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Brooklyn’s Bodega to Play at DC9

One man strips an basically no one could care less in the VR-shot live video for “How Did This Happen!?,” a song by Bodega, a Brooklyn-based post-punk band that’s coming to DC9 on June 29. I caught front persons of the band, Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, on the phone the other day and from what I gather, the video gives a good idea of what the live show is like, aside from the audience members that failed to strip.

When I brought up the video both Hozie and Belfiglio laugh.

“That’s actually a curated music video,” Belfiglio tells me. “We wanted to show the average Brooklyn show in 2018 and how ambivalent it was and kind of show where Bodega grew up in [this] bar called Alphaville.”

Hozie continues, “you know most music videos you would tell the audience to be as excited as possible. To dance, sing the lyrics, so we just told everyone ‘just look at your phones, look as bored as possible,’ but that one guy disobeyed and started stripping, and it was great.”

We spoke about a number of things, including Bodega’s use of social media and what success looks like to them. First, Hozie and Belfiglio helped me place Bodega in context, because before Bodega there was Bodega Bay, which is where Belfiglio says she discovered herself as a musician and Hozie discovered his voice as a songwriter.

The work of Bodega Bay helped land Bodega a European and UK tour, as well as a US tour with Franz Ferdinand earlier this year.

Belfiglio says it’s because they’re “very mysterious, [and] people want to know what’s going on,” though something in her tone tells me not to take that seriously.

Hozie refers to the two groups as completely different bands, though he kept the word Bodega, because he wants people to realize there’s some overlap, and also because he likes the word. Even though the two bands sound completely different. Hozie attributes this to a few things, but particularly the input of lead guitar player Madison Velding-VanDam.

When we get to talking about songwriting, Hozie tells me that it might take him three hours to write the lyrics and the chords to a song, but the moment he brings that skeleton to Velding-VanDam is when it becomes a Bodega song.

“Madison deconstructs the original to make it not so predictable and more textural,” he says.

And even then, Hozie’s not sure if the songs are completely written.

“Some of our songs are still not done yet,” he says. “We’re going to play a show tonight and a good part of our show is improvising, so those songs aren’t done yet.”

Belfiglio wrote a few songs on the record as well, including the single single “Gyrate,” on which she described on the band’s Tumblr:

“When I was a little girl I used to masturbate in public (once at a JC Penny perfume counter), not knowing that was wrong. My parents, not wishing to shame me, told me I shouldn’t ‘gyrate’ in front of other people. My song uses the language of Top 40 pop to celebrate self-sustainability and female pleasure. There’s no shame in getting off.”

Belfiglio has several roles in the band. She does the artwork, she sings, does percussion and now she writes. When she started she knew next to nothing about making music.

“I didn’t even know what the two and four was when I joined Bodega Bay,” she says. “The first show I ever did, I was just dancing on a barrel in front of the band, [but] then slowly I incorporated myself into the music making process.”

Tumblr seems to be the only social media that the band makes regular use of, though there is a Facebook page and an Instagram.

Hozie explains why he prefers Tumblr.

“I know there’s a lot of bands that I’ve been a fan of where if if you’re looking at their Facebook it’s very uninspiring and ugly, but if you go to their blog, it just feels more private like you’re looking at their journal or punk zine.”

The two are on their to pick up gear for the night’s gig, but before they go I ask them what success looks like.

“Well we quit our day jobs,” Belfiglio says. “That’s like the highest form of success. It doesn’t mean that we’re sustaining ourselves, but it means that our lives are full enough that we can’t work our day jobs.”

Hozie has two answers. First he quotes an Ian Mackaye-ism that you know you’re successful when you finish a song, are able to play it and actually like it.

“To me, the ultimate success is forming something like a community where your music is connecting with people,” he clarifies. 

Come connect with Bodega June 29 at DC9. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $10. And be sure to check out Endless Scroll when it comes out July 6.

DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; 202-483-5000; www.dc9.club

Photo: Danny North via www.u2.com
Photo: Danny North via www.u2.com

U2 Larger than Life Second Time Around

I remember seeing U2 live for the first time back in the original The Joshua Tree days circa 1987, and the concert was all about the music—the artistry of Bono, the brilliance of Edge on guitar, the percussion mastery of Larry Mullen Jr. and the superb resounding bass of Adam Clayton. It was a simple stage setup,  and as a fan, you could easily concentrate from one song to the next.

Entering the Capital One Arena on Monday, June 18—more than three decades since my first show—I immediately knew seeing the legendary band from Dublin, Ireland was going to be a whole new ballgame. For starters, a large augmented reality screen occupied the center of the arena and people were using their cell phones to see a cascading waterfall through the power of a special concert app you could download.

Once it was time for the concert to begin, the images of the U2 quartet were flashed on a giant, rectangular screen floating in the middle of the arena, and then it turned transparent, allowing the audience to see the band suspended in mid-air over the crowd. Through thunderous applause, they started with “It’s a Beautiful World” and “Rain.”

The same screen would serve as an important part of the show, projecting different images, graphic-art-like cartoons and even special augmented live shots of Bono distorting his face into a sort of demon during a song introduction. This was only a taste of the theatrics involved. Throughout the almost-three-hour concert, there was a sensory overload of sights and sounds coming at you—some more effective than others.

In an effort to ensure everyone in the sold-out arena got their money’s worth, the stage mapping for the concert positioned brilliantly. There was a large traditional stage on one side of the arena, and a smaller circle stage on the other. In between, an elevated walkway acted as a third area, with Bono particularly spending a lot of time in the middle ground. This walkway also allowed the band members to be stationed behind the giant screen at times and have their images integrated with the video display, which made it appear as if they were inside the images during some songs.

The four U2 members stood there on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” utilizing the entire platform, which was easily a highlight of the night. It was raw U2 and it was much more enjoyable than some of the out there things going on during some others.

Early on, the band relied more their latest two releases, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which was fitting given the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour title. After jamming through “Love is All We Have Left,” “The Blackout” and “Lights of Home,” Bono made it appear as if another newbie was following the trio, proclaiming “We are out of Dublin and here is our new song,” but it was actually a nod to their beginnings in 1980, with the song “I Will Follow” off their debut album Boy; the fans ate it up.

U2 continued with some old-school hits, playing “All Because of You,” “Beautiful Day” and “The Ocean” on the main stage, letting the music overtake the sometimes circus-like atmosphere. This is where the foursome is at their best, and prove why they are among the top bands of all-time.

For “Iris,” Bono again traveled mid-stage and began telling a story of his mom and then the powerful lyrics of the song were expressed through images on the screen, further influencing the scene.

After a few other tunes—including “Cedarwood Road” and “Until the End of the World,” and a short break with a somewhat surreal graphic novel-like story set to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” displayed on the projection screen, the band headed for the smaller stage on the opposite side of the arena, with Bono asking if people were “ready to elevate?”

That naturally led to “Elevation” and more up-tempo songs such as “Vertigo,” fan-favorite “Desire” and “Acrobat.”

In another highlight, Bono and The Edge did an acoustic version of “Staring at the Sun,” which hearkened memories of U2 at its early-’90s peak. The full band was back in swing for “Pride (In the Name of Love” and the song still hit home with the crowd as if it was 1984.

An encore consisted of “Women of the World,” “One,” “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” and “13 (There Is a Light),” though surprisingly left out faves such as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Not that anyone was complaining. With close to three hours of music and a great mix of old and new material, the show was one to remember. Obviously, I’m more from an old-school frame of mind and didn’t need so much happening around me, but it didn’t ruin the enjoyment of the overall experience and it’s one I’m glad to have been a part of.

For more information about U2, click here.

Photo: Mark Raker
Photo: Mark Raker

Celebrating the Past, Preserving the Future at the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival is returning to DC on June 9. In its 9th year, the festival has grown in popularity annually, and features a wide variety of bluegrass, folk and Americana artist spread across several stages. However, this isn’t your usual for-profit celebration. The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival helps fund outdoor educational programs that enrich the lives of thousands of kids in the DC area, and puts a premium on environmental sustainability and protecting the island’s rich habitat.

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival represents both a celebration of American music and a commitment to protecting our natural lands and wildlife.

Kingman Island (and its counterpart, Heritage Island) were created in 1916 from material dredged out of the Anacostia River. Now just over a century old, you’d never guess they were man-made; the islands are covered in lush green native plants and is home to various wildlife, including foxes, possum and even wild turkey.

Since their creation, the islands have had a long and complex history, and today they remain protected.

While they are owned by the city, Kingman and Heritage Islands are managed by Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, an organization dedicated to helping kids connect with the natural world.

“We do lessons geared toward orienteering, teambuilding and habitat restoration, including in the Anacostia river,” says Lee Cain, Director of Kingman Island with Living Classrooms. “Between 2,000 to 3,000 kids come to Kingman ever year. We’re trying to make an effort to get kids to make a connection to their local park.”

Cain says another major focus for Living Classrooms is workforce development and helping young people in the neighborhood advance their careers by working on the island. Those enrolled in their summer youth employment program learn native plant identification, habitat restoration and trail work. It’s not just kids who get involved at Kingman.

“Fifteen-hundred volunteers, a year, do trail maintenance, habitat restoration and other things to improve the park,” Cain says.

The bluegrass festival helps Living Classrooms continue its work in Southeast DC and beyond. But it went through some growing pains: “there used to be a ton of trash left after the festival,” Cain says. Organizers put a zero-waste initiative in place, which resonates with many of the festival’s performers.

“They’re trying to be very sustainable,” says musician Crys Matthews, who lives in Herndon, Virginia. “A lot of that stuff is really important to me – I use zero-carbon footprint packaging with all my cd’s, so it’s great to be sharing and creating with like-minded folks.”

Silver Spring musician Dom Flemons agrees.

“It’s something that, on top of being an excellent experience for a musician, is also a very worthwhile cause that they are trying to accomplish with the festival,” he says. “It’s twofold: You have lovely nature, and a reteaching of people in the DC area of how to reconnect with nature and how to really learn sustainability.”

Both Flemons and Matthews are performing at the festival for the second time and taking new steps with their shows.

Matthews is an accomplished musician and songwriter from North Carolina who infuses folk, bluegrass, jazz and other genres into her work. She played last year’s festival solo. This year, she’s bringing her band.

“I’m looking forward to getting to play with them on that stage,” she says. “The space itself is a neat area, nestled and hidden away in the craziness of DC.”

Having been in the area for eight years, “the music scene is pretty incredible,” she says. “It’s very different from back where I lived in the mountains of North Carolina.”

Flemons is a co-founder of the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, and has traveled around the nation and the world presenting traditional folk and roots music to diverse audiences. He’ll be presenting a new performance at this year’s festival.

“I had this idea for quite a while to present the American Songster review  a multi-act program that would feature several different songsters from different parts of the world and the country to be able to present their music,” he says. “It will feature songs they have in their repertoire, as well as one song I will curate and ask them to perform.”

The festival features more than 30 bands playing on five stages this year, as well as an artist market and food trucks. While festivals by their very nature bring high foot traffic and disturbance to the island, Cain says the sustainability measures in place help protect its habitat. Festivalgoers get their own reusable cups, and “80 percent of the waste from the festival is either composted or recycled, and we’d like to get to 90 percent,” he says.

Location is also important: the festival will take place in the island’s most resilient meadows, protecting species like the Virginia mallow, a Maryland endangered plant that can be found on the southern portion the island. Holding the festival at this time of year also gives the plant life the benefit of a full growing season, and thus faster recovery and regrowth afterwards.

The festival, Living Classrooms’ educational programs and the volunteer programs on the island all help raise awareness about this unique oasis in the Anacostia River.

“If we don’t expose people to these resources, they quietly disappear,” Cain says.

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival beings June 9. For more information on the festival, islands or tickets, visit here.

Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC; 202-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

Photo: Alexandra Cabral
Photo: Alexandra Cabral

Twin Shadow Falls into Focus with New Album, Tour

Twin Shadow’s latest tour, which aims to bring attention to the release of their new album Caer, kicked off on March 23 and includes dates with Alt-J and Beck. The creative force behind the band, George Lewis Jr., says he looks forward to what will be something of an East Coast homecoming at their U Street Music Hall show this Friday.

“We love DC, we always have great shows there,” he says. “We’re all east coast people – we’ve got a California boy in the band now – but [bandmate Wynne Bennett] and I both like to spend a lot of time on the east coast so we’re really excited about coming back there because it feels like home.”

As for the tour itself, a new era is approaching for Twin Shadow. The spotlight is set on the magnificent new music and serves as a showcase of Lewis Jr. and his band’s talent.

“This tour is really about just getting back to the music,” he says. “There’s not a big production behind the set. We just want to play music for people. The set up with the new band sounds amazing and it’s really just going to be that.”

A lot has changed for Lewis Jr. since he released his last record in 2015. He and his band were forced to stop performing after their tour bus crashed into a tractor-trailer near Denver. Thankfully, no involved parties suffered major injuries, but Lewis Jr. and his band took time to reflect and grow while off the road, both personally and politically. He speaks of the global themes that anchor this new record.

“This is the first time I really feel like people are actually looking at the world like ‘oh man, this might be it, this might be kind of the last round in humanity,’” Lewis Jr. says. “The idea of what being human [means] is changing because of computers and I think everything is being questioned. Everything is flipped on its head. And artists are making art at a time when that’s happening, and regardless of political themes, it’s hard to not make art that has a feeling of ‘oh this might be our downfall, this might be the end or this might be the beginning of a new version of who we are as human beings.’ It’s where the emotional bed of the record is.”

While dealing with the changing ways of the world, Lewis Jr. also weaves a thread between other works of his, adding to an impressive catalog that will now span four full-length records. “I would say [Caer] is more of a progression from Eclipse and it kind of goes back to some of the musical ideas on my first record, Forget,” he notes.

Caer also includes collaborations with HAIM, the vivacious alt-rock trio consisting of three sisters who released their sophomore album Something to Tell You late last year. Lewis Jr. says after he and the members of HAIM became good friends, they eventually guided him during his creation of Caer.

“I had originally sent Danielle from HAIM ‘Saturdays’ when I wrote it, because I wrote it thinking about them,” Lewis Jr. says. “They ended up going in and working on it and that was really exciting because I just think they’re the best.”

The title of the album comes from the Spanish verb caer, meaning “to fall.” While the Lewis Jr. moves forward into a new phase of his life, he’s certainly had many things both good and bad fall into place on this record, leading to his triumphant return to stage this month.

Twin Shadow play U Street Music Hall with Yuno on Friday April 27. Doors 7 p.m. Show 7 p.m. The new album “Caer” is also available this day. Tickets $30 here.  All ages.

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

Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/
Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/

East of the River for the First Time: Porchfest Music Festival Comes to Southeast

Porchfest Music Festival is coming to Southeast DC for the very first time.

Penn Branch resident and SE Porchfest volunteer organizer Ayanna Smith announced earlier this month that May 20 will mark the first Porchfest to be held east of the Anacostia river.

Porchfest consists of mini concerts held on front porches. This structure allows attendees to walk freely from house to house, listen to local talent and meet people from the neighborhood. In the past, local business improvement districts hosted Porchfest, including an event this April on Rhode Island Avenue. This time around, the event is entirely organized by volunteers.

“I chose to focus in the community where I have relationships,” Smith says. “Penn Branch and Hillcrest have beautiful stately homes with front yards and large porches, mixed with a rich history and tons of hidden talent. We have all of the elements of a perfect Porchfest.”

The very first Porchfest was organized by founder Lesley Greene and took place in Ithaca, NY. Greene came up with the idea while sitting out on her front porch playing music and chatting with a neighbor. The event has spread far beyond Ithaca and even DC, with yearly fests taking place in over 100 locations.

“It was one of the first warm days of the year, and my husband and I sat on our front steps, soaked up the sunshine, and played some ukulele tunes,” she says. “We realized that there were so many musicians living right in our neighborhood that we could practically have a music festival with just the people who live nearby. We gave it the name Porchfest that day.”

They’ve been gaining popularity ever since: past Porchfests have drawn crowds ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 people. Greene says the community setting opens the door for the wide variety of bands that play these festivals.

“It would be very difficult to have anything like the number of bands that perform at Porchfest if it were held at a concert venue,” she says. “We would not only need a lot of time, but a huge staff. Every band sets up for themselves, and because they are spread out over a relatively large area, many bands can play at the same time.”

Musician Rasha Jay will play the festival, and plans to perform songs from her first EP, Cicada, and possibly some new material.

“I grew up with a porch, and there is nothing more intimate than that setting,” she says. “I look forward to being close up with people and sharing my sound.”

Emily Woodhull and Jeff Blake, two members of EBW Music, cover songs that speak to them on a personal level.

“We play covers of songs that reflect who we are,” Blake says. This includes a repertoire of alternative rock and well-known hits like “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer and “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Though they don’t have original songs ready just yet, they’re on the way.

“We are in the process of perfecting a few and they may very well be show ready in time for Porchfest,” he assures.

Smith says planning a Porchfest without the aid of a business improvement district is a real challenge, but still necessary and worth it.

“There’s a negative stigma associated with living east of the river in DC that is based partially on stereotypes,” she says. “In hosting the first SE Porchfest, I’m hoping to showcase the beauty of our community.”

She envisions taking Porchfest beyond single neighborhoods, and she’s taken steps to establish Porchfest DC as a tax-exempt organization with the goal of creating a citywide festival.

SE Porchfest currently boasts over 30 volunteers, who are working hard to secure sponsorship and additional performers at the SE edition of the fest. Organizers anticipate six to eight participating host homes, with two bands playing at each porch.

“I would love to see some go-go bands join the list,” Smith says. “I love drums, I appreciate that the city has its own genre of music. It’s the sound of DC.”

As Rasha Jay puts it, “DC is and has always been innovative and unapologetic, and the city is full of talent.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can complete the volunteer sign-up form. Musicians and bands who want to participate can email porchfestdc@gmail.com.

For updates, visit Porchfest DC’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Porchfest DC – Southeast Edition: Penn Branch, SE, DC; www.facebook.com/PorchFestDC

Photo: Soleil Konkel
Photo: Soleil Konkel

One Half DC, One Half NC, Full-On Hair Metal: Meet Bat Fangs

You never know who you’ll run into when you travel. You might think it strange to schedule an interview with a band that’s at least partly from the District during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But during our visit down south last month, we were able to secure an interview with fast-rising duo Bat Fangs.

Betsy Wright, one-third of DC-based rock band Ex Hex, and North Carolinian drummer Laura King released their self-titled album – a nod to the raucous hair metal of the 1980s – in February. Wright, who plays bass in Ex Hex, has put down the four-stringed instrument for its six-stringed cousin to produce speedy riffs, and King has found a serious niche rocking her drum set to the legendary genre of yesteryear.

Before their Luce Unplugged show on April 26 – part of a monthly concert series hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)’s Luce Foundation Center for American Arts – we wanted to give locals a chance to learn a little bit more about these retro-inspired rockers.

On Tap: How long have you two known each other, and did you share a musical connection before forming Bat Fangs?
Laura King: We met because our bands were playing together.
Betsy Wright: Our bands played shows together in 2015, and we met a few times. I was trying to start playing music with a drummer, and I just thought of her because she’s really good. We hit it off as friends and when I contacted her, she was super enthusiastic, so I just went down to North Carolina and we jammed. We just kept going
back and forth.
LK: I said “Yes” because I love Ex Hex and my previous band had just broken up, so I was in a bit of a rut as far as not knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t know she played guitar at first, but as soon as I heard her demos, I was like, “Wow, she shreds.”

OT: How long had you been “cranking acid-soaked, 80s hard rock for the living and the dead,” and when did you decide that you wanted to make a record in that genre?
BW: I wrote a bunch of the songs before we started playing, and that was what was coming out of my brain.
LK: Then we got together and both realized our love for 80s hair metal and glam. We rode that wave for awhile, and that’s how it ended up.
BW: That’s the music that I grew up on, and that’s the place I was at. Plus, I never stopped liking that music. Going back and listening, I started learning all kinds of guitar solos with that 80s metal sound. I just went through a phase.

OT: How different are your roles in Bat Fangs in comparison to previous projects?
BW: I never played bass before I was in Ex Hex, so that was actually the big learning curve. I always played guitar, so I was like, “I guess I can play bass.” But then I was like, “Oh sh-t,” because bass is a lot different. It took me awhile to figure out the feel. I ended up playing really evenly and very simply to be in line with the kick drum. However, when I’m at home and when I write songs, I play guitar.
LK: I think that this band has brought out the drumming I’m supposed to do. I played drums in lots of other bands, and some of them have been more hardcore or more punk. Some were really quiet, but I think this kind of sound has brought out the best of my ability. It worked out really well, and that’s what makes it so seamless.

OT: There’s a not-so-subtle use of zombie imagery in your album art that’s reminiscent of iconography used by bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica. Why did you decide to use that influence?
BW: We were talking about album covers, and we were trying to get people to do it, and no one would. So, I decided to draw it myself, and my favorite record cover from all the ones I kept looking at was Masters of Reality by Black Sabbath, which is just black with purple letters – it looks awesome. I just decided I was going to do something like that, so I drew it out and enlarged it. Laura put in Photoshop and added the colors; we made it together.

OT: What slasher flicks and other media in the genre did you draw from to create that atmosphere in your music?
LK: We watched some slasher movies.
BW: I read Dracula last year again, and I love Frankenstein – it’s like my favorite book ever. I always listen to the audio books of it around October. It’s weird because a few of our songs are like that, but there are some that are not like that at all.
LK: It was right around Halloween when we got together, and we put out a song around then, but [that was] way before our album.  

OT: How does living in different states impact how you both hear and write music? Is it seamless to combine those views when writing songs?
BW: It’s been really natural. Things came together really fast because we don’t have to explain stuff to each other, and we just kind of play. We mess around with different beats and arrangements, but it’s kind of easy. I’ll have riffs or lyrics to a song, and then we get together and work on it.
LK: We work together for days straight when we’re together, and jam for like six hours with lots of breaks. It’s fun.
BW: Sometimes, we’ll do freestyle jams and some cool riffs will come out of that, too.

OT: How many songs did you two throw out while putting together your album?
BW: We didn’t play together for that long, so we kind of recorded and boom, boom, boom. Plus, we don’t have that many songs on the record, so there aren’t too many, but we did throw out a few. They just didn’t fit.
LK: They didn’t feel right. We might revisit them.
BW: Plus, we’re always working on new stuff.

OT: When starting something new after a long stint in other acts, is there an inevitable sense of relearning a process of working with another person? Is that a refreshing experience?
BW: Yes, we’re still in the honeymoon phase. We get along really well, and it’s been fun because it’s new.
LK: Bands can be tough to be in; in my last band, my guitar player wouldn’t look at me for three months and I was like, “I can’t do this.” We’re really tight now, and we’re in another band together. But yeah, Bat Fangs is fun.

Catch Bat Fangs’ Luce Unplugged show on April 26 at 5:30 p.m.; show is free to attend. If you can’t make their SAAM show, catch them at 9:30 Club on June 5. Learn more about the band at www.batfangs.bandcamp.com.

SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art: 8th and F Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-5435; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/saam/luce

Photo: Holly Andres
Photo: Holly Andres

The Decemberists Experiment Sonically on I’ll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists are often both revered and pigeonholed as the founders of the modern folk movement – they’ve been playing accordions and wearing suspenders onstage since before it was cool (and commonplace to see) – and plenty a remark has been made about frontman Colin Meloy’s propensity to weave actual folklore into his narrative songwriting.

As bassist Nate Query astutely noted in a recent interview with On Tap, “I think early on, we were defined by the ways we were different from most bands – by having accordion and upright bass and folk instruments and songs with four-syllable words and stuff.”

But if you’ve ever seen the band live or spent a good chunk of time digging into their discography, you know that their skill, talent and creativity extends across any genre-lization. With eight full studio albums, several EPs, and a handful of collaborations and side projects under their belts, The Decemberists have proved that they are a musical force to be reckoned with – with some theatrics thrown in for fun.

The band released their latest album, I’ll Be Your Girl, this March and have embarked on the Your Girl/Your Ghost 2018 World Tour to support it. Many critics are hailing the album as a radical departure from the band’s traditional style and sound, aka the long ballads, operatics and epic poetry-type rock music we’ve become accustomed to receiving over the years.

Certainly, many of the tracks incorporate synths and techtronics, evoking a sort of 1980s video game-style, “analog” alternate reality, and producer John Congleton encouraged pushing toward the less expected choices. But it’s not as if The Decemberists of “The Upside Down” came through a wormhole to create I’ll Be Your Girl. Instead, the album simply crochets together multiple elements the band has used in the past and brings some of the less exaggerated ones to the forefront. After all, even in the most synth-heavy track, Meloy is still singing about a “cutting stone.”

“This record probably is full of some surprises for people, but really, even with this record where we branched out a little bit sonically, I don’t think we did anything we hadn’t already done,” Query says.

And yet, he adds, there is a definite art to staying both interesting and interested in making music together when you’ve been doing it as long as The Decemberists have been.

“When you’re mixing a new record, sometimes you end up building in certain challenges and parameters just to sort of make it interesting. Sometimes, you just pick up a different instrument because if it sounds different to you, [then] you’re going to get fresh ideas or sometimes, you just need to mix things up to keep it going. And I think [on] this record in particular, we tried to do a lot of that and really not be afraid to follow a weird idea down the rabbit hole.”

What is perhaps a more notable divergence from The Decemberists’ norm is the album’s obvious reflection of the zeitgeist. Rather than conjuring whimsical tales of old and allegorical references (though you’ll still find plenty of darlings and rivers and thistle in there), Colin Meloy and the band have been very vocal about how current events and the sociopolitical landscape in America influenced the making of this album.

In fact, Meloy recently described the sensation of moving from despair to humor in an interview with The Atlantic: “We’re having a very shared experience. It’s almost galvanizing, people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Sh-t is f–ked up.’ There’s something therapeutic in looking at the apocalypse and laughing.”

“Everything is Awful,” for example, sounds ironically like The Lego Movie movie song “Everything is Awesome,” but with an obvious dark twist. In “Starwatcher,” an odd and ominous military-style percussion takes hold. And finally, “We All Die Young” has a trippy “Yellow Submarine” sensation with the added discomfort of having the voices of actual children on the track. And even Carson Ellis’s album artwork and accompanying short animations aren’t shy about being provocative – among other images, we see a cartoon version of Donald Trump with devil horns.

So while I’ll Be Your Girl may not be the radical sonic upheaval some have claimed, it does reiterate that The Decemberists are no amateurs. They are a skilled and experienced band influenced by both an awareness of the world around them, the lives that they lead alongside their musical ones and how all of those things are intertwined.

Query, for instance, was phoning from his son’s school where he was volunteering for the day. And while excited for the Your Girl/Your Ghost tour to bring “new stuff onstage, new things on [his] pedal board, new basses and ramping it back up after some down time this winter,” he says the band is equally excited for the opportunity to travel the country to visit spots like Red Rocks, Wrigley Field, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture – a chance to see the people and places that really are America.

Don’t miss The Decemberists at The Anthem on April 21. Tennis will open. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets start at $45. Learn more about the band at www.decemberists.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.anthemdc.com

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