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Painting: Fernanda Pereira // Photo: Hugo Oliveira

Panda Bear Brings “Buoys” To Life

Last summer, Noah Lennox, perhaps better known as Panda Bear, embarked on a tour with his band Animal Collective promoting the ten-year anniversary of their record Sung Tongs. During that time, Lennox pivoted to producing material for his solo career. The result is an even more atmospheric version of the ambient sounds the artist is known to pioneer. On Tap talked to Lennox around the release of his record on inspiration, the importance of how music is physically released and the value of creating in the present moment.

On Tap: You just released a new album as Panda Bear, Buoys, this week. Tell me more about how this record was created.
Noah Lennox: I wrote these songs on the guitar. I was just singing the songs with the guitar and a rudimentary drum machine. That was the foundation for everything. The guitar came from Dave [Portner] and I doing [practice for] the Sung Tongs record – we played a bunch of shows [as Animal Collective] for it this past summer. I hadn’t really played guitar for a while so it took me a couple months to get my hands into shape again, and I think while I was using the guitar a bunch I just started writing little songs here and there while I would practice for that stuff. 

OT: It sounds a bit more austere than some of your previous releases, was this a conscious choice?
NL: I did feel like I was a bit tired with the methods I had employed with the past couple records — it was like a system I went to the end of the road with in a way. I was interested in pushing myself into a space I was unfamiliar with. As far as the starkness of the sound, we figured out early on in the process that it was an architecture that kind of worked, as far as the sub-bassy stuff, because that became the pillar early on with pitched 808 samples. [For] his record we went in the opposite way of packing the arrangements full of sounds, which is kind of my move the past few records. I felt like any time we would add more into the arrangement it meant that the deep sub bass stuff wouldn’t represent itself in the room in the same way. We wanted to sort of keep this architecture of the empty.

OT: Although you’re a Maryland native, you’ve lived in Portugal for quite a while now. How has your life there affected your music?
NL: Certainly the environment plays a part, but that’s really hard for me to define. I feel like all the influence is subconscious and implicit in a way. It’s really hard for me to trace the dots on how that colors what I do; I’m sure it does, it’s just hard for me to define. Lisbon is a really different place than what it used to be. When I lived in Brooklyn, it felt like it went through a similar transformation. I got there just after it was starting and I left before it finished but I’m seeing a similar thing transpire in Lisbon over the past seven years or so. Not musically, although there are a lot of younger folks doing DIY-type music, which I really dig. It’s more in terms of [how] Lisbon felt kind of less affected by the rest of the world, or less interested in it or conversation with cultures outside of Portugal. It feels more like any sort of big European metro area than it used to.

OT: Your previous record, A Day With The Homies, was vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it that way?
NL: The original inspiration for that was sort of weird and random. It came from brands like Supreme and Palace and these other streetwear companies that do these releases of new stiff in finite quantities. I don’t like the resale part of it, I think that’s really corny, but it got me thinking about how that rewards the most hardcore people. I was jazzed about making something the people who would pre-order it or be down for no matter what.

OT: Why pivot back to a more traditional release with Buoys?
NL: Doing it [vinyl only] isn’t altogether positive, in that there are people who are left wanting. Ultimately, I preferred this method, which is for everybody. I wouldn’t want to do limited stuff all the time. I also should say that whereas Person Pitch was conceived as a CD as its ideal form, for A Day With The Homies it was the vinyl, and for this one I always envisioned its ideal form as streaming.

OT: Is that something that changes as you record new material or do you start out knowing you want to make music tailored to a specific format?
NL: It’s not always cut and dry. I can’t say that for every single release I have this ideal image of the thing in its particular format. But those three have a specific form that was kind of my most perfect version of it.

OT: Physical editions of music have seen such a resurgence over the past 10 years. Why do you think that is? What makes them maintain value?
NL: I think there’s two things going on with vinyl – one, people are getting less and less CDs so it’s becoming a digital or a vinyl thing, those are the last people standing in the race of the format. And two, I feel like the size or the imagery you can get on vinyl is kind of a big deal. I really like having that big slab for artwork, it just looks nicer in that way.

OT: As you mentioned before, you recently toured with Animal Collective to play your record Sung Tongs front to back for its ten year anniversary. Would you consider a similar tour format as Panda Bear?
NL: I supposed I’m open to it, but I’d have to be really inspired beyond [the fact] I can make a lot of money on this, that’s kind of cheesy to me. It’s been kind of weird, I guess. We agreed to do it one time and it was more fun than I imagined it would so I was down to do it more, but I’m sort of wary of getting stuck in that routine as opposed to the the present day creative things I have going. I’d rather focus on that. It was kind of fun, I have to admit. I just wouldn’t want that to be the driving force of what I’m doing. Even if it has less traction publicly, I’d still rather just keep going with what’s happening today.

Panda Bear plays the 9:30 Club on Monday, February 11 with Home Blitz. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25. For more on Panda Bear, visit www.pandabearofficial.com.

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

Music Picks: Winter 2019

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2

El Ten Eleven
El Ten Eleven is one of those bandsm, that to the naked eye, defies sonic law. The duo makes dizzying, lush sounds using only a double-neck bass guitar and foot pedals. I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, but they have a laptop, right? Everyone does that nowadays.” No, they do not have a laptop. Everything’s organic, as it has been for the band’s entire 10-album career. In an era where everything is prerecorded and premeditated, this kind of musicianship is even more impressive. Don’t miss the duo in action this winter. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets start at $17. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7

Martha Afework
Homegrown Martha Afework is proof that just because you fall in love with something as a child, that doesn’t mean you should give it up as an adult. Singing since the age of four, Afework has used her talents – and more recently, social media – to gain attention from people in the area. Now, the soulful R&B singer will headline the Fillmore without looking back. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $15. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8

COIN
COIN isn’t necessarily the most innovative band on the block, but there’s something extremely likeable about their radio-friendly brand of indie pop. I can think of many artists before them  made a similar type of music who were much easier to write off as unoriginal. Perhaps it’s their vulnerability – the Nashville-based, four-piece band often sings of awkward romantic encounters, leaving home and growing up. Ah, youth. No matter what it is, COIN’s undeniable magnetism makes them worth seeing live. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11

Eyelids
Chances are you’ve heard some lyrics that the members of Eyelids are responsible for, but maybe not of the band itself. The Portland, Oregon-based group has penned songs for The Decemberists, Elliott Smith and Stephen Malkmus, among others. Now on tour for their own songs in the form of release Maybe More, the indie rockers are ready to step out from the shadows of their legendary collaborators to make you hum and sing along to their work. Show at 9 p.m. Tickets $12-$14. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

Panda Bear
Though I wish I was writing about an actual panda bear who belted out lyrics about life in the jungle, you and I will have to settle on the very talented Noah Lennox. A founding member of experimental pop band Animal Collective, his own music as Panda Bear doesn’t stray far from the fabric of the aforementioned band. Looking for meticulously crafted electronic sounds? Check. What about vocals layered atop these very eclectic beats? Check. Basically, if you’re a fan of the entire collective, Panda Bear’s music will be right up your wheelhouse. Check out M.K. Koszycki’s interview with Lennox at www.ontaponline.com. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
Ever wonder what those bands you listened to during your teenage years sound like when they grow past their angst-fueled music? That’s what Andrew McMahon sounds like these days, as the former band member of several California-based groups has  grown into a more mature musician. The pianist has harnessed his high-pitched voice into one of reason, discussing the topics of nostalgia, missed opportunities and failures with a joyful tone throughout his latest release Upside Down Flowers. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $40.50. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Cherry Glazerr
L.A.-based trio Cherry Glazerr is known for their commentary on the world at large – after all, the band takes its name from NPR reporter Chery Glaser – but on their third record, they’ve teased a new era. Singer Clementine Creevy has indicated in press for their new album Stuffed & Ready that she’s begun to look inward for inspiration and it’s evident on the band’s lead single “Daddi,” which seems to reflect on the gray areas of attraction, control and power dynamics in relationships. The infectious song is a sure indication that the band’s new era will be an impressive one, too. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Current Joys
The solo project of Nicholas Rattigan, Current Joys is a moody singalong about the creative process. From extreme highs to lows, Rattigan rattles off emotional lyrics that are accompanied by thud-like guitar strums, each delivered with a purpose. A Different Age represents one of the most expressive and well-crafted albums you’ll hear this year. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

Beirut
Worldly wunderkind Zach Condon announced his band Beirut’s fifth album and lead single Gallipolli in the most Beirut way possible. He took to his band’s website to write a letter about the genesis of the album’s title track, which involved the band “stumbling into the medieval, fortressed island town of Gallipoli one night and following a brass band procession fronted by priests carrying a statue of the town’s saint through the winding, narrow streets.” The band has served as a musical passport to Condon’s travels since they formed back in 2006, and they’ll bring their sounds to DC this winter with new adventures in tow. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $41. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

The Parrots
Hailing from Madrid, The Parrots combine both Spanish and English lyrics to make a near-universal indie sound. Backed by guitar licks reminiscent of Chastity Belt or Courtney Barnett, their music is moody and their vocals provide a melodic whine. Though they haven’t recorded a new album since 2016, The Parrots has been releasing well-received singles since then and promise to bring an electric show to DC9. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15

Chuck Prophet
The latest release in Prophet’s discography is Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins, a concept album paying homage to the legendary artist responsible for “I Fought the Law,” made famous by The Clash. The album is gritty and fun, and I’m glad Prophet hasn’t wiped the slate clean quite yet but instead, is focusing on spreading his version of “California noir.” Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

Gregory Porter
There are few better gifts for a Valentine than to see the wonderous Gregory Porter. His music is smooth and loving, borrowing vibes and emotions from 50s and 60s jazz – not to mention his sultry vocals. With his baritone contrasting with several backing instruments, Porter delivers songs perfect for a date night with your significant other. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $58-$108. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Metric
Fusing indie with synth-pop, Canadian band Metric is set to visit the DMV this month. Touring on the back of their 2018 release Art of Doubt, the album brings out the best elements of the band. Aided by a radical energy in the band’s instrumentation, frontwoman Emily Haines continues to provide a lens into her creative process while delivering her seamlessly effortless vocal talents in each song. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7 p.m. Tickets $38. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16

Dante Pope
I used to wonder why old school R&B music was so hard to replicate for newer artists. Obviously, the genre still has a foothold on the popular conscience as you can hear it in movies or in samples for hip-hop, but there is largely a dearth of new artists with this style. Leon Bridges took hold of it as a notable vocalist to mention, but one on the rise is Dante Pope. The multi-instrumentalist has pipes channeling the 70s, and his ability to strum the guitar only heightens his deft musicianship. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $15-$17. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Dante Elephante
With an indie sound combining garage and surf, this group of four offers very enjoyable tunes to groove to. Whether you’re driving down a highway or jam-packed in the tiny, intimate DC9, these songs will carry you through. The lyrics come across as playful even when serious, and this isn’t a criticism because sometimes it’s helpful to laugh in the face of tough times. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $10. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

Daughters
Back on the punk scene for the first time since 2010, Daughters returned with their 2018 release You Won’t Get What You Want. While everything about the group is punk, their pace is very deliberate compared to the break-neck speed the genre’s bands usually play at. Instead, Daughters is a manic deliberation with chants for choruses. Plus, some of their music sounds like something you might hear in a horror film’s score. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

The Knocks
Chances are at least one of your favorite pop artists has collaborated with New York production duo The Knocks. Carly Rae Jepsen, Foster the People, Sofi Tukker and X Ambassadors are just a few of the big names who have lent their vocal talent to the pair’s upbeat songs. To celebrate the release of their new album New York Narcotic, they’ll bring a full-fledged dance party to U Street. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18

Empress Of
Lorely Rodriguez has released countless synth-pop gems under the name Empress Of since 2012. You may also know her from standout spots providing her signature crystal clear vocals on albums by contemporaries like Dirty Projectors, Khalid, MØ and more. As her career progressed, so did her vocal and production prowess, giving us last year’s catchy album Us. Her earlier work sounds just as good today as it did upon release, and her single “Go to Hell” is the ultimate kiss-off to everyone who didn’t believe in Rodriguez – and it’s my go-to pick me up song when feeling discouraged. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19

Jacob Banks
You can’t mention Jacob Banks without mentioning the word soul. The Nigerian-born, British singer-songwriter is downright gripping when he steps in front of a microphone. From a grumble to a shout – all on key – this man has some serious range and versatility. His latest release, 2018’s Village, provides a perfect showcase for his talents – and he uses all of them to mystify listeners. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Julia Holter
Though Julia Holter sings, the classification of composer feels most natural when describing the artist’s musical stylings. Layered with wind instruments, drums and electronic sounds, her songs are absolutely packed with instrumentation – and the apparatus serving as the conductor’s baton is her voice. Whether it’s whiny, melodic or on the verge of shouting, her vocals provide the direction for all of the carefully curated sounds to follow. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $17. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20

Anderson .Paak
In an era of rap and hip-hop where nearly all artists are singing their own choruses, it’s interesting to see the pendulum swing. Anderson .Paak represents a lyricist who has the same cadence and rhyming skills as a hip-hop artist, but with real pipes. This style is extremely fun to listen to and seems like it’s even more satisfying to make, as he frequently features rap giants like Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and Dr. Dre. With his raspy delivery and West Coast cool, Anderson .Paak is as unique as they come. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $78. The Theater at MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com

MNEK
It’s my humble opinion that MNEK should be one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and chances are the London-based artist has written or produced a song for one of your favorites. After all, the 24-year-old’s resume includes work for Beyoncé, Bastille, Stormzy and Diplo. I could go on, but you get the idea. And as I’m sure you’ve guessed, his solo work is just as impressive as the people he’s worked with. On the heels of his fantastic full-length album Language and countless impressive collaborations over the years, he’ll bring his innovative brand of pop to DC. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $17. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21

James Blake
Rumors of James Blake’s new album have been swirling around the web as of late. He released two new singles last year and appeared on the Black Panther soundtrack but now, the world is ready for a new full-length album. If the rumors are true, the timing is perfect as he’ll hit DC in late February – hopefully with new tunes in tow. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $48.50. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

Liz Cooper & The Stampede
Liz Cooper offers tremendous energy and a vibrant, upbeat demeanor on her latest record Window Flowers, the result of a yearlong effort to do something creative every day. Her style of sing-talking with a raspy delivery allows her to mix it up with each song, sometimes holding onto notes for a little longer than you’d expect – and sometimes letting them go with a breath. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $12-$15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

FRIDAY, FEBURARY 22

Kat Wright
If you’re in the mood for a retro sound this winter, look no further than Kat Wright. The almost lo-fi production of her music sends you back in time, as her vocals help paint the picture of a nostalgic view. Her powerful vocals are accompanied by backing bass, drums, keys and a powerful three-piece horn section. While she may not provide a visual aesthetic of the jazz singer smoking a cigarette, her more modern stage presence will more than make up for it. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $12-$17. The Hamilton LIVE: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23

The Suffers
Hailing from Houston, Texas, this eight-member band provides soul and R&B sensibilities with a pop music mentality. I say that because every song is jovial and enjoyable. With eight members, the band also has tremendous versatility, bouncing from sound to sound. The Suffers are led by vocalist Kam Franklin, who provides a powerful voice for the instruments to follow. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Vince Staples
If Kendrick Lamar is the current king of hip-hop, Vince Staples is the prince. One of the best lyricists in the genre, Staples has zigged while others have zagged – providing breathtaking commentary on the world as he sees it. Though not every song has a political point of view, the best tunes are when he’s locked in on a subject for the world to hear. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $35. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Washington Performing Arts Presents Lara Downes
Inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s words, the trailblazing, NPR chart-topping Lara Downes has channeled her prodigious creativity into an intimate program of solo and ensemble works paying tribute to female composers and poets, both past and present. Her special guest is multi-instrumentalist/composer/singer and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner Rhiannon Giddens, who, through her own work and performances as a member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, embodies precisely the ethos Downes had in mind. Downes’ performance is a special presentation by Washington Performing Arts. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $35. Writeup provided by venue. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

Western Den
Deni Hlavinka and Chris West met on a college forum after Hlavinka posted an idea for a song. The next day, West sent over a completed version and the serendipitous partnership has been unstoppable ever since. In Western Den, the pair focuses on melodic folk music – but instead of a heavy emphasis on guitar strums, their music shines a light on Hlavinka’s piano skills. Doors at 8:30 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28

Vundabar
Despite their most recent release meditating on illness and death, Boston’s Vundabar has been called “a ceaselessly jovial band” by Pitchfork, and their live shows are no exception. The contrast between the band’s existential, contemplative and sometimes downright depressing material paired with their jangly garage rock-influenced music makes the perfect pairing for those of us who love to dance but also contemplate life’s trickier questions. Bring that marriage to a live show and you’ve got a performance that’s equal parts a party and a therapy session. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

Photo: www.unionstage.com

Aztec Sun and More Bring High Energy to Union Stage for New Year’s Eve

No matter how you want to ring in the New Year, the DC area has an option for your specific partying needs. Maybe 2018 wasn’t your year, so drink it away in Clarendon’s many bars. If food is your endgame, spend the night at an acclaimed restaurant. If you’re the type to always seek out the best new beer, a local brewery’s soiree is your spot. If you’re like me, though, you’ll be craving a New Year’s celebration where music is the centerpiece of your celebration.

Enter Union Stage’s New Year’s offering. Dubbed “Funk (with Soul) vs. Bluegrass, the throwdown features one of the city’s most prolific live bands: Aztec Soul. With a reputation for their electrifying stage presence and jubilant blend of funk and soul (hence the name), the band will literally have you dancing your 2018 troubles away at The Wharf.

So what exactly can attendees expect from their New Years Eve night at Union Stage?

“A high-energy set from start to finish,” says Stephane Detchou, band leader and lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist. Detchou also let us in on the band’s plans to don bright and colorful outfits, and bring some guests onstage with them.

Aztec Sun will be joined by Bencoolen and The Dirty Grass Players. Given the stacked lineup and indication of a competitive (or perhaps collaborative) element with the “versus” in the title, I couldn’t help but wonder what the bands meant by that.

“There will definitely be a collaborative element to the performance,” Detchou assures, “but you’ll have to come to the show and find out!”

And when the New Year dawns, Union Stage will greet you with a complimentary champagne toast complete with “a special song/mashup planned for when the clock strikes 12,” the band leader continues.

In addition to the complimentary toast, Union Stage will offer its full drink and dinner menu. Craft beer and pizza lovers rejoice: the venue is home to a host of the best local and national brews, and their pizza is worth sharing with your fellow partygoers. Bonus: you won’t have to make an extra stop for food! Just grab a delicious Jersey-style bar pie at the venue.

If your New Year’s resolution looks like more celebrations with food, drinks and music all around, Union Stage has all you need. After all, Detchou says the band’s ultimate goal is “to give you the best show all around.”

“From the music to our outfits and our moves, we guarantee you’ll be thoroughly entertained.”

And as for Aztec Sun’s own New Year’s resolutions?

“To continue sharing our music with as diverse an audience as possible, and creating safe spaces for enjoying art at our show.”

Join Aztec Sun, Bencoolen and The Dirty Grass Players at Union Stage on Monday, December 31. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35.

Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com

Photo: Johan Bergmark Medium

Darker Days, Brighter Sounds: A Conversation with Peter Bjorn & John

Keeping up with anything for 20 years is impressive. Crafting joyful, jangly pop songs with incredible technical precision for that long is an otherworldly feat. And yet here are Peter Bjorn and John who have done just that, especially with the release of Darker Days, their eighth full length album.

An insular recording experience, the band stepped away from using outside producers and built everything as a trio. This style lent itself perfectly to the lyrical themes of the album too – each member writes about different perspectives on darkness. Personal, political and environmental ideas of darkness are explored, all set to the trio’s signature sound.

We caught up with Peter Morén, guitarist and vocalist, on the writing and recording process for Darker Days, playing DC and the pride that comes with eight years of producing indie pop perfection.

On Tap: Darker Days is your eighth full length studio album – from a technical perspective, how did the recording process differ from previous albums? 
Peter Morén: We split up the production and songwriting between us. We have written a lot separately before, too, but also mixed it up, helping out and adding parts or changing them if one member wasn’t happy. This time we were three dictators. Maybe that was even more clear when it came to the production. We all played on the backing tracks of each other’s songs and arranged that together. Then we went off on our own and decided how to finish up the songs with edits and overdubs. Often, we brought in the other two as studio musicians to work on parts. But the end result of a song was up to its auteur. I think the album holds together because it’s us playing mostly in the same studio, and also that we have a lot of similar taste aurally.

OT: With a sizable catalog under your belt, what have you learned over the years that you were able to incorporate into the recording and production of this album?
PM: Every recording experience is different and we have tried a lot of different methods by now. We have a certain style and trademarks that we bring to every project even though they might differ vastly on the surface. I think it was empowering after working with all those producers on Breakin’ Point to find that we are more than able to pull it off in-house. For the first time, rather than take a stylistic left-turn, we looked back on our own catalog, got inspired by ourselves and what we’d done in the past and what we maybe are at the core, trying to act naturally. I think at this stage of the game it’s allowed!

OT: This album focuses on different types of darkness. Can you tell me more about how each of you incorporated your perspectives and ideas into the lyrics?
PM: A lot of the sketches and ideas for the songs were already started when we came up with the title, so it just tied in with that naturally. Songs usually dwell on what occupies you privately, at least it does for me. And for the last couple of years, the darkening political climate, the extremely dark threat of climate change and the planet’s eventual demise, if we’re unlucky, is constantly on my mind. Cheerful stuff! But that also ties in with personal doubts, midlife-crises, worries about the future for kids and family and maybe even the state of our band. It could also be a less negative darkness. Like the focus of black and white film, or the pleasant melancholia of the long dark Swedish winter. Those things maybe also inform how we went about playing and producing the sounds too. We all wrote about what we felt like, and took the songs that fit together best.

OT: What made you want to focus on darkness as the general overarching theme of the album? 
PM: We had this song called “Darker Days” which was about aging and death but also about the Swedish winter months in the North. That song isn’t even on the album, but we have recorded it now. So that was our starting point. We thought it was a good album title.

OT: What do you hope your listeners will gain or understand from this album? 
PM: If they just enjoy the music and get a vibe from the lyrics, that’s fine by me. Even a misunderstood lyric is a successful one. I like when people do their own readings or “mis”-interpretations. We’re not offering any solutions or great plans, we’re just as lost as everyone. But of course, if someone starts to think about issues they’re otherwise blocking out, that ain’t a bad thing.

OT: Any particular tracks you are most proud of?
PM: I’m really proud of “Living a Dream,” as a recording and as a song. I like all the little details in the arrangement and the sound of it. It’s a very “me” song. Especially considering I don’t see myself as a proper producer like maybe Bjorn. But you learn and it did work. Also I love “Heaven & Hell,” one of John’s. It’s really special and different, probably the best thing he ever wrote for the band. Even though it’s quite long, I could listen to it again and again. And I like that it’s [great] live too, with him really utilizing our improvised playing and ideas as a band, like my guitar stuff and Bjorn’s organ. It’s a performance and very us. But the whole record stands up. It’s one of our best. And the track-order is perfect. That makes for a good album.

OT: You’re embarking on a tour for Darker Days through this year and early next year – any place you are particularly excited to be playing?
PM: It’s always exciting to play cities you haven’t played before, and we have a couple of those on the European run. But then returning to places where we’ve always been [greeted] warmly, like DC, is exciting too. All-in-all we’re excited to play – new songs and old. Performing live only gets better every tour, I feel. We’re not old and tired just yet. More like semi-old, but on fire.

OT:  When was the last time you played DC? Any particular memories from a previous DC show or anything you’re looking forward to when you play Rock & Roll Hotel next month?
PM: It’s an intriguing name for a rock’n’roll-venue. Wonder what it looks like? And what goes on in the rooms? We came through DC on the Breakin’ Point tour in 2016 and played the beautiful, old Lincoln Theatre where you could feel the spirit of Duke Ellington. We have many great memories from the 9:30 Club. Their staff is the best. The first time we played there, our booked driver flaked and didn’t turn up with the bus. So they let us sleep in the venue and then drove us to New York the next morning. A terrible thing, but they handled it expertly and sweetly.

OT: With such an expansive catalog, how do you go about crafting your setlists?
PM: It’s a such a great feeling to have so much material to choose from. We usually try to bring in a couple of oldies that we didn’t do on the previous tour. And we enjoy changing the sets up almost nightly, even if it’s minor changes sometimes. I don’t feel you have to play your whole new album, it’s more important to get an overall good pace and vibe to a set. There are a bunch of songs that could fill the same role, so those you can swap around and play with. Also by changing the order of the same songs, it makes it feel fresh and adventurous. You might play them differently just because of that. Keeps you on your toes. Live should be totally live to make it work for us. In the moment, spontaneous. Too much planning, cues or choreography would spoil the fun. [Songs from] Writers Block and Gimme Some have always worked well for us live so we still play a lot of those tunes. But the Breakin’ Point songs work really well too. And now we have the new ones. It’s really only Living Thing (and more obviously Seaside Rock) that we don’t feature so much. It’s harder to play. And maybe the first two albums, since the audience doesn’t know them as well. But Falling Out turns up now and again. It’s one of my favorites of our albums.

OT: Any new songs you’re especially excited to debut live or older ones you want to revisit?
PM: “One For The Team” is really fun to do live, it’s one of PBJ’s faux soul funkers [that] gains from some clapping and audience-chanting. “Wrapped Around the Axle” is fun too. I love digging in to the back-catalog and picking golden oldies, sometimes rearranging them. We might do some Falling Out tracks we haven’t done in ages.

Peter Bjorn and John play the Rock & Roll Hotel on Sunday, December 2. Tickets are $20. Doors at 7 p.m. For more on the band and their new album, visit www.peterbjornandjohn.com.

Rock and Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Rosslyn Jazz Fest

AZTEC SUN Bring “Funk with Soul” to Rosslyn Jazz Fest

Though I  have a limited knowledge of cooking, my brief flirtation with Pinterest has taught me that recipes made of unlikely ingredients with proper preparation often turn out to be the most delicious. If AZTEC SUN were a recipe, the 10-piece crew would consist of two cups guitar, one cup of bass, one serving of equal parts keyboard and organ, and a heaping helping of horns and vocals – all served over a foundation of varied percussion.

Though the original band started off with four members and grew from there, each member of the band’s current lineup adds their own special flavor to the mix in an exciting blend of different genres and styles whose talents combine to form an original recipe they like to call “funk with soul.

This Saturday, the band is set to bring this blend of music to Rosslyn’s Jazz Festival, a 28-year tradition that fills Arlington’s Gateway Park with a full day of free musical performances. I sat down to talk to Lee Anderson (backing vocals) and Catch Banning (keyboard/organ) about AZTEC SUN’s new album Everyone, the fest and the strong sense of community their band has formed.

On Tap: How did you all come together and what are the origins of the group?
Catch Banning: AZTEC SUN had two iterations. The original iteration formed seven years ago when Stephane Detchou [the band’s leader, singer and songwriter] sent out a Craigslist post. The original AZTEC SUN was a lot more rock and funk heavy – more of a Red Hot Chili Peppers sound. About a year and a half into that project, band members went to grad school and moved out of state, and that kind of fell apart. Steph put out another Craigslist ad and that’s where I met him – in an audition. We met our original sax players there, and our bass player. We kept in touch after that audition and started to form our own project, and slowly put the pieces together to bring back the band.

OT: How else would you describe your music?
Lee Anderson: The sound is very reflective of the process Catch just talked about. It’s very full and energetic. You can sit at home and turn on the radio and hear some really nice music, but when you come to an AZTEC show, it’s an experience. It’s hard to personify a sound, but if you could hear community – like what the very essence of being communal is – it would sound like AZTEC SUN.
CB: [We use the phrase] “funk with soul” on the website, and I think a great part of our sound is that so much of it comes from [and is inspired by] different eras of music.

OT: How has the group evolved since it was first created?
CB: We are a live band. That has been a core pillar of AZTEC SUN, in that it is important to think of [us] as an entire experience. [That includes] everything from what we are wearing to how we’re performing and what our energy on stage is like. Steph’s done a great job of continuing to challenge us and push us to think about ways just to make this an experience, not just music.

OT: Up until this point, you all have been focusing your energy on live performances. Why did you all choose to start out that way rather than just releasing music and touring based on music you’ve already released?
CB: A word that we use often is “collective.” AZTEC SUN is bigger than the 10 of us. It’s bigger than our partners. We very much see this as a movement in DC and [for] the musicians in other communities we connect with when we play. There’s something that happens with this shared experience of live music; when we see musicians on stage; when we hear live music; when we hear improvisation; [and] when we hear a call to action. People come because they know that’s true. They know they’re gonna get passion, raw energy, joy, an excuse to jump and be around like-minded folks who are incredibly inclusive. I feel like the reason we put so much effort into playing live constantly is because it’s so much more than music. We’re doing this to connect with people. Recording is one way to do that, but we are so much more a live band than a polished studio band. We’re really proud of that.
LA: I think a lot of that also goes back to Steph, who always had a really specific vision for what he wanted this conglomerate to sound like. That tradition for him – that audio legacy – is rooted in the performances that emerged from the Motown Era. Berry Gordy had a very stringent test, the Ham Sandwich Test, that he would put records through before [they] hit the streets. If more people said they would rather buy a ham sandwich than the record, he would tell them to take that shit back to the studio. For us, before we are able to have something we can put online and impress our friends, [we need to make] sure the sound has a certain amount of integrity. We don’t want to just release a bunch of product without people being able to connect with [us]. Nothing makes people feel invested as much as [performing] live, face to face.

OT: Since you have already performed alongside acts like Shaun Martin of Snarky Puppywho has been your favorite artist to perform with live and why?
CB: I think the biggest show of our lives was opening up for Galactic at 9:30 Club. I speak for myself on this, but I know a lot of members really grew up listening to Galactic and Rebirth Brass Band, which is another band we’re about to go on tour with for four nights in the South. For us to get that opening slot in our home turf at 9:30 Club – to play for Galactic – it was an incredible honor to be able to warm up the crowd for a band that’s been incredibly influential in a lot of our lives.
LA: I’m with Catch on that one. That was a particularly amazing night. I’ll also give a shoutout to Alan Evans of Soulive, who we recorded with. Al is, and he doesn’t know this, but he’s kind of like my mentor in some ways.

OT: Speaking of recording your album with him, what was that like?
LA: It was definitely a different type of recording process. I was used to going in the studio and tracking everything out, [but] we definitely did this old school. We put the whole band in one big room and we started playing. We limited each song to three takes and decided we were going to take the best one. It was exciting to me because I had never recorded anything that way before, which is like a shout out to old school, golden era music like James Brown, Motown, that’s how they recorded.

OT: That’s amazing, especially since there are so many of you guys. Three takes in three days, that’s like your lucky number.
CB: There was definitely a lot of pressure going into the project for that very reason, because we were [only taking] a few cuts of each song and we weren’t going to go back and edit everyone’s solos or nitpick. You could feel that trust throughout the entire group – we all knew we were ready. We all knew we were capable of it because we put in the practice to get to this moment. We opened for a band called Everyone Orchestra that uses a shifting amalgamation of different artists around the country to put on live shows. [Al] met us there and that’s kind of where this connection started. 

OT: What can fans of your live performance expect to hear from this album? Do you think the live aspect translated over to the recording really well?
LA: I think if nothing else, they will hear 10 people who really care a lot about each other and trust each other, having fun, and it will be so infectious they’ll have no choice but to have fun with us. They’re going to want to play it everyday and jam out with us. Musically, it’s us – it’s a little bit of everything, but it comes together really nicely.
CB: We’re very proud of [our first] EP, but I think [compared to] when you see a live AZTEC SUN show, the EP is very clean and very studio polished. All of those songs sound drastically different when we play live. This album communicates more of the emotion of the song [and] takes shape in [the] way that we all play it live a lot more.

OT: How are you guys prepping for Rosslyn Jazz Fest and what are you most looking forward to about it?
CB: Cory Henry is a beast! I’m just beyond thrilled we’re on a bill with him. I’m glad we get to play a set warming up the crowd and then [get to] sit back, relax and listen to that man tear up the Hammond. I’m pumped to play an outdoor show, but to watch Cory Henry is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
LA: For me, it’s the fact that we’re going to have so many friends and family there. It’s always cool when I get to go on the road and go to a new place, but it’s even better when I have my people. When I can look out and see folks that I know and love, it’s just a special thing. Also just the energy that happens when you’re home. When you can say “Hey, we’re DC’s own,: even though it’s in Virginia.

AZTEC SUN’s new album Everyone is set to release this November. Join them for their album release show on Saturday, November 10 at Pearl Street Warehouse. For information about the Rosslyn Jazz Fest, visit the event page here

Gateway Park: 1300 Lee Hwy. Arlington, VA; www.rosslynva.org

Photo: Joe Dilworth

Algiers Breaks Barriers

“How do we relate that sense of division that’s brought upon us from top down, from people in power who seek every day to divide us and categorize us as human beings and prevent us from collectively coming together?”

Algiers bassist Ryan Mahan poses this question to me over the phone from his home in the UK. Now more than ever, I surely don’t know the answer. But through their genre-smashing catalog, Algiers might be close to finding it.

The four-piece outfit was a sociopolitical force before they were ever a band. Atlanta natives Mahan, vocalist Franklin James Fisher and guitarist Lee Tesche formed in 2007, eventually adding drummer Matt Tong – formerly of Bloc Party – to the fold in 2016.

Over the course of their 11-year career, the band has never been interested in what others call them. They’re more interested in using music as a unifying force, especially at a time when division is more common than ever in so many creative spaces.

“We actually came up with the concept of Algiers before we ever had written a note of music,” Mahan says. “We were focused much more specifically on the social context of the music – how that relates to the actual sound that you’re trying to project and looking at music in spatial ways. That’s where the politics come from too, because there’s a politic to that in and of itself. We deal with issues like appropriation and colonialism within music itself, and exclusionary spaces where you maybe see a particular scene that has been built up.”

On any given Algiers song, you’ll hear hints of post-punk, gospel, new wave and more. There are a lot of bands who could have potentially influenced Algiers, but there are no other bands who sound – or think – like Algiers.

When Mahan dissects the conglomeration of sounds that make up his band’s music, he explains, “It might sound a little bit analytical as an approach. But it actually allows us to be quite free with our music and play with our music in very different ways.”

He continues, crediting the culture industry for creating this sense of genre “in its own twisted, distorted way.”

“It almost polices these boundaries and prevents the fluidity of music and us from grasping music in a much more holistic way. We’re obviously engaged with history and our own histories and the history of oppression. How do we relate that sonically?”

Mahan and company explore that question and more on the band’s most recent record, The Underside of Power, released last June. With members now living in the States and the UK, their sophomore effort was influenced by the disarray of politics in both places. Their songs directly deal with everything from police brutality to the 2016 election and the resurfacing of fascist ideals. They seamlessly reference and draw inspiration from the Black Panthers, Che Guevara and Albert Camus, to name a few.

The band does important work using music as their vehicle, and their voices to give rise to others’ voices in turn. Algiers appears on the bill for Black Cat’s 25th anniversary show this month, and the band is looking forward to performing in a city that remains an epicenter for creative resistance. Algiers’ strength lies in their ability to embody the energies of these spaces, no matter the location.

“It’s all about inserting yourself in these spaces, and that’s why playing this 25th anniversary show at the Black Cat is powerful for us,” Mahan says. “Dante [Ferrando, owner] and the people at the Black Cat see us within this scene. We’re playing alongside some of our heroes: Mary Timony in Ex Hex, Mike Watt, Gray Matter and Subhumans. This is all where we see ourselves, and maybe people from the outside – unless they’re fans – don’t really get that. I think that’s kind of a constant battle that we take on.”

And while the band will continue to tackle subjects that very much need light shed on them – Mahan says they’ve recently begun to work on new music – their final goal is to be a unifying force among likeminded people.

“As a band, we just want to connect with people. We really feel like there’s so many people who also feel that way. It’s not through a sense of naiveté. We’re very cynical in our approach, but through that cynicism there is – as we particularly try to reflect on our last album – a sense of light.”

Algiers plays the second night of the Black Cat’s 25th anniversary event on Saturday, September 15. Tickets are $25. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more information on Algiers, visit www.algierstheband.com.

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

Photo: Emily Chow

DC’s Bad Moves Talks Power Pop Ballads & Collaborative Process for New Record

By day, the foursome behind DC-based power pop band Bad Moves span career paths – from labor union organizer to NPR music editor. But by night, bassist Emma Cleveland, drummer Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and guitarists David Combs and Katie Park are focused on their budding music career.

Still beatific from their successful SXSW showcase this spring, the band has been keeping busy with their upcoming LP Tell No One. The record comes out on September 21 via Don Giovanni Records in conjunction with a release party at the Black Cat.

“A lot of the songs on the album deal with themes of having secrets that you keep inside, and the repercussions of either keeping secrets or coming out with them,” Cleveland says.

The band alludes to a few family secrets of their own on Tell No One while still maintaining a degree of mystery. Secrets of sexuality and criminality are woven into the limericks set to the band’s peppy, kinetic beats. Yet the truth is, the album is not about divulging secrets.

Instead, Tyler-Ameen says it’s about “exploring the things that are traditionally considered taboo [that you later realize] are markers of identity, yet you feel when you’re younger you’re not allowed to fully own.”

Tell No One is expected to resonate with all, as did their self-titled EP.

“I don’t know if we necessarily started the band thinking in particular about a demographic,” Combs says. “I don’t know if that’s a word we even used with each other.”

Instead, Bad Moves relies on chance when creating music that sits well with their broad audience – the chance that their personal experiences, or the feelings evoked from those experiences, will be commonly shared.

The bandmates have relied on each other to craft their sound over the past three years, drawing on 90s pop punk and rock sounds that resonate with most older millennials. Combs says he and Park were the main collaborators on Tell No One, and then brought in the rest of the band to “shape it more in our own collective image.” Bad Moves has no lead singer, so the four musicians each share equal vocal responsibility in the band.

“Our intention is to take the focus away from one particular identity as being the central face of the band,” Combs says.

Picking a band name – on a car ride to a recording session at American University – was one of the only items on their ever-growing to-do list that didn’t require too much thought.

“One name I remember pushing for – and now feel relief that we didn’t go with – was Bad Wiz,” Cleveland says. “That would have been bad.”

Combs chimes in, “We also had Wet Hands. It’s hard to know what kind of name will suit your needs early on.”

The process of forming their sound, on the other hand, was a different story. Cleveland says the band made a lengthy playlist of power pop – around 180 songs – that inspired their eclectic sound. The first track on the playlist, which coincidently had the most impact, is “Looking For Magic” by the Dwight Twilley Band.

“You can tell from the lyrics that there’s a sort of desperation,” Combs says of the 1977 classic. “There’s this thing that eludes to magic. There’s a sadness to that sentiment, but the energy of that song is really lifting, inspiring and powerful. It’s a song that’s not ignoring that the world is a hard place to be in, but it’s also something I can put on that will push me through – and that’s what we want our music to do.”

Don’t miss Bad Moves at Black Cat for their record release party on Friday, September 21. The Obsessives and Ultra Beauty will open. Doors are at 7:30, tickets are $10.

Learn more about the band at www.badmoves.bandcamp.com.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Black Cat

The 25 Lives of Black Cat

Black Cat has sold out countless shows, with killer acts on regular rotation at the 14th Street music venue. Drawing big names like Radiohead, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers and more, the double-level DC mainstay hasn’t quit booking national tours and amplifying local bands since opening its doors in ’93.

But its biggest accomplishment since opening? Owner and founder Dante Ferrando laughs on a recent call with On Tap, offering a blunt reply.

“Managing to stay open for 25 years would be the first [accomplishment] to come to mind,” he says. “It is a tough business. There’s a lot of ups and downs. You have to constantly recreate little bits and pieces to make things work.”

Black Cat is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month with a two-night lineup on September 14 and 15 of some of the venue’s favorite bands to work with. Ferrando seems like he doesn’t want to favor any particular act, but mentions Mike Watt – who’s part of the Friday night lineup – as an example of a musician that means something to the Black Cat team.

“We had a ton of good [musicians] that we asked and a ton of good ones that we got,” Ferrando says of how he culled talent for the anniversary shows. “It’s very tough unless you really want to blow huge amounts of money to get people to change their plans. Everyone’s on tour and has different things that they’re doing.”

As the drummer for local post-hardcore band Gray Matter, opening a music venue might have seemed like an obvious interest for Ferrando – but he’s also a natural entrepreneur. He owned Dante’s, a 14th Street restaurant and emphatic supporter of DC’s music scene, before opening the Black Cat. He says 9:30 Club monopolized the punk and alt-rock scenes at the time, but Ferrando had his own vision.

In its original location on F Street from 1980 to 1996, 9:30 was a “good, tiny punk-rock dive” for a 200-person show, according to Ferrando. At the time, he saw a need for a DC venue that was more accommodating to both fans and bands performing there, like a dressing room and more space for the audience.

“We did something that was needed in the city at that point in time. It was something we needed to have.”

With some healthy competition, 9:30 Club has since moved and improved – and both venues were able to carve their own identities in the city.

“My route was definitely more of the smoky bar or traditional club, [and 9:30 Club has] more of a concert production vibe,” he says. “I think it ended up balancing nicely in the end.”

Ferrando describes their current spot as a Hail Mary; the Black Cat moved to the larger space, still on 14th Street, in 2001.

“If you came to the area now and tried to get a space this big, I would be terrified to know how much that would cost.”

In the 25 lives of Black Cat, Ferrando has witnessed some shifts in the music scene. He says their first five years were the height of indie rock, with a unified local and regional rise of independent record labels and bands feeding off each other’s energy and style.

“I like times like that. It’s great to just have a great band. But if you have four great bands that all know each other and are bouncing stuff back and forth because they’re seeing each other’s shows, those sort of environments are very exciting to me. I just haven’t seen that to quite the [same] degree recently. I always hoped for those little hotspots to pop up and there’s not much you can do to create them aside from waiting for when they start happening.”

He says the fan-musician dynamic has changed too.

“Something that I kind of miss: there used to be a time where if a band was pretty big, a member of that band [playing] with their new act would draw really well. Nowadays, nobody cares. They might like the band, but the direct relationship to the band isn’t as intense as it used to be.”

But the volume of bands and people coming out is still growing, because new listeners can learn about an up-and-coming band through a few Internet clicks. With more venues popping up, local bands play more often now than they did before – and the venues are doing really well, according to Ferrando.

His Friday night anniversary show lineup includes Des Demonas, Subhumans, Ocampo Ocampo & Watt, Ted Leo, Dagger Moon, Scanners, Honey, and Felix & Sam. Des   Demonas guitarist Mark Cisneros calls the Black Cat an oasis in a changing district with new luxuries drawing people with wealth.

“The Black Cat is a home for everyone who’s still here playing music left in the scene,” Cisneros says. “It’s still a stronghold for the DC punk rock scene. It’s one of the best clubs in the world and it’s a real privilege to play there. We’re all thankful that Dante is still going with it and making a home for us.”

Ferrando’s band is set to play a couple of songs on Saturday night.

“It has nothing to do with Black Cat particularly,” he says of Gray Matter’s mini-reunion. “It’s just an opportunity for me to fly old friends in and do a show, which we haven’t done since the 20th anniversary. I’m particularly psyched about that.”

On Saturday, Ex Hex, Hurry Up featuring Kathy Foster and Westin Glass of The Thermals, Algiers, Hammered Hulls, Wanted Man, and Foul Swoops will share the stage with Ferrando.

“You get to catch some of the best local bands we’ve got and some really cool out-of-town bands too,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who’ve been coming here for a lot of years. It’s good to have just a fun party sometimes.”

Don’t miss the Black Cat’s 25th anniversary shows on Friday, September 14 and Saturday, September 15 on the venue’s mainstage. Doors at 7 p.m. both nights. Tickets are $25 per night. Learn more at www.blackcatdc.com.

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

Photo: www.dawestheband.com

Folk Rockers Dawes Come to Wolf Trap

Dawes has spent nine years perfecting the art of the soaring folk-rock singalong. With an impressive six albums in tow, the band is hitting the road this summer with a stop at Wolf Trap on August 24. We caught up with guitarist and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith on their new record, being compared to your heroes and what to expect from Dawes at their live show.

On Tap: Your sixth studio album Passwords was released on June 22. Can you tell me more about some of the themes and inspirations on this album?
Taylor Goldsmith: I think for anyone who works in any creative field – whether you’re a painter, writer or musician – the work that you do tends to reflect the however many years of your life have passed since you put out something else. Right now, we live in this interesting moment. Through politics, culture divides and technology, things are changing very fast and I think [those things] are constantly in the conversation and constantly on our minds. I felt like I needed to explore that in order for me to feel honest as a songwriter. If I’m trying to show people what’s been on my mind, I’ve got to talk about that stuff. Meanwhile, I was getting engaged and falling in love and so there’s a lot of that as well. But beyond that I feel like this album is the relationship between those two ideas: how my worldview and how my concerns for the future and more broad sense of fear are handled through the concept of falling in love.

OT: How did the process of writing and recording Passwords differ from your previous records?
TG:
We went back to working with our first producer who made our first two records, so that was really exciting. It required us to go into the studio a lot earlier than we planned, which meant some of us going in without knowing all the material. I feel like [that’s] true to a lot of music that we love. When we listen to certain Neil Young or Bob Dylan records, there’s always this sense of urgency – this sort of live attitude where you can tell that this group of musicians is learning the material as they’re going.

OT: Speaking of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, you are quite frequently compared to them and other similar artists. How do you feel about that?
TG:
We don’t mind them. It’s just an inevitability at this point. Anybody who is making music needs to be true to what is putting a smile on their own face or what is making them feel motivated or inspired. We’re not chasing down our heroes and trying to just do what they did, but we’re not trying to just shut our influences out. We’re going to do what comes naturally to us. With any artist, the work that they do is a hodgepodge of all of the stuff they’ve ever loved rather than us trying to like get a little heady and be like, “Well, how do we do something no one has ever done before?” I feel like that’s a pretty impossible way to approach representing yourself. I think you’ve just got to write what you write and make what you make, and hope that some sort of individuality shines through.

OT: Are you doing anything differently on this tour than you have in the past? How do you go about putting together your setlist?
TG:
With every new record, our show shifts significantly. We try to incorporate new instruments, like certain drums or keyboards. We try to bring in different ideas for certain songs so they vary from what you might hear on the record. We also try to incorporate certain productions and always try to make sure we’re showing off the new record we made. But I feel like we’re very lucky. Not all bands can say this, but we like all of our music and we like representing it – and we actually make a point to. Anybody who comes to our shows will hear songs from all six albums.

OT: I had the opportunity to see Dawes open for Bright Eyes back in 2011 at Wolf Trap. Do you have any great memories from your last visit? Are you excited to be playing the venue again?
TG:
I remember when Conor [Oberst] invited us to come onstage and sing “Road to Joy” with us. We were honored. It’s a very special place and we’re grateful to get to come back and do our own co-headlining show.

Dawes play The Filene Center at Wolf Trap on August 24 with Shovels & Rope and Joseph. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets begin at $35.

The Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1800; www.wolftrap.org

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