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Photo: Joseph Llanes
Photo: Joseph Llanes

Five Questions with Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins

Canadian folk-rock legends Cowboy Junkies already have 15 albums under their belts, and triumphantly returned for their first effort in six years earlier this month with a new record titled All That Reckoning. Ahead of the band’s visit to The Birchmere this week, guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins answered questions on inspirations, recording, and visiting the DC area throughout their 33 year career.

On Tap: How has your sound and your recording process evolved since you started out?
Michael Timmins: The one thing that has remained constant with our recording process is that we usually try and record the band “live” off the floor of the studio. When we are working on a song we try and keep the “tape” running and hopefully we catch the song at that moment when it still has the energy of something new. After we have captured that bedtrack, we approach the rest of the recording from a fairly conventional place, overdubbing instruments and ideas individually.

OT: What are some of the major themes and inspirations for your new album?
MT:
The main theme is reckoning, personal and social reckoning. The inspiration comes from personal experience and the world all around.

OT: Are there any artists or bands who you have felt particularly inspired by recently? How did they influence your new work, if at all?
MT: Alan [Anton] and I have always been big Nick Cave fans. I think his last couple of albums influenced the sound of this album: the quiet intensity and the use of unidentifiable keyboard and guitar generated sounds, sounds that supported the intensity of the lyric.

OT: As a band with an impressive career spanning 30 years, what advice would you give to bands and musicians who are just starting out in their careers?
MT:
Make sure that you have an alternate way of earning a living. Seriously.

OT: Have you played the Birchmere before? Do you have any specific memories or stories from playing the DC area?
MT:
We have played the Birchmere many times. DC has always been one of our favorite areas to play. We had lots of success here before most other areas. We played the old 9:30 Club back in the late 80s. That was quite a trip, with the dressing rooms leading to the tunnels under the old Ford Theatre. We’ve also had the pleasure of playing Wolf Trap a few times, which is one of the better venues in the entire country.

Cowboy Junkies play The Birchmere on Thursday, July 26. Show starts at 7:30 pm. For tickets, visit www.birchmere.com.

For more information on All That Reckoning, visit www.cowboyjunkies.com.

The Birchmere: 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue , Alexandria, VA; 703-549-7500; www.birchmere.com

Photo: www.shannonandtheclams.com
Photo: www.shannonandtheclams.com

Shannon and The Clams Triumph Over Tragedy on New Album

Shannon and the Clams were well into recording their sixth album, Onion, when tragedy struck their hometown of Oakland, California. A fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse claimed the lives of 36 concertgoers and musicians that night in 2016 – many of them friends of the Clams. The event shook the DIY community of Oakland, and its aftershock was felt in similar creative spaces throughout the country. While their album had already taken shape, bassist and vocalist Shannon Shaw tells me how the group ended up incorporating the fatal fire into their new release.

“I don’t know if [guitarist and vocalist] Cody [Blanchard] felt the same way as me, but I wasn’t sure if I should or not,” Shaw tells me earnestly. “It was one of those things that me and the other people in that world have experienced. It was just on everyone’s mind all the time, and it still is, really.”

I can hear in her voice that while this is something the greater DIY community may have moved on from, it’s now forever ingrained in the fabric of their hometown. Shaw confirms my silent guess.

“It continues to f–k people up.”

In an act of healing – not just for the Clams, but for all of Oakland – it was weaved into Onion, released earlier this year.

“It became this thing were it would be weird of us to not write about our feelings,” she continues. “To me, that’s what music is: a diary that is important to share because it brings people together and sometimes brings people relief. I felt like I would not be being myself if I didn’t express myself in regards to the fire. God, I’ve written a lot of sad songs in my time, but when I wrote these, they were more for other people.”

Shaw and Blanchard have had different feelings in the wake of the fire, but both felt their band could express the way in which it affected them through music.

“I wanted people to know it was okay to feel everything,” Shaw explains, “and to be open about it and to try and grasp and remember all the amazing ways they’ve influenced our scene, and to let people know they won’t be forgotten. Cody’s take was to explain the plight of the artist, and what it’s like to be forced into the shadows, and all the cool and amazing things that happen in the shadows that people miss. I think that ended up being this really unexpected part of the album. Obviously, we didn’t know that was going to happen and we had a lot of material. But when it happened, that event took over.”

Even though Onion’s subject matter is deeply personal and at times heavy, the album does not stray from the Clams’ trademark brand of 60s-inspired, R&B-tinged psychedelic pop. When I ask her about how moments on Onion manage to be musically fun even when lyrically sad, the idea of music being a mirror to everyday life resurfaces.

“The lyrical content is there, but maybe trying to mask the vibe, but also I kind of think that’s a metaphor for life. Nothing is completely black and white, and using art or music as a tool to reflect that – the big picture or the full scene – that comes naturally.”

Their signature sound was fortified further with the help of Dan Auerbach, frontman of The Black Keys, and a fan of the Clams. Before the band signed to Auerbach’s Easy Eye label, Shaw embarked on a solo journey to his Nashville studio as part of his Easy Eye Sound Revue and to record her solo album. An incredibly accomplished musician in her own right, Shaw notes that her newfound creative partnership with Auerbach kept her on her toes.

“The Dan stuff threw me for a loop, because it’s a totally different world. It’s the big time. I come from the DIY punk zone. I’m comfortable in those shadows. I think to be somewhere shiny and pro instead of recording in a bedroom was intimidating – it’s just as simple as that.”

Shannon later returned to Nashville, the Clams in tow, to mold Onion into the lush and layered gem it became with Auerbach by their side.

“Dan is so good at seeing the big picture, and he also has this huge mental catalog – and really good taste – of sounds and instruments. He could just listen to our songs – which were already pretty good – and have these ideas for things we’d never even thought of. He just knows how far you can take a song: how many layers of stuff [and] how many guitars can you get on there before it’s too much.”

The band’s roots, their “shadows,” were not forgotten in the sparkle of a new producer and album, though. Shaw explains what she’s most looking forward to on the tour they’re about to embark on, and it’s not the big cities that thrill her.

“There’s a tiki bar out in Wilmington, North Carolina, and they have a big dock. At the end of the dock they have bands play right over the ocean. They’ve been asking us to play for years and it’s just never worked out with our routing and our schedule to go all the way out to the beach and play, so we’re doing that this year and I’m so excited. I’ve never played over the water.”

It’s clear that the Clams are on to their next adventure, with hope in the face of tragedy and shimmering sounds in tow.

Catch Shannon and the Clams at U Street Music Hall on Thursday, July 26. Big Huge and Gauche open. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. And don’t miss the after-party with DJ Baby Alcatraz and Rob Macy at Dodge City. Doors at 10 p.m. Free.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St.NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com // Dodge City: 917 U St. NW, DC; www.dodgecitydc.com

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Brooklyn’s Bodega to Play at DC9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hozie explains why he prefers Tumblr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Anna Gaca
Photo: Anna Gaca

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Japanese Breakfast here.

Houndmouth

Music Picks: June 2018

TUESDAY, JUNE 5

Hop Along
Genre-bending Philadelphia outfit Hop Along is led by Frances Quinlan, an incredibly gifted songwriter. She used the band’s most recent release Bark Your Head Off, Dog to meditate on finding her voice as an individual, which in turn lead to the four-person group finding their voice as a band. The band’s most musically stunning release to date also deals with timely themes like abuse of power, made even more impactful by Quinlan’s impossible-to-pin-down vocal power. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6

Francis and the Lights
There are few better songs to wake up to than “Morning,” the album-opener off of Francis and the Lights’ 2017 record Just for Us. The piano that drives the song is so simple you imagine anyone in the house could play it, but there’s something about it that just makes you feel good. It’s like a lot of his other songs, they feel like they’re coming from an honest, if naive, place. It’s that quality, plus his production chops, that scored Francis so many collaboration credits, including with Chance The Rapper and Frank Ocean. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Horse Feathers
I am thoroughly convinced there is no song better for staring at your ceiling and being sad to than “Curs in the Weeds.” Horse Feathers manages to be sparse and lush at the same time, mostly due to the silvery slick vocals of frontman Justin Ringles paired with subtle string arrangements. Their latest album Appreciation adds some soul arrangements in the mix, keeping this hidden gem folk band’s catalog ever fresh. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $17. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC: www.unionstage.com

Yung Heazy
Yung Heazy may not boast an extensive discography, (as of this writing, he has only three official tracks to his name, though his debut LP comes out June 1), but he does boast a good story. Yung Heazy got his start for love, not for love of music, but for love of a girl. He uploaded the single “Cuz You’re My Girl” to SoundCloud on Valentine’s Day 2017 and it blew up. More songs followed and now he’s on tour. Doors are at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $10. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

FRIDAY JUNE 8

Future Generations
Future Generations’ breakout single “Stars” boasts 10 million plays on Spotify, proof that the band’s brand of piano pop is certainly something you’ll want to hit repeat on. Friends for seven years, the band surely does sound like they’re having tons of fun together. Their second album is in the works, and will be produced by Justin Gerrish, who perhaps most famously worked with Vampire Weekend on their sophomore effort Contra. Be sure to see Future Generations before they’re similarly catapulted into second album stardom. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E, Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

Mykki Blanco
Where to start with Mykki Blanco? He’s fearless. He got his start in music as a “teenage drag rapper.” I’ve never seen or heard anything like his music. He’s
published a book of poetry, From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys. He lived for two years as a woman, though he didn’t surgically transition. But that’s all categorical noise. Listen to his music, the production moves between lush and harsh, and lyrically he’s both heartfelt and outrageous. Listen for the strings on “High School Never Ends,” listen for the beat on “Wavvy.” You can find videos for each on YouTube. Doors are at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY JUNE 9

Belle and Sebastian
If you’re feeling sinister, catch Belle and Sebastian’s return to DC at The Anthem. For a band that has been releasing music for almost as long as I have been alive, the Scottish twee legends show no signs of stopping additions to their impressive discography or touring schedule any time soon. I caught them at Merriweather Post Pavilion last summer and can attest to the fact that while there will be some new tunes, (the band just released a series of three EPs back to back) Stuart Murdoch and company still play a plethora of their heartfelt hits. You’ll be better for hearing “Piazza, New York Catcher” in person. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $46. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival
The annual showcase of the best in local and national folk and bluegrass scene is back this year with featured artists like Gangstagrass, Jonny Grave, Cris Jacobs and Letitia VanSant. In addition to a stacked lineup, Kingman Island offers plenty of food trucks, crafts for sale and no shortage of the best up and coming local acts of the genre. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Tickets start at $35. Kingman Island: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC: www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Shamir
No one has a voice like Shamir, and once you hear it, you’ll be hooked. It’s angelic and light as a feather. The young artist has a number of releases to his name. After his 2017 record Revelations, he’s already released two singles in 2018: “Room” and “Caballero.” The songs exhibit a strong indie rock influence and remind you that Shamir is not just a vocalist but also a guitar player. The tracks though, like so many of his songs, still feels married to pop, even he’s lyrically unto himself. Doors are at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

MONDAY, JUNE 11

La Luz
Floating Features, the latest record from surf rock quartet La Luz, came out in mid-May. It’s their first since 2015’s Weirdo Shine. Their sound is similar; there’s still the chugging surf rock guitars and the doo wop harmonies, but you can tell there’s been a lot of development. The texture is richer and the progressions sweeter, but it’s in their lyrics that you can find the most development. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $13. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

TUESDAY JUNE 12

The Horrors
Few bands can vacillate between the dark and brooding and the expansive and sparkling like this English outfit, and that’s what makes them so great. They released another perfect marriage of dark and light with V last fall and are now hitting the states to promote it with their signature black suits, buckled Chelsea boots and all. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

Snail Mail
Eighteen-year-old Lindsey Jordan has a well-deserved amount of buzz around her band Snail Mail. The youngest to ever sign to iconic label Matador Records, Jordan’s guitar chops and lyrical prowess are well beyond her years. This record release show will serve as a kickoff for the band’s heavily anticipated album Lush, and most likely mark what will be a long and successful career for the wildly talented Jordan. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC;
www.blackcatdc.com

Vance Joy
No one could escape the permanence of Vance Joy’s earworm of a single “Riptide” upon its release in 2014. In fact, I heard it on the radio driving into work this morning. But as it turns out, the Australian singer-songwriter’s other songs are just as buzzworthy and his sophomore release Nation of Two was no exception. Be sure not to miss his joyous (pun absolutely intended) melodies and the opportunity to hear “Riptide” for the thousandth time. Tickets start at $55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13

Pianos Become the Teeth & The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die
I had to read this lineup twice to be sure I was in for seeing not one but two incredible post-punk outfits in one night. Pianos Become the Teeth found their footing with this year’s spectacular Wait For Love, and TWIABP (as fans lovingly call them) are something of an indie supergroup whose combination of orchestral sounds with emo lyrical sensibilities sets them apart in a league all their own. Don’t miss your chance to see them both in one place. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $17. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC: www.unionstage.com

FRIDAY, JUNE 15

Field Medic
Kevin Patrick has fully embraced the home recording process as an authentic way of recording, which pairs beautifully with his sparse and honest lyrical style. His 2017 release is a collection of songs he recorded in a sunroom in San Francisco. Patrick is expected to release a full-length record in 2018 after his recent signing to Run for Cover. Patrick’s lyrical explorations of love and longing will make for a beautiful singalong at his DC show this summer. Tickets start at $10. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Middle Kids
Even if you’ve never heard of Middle Kids, you’ve probably heard Middle Kids. The Australia natives have been garnering a quiet but strong buzz throughout the festival circuit and blogosphere throughout the past several years with radio ready jams like “Edge of Town.” Their first full-length album solidified their place as indie rock strongholds in its heartfelt explorations of love, loss and life. Tickets are $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 16

Cold Cave
Get ready for a darkwave dream at Black Cat – while Cold Cave are respected in their own right, they’re joined by genre greats Black Marble and Choir Boy. Cold Cave’s last full-length album was released in 2014, but they treated listeners to 18 minutes of bliss with this spring’s release of the You & Me & Infinity EP – maybe they’ll even debut some newer digs at this show. Anyone who’s into dancing and crying, specifically at the same time, can’t miss this gloriously goth lineup. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

SUNDAY, JUNE 17

Houndmouth
If you’re looking for a raucous Saturday night that’s not just drinking at bars, look no further than a Houndmouth show. The band made a splash with karaoke-worthy songs like “Sedona” and “Say It,” combining the lyrical sensibilities of folk with the instrumental prowess of garage rockers for an outcome that is equal parts fun and cathartic. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20

Alexis Taylor
Perhaps best known as the frontman of Hot Chip, Alexis Taylor’s most recent solo release was born of his love for playing to smaller audiences on his own. Hot Chip fans will recognize Taylor’s distinct voice, but everything else about his music is totally unique from his iconic band. Not to worry though, it’s still extremely groovy, so come prepared with your dancing shoes. Doors open at 7 p.m. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC: www.ustreetmusichall.com

Ray LaMontagne & Neko Case
Both legends in their own right, Case and LaMontagne are teaming up for a night of flourishing folk at The Anthem. Not only do you get to see two iconic musicians in one night, this show will also serve as the official kickoff to the inaugural run of Halcyon’s By The People Festival, an arts and dialogue festival “bringing people together around the themes of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s a win-win for all involved. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

THURSDAY, JUNE 21

Yeek
L.A. songwriter Yeek stands comfortably outside of any particular genre. His guitars smack of indie rock and Mac DeMarco slacker rock, but lyrically he’s closer to hip-hop. And his latest release, 2018’s Blackheart EP, does even more to somehow evoke both genres at once. Hampton, Virginia native Marco McKinnis will open for Yeek. McKinnis doesn’t have a ton of material, but what he has is gorgeous, beautifully produced and rich R&B. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

MONDAY, JUNE 25

serpentwithfeet’
My first encounter with serpentwithfeet was actually in a Björk release called Blissing Me. The release contains two remixes of “Blissing Me,” a single off of the record Utopia. One version was a harp-only version of the track which, like much of album, was coproduced by Arca. The other remix was done by serpentwithfeet, who added lyrics and beats. It’s a collaboration which feels seamless. serpentwithfeet’s almost improvisational style approach to melody is of a piece with Björk’s, and his voice is no less effortless. And like with Arca, after getting the Björk stamp of approval, I think serpentwithfeet’s certainly onto big things. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

TUESDAY, JUNE 26

Katie Von Schleicher
“100 percent quality assurance, I have a degree in songwriting,” reads the Twitter bio of Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Katie von Schleicher. Her career got started when her internship turned into a record deal for Ba Da Bing! Records. Von Schleicher’s tracks aren’t so light as label-mates Beirut, but they are deft. The sound hearkens back to the 70s, and the tone isn’t so dark as her record titles, Shitty Hits (2017) and Bleaksploitation (2015), might suggest. They’re more lo-fi pop than heart-heavy indie. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $10. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

We Are Scientists
Synth pop heavy hitters We Are Scientists are back with a new album and tour, but I’m secretly hoping the show will read as more of a 10-year homage to 2008’s brilliant Brain Thrust Mastery. While I’m sure this isn’t the case, I can dream, and also dance along to certifiable bops like “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “After Hours.” Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27

Sam Gellaitry
Musical prodigies often seem to be reserved for classical music. There was Mozart and then there’s the kid who played jazz at the age of six. But Sam Gellaitry is a prodigy in the electronic community. The Scottish producer started making music at 12, dropped out of school to make music at 16 and now, at 21, he travels the world making music. His music is eclectic electronic. Some samples evince a youth spent playing video games and other recall producers like Bonobo and Emancipator. It’s his use of vocal samples that makes his tracks stand out for me. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15. Flash: 645 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.flashdc.com

TV Girl
While TV Girl’s moniker is a little on the nose – I can’t help but think that most of their sound is so heavily drawn from 80s and 90s TV background music – their straightforward bordering on self-deprecating lyrics (see: “Hate Yourself”) keep them ever relatable. The band brands their music as “you can sing along to it, but I wouldn’t sing around your parents,” so it’s sure to be a good time. Tickets start at $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

SUNDAY, JULY 1

Oso Oso
Oso Oso’s most recent release, The Yunahon Mixtape, is a beautiful, relatable callout to all the best aspects of early 2000s indie rock. Frontman Jade Lilitri borrows these sensibilities and makes them feel fresh for a new generation to rely on as an outlet for their feelings. The band brings their post-rock reinventions to Songbyrd early this July, fresh off of signing with Triple Crown Records after self-releasing The Yunahon Mixtape. There are big things in the future for this band – don’t miss out. Tickets start at $10. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Photo: Shantel Mitchell Breen
Photo: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Fleet Foxes Float Through The Anthem

Fleet Foxes’ stage presence can be summed up in two words: beautiful and clinical. While these aren’t words you would necessarily pair together, the band’s show at The Anthem was initially a reserved display of their obvious talent that transformed into more as the night continued.

As a unit, the band is excellent at recreating their expansive sound in large venues such as The Anthem. They also chose a diverse mix of songs, spanning all three of their albums. This came as a surprise to me as their most recent release, Crack-Up, was widely lauded by critics as their best album yet. I expected the night to be heavy on the latest release, but was thrilled to hear the deep cuts.

The band found more passion when they dove into these songs, too. A trifecta of songs from their self titled debut – the crowd pleasing “White Winter Hymnal,” jangly “Ragged Wood” and my personal favorite track, “Your Protector” – saw an energy that wasn’t evident from the get go. Luckily for the audience, Pecknold and company sustained this passion through the rest of the 22 song set.

Not to detract from the band’s skills, as they are a very talented bunch, but frontman Robin Pecknold’s solo performances of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Oliver James” encapsulated the magic of the band’s ethereal, nature inspired sounds.

Like all good things, the lead up to the band’s eventual triumphant close was worth it. For the encore, Pecknold was reunited with his bandmates for the anthemic “Helplessness Blues,” a song whose chorus begs, “I’ll get back to you someday, soon you will see.” One thing is clear to see, Fleet Foxes slow burn of a live show is well worth seeing.

Learn more about Fleet Foxes here.

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Okkervil River’s Colorful Compassion: A Conversation with Will Sheff

Twenty years into an illustrious career, Okkervil River’s Will Sheff is confronting the dark parts of his formative years – not through lamentation, but through reflection and light. In The Rainbow Rain sees childhood trauma contemplated, love for friends gone across the country and animals being adopted. The bittersweet topics are taken head on with a refreshing clarity.

Accompanied by gorgeously luscious musical arrangements where Sheff’s lyrics are just as essential to each song as every single instrument, the band’s latest record feels like a much-needed respite from everyday chaos and self doubt. Ahead of his band’s visit to Black Cat this weekend, Sheff caught up with On Tap and talked thematic inspiration, his literal approach to songwriting on this record and why he even makes music to begin with.

On Tap: Your new album opens with the song “Famous Tracheotomies.” You talk about your experience with tracheotomies, and then a litany of other ones experienced by celebrities. According to the song, that happened to you when you were one or two, so why write a song about it now?
Will Sheff: This was something that had been looming over my life. When I was a child, I knew about my tracheotomy before I knew how to read – before I knew about most things in the world. I knew that I had a scar – a big scar – in the middle of my throat, and I knew it had to do with me almost dying. I could feel that my parents had been through a lot. I was sickly a lot as a kid. You could look at me and see that something wasn’t working right in the way that my brain and body were connected. In a way, it was formative to every single thing that came after, and it’s why we’re talking right now, really. To some extent, that experience was why I tried to make a living from art. It’s in a lot of my songs in disguised forms that have only been pointed out to me later. I write a lot about cutting throats and ripping throats and people with holes in their throats and not being able to breathe. I just wanted to express to myself what all that meant. I wanted to write a song about this moment that can happen to you. When somebody intervenes to save your life, what leads to that point and what happens after and what does that does to you?

OT: “Don’t Move Back to LA” also seems anecdotal. I love the way you list out almost every other area in the country in the song too, like it’s a plea. What’s the story there?
WS:
I had some friends that were moving to [Los Angeles] and I was like, “Please, don’t go!” You know when you have really good friends leave your town, and it feels like the whole town goes from color into black and white? Your friendship is never going to be exactly the same because you won’t see them as often. I also think that this song has the ghost of another idea behind it, which is that it would just be really interesting to see what happened if instead of everyone fleeing to the big media cities, they were able to invigorate all the other towns too – if there could be just as much of a vibrant, amazing scene in every little town. On some level, that song is very gently trying to say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to just make your own scene instead of just going to this big place?”

OT: Everything about this album feels very lush, and I was struck by the strength of each band member’s presence in each song. I know you’ve worked with The New Pornographers before. It reminded me a lot of their approach to song composition. Was this a conscious approach or did it just gradually unfold as other things came together?
WS: It’s funny you mention The New Pornographers. [New Pornographers member] Carl [Newman] is one of my oldest musical friends, and I’m actually living with him right now! We’ve been doing some creative stuff together, too. For whatever reason, I very much enjoy shining a light on other people. It seems to be something that I’ve noticed throughout my work in the time that I’ve been doing it. So I wanted people who were listening to the record to hear how good everybody was and what they were bringing to it.

OT: Empathy and kindness seem to be overarching themes on this album, and a lot of the lyrics read like deep, late night conversations with friends. Was it intentional to thread this kind of feeling throughout the record?
WS:
I definitely did that intentionally. I was trying to be empathetic to myself because that’s really hard. You beat yourself up so much. So I was trying to be nice to myself but I wanted other people to experience something that would allow them to be able to be kind to themselves. I would go off into different spots like my friend’s little cabin upstate in the winter, or this little lake cottage that my family has had for awhile. I’d literally be making fires and be like, all of the friends sitting around the bonfire are one person [laughs]. I really wanted to bring that feeling into the record, so it was something people could have if they needed it. One of the things I really wanted to say to people on this record is that you shouldn’t feel ashamed. You should know that people love you and that you’re inherently valuable and that you’re not alone. I don’t write music to get into festivals, for some review, to get me on TV or to make me a lot of money. The idea is that it would be really cool if any of those things happened because it would allow me to continue to do more work. But ultimately, what I’m trying to do is make pretty things that make it easier to be alive.

Okkervil River plays Black Cat on Sunday, May 20 with Benjamin Lazar Davis. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490www.blackcatdc.com

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Same As He Ever Was: David Byrne at The Anthem

About three songs into his performance at The Anthem on Saturday, David Byrne started to cough. I thought it was intentional; he coughed two more times.

“Oh man,” he began to quip.

The former Talking Heads frontman said something else I didn’t catch over the roaring applause emerging from the audience. In that moment, I knew I would have paid hundreds of dollars to listen to David Byrne cough for two hours. I don’t think I was the only person who felt that way.

Though he’s filled his days with projects ranging from a collaborative record with Annie Clark of St. Vincent to a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos to multiple books, American Utopia marked his first solo album in 14 years. It’s evident he used this solo venture to deep dive into the world of his creation on the accompanying tour while also accommodating a massively different group of listeners. Byrne is nothing if not a man of the people.

Saturday saw the sprawling Anthem transformed into a peaceful concert hall, the floor lined with seats and filled with the sound of chirping birds and soft rain. When Byrne finally took the stage, he sat alone at a table and held a model brain in his hand while contemplatively launching into “Here” and “Lazy” from the new album.

Like a sudden miracle, a full band – matching Byrne in gray, almost deconstructivist suits – made their way onstage. Barefoot and carrying their instruments like a marching band, they launched into Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra.”

No longer a miracle but an apparition, an audience who was thrilled to hear Byrne’s solo ventures was now catapulted into full elation. The band was equally elated. I would never have imagined that a pack of adults carrying 50-plus-pound instruments on their backs while wearing suits would look so happy.

Throughout the night, Byrne and company vacillated between old and new – Talking Heads favorites, deep cuts from American Utopia, even the titular track from the aforementioned St. Vincent venture Love This Giant. Byrne knows his far reach, and thus is able to connect with his diverse audience with such a setlist.

That is where Byrne’s appeal lies – making beautiful sounds reflective of the minutiae and uncertainty of our daily lives. His solo work is a collection of worldly observations through the lens of a cautious optimist with enough creative energy to fuel a whole city – dare I say, the world.

As someone who grew up on Talking Heads – my dad’s CD copy of Sand in the Vaseline was a staple in the family car – and who found respite in Love This Giant during a chaotic freshman year of college, I appreciated his approach to tackling such an illustrious and far reaching career in one live show. There was as much passion from the band – and reciprocated by the audience – in American Utopia’s “Every Day is a Miracle” as sentimental classic “This Must Be The Place.”

During the latter, my seatmate incorrectly screamed the lyrics and got very very close to me with her phone, edging on in-my-face territory while trying to film the whole thing. There are few songs in the world that mean as much to me as “This Must Be The Place.” Of course someone would exhibit hallmark concert annoyances during that song. But somehow, it wasn’t annoying this time.

There are probably millions of people in the world who love that song as much as I do, my boisterous neighbor included. So I screamed the words with her – a minute of connection in a sold-out show, although she probably had no idea I noticed her, or even heard me screaming along.

I don’t know what that song means to her and she doesn’t know what it means to me, and it doesn’t matter at all. The ethereal, electric positivity generated in such a small moment was a testament to everything Byrne does as a songwriter and performer, unintentional coughing fits and all. It was, again, joy.

For more information on David Byrne and his extensive catalog, visit his website.

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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