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Photo: Only Todd
Photo: Only Todd

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Inside Hatchie’s Sunny Debut EP

Do you remember the first time you kissed someone you were really crazy about? The kind of kiss leaving both of you a little unsure of yourselves, but nevertheless smiling after with your stomach fluttering? That’s what it feels like to listen to a Hatchie song. Well, on first play, that is.

It’s easy to get caught up in the warmth radiating from Hatchie’s music, but underneath that instrumental layer of dream pop sunshine are lyrics that often tell a story of uncertainty, remorse and feeling forgotten. It would seem right that her debut EP is named Sugar & Spice, a phrase that acknowledges sweetness can have a bite and upbeat music and melancholy lyrics can mix into something quite nice.

But an EP and accompanying North American tour – including a stop at DC9 Nightclub on Friday, September 7 – are not the only firsts for her; Hatchie is Australian singer and bassist Harriette Pilbeam’s first venture into solo artist territory.

Pilbeam wasn’t always so sure she could make a career out of music. In 2016, the then 23-year old was mostly playing in friends’ bands while she completed her degree in creative industries.

“It was a pretty unhappy time in my life,” Pilbeam confesses. “I wasn’t really doing anything that I wanted to do.”

During this time she wrote “Try,” a song she says is partially about her, but also about a friend and the idea of lifting someone’s spirit while pushing them forward.

A year later, with the encouragement of friends, Pilbeam uploaded “Try” to triple j Unearthed – basically an Australian Bandcamp. Shortly after uploading it into the world, the synth-layered, effervescent song about a relationship on the verge of falling apart catapulted into the top five songs on triple j, followed by a barrage of attention from the music industry.

Pilbeam eventually found happiness again and had the chance to dive into various new experiences that were a result of releasing “Try.” Using this period as inspiration – and influenced by shoegaze and dream pop acts like Cocteau Twins, The Sundays, Wild Nothing and Kylie Minogue – Pilbeam wrote the five songs that comprise Sugar & Spice, released in May of this year.

“Try” is easily the most popular song off the EP, but other tunes like the shimmering, sun-drenched “Sure” and “Bad Guy,” a track where the protagonist and her lover try to hash out their problems, also stand out.

While Pilbeam says the EP is mostly about the roller-coaster emotions of romantic relationships, a lot of her music explores other people’s experiences, as well as the feelings of uncertainty and growing into a young adult.

Looking back at all that has happened since the release of Sugar & Spice, Pilbeam reflected on how she has grown from the girl who needed encouragement to upload “Try” into someone eager to find her own way.

“I realized that I can be a lot more independent than I thought I could,” Pilbeam says. “A lot of things that really scared me a few years ago, don’t need to scare me so much anymore.”

And she isn’t done growing yet, she acknowledges. That includes fine-tuning her music and learning what she likes an doesn’t like. Already at work on her new album, Pilbeam says she’s taking it in a different direction from her EP; the same pop-structures will be in place but there could be new sounds like industrial tones and more refined, slower music.

But for right now, Pilbeam’s just looking forward to enjoying her first North American tour, including a “proper” visit to DC (not counting a quick day visit as a teen) to play at DC9.

“I’m really excited that I get to be able to come to places like DC,” Pilbeam says. “I never thought everything would fall into place, especially not this fast. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Catch Hatchie on Friday, September 7 at DC9 Nightclub. Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 7:30 p.m. Distant Creatures open. Tickets start at $13. For more information on Hatchie, visit www.hatchie.net.

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

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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

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The Sherlocks Set to Shake the US

The Sherlocks may hail from the outskirts of Sheffield, England much like Arctic Monkeys and Pulp before them, but their sound is all their own. Last year, the four piece indie rock band released their first album Live For The Moment to great acclaim in their home country. The band is now ready to take their infectious sound and energy stateside. Fresh off supporting the legendary Liam Gallagher on his European tour, we caught up with frontman Kiaran Crook before the group embarks on an expansive US tour, including a stop at DC9 on May 7.

On Tap: What was it like touring with Liam Gallagher? Your band consists of two sets of brothers and Liam is at the center of one of the most notorious sibling rivalries in music history, so that must have been a really interesting dynamic for the band.
Kiaran Crook: That’s exactly what it was, yeah. I was going to say it was surprising, but there’s no need to say surprising because of what I’ve seen from [Liam] in interviews before doing that tour. I think Liam’s a bit- you kind of love him or hate him- but we just get where he’s coming from with his humor and stuff like that. I find him pretty funny to be honest with you. So after doing that tour and spending a bit of time with him, he lived up to it. He’s good company. Most of all, we really appreciate him having us along on tour. There are a lot of bands he could bring, so the fact that he chose us as support certainly means a lot to us. Good guy.

OT: On a similar note, what’s it like touring with your brother and another set of brothers?
KC: It’s good! I mean, you have your fall-outs and stuff, but 95 percent of the time, or maybe and even higher percentage, we’re sweet, we get on well. I think the main thing is not doing each other’s head in or taking things too seriously, or getting in people’s way too much. I think everybody’s worked out how to handle each other a bit more since the start of the band, so that’s definitely gotten better, and we don’t really fall out too much. As far as touring’s concerned, it’s good. It always makes for a funny tour experience though, rather than being four separate lads who are not brothers, and we know each other better. There’s plenty of fun.

OT: Are there any cities you’re excited to hit on this particular tour that you may have missed the last time around?
KC: I’m personally really excited to go to [Los Angeles]. I couldn’t even tell you why. It’s just a name, and it sounds pretty funny. Where I come from, if you told somebody you were going Los Angeles as part of a job, I suppose, it would just seem like a joke to some people. Because the place where we live is really quiet and people don’t usually step out of where they are. People are born here, spend their whole lives here and die here. Not to get morbid, but in this little village where life is just- nothing really happens. You know what I mean? So to get the chance to travel to LA and all these great places, it blows some people’s minds.

OT: So more about the music, you all made quite a splash on the UK charts. What has the response been like to your music from audiences in the US?
KC: The main thing is, it’s not exactly a shock, but there’s obviously a lot more people in the UK that know us than in the US, so things are relatively small when we’re playing gigs in America. But it’s all part of this journey, really. We didn’t expect to play what we are playing at the minute in the UK, and it all started exactly the same here. In the UK, the first few gigs, I can remember playing for literally nobody, or like five people. So we’re used to [going] from empty rooms, to filling the rooms, and building on top of that. But the reception to the album has been really good. That’s the good thing about building and starting up small which we’ve been doing in the US. We get to talk to every single member of the crowd, all three of them! [laughs] I’m kidding. But you do get to speak to everybody, and people seem excited by it. And even though it’s on a small scale, I still feel the passion. They actually do care about this band and it means a lot to them that we’ve troubled to play to them, and vice versa. It means a lot to us that they’re coming out to watch us.

OT: What would be your dream venue to play? Or a favorite venue you’ve already played you’d want to go back to?
KC: I don’t know, to be fair. We’d normally say a stupid answer, something like ‘we’d like to headline the world someday’ but in terms of real venues, it would be good to [headline] a stadium. I could imagine that would be pretty mental. Like any stadium, none in particular, just playing our first stadium gig would be a crazy moment.

OT: That sounds awesome. I look forward to the day I see you’re playing a stadium and I can say I’ve interviewed you. Do you have a dream tour mate? I’m sure Liam set the bar really high, but if you could bring anyone on tour with you or be asked to support another band, what would be your top choice?
KC: These questions are hard! They’re good! I’d like to play with Kings of Leon. [Those] guys seem pretty cool. We opened for them at Sheffield Arena, and that’s like our hometown. Sheffield is the closest city to us, so to support a band like Kings of Leon in our own town, in the biggest venue in Sheffield, that was like a dream come true. So I’d like to play with them again. Or even if we did a song with them one day, that would be strange!

OT: What music are you currently inspired by?
KC: Well I’m listening to Kings of Leon at the minute, and an Australian band call DMAS.

OT: Can fans expect you to debut any new songs on this tour?
KC: We’re going through a bit of heavy writing, but not really [as a] band because I write the tunes. We’re spending a lot of time in the practice room at the minute, just blasting out new tunes until they sound good, the same as we did on the first album. We’ve got some really good ideas floating about and I think we’re gonna try to make the second album sound like – you’ll be able to tell, if you listened to the first album – you’ll know it’s us. So we’re not going to drift too far away, just try to progress slightly and do some things we didn’t really get to do on the first. So just plenty of writing at the minute, that’s what’s going on at The Sherlocks HQ. We might even try a couple of new tunes out in America, because obviously we’re playing to smaller crowds, so it’ll be less people booing us if we mess up [laughs].

The Sherlocks play DC9 on Monday, May 7. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Bottled Up
Photo: Courtesy of Bottled Up

Bottled Up’s Niko Rao Removes the Lid

The members of Bottled Up didn’t exactly know what their band name meant when they first considered it.

Instead of asking 29-year-old singer-songwriter Niko Rao why he suggested it, they instead floated out numerous explanations – emotions being held back only to be revealed in songs or music that starts off slow thus bottling up energy released in an explosive conclusion, among others. Rao simply nodded along as his band members each tossed worthy theories at him, all different than the real reason he suggested the phrase.

“It comes from a Devo song called ‘Bottled Up,’” Rao says, laughing. “I didn’t tell the band why I wanted to name it that and they came up with all these elaborate other meanings, which were interesting.”

Yes, the name – like so many others – started as an homage to his favorite band, but the California native has since ceded that the name has evolved past a simple reference, transforming into an apt description for what Bottled Up is as a unit.

“I’ve grown to like the name more than just as a reference,” Rao says. “I think it embodies our songwriting, and I definitely write things I keep bottled up.”

A DMV Collective

It didn’t take Rao long to find people to jam with after moving to the District in 2016. Like an elaborate domino effect, the musician went to a studio so he could bang on some drums to relieve frustration. Afterward, he badgered the guy at the front desk, Alex Dahms, to join him for a jam session. Alex (drums) brought eventual bassist Colin Kelly to the jam sesh, and during this meetup, lead guitarist Mikey Mastrangelo overheard the trio and asked to join in on the next one.

“I kind of pressured [Alex] into jamming with me, because I had a bunch of riffs I wanted to toy around with from [my time in] L.A.,” Rao says. “We really had great chemistry. I didn’t interact with other people very well. Actually, I mostly played all of the stuff myself. I was very controlling over my music. With this band, I’m just happy to play with others who bring things out of our songs.”

The group instantly formed a bond and has spent the past two years constantly jamming, writing music and evolving. Their self-titled record contains seven songs of new wave and garage-style surf rock delivered in speedy, two- or three-minute doses. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that’s a lot of genres in one sentence describing seven songs,” it’s probably because these guys define their genre as “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.”

“Well, I would definitely….oh man,” Rao says as he begins to try and describe their sounds for people who may not have heard them yet. “We’re totally new wave. Talking Heads, Devo, B-52s – that stuff is woven into my muscles at this point. I have a very angular, new wave guitar-playing style.”

The Constant of Music

One thing about the LP is that Rao’s up-and-down history is the emotional through line present in every track. Growing up on the West Coast, he dipped his toe in music after hearing the score of “Final Fantasy VII.” This prompted him to pick up a violin and study classical music, which he kept up with until his grandmother purchased him an electric guitar.

“Until that point, I was going to study classical music and play tennis,” he says. “Once I got a guitar and skateboard, all I wanted to do was play rock music, skate and smoke weed. I was 14, and that was a big year for me because I got into all this rock, indie and punk music – all of the stuff you hear in the background of skate videos.”

From then on, music was Rao’s life. After high school, he went to college for sound design, where he would formulate music for TV and video games. He also developed numerous drug addictions there, eventually leading to rehab and various group meetings. He ultimately decided to move to the DC area so he could be closer to family, and all the while he continued penning music.

“I definitely channeled that in my songwriting. It’s weird when you move to a city because no one really knows your past, and you’re this new, fresh person. You can choose all the colors you want to present. It wasn’t tough for me in the beginning, even now, because I feel like it’s nice to get out. My music deals with the aftermath of that – the emotions in dealing with those overwhelming topics, the things I was locking out. I use music to process this stuff.”

A Repackaged Bottle

“We don’t play anything off the old LP anymore,” Rao says of the band’s current shows.

Since the release of Bottled Up last year, the group has morphed, changing up how they write songs and even the pacing of their tracks. Rao says while the first release featured fast, compact narratives, the follow-up allows for a little more breathing room and is a tad less aggressive, though still energetic.

“I was just conditioned to play and think that way,” Rao says. “I don’t like bands that go on too long, and there’s always a point where a song will go on for too long. I think I can sense and feel when a song loses meaning, and I want to stop there.”

Rao no longer formulates the chorus, bridge and structure before bringing it to his bandmates; sometimes, he even approaches them with just an inkling of an idea.

“I was so stuck in my head with controlling everything. Now working with these guys, I bring something small and they take it to a place I didn’t know was possible.”

Before their May 11 show at DC9, the group plans to release two new songs digitally. But even if you miss those or are weary you won’t be able to sing along, Rao made a tongue-in-cheek pun to get you pumped for the concert.

“We have a lot bottled up, and we’re ready to explode and show everyone what we’re about,” Rao says, laughing. “We’re going to be theatrical, and we always try to change it up.”

Rao and his bandmates are set to take the stage at DC9 on Friday, May 11, opening for Olden Yolk. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and available at www.dc9.club. Learn more about Bottled Up at www.bottledup.bandcamp.com.

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

Photo: Colin Medley
Photo: Colin Medley

Dynamic Duo Partner Rocks DC

Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, better known as Partner, a Canadian rock duo with hilariously relatable lyrics and guitar chops for days, graced the DC9 stage Wednesday after making waves on the SXSW circuit in March. Ahead of their show, I sat down with the duo to talk inspiration behind their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, what it’s like working alongside a close friend, and how others can draw from their example to trust in their creative work.

Niles and Caron’s subject matter has an undeniable everyday appeal. With songs about making the most of weekdays off from a hectic work schedule on “Personal Weekend,” the paranoia that comes from being high in public on “Everybody Knows,” and the excitement of a new crush on “Play the Field,” listeners will find at least one relatable song on their first full-length album. The band says their inspiration for these songs comes from common threads amongst their lives.

 

Both on and off the stage, Niles and Caron have a palpable and cohesive energy that many duos spend entire careers honing. In addition to the two on guitar, an equally talented three-piece band joins them for live performances. While they were in college, Niles and Caron spent time in and out of different projects before they formed Partner in their post grad years.

“Everyone in the other bands moved away and it was kind of just me and Lucy. We were living together and it kind of was just exactly the right circumstances,” Caron says of the band’s eventual creation. “One day we were hanging out and there was this guitar beside me and I just started yelling words.”

“It was around when she was getting into weed, so we would just smoke and talk about childhood memories and stuff like that,” Niles adds.

Forming the band led to an eventual permutation of old friends, and with each tour and recording session, their relationship becomes deeper.

“It’s a really fast way to grow as people. I think our bond is stronger now,” Niles says.

Caron is quick to agree.

“We’ve been playing together pretty much since we met, casually at first, then we started touring together but not as seriously,” she says. “It just sort of built up, but we also live together so we’re together all the time anyway.”

While their sound is distinct and decidedly self-assured, Caron and Niles say they find their inspiration from a host of artists.

“It’s all over the place,” Niles says. “Sound wise, we’re influenced by Ween, obviously, because they’re pan-genre. We’re kind of more influenced by attitudes and energies or whatever.”

“[We’re even influenced by] people that aren’t known really at all,” Caron adds. “We love to discover.”

“Pretty much anybody that seems like they know exactly what they’re trying to say and… they sound like they’re free, that’s what inspires us,” Niles says.

The duo also draws inspiration from many non-musical places.

“We’re really obsessed with the Enneagram personality test,” Niles says.

“It’s kind of spiritual, so it’s like we’re on some kind of path,” Caron muses.

Niles agrees, adding, “We’re trying to improve ourselves and shit.”

Caron emphasizes that recently, reality TV is “for sure” a huge inspiration.

This attitude translated beautifully into Wednesday’s live show, where Caron impressively belted Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons” after telling the audience the recent Netflix documentary on Gaga’s life “changed everything” for her. They also covered Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and sang a new song that was inspired by a poem written by Caron’s boss. Both band mates smiled through the entirety of the song, as if no one in the world was ever going to have as much fun as they were in that momentexcept maybe for their audience.

One of the most refreshingly unexpected aspects of their album are the skits—seven in total—scattered throughout. Consisting mostly of recorded phone calls, the skits make perfect sense in a world of songs about the band’s everyday life. Perhaps the most hilarious are the ones including Caron’s supportive and funny dad. I asked her how she managed to get such great soundbites of her dad, and she tells me the band played a bit of a trick to get them.

“We knew we had to get him when he didn’t know he was being interviewed, and then we asked for his consent later,” she explains. “But it’s also my dad, and obviously from the record you can tell he really wants me to do this kind of thing.”

Niles adds that “We definitely would not have gone forward with it if he hadn’t been okay with it.”

The band knew they wanted skits to be a big part of the album, but the better parts of it came together later.

“We knew we wanted to have skits from the universe and stuff of our album,” Niles says. “We wanted people to feel like they were having a whole experience. We didn’t really have any ideas for a skit, and then we just smoked a bunch of hash.” 

Caron says the band “wanted to show our life and everyone who was involved in the record and everything getting made.”

Niles adds, “We definitely didn’t realize how the skits would be received. But then we came out with the skits, and a lot of people said that they loved them and a lot of people are like ‘we love your album, but we hate the skits’ so it’s like completely 50/50.”

While their subject matter and energy is carefree and playful, the powerful and positive example they set as talented women telling the stories of their everyday lives is not lost on the duo. I asked them for advice they would give to any young creatives who are afraid to put themselves out there.

“I don’t wanna say there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you deserve to be allowed to take up space if you want to. In that way, you don’t have to feel like you’re not allowed,” Niles says.

“I think that when you make something that you love, you can feel safe in your creation, and can look for that feeling of being supported by your art,” Caron says. “That will give you the strength and the momentum to  put yourself out there in whatever place makes sense for you. It’s really about finding your voice.”

For more information about Partner, click here