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Music Picks: August 2019

TUESDAY, AUGUST 6

21 Savage
Since his controversial arrest with ICE in early February, there has been a lot of uncertainty in 21 Savage’s music career. He’s had a lot of challenges coming back into the music industry; however, he used his experience to give back to his community. His sophomore album i am> i was, is a testament to that. Savage approached this album with more sentimental songs: “A Lot,” “Letter 2 My Momma” and “All My Friends” progressed his artistic expression. His duality of gangster rap and emotions exemplifies through this album, which allows his listeners to be completely captivated. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 7

Hibou
Peter Michel began his career at the early age of 17, touring with his band at night and finishing his studies during the day. Developing a love for classical music in early adolescence, he expanded his creativity by crossing over to the guitar and songwriting, which led him to form the band Hibou. The Seattle-based musician has released four studio albums leading him around the world, reaching audiences far and wide that ultimately put him in his position today. Michel’s vocals play on 80s indie pop, fueled by guitar melodies and flux arrangements. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $12. Pie Shop: 1339 H St. NE, DC; www.pieshopdc.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 8

Copper Chief
Copper Chief brings a spunky twist to country music. Deep in Texas influence and even deeper in brotherhood, Chief has been gracing stages nationwide to give you a taste of country-infused rock ‘n’ roll. The group, made up of Mike Vallerie, Rio Tripiano, Justin Lusk and John Jammall II, has created more of a music family than an ensemble. The momentum of this band is promising, after winning at the 2019 Texas Regional Radio Music Awards and becoming USA Network’s fan favorite. Their boundary crossing sound is influenced by soul, psychedelic and blues. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $12. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9

Nalani & Sarina
Identical sisters Nalani & Sarina have utilized their musical inclinations to create a savvy approach to pop music. Their spunk brings new energy back to music and their pop-soul approach drives this kind of music forward. With such a free ambiance, they touch on subjects including individuality, subjectivity and inclusivity while empowering women. Each set is different, and they always play on improvisation, so it’s no telling what they have in store for their fans. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $10. Velvet Lounge: 915 U St. NW, DC; www.velvetloungedc.com

SUNDAY, AUGUST 11

Nappy Roots
Nappy Roots is back to grace the stage after years of retirement. Rooted in southern Kentucky influences, the hip-hop group took the industry by storm. Intertwining folk and rap and bringing a new perspective to music. Collaborating with renowned artists like Anthony Hamilton, Greg Nice and more, their unique sound drew fans in and ultimately led them to sold more than 3 million albums. Nappy Roots managed to go out on their own and create a new wave of music. With the release of their tenth mixtape Sh!t’s Beautiful, they have built a 20-year career that continues to surprise the music world. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $25. City Winery: 1350 Okie St. NE, DC; www.citywinery.com

Yeek
Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter and producer Yeek brings back the nostalgia of artists like N.E.R.D and No Doubt while also creating a unique sound. His mix of hip-hop and punk rock allows the listener to be completely captivated and experience a new age of music. In 2017, he released his debut album Sebastian, turning heads and pushing his stardom forward. Yeek’s most recent releases analyzes his progression as an artist, yet still pays tribute to his old works. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 14

Common
Coated in poetry and slick in rhyme, Common has a career spanning over 30 years. He has challenged the ideal rap artist by preaching nothing but authentic life and social experiences – and his upcoming tour is no different. The Let Love tour is the result of the release of his memoir Let Love Have the Last Word, where he exclusively talks about his trials and tribulations as a black man growing up in Chicago. His vulnerability not only in his book as well his tour opens up a completely different side of Common his fans have never seen before. The melodic tone that renders your attention will leave you captivated and also as vulnerable as he is. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $32. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; www.warnertheatredc.com

Purple Mountains

Resurfacing after almost a decade, David Berman shocked the public with his return of four new singles and a different band: Purple Mountains. It was surprising that after dismantling Silver Jews, Berman didn’t return right away for a solo career – but he’s back with a new sound that all his fans will enjoy. Stricken with loss and self-reflection, his music narrates the disintegration of friends, family and fans that were once dear to him. His sensitivity throughout “All My Happiness is Gone” may scare his fans due to the interpretations of addiction and suicide, but it examines his growth as an artist almost a decade later. His psychedelic approach to each song may seem overdramatized, but in a sense, that’s what makes it beautiful. There is no perfect song, which circles back to his reality. Show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15

Catching Flies
This London-based DJ and producer has a way of quenching the thirst of all those who listen to him. Catching Flies reaches right into your soul to the deepest depths through his melodic, percussive beats. He uses all genres – hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul, pop and more – to create this unique experience. Earning a fan base of some of the greats including Giles Peterson, Annie Mac and Huw Stephens, he has built a musical platform that’s uniquely diverse and dynamic. His new album Silver Linings, released in early July, is naturally moving and emotionally structured. Show at 10 p.m. Tickets $10. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

The Jonas Brothers
After years of anticipation, The Jonas Brothers have returned – and they’re all grown up. After crushing millions of young teen hearts in 2013 when they announced their split, Nick, Joe and Kevin went their separate ways. But after years of longing, our prayers have been answered. Their comeback single “Sucker” brings a more seductive, edgy vibe to this heartthrob band. We all love the classics – “Burnin’ Up,” “LoveBug,” “Year 3000” – but Happiness Begins examines their progression as artists. The brothers have always been a force, but their individual artistry shines throughout this album. Additionally, it examines the diligence and work ethic they all acquired driving the boy band industry after years of separation. This tour is something we’ve all been waiting for, and The Jonas Brothers aren’t going to disappoint. Show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $115. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

Tessa Violet
First known for her YouTube channel, Tessa Violet found stardom by gaining a million subscribers for her quirky videos and vlogs. She garnered national attention with her hit single “Crush,” released in June of last year. It surprised all of her fans and subscribers that her musical talents went beyond the kid-like videos she made for her channel, earning her respect in the music industry with this more mature take on pop music. She later released numerous singles that her fans seem to love, and now Violet is taking a break from YouTube and hitting the road on this tour to really embrace the lifestyle of pop music. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

TUESDAY, AUGUST 20

Tab Benoit
Born in the Bayou, Tab Benoit has crafted a career rooted in soul. The Louisiana native has used his guitar to paint a picture of the Delta Blues that lies deep within him. Benoit started playing the guitar at an early age, learning from blues legends Raful Neal and Tabby Thomas, and has since taken his skills to the next level. Benoit was destined to become the phenomenon that he is today, bringing the Bayou to the DMV for a can’t-miss performance. Show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $35. The Birchmere: 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria VA; www.birchmere.com

FRIDAY, AUGUST 23

Brittany Howard
Brittany Howard is taking a break from her Grammy winning band Alabama Shakes and strutting out for her solo career. Her debut album Jaime brings a modern twist to this once country artist’s sound. Her album, set to debut in early September, brings a psychedelic funk, soul-defined and hip-hop accented sound that highlight her past. Howard goes into depth with sexuality, family tragedy, religious indifference and much more. She is finally stepping out on her own two feet and is definitely a solo artist to watch. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $55. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

RL Grime
King of electronic trap production RL Grime has brought a vibrant twist to the dance music scene. Working with artists like Ty Dolla $ign, Kanye West, Miguel and more helped him revamp his sound into something completely unique. There is no holding back – Grime’s continuously released hit after hit. His deep and aggressive chord progressions won’t allow your feet to stop moving, and the artist’s high octaves and percussive bass are captivating. His fans have traveled far and wide to see what he’ll come up with next, so don’t miss him at Echostage this month. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Echostage: 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE, DC; www.echostage.com

SATURDAY, AUGUST 24

The Beach Boys
The boys are back. The Beach Boys are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a reunion tour. Music spanning multiple generations will bring people from all walks of life – creating an almost religious experience. Coming almost full circle, Mike Love and the boys have relished in the opportunity to come together again and this reunion is the perfect excuse. They’re also creating a new studio album, That’s Why God Made the Radio, that examines the fruition of their iconic sound over a 50-year period. All-American classics like “Surfin’ USA,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “California Girls” return to the main stage as The Beach Boys brings us back to this magical time of music. Doors at 1:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

SATURDAY, AUGUST 24 – SUNDAY, AUGUST 25

Tame Impala
There is no one quite like Tame Impala in the industry today. The psychedelic pop stars have created a sound that is unmatched, as the Australian natives have brought the 60s into modern music. With the emergence of color, root of pop-rock and accents of soul, they challenge the typical take on pop music. Stepping onto the scene in 2010, Kevin Parker and his band released their debut album Innerspeaker, which gained worldwide praise for creating an entirely different entity in pop music. They went on to release multi-platinum studio albums that garnered national attention, leading to sold-out stadium shows across the globe. Their influence on the sonic universe will take you on an experience that’s out of this world. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 29

Kindo

Rooted in contemporary jazz with accents of rock and pop, Kindo is an unlikely success story. Since releasing their debut EP almost a decade ago, they’ve sold 30,000 records worldwide and have 2.5 million Spotify plays and 3 million views on YouTube. But that is just the beginning to their success. From their humble beginnings in Buffalo, New York, they created their unique sound via the influences of Radiohead, Robert Glasper and Justin Timberlake. With R&B and Latin accents conjoined with sophisticated lyrics, they keep their fans moving. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

SATURDAY, AUGUST 31

Danielle Nicole Band

Grammy nominated for best contemporary blues album, Danielle Nicole has taken the blues industry by storm. Once the lead singer of Trampled Under Foot, Nicole has since stepped out on her own and is becoming the blues musician she has always wanted to be. Catering to a younger crowd, she wants the authenticity of music to inspire the next generation. With the strum of her guitar, the brass of the bass and the underline of the drums, she has created something soothing to the ear. She has slowly but surely created a name for herself, and this tour is just a testament to her growth as an artist. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

Oshun
This dynamic duo crosses boundaries of soul and Afrofuturism. They blend the acoustic sounds of guitar and the bass of heavy drums with inspired lyrics to create the beautiful sound that has reached international audiences. Since their debut mixtape in 2015, ASASE YAA, they have created a following that has amassed all over social media and continues to push their career today. Gaining national attention, they’re quickly becoming one of the most prominent soulful groups of our generation. As full-time college students at NYU, they managed to travel all across the world. Now, they have come into their own through their artistry as powerhouses in today’s music industry. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

SATURDAY, AUGUST 31 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

Labor Day Weekend Music Festival
Lincoln Theatres is rounding out the summer with its Labor Day Weekend Music Festival. Come enjoy a free two-night festival filled with some of the greatest artists to grace our nation’s capital. Musicians, bands, producers and more will grace the stage to give local music lovers a diverse show. So come out to Lincoln Theatre to listen to the soundtrack of DC’s 2019 summer. Show starts at 7 p.m. Free. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

Photo: Andi Elloway

Tuxedo Puts the Fun in Funk

Mayer Hawthorne is an Aquarius. Jake One is a Taurus.

Both are goal-oriented, fixed signs, and when revolutionary and independent Aquarians are coupled with pragmatic and creative Taureans, it spells out a match for success written by the cosmos.

While Hawthorne says their references to astrology are inspired by musicians they love who have done the same, there’s something uncanny about the way their sun signs work together. If you’re not one to put trust in astrology, the individual accomplishments Hawthorne and One bring to their funk-pop project Tuxedo are more impressive than any sort of astrological fate.

Both have been hard at work on their own for over 10 years. Hawthorne makes mellifluous, Motown-inspired sounds and One lends his production chops to artists like Drake, De La Soul and Rick Ross, even mixing a few songs for Hawthorne himself. Much like their solo work, the way the pair approaches music is varied – but only to the point where the two can balance out each other’s habits.

“Our big thing is that I’m really good at starting stuff and letting it go, [and] Mayer’s really good at finishing and not letting it go at all,” One explains as Hawthorne laughs.

“I’m the perfectionist,” Hawthorne admits. “I have a hard time just throwing shit onto the canvas, and Jake is really good at that.”

What started out as a passion project between kindred musical spirits has become a runaway, if unexpected, success. The duo’s secret weapon? Not taking themselves too seriously. They have their solo careers for that and can fully exercise their creative visions without as much tension as one may expect to face when forming a group.

“What really made Tuxedo successful was that we didn’t put any pressure on it at all,” One explains. “When I get together with Mayer, it’s like summer camp or something – no pressure. And that’s what makes it special, really. We reaffirmed my belief that you’ve just got to do what you want.”

Hawthorne agrees, reiterating that the focal point has never been to make hit records or a certain amount of money from the duo’s music.

“Part of the reason that Tuxedo is so great is because we have the freedom to be so silly with it sometimes and try crazy things because there’s not as much pressure for it to be successful financially,” he continues.

In keeping with the collaborative spirit that’s woven throughout the project, their most recent record, this July’s Tuxedo III, is heavy on features from a wide variety of artists. Some are household names (MF DOOM) while others are energetic up-and-comers (Gabriel Garzón-Montano). They all have one thing in common though: they’re friends of Hawthorne and One, and that was important to the duo when deciding who to collaborate with.

“The only rule was that anybody that we put on the album had to be somebody who was really a homie of ours,” Hawthorne elaborates. “We did songs with more well-known artists and they didn’t make the album. The people who are really our homies, that we are actually friends with, those just naturally worked better and that was what we ended up using.”

The artists keep this same energy at their live shows, which both agree is Tuxedo in its purest form. The aforementioned ability to play up the best of each other’s strengths alongside what One describes as their “joyous sound” makes for one hell of a dance party.

“The live show is kind of what makes it all worth it – just being able to see people’s reactions to what you worked on and spent time on,” One says of Tuxedo’s upcoming stop at the 9:30 Club this month. “We did a U Street Music Hall show last time we were in DC, [and] we didn’t know if anybody liked us. But we sold out and everybody went crazy and we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing the right thing.’ It gives you a kick in the butt in the right direction.”

Hawthorne wholeheartedly concurs about the District.

“DC has actually always been a really good indicator for us. The DC crowd [is] so knowledgeable, so if they are really into what we’re doing, that means we’re doing the right thing.”

Tuxedo brings the fun and the funk to 9:30 Club on Sunday, August 4. Tickets are $25, and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on the duo, visit www.tuxedofunk.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-035-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Chad Moore

Yeasayer Bring Episodic “Erotic Reruns” to 9:30 Club

A quick Google search on the band Yeasayer will show they fall under the genre of “experimental rock.” The Brooklyn-based trio consisting of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder have long been revered for their clever lyrics, electronic influence and inventive aesthetic.

But on their fifth studio album Erotic Reruns, released in June, the band looked to new sources for inspiration, drawing from the urgent and guitar-heavy sounds of seminal bands from the 60s and 70s. We caught up with Keating ahead of their stop in the District on July 12 to talk new music, the ideal setlist and why 9:30 Club is an important venue to them.

On Tap: Your new record Erotic Reruns has more guitar and rock influences than some of your past work. What inspired that sound to really come through here?
Chris Keating: I think we were looking to make something very immediate. I wanted the songs to be under three minutes and reference some of the 60s and 70s music I liked: some Bowie stuff [and] The Velvet Underground. We tried to make it guitar-based and not as electronic as some of our past albums.

OT: The shorter songs leave the album at just under 30 minutes (29:05 to be exact), which seemed like maybe a different approach to a full-length album.
CK: In theme with the title, Erotic Reruns, we wanted it to feel like a half-hour TV episode. People these days have a tendency to overload and pack an unlimited amount of material onto a streaming album. One of my favorite albums that came out in the last few years was the Pusha T album [Daytona] that was only seven songs long. I really appreciated that because I listened to it a few times and I was like, “Oh, a lot of other albums have like 21 songs on them.” We wrote about 20 songs and just decided it was a cool concept to come in under half an hour.

OT: The brevity almost makes you enjoy an album as a whole even more. Almost every album that I love has a couple of songs where I think, “I don’t really know why this is here.”
CK: It’s very rare that you can just listen to an album all the way through. And I think partly that is because we have this short attention span culture when it comes to music. It’s also partially because we want to curate our own singles, but it’s cool when an album can be played the whole way through. We tried to make it work that way.

OT: How did you decide what to include while avoiding filler or an overly long album kind of vibe?
CK: To be honest, I’m not really sure. At a certain point, you start listening through and you’re like, “Eh, I don’t know about this one” or “Yeah, let’s do that one” or “Let’s put out another seven-song record in a year.” When you start listening to them and you think [about] what works together in a group, some things stand out as outliers. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really sort of an aesthetic decision.

OT: Yeasayer already has a rather large back catalog of music before you even factor in the new album. How do you curate the setlist you have now, and balance the old and new?
CK: We basically play the entire new album because it’s short enough. Then, we still have another 45 minutes of stuff from older records to play for [a total of] an hour and 15 minutes. You’re playing a new song, an old song, a new song, an old song. It usually works out pretty well if we time it right.

OT: It must feel good to incorporate a little bit of both. I would imagine as an artist who just made this new material, you’d really want to share it but not forget about older material or audience favorites.
CK: Oh, definitely. I hate it. I mean, just like everyone else, I hate it. I hate going to see a band when I know they’re only playing new stuff. We are very much of the mindset of, if a song was popular 10 years ago, you just keep it in the rotation. Maybe you shuffle some in and out. I guess there’s some level of artistic integrity to abandoning your back catalog, but I always thought it was a little frustrating.

OT: Speaking of live shows, you recorded your live album Good Evening Washington D.C. at 9:30 Club in 2013. Why did you decide to record it there, and what are you looking forward to being back there on your upcoming tour?
CK: Anand [Wilder] and myself both grew up in Baltimore. When we were in high school, the 9:30 Club was a really big deal. Whenever a friend was able to drive, we were going there to see bands like Pavement and Kool Keith, or The Roots and Weezer. It seemed like we were there once every few months. It was always just a special place. I didn’t realize how great it was until we started traveling the country and playing other clubs. DC is so lucky to have something like that there. I think it’s probably the best c lub of that size in the country, if not the world. It’s always a stop everybody looks forward to. It’s the kind of place where I’ll see a lot of family members and friends. I’ll look out in the crowd and see teachers from high school, which is really cool. Some random person will stop me at the dressing room door and be like, “Hey, we went to school together” or I might run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years.

Yeasayer return to 9:30 Club on Friday, July 12. Tickets are $30, and doors open at 8 p.m. For more on the band and their new album Erotic Reruns, visit www.yeasayer.band.

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

Photo: Greg Pallante

Meet The Exploratory Mercy Union

The first chord explodes like a glitter bomb, igniting a stream of surging guitar, driving drums and anthem-style lyrics that shine like the sun on the Jersey Shore.

This is the sound of “Young Dionysians,” the song that kicks off The Quarry, the debut album by New Jersey rock quartet Mercy Union.

“Dionysians” trumpets part of the band’s sound, firmly rooted in the heartland rock meets punk – a kind of Tom Petty mixed with Jimmy Eat World vibe – sound that’s been kicking around North and Central Jersey for the past two decades. But this fist-pumping, body-and-soul liberating rock and roll sound is only a piece of Mercy Union’s repertoire. Truthfully, the group does not want listeners to enter with any preconceived notions; that was part of how the members decided on their name.

“We didn’t want the name to give away any style of music,” says Jared Hart, Mercy Union’s front man and principal songwriter. “That’s what we started with, with trying to find things so that when people heard it they wouldn’t jump and go: ‘That’s a hardcore band’ or ‘That’s an indie band.’”

This mentality is also helpful when most of your band consists of members from some of the most prolific bands from the Jersey punk scene in the past 10 years. Mercy Union is, by popular parlance, a supergroup: Hart is the founder of The Scandals, guitarist Rocky Catanese hails from Let Me Run and drummer Benny Horowitz also anchors the kit for The Gaslight Anthem, the biggest rock group to blossom from the garden state in the new millennium. These are much-beloved bands in their circles of the music world, with dedicated fanbases enamored with those groups’ distinct, personal sounds.

The sounds of Mercy Union do not sever ties with all that history.

“I wanted everyone listening to it to have as much of an open mind I had when I was writing it,” Hart says. “Keeping the labels off of it and all the past stuff – it’s there, those will be our influences, but I didn’t want it to be the skeleton of the whole thing.”

“[We wanted] something catchy, [with] energy but also restraint in the smart ways. I kind of wanted to capture the energy of all our punk bands in the past and use our new knowledge in songwriting and life experience in general, smash it all together and see what we came up with.”

That last ingredient in the sound reflects all four musicians’ drive to explore beyond their previously well-traveled roads and to have space to “get weird.”

The band’s brand of weird may not be apparent on first listen; the group does not play in a crazy tempo, the guitars are not tuned to some alien setting and Hart sings as he does, with bellowing thrust but also choir-boy soaring.

“I think weird is just taking risks,” Hart says. “Changing time signatures, changing song structures in ways that you’re not comfortable with and more just challenging who you are as a musician and taking a leap and not worrying about it.”

“Layovers,” another track on The Quarry, exemplifies this ethos. The six-minute, acoustic roadhouse ballad of remembrance and regret directly contrasts with the group’s tight rock anthems like “Dionysians” or “Chips and Vic,” but contrast is the point.

Hart points to mixtapes in the hip-hop world – he was mainlining Chance the Rapper’s multi-Grammy winning mixtape Coloring Book while he was writing the first batch of Mercy Union songs – as a primary influence in shaping the band’s sound.

“The idea of a mixtape kind of blew me away,” he says. “Different songs that didn’t necessarily feel like they fit on a record, but when put into context as a whole, they do. That was a big part of where the songs on The Quarry went to and how we bounced around in genres.”

Looking at other tracks in Mercy Union’s live set, “A Lot From Me” drifts calmly along with an almost reggae vibe; “Silver Dollars” is classic Tom Petty, gritty and grooving rock and roll; while “Accessory” and “Baggy” mix 70s soft rock with a harder and more ambient modern approach.

Hart says the band’s name was intended to reflect the members’ strong feelings of unity tied to the vulnerability of starting this new project that would stretch them as musicians. It also reflects the group’s sound; a united body of gentle but energetic and empowering songs. There’s a couplet in “Chips and Vics,” the band’s debut single, another swelling anthem, that sums up what the band offers: “Can I be all that you need? / Can you see, maybe, if you can stand to stand by me?”

Mercy Union opens for Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers with Control Top at Rock & Roll Hotel on Tuesday, April 23. Visit here for more information on the show. For more information on Mercy Union, check the band out on Facebook and Twitter.

Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

Photo: Oscar Merrida

Oh He Dead, DC’s Next Big Indie Soul Band

No one really died. When Oh He Dead singers Cynthia “C.J.” Johnson and Andrew Valenti first formed the band in 2014, Johnson wrote a ballad about a boy she’d fallen in love with. In the song, she walks in on him cheating, pulls out a gun and shoots him.

“About a week later, we had practice,” Valenti says. “It dawned on me to ask, ‘Whatever happened to that guy in that song that you wrote?’ She responded, ‘Oh, he dead!’ We all died laughing.”

After collecting themselves, the then duo decided to immortalize the phrase, resolving to begin their journey into the music business together. Their first big break came at the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival in 2016, and it was all the confirmation they needed to keep going.

“I think it was a very pivotal show in our trajectory where we looked at each other afterward and felt like, ‘Okay, we can do something with this,’” Valenti says.

Oh He Dead will be playing this year’s Kingman Island Festival on May 4, but fans may be surprised by what they hear. The once strictly country folk band has transformed into what is perhaps best described as indie soul. Their new sound is much groovier, with an R&B base.

“Someone in the crowd [recently] told me that people were grinding at one of our shows and I just started laughing,” Valenti says. “I never thought I would be in a band where people would be grinding to our music.”

They cite the addition of new band members as the primary cause of their evolution. Guitarist Alex Salser brings his jazz background to the group while bassist John Daise offers an R&B influence.

“I think everyone has a unique skill and knows what their role is,” Salser says. “It’s been really special to utilize each other’s different talents. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s fighting for the spotlight like in a lot of other bands I’ve played for.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is Johnson’s strikingly smoky, textured voice that lingers long after she’s stopped singing. It’s no surprise to learn who she idolizes and emulates most as a vocalist.

“My inspiration was definitely Fleetwood Mac,” Johnson says of her influences during her formative years. “I listened to them a lot in high school. I love Stevie. Her voice is just something, that raspy voice. I was like, ‘I want to be like Stevie!’”

Though difficult to categorize, Oh He Dead’s unique sound has earned them a growing fanbase in the DC area.

“I think the reception we’ve gotten from our crowd [in DC] has been super encouraging,” Valenti says. “We played Union Stage last week. There were over 300 people in the crowd, and I don’t think any of us have had that kind response with original music.”

Oh He Dead seems to have finally hit their stride, finetuning their sound and discovering their own audience. The band is currently working on their debut album, which they plan to release this year. As far as their hopes for the future, Johnson puts it best.

“I want to win a f–kig Grammy!”

Learn more about Oh He Dead at www.ohhedead.com, follow them @ohhedead, and catch them at Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival on Saturday, May 4. Tickets start at $35.

Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC 205-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

Photo: Shervin Lainez

Mountain Man Wake Up on New Album

North Carolina (by way of many places) band Mountain Man have a sweet way of describing the eight year hiatus they took between their debut album and their new release, the spectacular Magic Ship.

“We like to say that Mountain Man ‘took a nap,’” says member Molly Sarlé. “We all moved to different parts of the country, so it took quite some time for us to end up in North Carolina again.”

After reuniting to participate in Eaux Claires, the festival curated by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, the trio made up of Sarlé, Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monning decided to “take it one step at a time” and create Magic Ship together.

The result is a beautiful and emotional collection of vocal-forward folk. Sarlé walked us through their creative process, the album’s themes and more leading up to their stop at The Barns at Wolf Trap this week.

OT: How did being away from each other, creatively and physically, affect this album?
Molly Sarlé: I think it played into it in the sense that we all drew from our experiences – and had very different experiences, both musically while working on other projects and in our lives in general, that shaped the songwriting on this record. Although, some of the songs were around before we took our hiatus, we just hadn’t recorded them yet. It was gratifying to be able to record those.

OT: Can you talk me through the themes and ideas throughout Magic Ship, musically and lyrically?
MS: We weren’t thinking of any particular themes while we wrote it, although I think overall something that stands out to me is that – like on the song “Guilt,” the last song on the record – is kind of about getting a bit older, because we kind of wrote the first album in our early 20s, and the second in our late 20s and early 30s. It’s about just getting to a place in life where you know yourself a little bit better and accepting yourself for who you are.

OT: I am curious about the song “Underwear,” specifically. This is just my interpretation, but I recently moved and it’s crazy to me how I feel that in my early 20s I needed a lot of stuff to be happy, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve felt that life is a lot more simple, and I know the things I actually need. That’s just how it resonated to me, and It’s one of my favorites on the album.
MS: Amelia wrote that song, but I can tell you that my interpretation of it definitely relates to what you said – but I think more in an emotional landscape context. The older you get, all you need is in a particular kind of closeness or intimacy.

OT: Was there anything different in the writing or recording process of Magic Ship?
MS: The recording process was definitely different. We recorded it in Durham [North Carolina] at Nick [Sanborn of Sylvan Esso] and Amelia’s studio, with Nick, and last time we recorded the record in our friend’s attic in Philadelphia over two days. This time it was spread out over a few months. And the writing process was pretty similar in that we usually just get together and bring the songs we’ve worked on individually to each other, then write our own parts and see if they work for Mountain Man or not.

OT: You’ve all known each other for a long time now – how has that relationship changed?
MS: We’ve all grown up a lot, so I think the roles have changed in that we all take a little bit more equal responsibility spread across all three members.

OT: I would imagine being part of any band is a very intimate experience but even more so in a band like Mountain Man where your primary instruments are your own voices. Can you tell me more about the connection you have to your bandmates?
MS: We call each other our wives. It’s almost like we’re married to each other, just because of how much we shape each other’s lives through making music together, but also through our friendship. It’s wonderful and pretty intense. It’s like those friendships where the people you’re working with know you so well that you can’t hide anything from them.

OT: There are a few cover songs on this album – “Bright Morning Stars” and “Baby Where You Are” – why did you decided to not only cover them but put them on the album?
MS: “Bright Morning Stars” was a song we used to sing a lot before we took a hiatus, and was taught to us by a really wonderful vocal coach at Bennington College, where we all met. “Baby Where You Are” is a cover that Amelia suggested from a record that had been in heavy rotation at a house that she and I once lived in at Durham called The Hughes.

OT: I’m curious about the llama and alpaca imagery on the album art – why did you go with that?
MS: They’re alpacas! One is named Dorota, I can’t remember the other one’s name, but they’re friends. They live at a healing animal farm, so they’re healing alpacas. We decided to do a photoshoot with them because our manager Martin actually had a dream in which we were taking pictures of alpacas in a bar. We were really sweetly presented to it – he said “I don’t want to step over any boundaries but I had this dream,” and we were all like “oh, 100%, let’s make this happen.”

OT: You’ve also been busy with some solo work. Can you talk more about that?
MS: I have a solo album that’s coming out on Partisan Records this summer. This is the same record label that we released our first album as Mountain Man on, and my record is produced by Sam Evian. We recorded at a church that’s also a recording studio called Dreamland in Woodstock, NY about a year ago.

Mountain Man play The Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday, March 29. Show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25-$30. For more on Mountain Man, visit www.wearemountainman.com.

The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd., Vienna, VA; 1-877-WOLFTRAP; www.wolftrap.org

Photo: Emily Shur

Neko Case Talks New Album, Inclusivity & Sweden

While recording her 2018 album Hell On, Neko Case’s Vermont home burned down. No one was hurt, and she soldiered on. The end result was a powerful record containing reflections on nature, its potential for destruction, God and more. Heavy subject matter aside, the album’s beautifully joyous moments – such as the Beth Ditto collaboration “Winnie” – shine here as well. Case talked to On Tap ahead of her two shows this weekend at the Lincoln Theatre about her seventh studio album, the partnerships that came with it and inclusivity in the music industry.

On Tap: I wanted to ask about the opening line on the title track of “Hell On,” especially the line God is not a contract or a guy, God is an unspecified tide.” Can you tell us more about that song and how it became the title track and album opener?
Neko Case: That song was written in the middle of writing all the other songs. It wasn’t made the first song on the album because of that as the opening line. The concept of God doesn’t mean enough to me for me to try to make a statement with that. I think writing that song felt really good. It was very sing-songy and it was one of those [moments of] euphoria inside your own head, and just making things for the pure joy of making things. That’s one of my favorite ones.  That one came quickly to me and it was a real joy to work on.

OT: What about working with Beth Ditto on the standout track “Winnie?”
NK: I work with strong, outspoken women in music every day. But Beth, I asked to do it because she’s a phenomenal singer and that particular part in the song was almost like casting a role. The song wasn’t really working and I thought maybe there should be a different voice. Beth was just the most natural person to voice that character. That song also was written out of absolute joy and the euphoria of just feeling very confident about those things, which is the gift that the character of Winnie gives to the person that is being sung to in the song. It’s almost like a little play.

OT: You also partnered with Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John to produce Hell On. How did he end up on board?
NK: I started to work with him because I just love what he does. Not only is he a musician, but he’s also an arranger and a producer – he does it all. He was such a great person to work with because I was looking for new sounds. I was looking for someone who had that same kind of ravenous feeling. We have friends in common and there are so many projects he’s done that I am such a huge fan of that are a main staple in my musical diet. He works with a lot of women and men equally, and I thought he had really great balance. He is confident enough to put himself in there but then to also know when stuff isn’t working. He’s open to new ideas.

OT: You recorded the album with him in Sweden, right?
NK: There were a lot of benefits to that. One was I got to be in Sweden for a month and a half. He really wanted to do it there because he has two school-aged children and that made it a lot easier for him, so I was like, “Great! Everybody wins, this is awesome.” Then me being away from home while I’m working on a record is often very good because there are no distractions from my daily life that force me to take my mind out of what I’m doing. I went from my comfort zone to his comfort zone. The Swedish music scene is really strong, they have a lot of resources. The Swedish government takes care of its citizens, so there’s a lot of resources for people. It’s pretty awesome and stunningly beautiful, and the food is amazing. I threw myself into a totally happy situation [laughs].

OT: I know your home and barn unfortunately burnt down while you were in Sweden recording the record, and there is a lot of fire imagery on the album art like the crown of cigarettes you’re wearing. Was that intentional?
NK: The cigarette hat thing I had quite a long time before that, but it ended up tying in with the album art in both ways because I ended up using some of the burnt scenery in the album art. The house burnt down right as Puerto Rico was underwater and right after Houston had flooded. During the making of the record, most of California was on fire. I wanted to use some of [the burnt house] in the artwork because some of it is really beautiful in the aftermath, and I wanted to have an unspoken solidarity with people going through the same thing. A lot of people had a lot worse things happen to them than I did, and we’re all lucky to still be here together.

OT: As a woman who writes about music, I’m often incredibly frustrated by some of the narratives around women in music and some of the things they are subjected to. So when you see things like this collaboration panel of women producers you participated in, it’s incredibly inspiring. I often find myself discouraged. How do you avoid feeling that way?
NK: Basically, there are women who are producers and they are not getting hired. A lot of the time, it’s because people just don’t know we exist so seeing a woman being publicly lauded and loved for being hired to produce something is so major. Then when it’s people you’re a fan of, you’re like, “Oh yes!” I think it’s the first time that I’ve ever gotten to [see] something where a woman has produced a work and it’s not her own work. I hope that’s the first of a long line of amazing shifts and I want to just scream it from the rooftops. People don’t know that women produce records. They just don’t.

OT: Do you think it’s just that artists don’t know or that they don’t care to seek out women to produce for them?
NK: I don’t think that it’s born of anything so different than the colonialist patriarchy – same old, same old at the end of the day. But the fact is, we’ve always been there and we’ve been innovators and inventors and pioneers for as long as all of these technological mediums have been in existence. So yeah, it started with the sh-tty patriarchy and sh-tty sexism. I want to make sure we don’t end up just saying, “Here’s the women producers over here!” because that doesn’t invite all women. Women have told me – who are trans or people who are non-binary or gender fluid – [they] feel uninvited. We don’t want to start some sort of ranking. We just want to make sure there’s a database of knowledge that’s here. There is room for everybody else to get credit, so check them out. Hear what kind of innovation they have or what sounds they’re making. One of my favorite musical innovators is Wendy Carlos, and I think a lot of people think of her because she’s a trans woman and that’s all they think about. They don’t think about all the incredible things she has accomplished.

OT: So how do you combat that sort of thinking?
NK: We’re basically short headline reading everyone in society right now. It’s so hard to include everyone in that. So making sure we have a database of language and of knowledge to make sure that people understand the gender of women – whatever that means – is not the polar opposite of masculinity or of men. We’re not trying to define anything like that. We’re just trying to raise visibility and make sure other people are invited, which is not always easy. But it’s also not hard at all. It just takes a little bit of time and consideration, and this is what people want.

Neko Case plays Lincoln Theatre on Saturday, January 26 and Sunday, January 27 with Margaret Glaspy. Tickets are $46, and doors open at 6:30 p.m.. For more on Case, visit www.nekocase.com.

Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050; www.thelincolndc.com