling fans coming down.”

She’s referring to her role as Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson on Netflix’s critically acclaimed original series Glow, centered on the bold and colorful world of the syndicated women’s professional wrestling circuit in 1980s LA. Nash and her castmates wrapped filming for season two in January, and she says that her role in the series has felt like a dream job. It’s easy to feel her passion for both the project and her fellow actors when speaking with her.

“This season, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is my life now.’ [It’s] just 15 insane, funny, smart, inspiring, supportive women, and we’re learning how to f–king wrestle. We’re doing crazy things with our bodies, and the whole thing is set in the 80s, which is insane. I f–king love the show and all the women on the show, and I’m so grateful to be part of it.”

To have a career spanning over a decade in any creative industry is a feat, let alone to branch out to others with continued success and candor like Nash. When asked where her confidence and success come from, she again looks inward.

“I think the main thing is to always believe in yourself. It’s so hard to just sit and be comfortable with who you are, and that’s something you should always work toward because no one else is going to do that for you. Let yourself be you – that’s really unique. I think that people are always trying to prove that they’re not themselves. We have to just be ourselves, and that’s f–king cool.”

So be yourself, trust who you’ve always been, and if you want to catch a show where the inspiration is as great as the music, head to the 9:30 Club on Monday, April 30. Tickets to Kate Nash’s show are $25. Learn more about her at www.katenash.com.

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

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
Photos: Courtesy of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Back on the Road: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

On a recent call with Joe Lewis, it was clear that he was enjoying the comforts of home, just as he was poised to give them up again – for a while at least. The heart, soul and frontman of the eponymously named Austin, Texas band Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears was having a quiet lunch at home as he prepared to hit the road for the better part of two months, the band’s biggest tour since 2013.

“I made a chicken pot pie the other night,” he said. “I’m gonna finish that off.”

Lewis is soft-spoken in conversation, a marked contrast to the gruff, high-energy singer that he becomes when leading his band. Combining a range of influences from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Iggy Pop, Nile Rogers to James Brown, Lewis and his band have made a name for themselves through their live shows, featuring horns and a rhythm section that doesn’t quit. They show off that same intensity on their albums, the fourth of which, Backlash, will be released on February 10. Lewis thinks it’s the band’s best yet.

“My skill level now versus then…everybody has just grown so much,” he said. “The songwriting [has] gotten better. I’m getting older, maturing. I was older when I started playing guitar, and all those early years you’re kind of learning, I was just doing it onstage. I feel like now I know my way around stuff more. You refine all that over the years.”

The band’s last album, 2013’s Electric Slave, featured a heavier, rockier sound and didn’t come with the “and the Honeybears” part of the band name which, Lewis said, sowed confusion. His intention at the time was just to shed a part of the band name that he didn’t want to keep for so long, but the change made a bigger splash than he imagined.

“We had the name and kind of just got tired of it,” Lewis said, “and we took it off. And it became like a big issue, and everyone was confused. So this time around I just put it back on, simple as that. The name change threw everybody off. I didn’t think it would, but it did.”

As for the band’s four-year hiatus, Lewis said there wasn’t any master plan, just a lot of different factors that added up, including wanting to record and release the band’s best possible material. While he often brings an idea to the table, he said the band’s songwriting process varies.

“Each song’s different,” he said. “A lot of times, I’ll come up with the beef of it, and I’ll bring it in and the guys will do what they do to it. Or it’ll be an idea that comes up in a sound check that we jam out on, and somebody will record it on their phone, and when we’re back home working on stuff, we’ll f— with it. A lot of times, something will come up and it won’t be going anywhere, and we’ll say, ‘Hey, that thing from back in the day would sound cool here,’ and we’ll put ‘em together.”

The band has been signed to Lost Highway Records and Vagrant Records in the past, but this time around, they’re self-releasing their album.

“Unless someone is gonna be able to guarantee how much they’re gonna pump your stuff, and how hard they’re gonna work it…if you have enough money saved, it’s definitely better to do it on your own. You can control what’s gonna happen with it more.”

As the band gears up for the album release and tour, Lewis’s home cooking will be replaced with whatever is available on the road – just one of the changes that takes a little getting used to after some time off. But Lewis knows the drill and he’s ready.

“It usually takes me about a week to acclimate to being back out on the road,” he said. “And then it’s all easy sailing from there.”

Catch Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the 9:30 Club on February 21. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $25. Learn more about the band at www.blackjoelewis.com.

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