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Graphic: Julia Goldberg

DC Musicians Take Day Jobs To The Next Level

Musicians hold a mesmerizing and often mystical appeal. Onstage, in the club, even walking down the street – they are the rock gods, the jazz greats, the punk queens. They are also real people.

While you’re not thinking about that as you fist pump or sway awkwardly side-to-side at their shows, if they’re not winning Grammys, most of them also have day jobs. Sure, you get it. Your best friend’s boyfriend who plays bass is also a barista at the local café, and the drummer from that one band that you follow too closely on Facebook is the bike courier who delivered flowers to you that one time and you wanted to ask for his autograph but you thought it was weird.

But in DC, the meaning of “musician with a day job” is a little different. Here, I’ve run into people playing sick riffs on the weekend only to roll into the DOJ in suit and tie Monday morning. Or picking a banjo and kicking an ankle tambourine in-between interviewing people as a journalist for Science Magazine. Or, you know, mixing hip-hop records after getting home from the IT department at NASA.

All real people.

Take, for example, Steve Jabo. Have you been over to the National Museum of Natural History to check out the brand new dino hall yet? Well, we’ve got Jabo to thank for that. At NMNH, he’s a preparator of vertebrate fossils, which means he puts dinosaurs together.

He’s also been playing in bands since the seventh grade, and for the past 22 years with local rock cover band Consider the Source (a.k.a. The Woodford Reserve when playing without one member who is now based in Georgia). Jabo and his bandmates get together every Thursday to practice in his Arlington, Virginia basement where he has a full setup.

“It’s kind of just unspoken and we really take pride in the fact that everyone shows up,” he says. “There’s no drama. We’re good friends who really like music. Our number one priority is the music, and that makes everything more enjoyable.”

The band has played lots of classic local spots, including the late Bangkok Blues and Luna Park Grille. These days, they’re semi-regulars at Clare & Don’s in Falls Church where they play literally everything you could imagine – from Elvis Costello and Tom Petty to Patti Smith and Bowie.

“It’s hard to find new stuff [that is appealing to lots of people]. I like to do our own take on things and change it up.”

Wondering what the dinosaurs listen to? As far as music in the Paleo Lab at the museum, Jabo says he starts the day listening to “something mellow, like classical music or jazz.” Then, he works his way “up to something with a little more energy,” which can mean almost anything.

“My music collection is 12,000-plus tunes of everything from Gregorian chant…to hip-hop…to punk rock. I’ll usually just hit the ‘Shuffle All’ button and let it ride. If I’m doing something really delicate under the scope, I’ll put the earbuds in and listen to Miles Davis or Puccini arias to get in the zone.”

That said, Jabo generally subcribes to a “gotta keep ’em separated” mantra when it comes to his career and his passion for music. Alex Dent, on the other hand, tries to find as many ways as possible to merge the two. When not writing music and performing with his punk rock band Weird Babies, Dent is an enthomusicologist at George Washington University.

Dent uses linguistic theory to explore the influence of music in cultures. Prior to joining the world of academia, he had an “ah-hah” moment while working as an Outward Bound instructor with at-risk youth.

This thing happened where the kids started talking to me a lot about their music, and I became a lot better at working with them when I was listening to what they were listening to,” Dent says. “At that time, it was a lot of Public Enemy.”

When he realized music was the language he most wanted to understand, Dent traveled to South America for his dissertation on policing and the DVD pirating history of Brazilian punk rock. When he returned to the States, he started playing a lot of his own music under a small Chicago label – but was somewhat restricted in terms of his research work. These days, however, as a tenured professor with a couple of books under his belt, Dent is done with boundaries.

“The more I can integrate my academic work and teaching with my music, the happier I am,” he says.

Right now, that looks like collaboration with a composer to teach a class on sound, researching cell phone use in local teenage populations, studying the resurgence of punk in DC and, of course, playing with his band Weird Babies.

“Shows I like playing the most are benefit shows,” he says. “We recently did one for gun control at St. Stephen’s and for [DMV immigration services organization] Ayuda at Rhizome. I’m wondering what it would be like to create a kind of pedagogical instrument for helping students think about the relationships between arts and community activism and civic engagement.”

Taking musical pedagogy and activism to another level, Adele Marie – whose hauntingly beautiful voice stopped me dead in my tracks at a show last winter – is a board-certified music therapist at the John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents.

“In high school, a friend asked me, ‘What do you want to study in college?’ and I replied, ‘All I know is I want to do something where I can help people,’” she says. “I didn’t hear the words ‘music therapy’ until the beginning of my community college enrollment, but as soon as I did, I never seriously considered any other career path.”

The artist works with adolescents and young adults ages 10-21 who experience various manifestations of emotional and/or behavioral issues caused by a broad scale of traumas, mental illnesses, autism spectrum disorders and other diagnoses.

“My two favorite parts about my work are communicating with my clients through music and sharing a musical space with them, and witnessing their growth and progress,” she says.

But the intense adversity many of her clients face is challenging.

“Music therapy is not always pretty. It does not always involve beautiful music-making – in fact, it may involve complete chaos.”

In terms of her own musicianship, like Dent, she has found DC to be a hotspot for musicians looking to share creative processes. She cites the DIY community as being especially supportive, opening up gig opportunities at spots like Boundary Stone, Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House’s Vinyl Lounge, Dwell and FRESHFARM Markets, among others.

Catch folk-rock project Adele Marie & The Milkweeds at Velvet Lounge on August 28, and learn more about these unexpected musicians and their bands below.

Adele Marie: www.adelemarie.bandcamp.com
Consider the Source: www.fb.com/considerthesource
Weird Babies: www.weirdbabies.bandcamp.com

Photos: Lauren Melanie Brown

District of Den-Mate: Indelible Force Jules Hale Embraces DC Music Scene

Den-Mate began roughly five years ago as a literal bedroom pop project. Frontwoman Jules Hale’s music might not be in the bedroom pop genre, but she did use music to express herself by self-releasing early recordings via sites like Tumblr and SoundCloud while hanging out at home.

Through the power of the World Wide Web, she caught the attention of DC’s homegrown Babe City Records and the Virginia native struck up a fierce friendship with the people behind the label before meeting any of them in person.

Two-thirds of Den-Mate’s current lineup – Jon Weiss, Peter Lillis and the singer/songwriter herself – now run the independent record label, with Jonah Welt and Rick Irby rounding out the five-person band.

The electro-meets-dream-pop band has been a stronghold in the DC scene for several years now, playing a host of the best venues, opening for national acts and headlining cathartic, transformative shows. This year marked a new chapter for Hale, one she says was several years in the making. Babe City released Den-Mate’s first album, Loceke, an evocative and lush record that’s as personal as it is relatable. And since the 24-year-old artist now has a hand in running the label, she has nothing but forward momentum as an indelible force in the DC creative scene.

“As the process of Loceke happened, which took about four years to complete, I became best friends with the scene,” she explains to On Tap over a cup of La Colombe coffee in Blagden Alley. “I was just thinking, ‘I have to be a part of this. I love this.’ They welcomed me with open arms.”

DC has been Hale’s safe haven to express herself through music for awhile, but the release of Loceke found her sharing herself and collaborating with others at a greater intensity.

“At first when I expressed the process, there were parts of me that felt hesitant,” she tells us earnestly of sharing her music and by proxy, her personal experiences with others. “But if I don’t say it, then I’m not being honest about where my music is coming from. If I’m sacrificing myself and saying personal things, maybe it will inspire someone who’s not doing so well. They can be like, ‘Hey, this person went through this shit, they didn’t think they were going to get out, but they did.’ I hope that me doing that is going to eventually possibly help someone else.”

Hale’s passion for music as a whole is evident as our conversation continues.

“Music is super mystical – the way it’s able to control people, change people’s perceptions, change how you feel with no actual action. It’s magic.”

She’s one of those artists who makes music because music has had a profound effect on her life, a kind of intensity that lays the framework for everything she does – her music, discovering other local bands through Babe City and even her live performances.

“Performing is my favorite thing, aside from creating. I want to play the most energetic songs. I want to play the most dancy songs. I want to play songs that are chill but that I can translate into being energetic.”

One of Den-Mate’s biggest strengths is the band’s ability to take what’s on record to an otherworldly and raucous live performance.

“There are a few different dimensions of Den-Mate and I think that if people like the music, they should go to the show because you’re going to get a whole other sense of it. Sometimes people listen to a song and think, ‘Oh this is super chill! I’m going to put this on my bedtime playlist.’ And then they get to the show and they’re like, ‘Holy shit, who is this person?’”

Every aspect of Den-Mate is a well-thought-out form of creative expression. Imagery and visuals play an important part too, as Hale tells us her sights are set on eventually creating a visual album to further explore those outlets. But for now, Hale and her bandmates are gearing up for a tour to support Loceke this month. Hale says she’s lucky to be surrounded by and contributing to the strength of the creative world in the District, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I feel like sometimes the odds are stacked against us in DC, but we’re able to use that to our advantage. People don’t think a lot of things are happening here, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. DC is flourishing with artistic creatives and I think that’s what sets us apart. In DC, people think of the city as being political or monotone, but some of my favorite artists are right here. I think that’s our secret weapon. It’s so hidden.”

What’s not hidden, though, is that Hale’s future is filled with opportunity to shine light on her talent and those of her peers in the District. The release of Loceke and tour dates across the country will surely bring with it more fans and growth beyond what Hale has already accomplished. No matter where that talent takes her, DC will continue to welcome the artist back home with open arms just as before.

Den-Mate will embark on a tour beginning with a stop at Baltimore’s Metro Gallery on Wednesday, November 7. Doors are at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10. Check the band’s social media for updates on local shows. For more on Jules Hale and Den-Mate, follow @imdenmate on Instagram and Twitter. For more on Babe City Records, visit www.babecityrecords.com.

Metro Gallery: 1700 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD; 410-244-0899; www.themetrogallery.net

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Photo: Mark Gorman

The District’s Jazz Renaissance

Thirteen years ago, drummer John Heinze played U Street mainstay Velvet Lounge while on tour, and some gravity comes into his voice as he depicts the scene that evening.

“It was a Thursday night and there was no one out on the streets,” he says. “It was a ghost town. And it wasn’t a holiday, it was the dead of summer. There was nothing going on.”

That DC isn’t the one he knows today. After talking to Heinze, now part of funk-with-soul band Aztec Sun, and other local artists, I pieced together that our jazz community is so small that nearly everyone seems to know one another but big enough that you can find shows all over town – if you know which doors to look behind.

The DC jazz scene is undergoing a revitalization spurred by younger musicians committed to keeping the vibrant genre alive. Though the music may seem old-fashioned on first mention, artists like Heinze are finetuning the jazz experience to engage newer generations.

Heinze moved here from Chicago five years ago and quickly became involved in the jazz scene through “musician connecting organization” Flashband and by seeking out open jams. He serves as my introduction to this world, telling me where I should go and on what night – and who I might look to talk to.

When he rattles off suggestions, I struggle to keep up: Gypsy Sally’s, Villain & Saint, Service Bar, Marvin, Sotto, Brixton, Bin 1301…the list goes on. He also mentions neighborhood spot Maddy’s Bar & Grille on Connecticut Avenue, where local sax player Elijah Jamal Balbed hosts weekly sessions.

Balbed has been on the DC jazz and go-go scene since 2005, when he started playing clubs like Twins Jazz at age 15. Four years ago, he started “genre-bending ensemble” the JoGo Project, inspired by his time performing with Chuck Brown.

He tells me the jazz scene is extremely close-knit, and I see what he means. There are faces I recognize at shows from other jams around town. When Balbed’s not hosting sessions at Maddy’s, you can catch him as one of the featured artists at Brixton’s Sunday night jams and at Pearl Street Warehouse for his Southwest Soul Sessions cohosted with drummer Isabelle De Leon.

Spots on Balbed’s short list of favorite spots include Hamilton Live and Blues Alley, but smaller bars and clubs aren’t the only venues promoting DC jazz. The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage series offers free shows of outstanding quality, and community stalwart the Anacostia Arts Center (AAC) hosts the Second Sundays Jazz series.
Kadija Bangura, the AAC’s marketing manager, says that curator and noted jazz musician Vernard Gray is spearheading the initiative, which includes featuring artists who often fly under the radar.

“We’re looking forward to being introduced to jazz talent that doesn’t receive the same attention from major clubs in the city,” Bangura says.

Because some of our beloved jazz venues have recently closed their doors, the AAC’s continued support is imperative for people in Anacostia and from around the city. The center has created a space for fans to watch younger musicians’ first chance to be in the spotlight, an undeniable asset to the genre and the District as a whole.

“We typically pull fans of jazz music from the community,” Bangura continues. “We provide jazz even as other venues close.”

Balbed and I talked about some of those notable low points – the shuttering of Bohemian Caverns chief among them. The U Street Corridor institution hosted a score of names since its founding in 1926; in fact, the space has remained empty, and you can even see its sad piano roll marquee still on the building. But the saxophonist doesn’t seem too discouraged. He believes the musicians will keep the jazz scene going regardless of any obstacles.

“There have been some down points,” Balbed says. “But even with the venues closing down, the energy of the musicians never dies. Venues will come and go, but as long as the musicians are around, they’ll keep the scene alive.”

Learn more about the JoGo Project at www.jogoproject.com, Aztec Sun at www.aztecsunband.com and Anacostia Arts Center’s upcoming jazz performances at www.anacostiaartscenter.com.

Check out these DC area venues for live jazz.

Bin 1301: 1301 U St. NW, DC; www.bin1301dc.com
Bossa Bistro: 2463 18th St. NW, DC; www.bossaproject.com
Brixton: 901 U St. NW, DC; www.brixtondc.com
Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com
Maddy’s Bar & Grille: 1726 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.maddysbar.com
Marvin: 2007 14th St. NW, DC; www.marvindc.com
Mr. Henry’s: 601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; www.mrhenrysdc.com
Service Bar: 926-928 U St. NW, DC; www.servicebardc.com
Sotto: 1610 14th St. NW, DC; www.sottodc.com
Villain & Saint: 7141 Wisconsin Ave. Bethesda, MD; www.villainandsaint.com

Photo: Doug Van Sant

Homegrown Festival All Things Go Highlights DC Music Scene

Zack Friendly has been committed to advancing DC’s music scene for more than a decade. Determined to share his taste and talent for spotting artists on the verge of making it big, he did what everyone within his niche did in the mid-2000s: ran a blog. What started out as an online side project would eventually become the All Things Go Fall Classic, a fast-growing music festival in the District.

This year’s festival will be held at Union Market on October 6-7, with an all-female lineup the first day. All Things Go is focused on highlighting as much female talent as possible to help combat the myth that female festival headliners are economically lesser than their male counterparts, and the statistic that only 14 percent of headliners are women, according to a 2017 Pitchfork study.

Headliners Maggie Rogers and Lizzy Plapinger, formerly of the band MS MR but currently performing as LPX, collaborated with the festival’s founders to help curate the performer lineup. Artists like Ravyn Lenae, OSHUN, Billie Eilish and Jessie Reyez are a few of the kickass women they’ll share the stage with, but the female-powered partnerships don’t end there.

Rogers and Plapinger – along with other women in the music lineup and prominent women in the DC food and distilling communities – will speak on free-with-RSVP Women X Music and Women X Entrepreneurship panels at the new Eaton Hotel on October 5 to kickstart the festival weekend. The event is also partnering with the Women’s March to register festivalgoers to vote in their Power to the Polls initiative.

Friendly and his fellow founders (Will Suter, Adrian Maseda and Stephen Vallimarescu) chose Union Market as this year’s festival host, a spot brimming with local food vendors, brewers, artists and other DC-based businesses highlighting the District’s cultural contributions. The NoMa locale has morphed from a large wholesale area to a bustling metropolis of cuisine and distilling, with a “block party” vibe that Friendly is particularly excited about.

His blog-turned-festival got its start in 2006, when he and Maseda were searching for a way to share their musical preferences with the world.

“It was when music blogs were the source of new music, rather than Spotify or Tidal,” Friendly says.

As streaming services proliferated, they pivoted to stay relevant. Rather than sharing music directly, they began curating playlists, using the platforms to promote their discoveries. From 2009 to 2010, Friendly took one step closer to launching the festival by setting up a series of live music components with the help of publicists, labels, managers and agents. They hosted shows at venues like U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club and SXSW, as well as other pop-ups around DC.

The inevitable transition from smaller events to a larger-scale festival was a “natural progression.” The group launched the first All Things Go in 2014 to spotlight emerging artists from the DMV and beyond. It’s extremely important to the founders to provide a homegrown spirit to the festival.

“We grew up going to music festivals, like the DC101 Chili Cook-Off and HFStival,” Friendly says. “[We’re] trying to bring some of what Lollapalooza brings to Chicago or Austin City Limits brings to Austin. We wanted to highlight DC. It’s a real destination for music.”

Friendly adds that the DC music scene has been alive and well for a long time, citing the city’s contributions to the punk scene and the birthplace of go-go music. With that in mind, the All Things Go founders always pay close attention to musicians cutting their teeth in the area. Among this year’s local acts are FootsXColes, Cautious Clay – a Brooklyn transplant who moved here to attend George Washington University – and the now New York-based OSHUN.

But highlighting DC as a music destination goes beyond drawing in famous performers for the festival. As All Things Go continues to grow with innovation and inclusion, Friendly knows there will always be room for improvement.

“We always joke that the first year we made 100 mistakes, and we fixed 90 of them and created 20. There’s just a constant back-and-forth. What’s been great for us is trying to find our way to get it perfect. We’re not there yet, but I just love seeing these fans buy tickets on the first day who I recognize and who were there [from] day one. Slowly seeing the audience build organically and [hearing] people say ‘Hey, I don’t know who [this artist] is, but I trust you guys.’  That feeling is why we do this.”

Don’t miss the 2018 All Things Go Fall Classic from Saturday, October 6 to Sunday, October 7 at Union Market. Tickets start at $65 and can be purchased at www.allthingsgofallclassic.com.

Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; 888-512-7469; www.allthingsgofallclassic.com