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Photo: Trent Johnson

DC’s Honey Delivers Diverse Rock

Four years ago, three volunteers with Girls Rock! DC considered joining musical forces and forming a band. Karen Foote, Saman Saffron and Ebony Smith went on with their busy lives but reunited a year later at the organization’s afterparty to discuss the band. A mutual friend offered up a basement practice space, and the musicians who had long admired each other’s abilities from afar officially created Honey.

“It was kind of amazing,” says Foote, who plays guitar. “I think we were all on the dance floor at one point and the three of us were dancing and we were like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do this band thing.’”

Foote and her bandmates have been playing music in some capacity for most of their lives, but Girls Rock! DC brought their talents together. The music education organization “aims to create a supportive, inclusive and creative space for girls and non-binary and trans youth of varying racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, identities and experiences to develop their self-confidence, build community, rise up and rock out,” per their website. And for Honey, the experience led to the creation of new music.

The band draws from their varying backgrounds, experiences and personal tastes to create a brand of indie rock that’s powerful and relatable. Although the trio only has one EP, I’m Your Best Friend, Admit It, they cover everything from dealing with the eponymous “F–kboy” to romantic relationships. And the places from which they find inspiration are as wide-ranging as their lyrical subject matter.

“I feel like we all bring such different influences,” Foote says.

Vocalist and bassist Saffron echoes that sentiment, adding, “I think it’s funny sometimes, because we’re a pretty big span of ages and upbringings, but sometimes someone will start playing a song as a joke in band practice and we’re like, ‘Yeah. That’s awesome. Blink-182. When are we going to cover that?’”

Drummer Ebony Smith agrees.

“I think what really works well for us is that we just have different backgrounds and genres that we bring in and blend together. We can put them together and it just ends up being really cool. It’s something I really appreciate and enjoy.”

Outside of their time in Honey, the group’s daily work lives vary greatly. Foote is a videographer, Saffron works in nonprofit programming and Smith for an engineering firm. Busy schedules don’t keep them from their work in the band, though, and they emphasize the importance of taking time to nurture creative work outside of their professional lives.

“It can be challenging but rewarding to explore that creative outlet,” Smith says. “We all love music and we love what we do. But I think sometimes when people think about forming bands, they don’t think about the back end. It’s not just going out and playing music and partying and stuff like that. It takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. You have to think of everything that’s included in playing music with your friends.”

For Saffron, she’s found the right balance by treating band time as non-negotiable.

“Being like, ‘Well, [on] Tuesday night, this is what I’m doing,’” she says. “And also, voice memos are my best friend. With a couple of our songs, it’s been like, ‘Oh, I’m in the bathroom. I have a line idea. I’m just going to sing it right now into my phone. I’m going to put it away six months later. I need a bridge for this song that we’re working on. This will go well here.”’

Honey has had some memorable experiences throughout the time they’ve been together. Foote recalls playing the Black Cat’s anniversary show last year – a show she describes as one of the shortest they’ve played but one of the best, nonetheless. They also brushed elbows with the legendary Ted Leo while tuning in the back room as he was looking for a place to meditate.

“We were tuning [in the] dressing room and Ted Leo came in,” Saffron adds.

Foote continues, saying he was looking for a quiet space in the backstage area.

“He was like, ‘Hey, do you mind if I come in [and] sit here for a little bit?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ But I think we were still too disruptive, so he left. And I had not yet been like, ‘Hi, I’m Karen.’”

Saffron laughs.

“We were like, ‘Wait, did we just strong-arm Ted Leo?’”

“But then we got to talk to him later and he was so nice,” Foote says. “That was my favorite.”

The band recalls the support they’ve received from their EP release show and the Girls Rock! DC community overall.

“Every experience that we’ve had has been someone who’s a few degrees of separation from Girls Rock! DC,” Saffron says. “Obviously, having been around for more than 10 years, it’s a big community.”

The band’s personal experiences speak to the necessity of the organization’s existence. The musicians lead by example, but hope the future looks different for up-and-coming musicians.

“It’s so rare that we play with a band that’s all girls, or trans folks or gender-expansive folks,” Saffron continues. “So often we’d show up and we’re like, ‘Hello, lineup of all dudes. Hello, lineup of predominantly white folks. Nice to see you.’ I don’t want young people to feel like they have to be perfect. I don’t want them to feel like they have to be experts in order to do something. People who see themselves reflected all the time are treated as individuals all the time.”

Foote concurs.

“I definitely feel that shows – especially because we are an all-female band. It’s like, ‘Oh, we have to super nail this’ or people are going to be like, ‘Look at this all-women band!’”

Saffron concludes with, “I would love for music programs like Girls Rock! DC to not even be necessary; for them to just be fun rather than being something that needs to happen, politically speaking.”

Honey plays Slash Run on Monday, July 22. For more information on Honey and to listen to their EP I‘m Your Best Friend, Admit It, visit www.honeymusicdc.bandcamp.com. Visit www.slashrun.com for more on the show.

Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; 202-838-9929; www.slashrun.com

Dwell // Photo: courtesy of Sofar Sounds

Sounds of the City: Outside the Music Box

Whether it’s go-go blasting from a street corner shop or jazz drifting up from a suburban basement, the energy of the creative spaces where music is produced sets the rhythm and determines the pulse that a city can become known for.

DC’s sound has shifted in waves over the decades, largely because the spaces where music is being made are continuously evolving. While the doors of most of the great jazz clubs that once lined U Street have closed and the back rooms and basements of punkdom are harder to come by, in 2019 there are more opportunities to hear live music than there have been in years. But it’s not necessarily the newly opened, traditional-style concert venues that are leaving their mark.

The emergence of brick-and-mortar spaces cared for by artist collectives – more intentional than DIY houses and more accessible than corporate clubs – are the places where the sounds of DC are generated today. And that sound is inextricable from an ethos of community participation in shared experience.

Rhizome DC takes physical shape in an early 20th-century house sitting just on the DC side of Takoma Park. Its founders established what is now a thriving 501(c)(3) after Pyramid Atlantic Art Center moved to Hyattsville and left a hole in the local arts community. The house draws its namesake from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s concept: “Unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature.” That is, the space is built for multitudes of connections.

“Our main goal is to have lots of different things happening at the same time and nourish each other,” says Michael Smith-Welch, a member of the collective that keeps Rhizome running. “That’s what makes it exciting.”

The whiteboard schedule hanging in the kitchen marks events and shows every day and night of the month. As far as music goes, that means everything from jazz to experimental rock. In its first year, 600 acts came through the doors. Rhizome recently hosted the third annual installation of the Seventh Stanine Festival, a compilation of local musicians and accomplices like funk rockers Beauty Pill and instrumental ensemble Tone.

“A lot of those acts can’t play at the bigger places and it’s what we like: experimental,” Smith-Welch continues.

Rhizome is like a breathing machine – even the bathroom is converted into one big musical instrument. Strum any surface and the room emits an electronic feedback buzz in varying tones. It is also malleable to the needs of its community.

Beyond music, Rhizome offers workshops on fermentation, film and electronics, yoga classes, and an art lab for teens. While no one lives in the house, it does occasionally play host to resident artists, like the group of women who applied for a grant to have space to create while navigating new motherhood. An exhibition currently on display throughout the house is an installation of works from the Justice Arts Coalition, an organization that supports and sponsors incarcerated artists.

Across the city in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast DC, a back-alley carriage house is home to Dwell, an “off-grid creative space.” Like Rhizome, Dwell started as an alternative venue for local music when many others were shuttering doors or moving locations. And while it still caters largely to musicians, Dwell too has expanded with the energy of its community.

With no official address and printed maps given to event hosts for distributing to attendees, organizer Hannah Bernhardt says people are already jazzed when they arrive for the first time because they’ve had to interact with the neighborhood in a way they’re not used to just to find the space. Once they do, there is more whimsy in navigating the space itself.

“You get to journey through all of the levels of what happens here,” Bernhardt says. “On the first floor, there is a garage and a boat and evidence of woodworking projects [not to mention a pool table from Black Cat’s renovation days], and you go to the second floor and there’s music happening and the lights are flickering, and then you go up to the roof where there is a garden and a fishpond.”

The fishpond is a cistern of collected water used for the rooftop garden, a gathering spot for people to socialize between musical sets. It was all built out by hand by volunteer members in the community.

Dwell’s programming is managed by Bernhardt and Holly Herzfeld, childhood friends who grew up in the area. They strive to create a space that is welcoming for both the musicians who frequent and anyone who happens to find their way into Dwell.

“There’s a sensitivity and an openness that happens that’s really amazing,” Bernhardt says. “I often hear people say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, but it feels like home.’”

Her father David Bernhardt, who owns the physical building, adds, “People who return over a number of visits have a deeper, richer understanding of what’s going on.”

Someone who comes for a show with friends might return alone for a yoga class. This past May’s Dyke Fest drew hundreds of first-timers and familiars alike.

“We are trying to guide the way that space interacts with people,” Bernhardt’s father continues, “to value all the individual groups, tribes and circles that is the Venn diagram of our city and then bring them together. And this becomes Dwell. It’s especially important while Washington is changing again, and so dramatically, that we can set the tone for what is the culture [and] the music in the city and the vibe.”

Hole in the Sky (HITS) DC is another artist collective that congregates in an off-the-beaten-path performance and studio space. Unlike Rhizome and Dwell, however, HITS’ mission is a little more geared toward the needs of artists rather than visitors.

Though iterations of HITS have existed for about a decade, the collective’s current form really began to take shape about five years ago when a few artists set up studio space in the lofted building on the edge of Brookland that actually feels like a literal hole – not in the wall, but in the sky.

Annmarie Dinan Hansen is one of the lead organizers at HITS, which she describes as a “very fluid space,” one given to the “wants of those who are invested most in it” – a.k.a., those paying for the lease on the building. For Hansen, who has a punk background, that means a focus on punk music and “facilitating art forms that are underrepresented performance-wise.”

“We’re constantly navigating what it can and should be,” Hansen says.

That navigation hasn’t come without its challenges.

“There was a time when it had a reputation as not a particularly safe space for women,” notes Hansen, a vibe she hopes is changing. “We’ve been having a lot of events.”

HITS hosts a variety of collaborative gatherings, exhibitions for juried art shows, and other collectives and individuals in need of space to make, display and be inspired by art.

Conner Casey, a woodworker, folk musician and current HITS member, says that in addition to performance, the space is crucial for working artists.

“[This] can’t even exist as anything other than DIY,” he says. “It needs to be used as an arts space.”

Despite the enthusiasm of the communities that they build and serve, the “out-of-the-box” and “under-the-radar” nature of spaces like Rhizome, Dwell and HITS does not make them immune to developers’ dreams. Rhizome’s landlords, for example, own the Starbucks down the street and have visions of condos replacing the rickety white house on the hill.

But one thing is certain: DC needs these spaces. In them, music is binding force and a natural backdrop to the multitudes of expression that they foster. The subtle undertone of the sound they release seems to be: our city’s arms are open…come create with us.

Dwell: alley behind the 1200 block of Florida  Avenue in NE, DC (between Montello and  Trinidad Streets); www.dwelldc.info
Hole in the Sky DC: 2110 5th St. Unit 2, NE, DC; www.holeintheskydc.com
Rhizome DC: 6950 Maple St. NW, DC; www.rhizomedc.org


Support the Scene

A slew of small “official” venues around town also give lots of love to local bands. You can stumble into one of the following spots on pretty much any night of the week and likely catch an up-and-coming musical act.

Comet Ping Pong
Comet has been serving pizza and wicked backhands since 2006. It has also hosted thousands of live shows. Don’t miss local faves Park Snakes on July 15. 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

Dew Drop Inn
Dew Drop is the hippest little train track hideaway in town. They just celebrated their fourth anniversary with a whiskey fountain and free hot dog bar. Don’t miss the triple threat of Lightmare, Dot.s (ATL) and Erotic Thrillers on July 11. 2801 8th St. NE, DC; www.dewdropinndc.com

Marx Café
If you dig jazz, blues, DJs and the Revolution, get your Commie ass to Mt. P’s Marx Cafe. 3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.marxcafemtp.com

Pie Shop
The folks running Pie Shop are local musicians themselves, so they know what’s up. Plus, you can order sweet and savory pies from Dangerously Delicious downstairs and enjoy the rooftop patio between sets. 1339 H St. NE, DC; www.pieshopdc.com

The Pinch
14th Street feeling a little too posh these days? Head to the Pinch, go down to the basement lounge and revel in a good, old-fashioned punk show. 3548 14th St. NW, DC; www.thepinchdc.com

Slash Run
Named “best neighborhood joint” in 2018, their slogan kind of says it all: beer, burgers, rock ‘n’ roll. 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com

Photo: Kara Donnelly

DC’s Bacchae on the Expansiveness of Punk

I think it’s time this asshole knew // I do not exist for you

These two lines from Bacchae’s song “Read” perfectly capture the DC punk band’s ethos. Whether it’s calling out toxic masculinity on this track from their 2018 self-titled EP or wrestling with not meeting societal expectations of adult success on their new single “Everything Ugly” – both recorded on Philly-based Get Better Records – they’re direct, they’re fierce and they’re not taking any shit.

I quickly learn this over a heaping plate of nachos with Bacchae (pronounced “Bock-Eye”) at Wicked Bloom, post-practice at neighboring 7DrumCity, and just around the corner from where three of the four musicians live together. I also learn that they’re insightful and quirky and full of self-deprecating charm (the best kind, really), and take the messages behind their music quite seriously.

Eileen O’Grady (drums) tells me about a work trip where she traveled solo and not once but twice was trapped into conversation with middle-aged men while just trying to read her book in peace. The second encounter escalated to the point that she had to literally duck behind a barrier and hide from the guy because he came back to the bar looking for her. She sent Katie McD (vocals, keyboard) a lengthy email about the experience and suggested they write a song about it. McD was game.

“Read” resonated with Rena Hagins (bass, vocals) too; she’s introduced the song to audiences on several occasions as being about “dusty ass motherf–kers who won’t leave us alone.”

“I feel like ‘I do not exist for you’ fully encompassed everything we were feeling,” the bassist says. “We’re sitting out here just living our lives trying to simply exist and you think this requires you to be in our space and talk to us, but we’re not welcoming that.”

But the band’s candor doesn’t stop there. We dig into the inspiration behind the May release “Everything Ugly,” speaking openly about how it feels like you can’t win no matter what when it comes to checking off the obligatory boxes of where we should be in life by a certain age.

“I feel like people more and more live outside of established life paths but still feel pressure to adhere to them,” Andrew Breiner (guitar) posits. “Whatever the options, you’re kind of expected to do all of them. You should have the family and the career and also be a bohemian that’s unmarried and living free – all incompatible things that you’re expected to do but all at once. That’s impossible.”

O’Grady views the new track as universal, speaking to different levels of the collective feeling of being lost in a sea of how you’re not measuring up – relationships, home ownership, stable job, you name it.

“I feel like the song can mean many different things to many people, but the thing that ties it all together is not being able to live up to this expectation of what adult success and stability should look like,” she says.

Hagins gets visibly choked up when we wax philosophical about the song’s meaning, speaking in earnest about how much she loves the relatability of the lyrics and McD’s distinctive pipes on the track. McD, who writes the bulk of Bacchae’s songs, says she drew from the complaints of our generation as she penned the track about being depressed and feeling isolated.

“I think we feel [societal pressures] more so as women,” she says. “We’re pulled in all these different directions and we can never be good enough in every single arena or even just good enough in one arena. I feel like you don’t have to do that when you play punk rock.”

Bacchae embraces the label of punk, but McD is quick to clarify that the genre isn’t confined by a set of musical rules.

“[Punk] doesn’t have to sound a certain way because it’s more tied to ideology and attitude than to a certain sound.”

O’Grady responds in kind, noting that punk is expansive.

“There’s a lot of room within punk to be whoever you want to be, and I think that’s part of what punk is.”

Even the band’s name is directly connected to the core meaning of what it means to them to be punk. Breiner points out that Bacchae were the followers of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and agriculture, and known for making a ruckus in their worship, “which is very fitting for a punk band.” O’Grady gets a little more academic, citing Anne Carson’s queer, feminist translation of Euriphides’ Greek tragedy Bakkhai that embraces playing with gender and “ripping some guy’s head off.”

When you narrow the scope of punk to its sonic components, Hagins says there’s such a range of different styles that can be listed under that umbrella.

“Although we might not traditionally fit with somebody’s thought and vision and aesthetic of what punk is, it still works.”

Though the band has some shared influences (Screaming Females and Pixies chief among them), they pride themselves on having an eclectic sonic palette and drawing from different styles.

“I think that’s what defines us,” O’Grady says.

Breiner is quick to respond with, “Yeah, it’s our best thing, I think.”

Though Bacchae’s toured outside of the District since forming in 2016, the bandmates have strong roots in the nation’s capital. Not only do three of the four hail from MoCo, they all emphasize how supported they feel by the DC music community.

“We’re lucky to be a DC band for sure,” Hagins says. “I went to a lot of punk and hardcore shows growing up and I’ve seen a shift in terms of the diversity onstage. There’s a lot more women, queer people, nonbinary people – just a variety of different people on the stage instead of just white males that typically take up the space in those scenes. It’s a lot more enjoyable because you don’t feel as othered in DC. There’s a lot more people you can connect to that are there in the crowd and also playing music and just representing who you are.” 

The bandmates mention that part of their association with the local punk scene directly correlates with how many hardcore shows they’ve been asked to play, so they’ve “ended up feeling like that’s our group of people,” according to Breiner.

He mentions that the punks are the ones often putting on the house shows, which help keep the DIY music scene alive in the District. But as the noise complaints continue to roll in and accessible, affordable shows held in music lovers’ homes seem to be on the decline, the musicians advocate for DC’s other options: smaller venues like Black Cat (they’re still mourning the closing of the backstage, as am I) and Comet Ping Pong (the host of their next local show on July 8) and scrappy creative spaces like Rhizome and Dwell.

They’re also energized by the talent of their peers, rattling off a long list of local artists they are smitten with including Ex Hex, Bat Fangs, Mock Identity, Bad Moves, Homosuperior and most mid-2000s bands on DC-based punk label Dischord Records.

But the gravitational pull to the District seems to extend beyond Bacchae to the band’s day jobs, ranging from digital healthcare and professional writing to strategic research for a labor union. Oh, and McD’s gig as a part-time beekeeper. While playing music full-time might be the dream, they each seem connected to their professions in meaningful ways.

Beyond the daily grind, they can be found exploring some combination of the National Arboretum, Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, and Hirshhorn, indulging in authentic Vietnamese nosh at Falls Church’s Eden Center, or hanging out with their cats (three felines total are connected to the band). And the four friends don’t seem to get sick of each other either; they catch shows and meals together regularly.

 “There’s a whole conspiracy theory that we’re the same person,” Hagins says.

“A lot of people in our music community scene have commented on the fact that we travel in a pack,” O’Grady says, before ending her thought with earnest laughter. “We just like to hang out. It’s not weird.”

Catch Bacchae at Comet Ping Pong on Monday, July 8 at 9 p.m. with Potty Mouth and Colleen Green; tickets are $12. And stay tuned for their new album this fall, as they’re set to record on Get Better Records in September. Learn more about the band at www.bacchae.bandcamp.com and follow them on social media at @bacchaeband.

Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-364-0404; www.cometpingpong.com

Clones of Clones Return With New Single “Mine”

Almost exactly a year to the day from their release of the This Means War EP, DC-based indie rockers Clones of Clones are back with a new song called “Mine.” It kicks off their campaign toward the release of a new album, and they’ll release more singles as the band works toward finding the perfect timing to grace listeners with new material in full. In the meantime, let the magnificent new track and our conversation with singer and guitarist Ben Payes tide you over ’til you undoubtedly hear more from this band on the rise.

On Tap: Start by telling us about this new song. You mentioned it’s going to be part of an upcoming album. Why did you end up choosing this as the first single?
Ben Payes: Prior to this album, if a song didn’t work in practice or in a live session, we would send it to song purgatory.  I think we tried to arrange “Mine” in a practice session three or four years ago, but it wasn’t doing anything for us. Many times, if a song gets tossed to the side, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. In fact, we loved the melody and rhythm of this track. We just couldn’t get it to sound good in a live setting.      

Occasionally, I go through my hard drive and listen to old songs or demos. When I listened to the demo again after not hearing it for years, I felt that instant rush of endorphins you get after hearing a new song you like. The playful melody, big electronic drums, strange detuned vocals and a slightly-out-of-sync arpeggiated synth pulled me back in.

OT: What was the process of bringing it back into the limelight?

BP: I brought it to the band and we decided to arrange the track in the studio instead of in practice. This was a new process for us and I think it worked really well. In fact, we liked the process so much that we arranged and wrote a handful of album tracks in the studio. We do all our recording in a home studio these days, so we have the luxury of writing and arranging while recording without incurring crazy pro studio costs.

We picked “Mine” for the first single simply because we really like the song and wanted to share it with everyone as soon as we finished it. It was fun to create, we finished it fairly quickly, so it never felt stale to us, and we think people will connect with it.


OT: Tell us more about the timing of your upcoming album.
BP: We plan on releasing one single every month until we feel like the timing is right to drop the album. Could be three singles, could be eight. We want to give every song a chance to get some ears on it. With previous large releases, a handful of songs just don’t get the same audience as the lead singles. The streaming services seem to be pushing artists toward single releases too. We’re happy to oblige because it allows us to string the marketing period out and build a bigger audience in the process.

OT: Are there any major themes, musically or lyrically?

BP: We’ve never really been into overarching themes for records. I think that requires a lot of planning, awareness and intention and that’s just not really our thing. We write songs that we’re into and make us feel good and we hope it vibes with others.   

OT: Did writing or recording this album differ in any way from your past work?

BP: Every album we’ve made says a little bit about what we feel and what we’re into in the time of that record. That situation probably sets up some sonic themes. I’ve been listening to The Beatles’ White Album a lot lately and I’m really into the concept of nonconforming arrangements. We’ve always treated every song like it could be the one that propels us to the next level. In order to do that, we had to write and arrange in a box; everything had to sound and feel like a pop single. Don’t get me wrong, we really enjoy pop arrangements and I think that’s a huge reason why we stuck with them for so long and why we continue to write them.

We operated a little more outside of that box on this album. There are a couple ditties, some strange interludes and we used sounds we’ve never used before. It still sounds like us, but maybe a more liberated and fun us.

OT: How has the DC music scene supported you over the years? Do you feel it’s changed at all?
BP: Three out of four of us grew up in the DMV, so we have a lot of roots here, we definitely feel a special connection to the city. Brian and I currently live in the city. There’s too much to say about DC and the evolution of its art culture since we became involved in the local scene. I think our first show was at the Red and the Black on H street over 10 years ago. Clubs, bands and even some of our band members have come and gone since then. It’s been fun to see the scene change over the years.

OT: What is the best thing about being part of this community?

BP: The best thing about the scene is the people. If people are at a local show, whether it’s listeners, club engineers and employees, or musicians, they want to feel a part of this DC arts community, for better or for worse. It’s not the easiest scene to get into or remain a part of, especially because of how transient the city is, but I think that makes the community bonds even stronger. We’ve made great friends over the years with like-minded artists. It’s nice to have that support group when you’re going through the creative process; the lows can be as low as the highs are high, and it’s nice to have fellow musicians to share those experiences with and to help you stay centered.

OT: What do you all look forward to most with the release of new music?
BP: We’re mostly excited to see how people react to the music. For people that have heard our stuff before, we hope “Mine” will be a welcomed change. For people who have never heard of us, we hope to make new fans with the song and the upcoming releases. We’re also still trying to figure out the most effective way to release music for us in the streaming age. So I think the next few single releases and the album will give us plenty of opportunities to see what works best.

OT: Any upcoming tour dates planned?
BP: No upcoming tour dates at the moment, but stay tuned.

Listen to “Mine” by Clones of Clones here. For more on the band, visit clonesofclones.bandcamp.com.

Ex Hex (left to right) // Mary Timony, Laura Harris, Betsy Wright, Photo: Michael Lavine

DC Rock Royalty Mary Timony Talks Music, New and Old

DC native and multi-talented musician Mary Timony is everywhere. The Friday before I was scheduled to chat with her, I found myself at comedian and musician Fred Armisen’s Lincoln Theatre show. And so did Timony – onstage with Armisen, performing an absurdly funny sketch about overbearing drummers and mean bandmates.

“Fred’s a friend from the music world and […] I play in a band with Carrie [Brownstein] who does Portlandia with him, so it’s all connected,” she says. “So many of my friends were on the tour. They were like, ‘Come on down!’ I had no idea Fred would be inviting me to come onstage until I got there, but it was fun.”

Aside from her one-night-only contribution to the comedy world, she’s recently lent her talents to local band Hammered Hulls. Popping up at local shows in venues like Black Cat and Comet Ping Pong, Timony graces the stage with Chris Wilson (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Titus Andronicus), Alec MacKaye (Faith, Ignition, The Warmers) and Mark Cisernos (Des Demonas, Deathfix, Medication) as part of the DC supergroup.

“It’s pretty fun to play in [Hammered Hulls],” she says of its impressive roster. “I’ve always loved Alec’s stuff. I was really into his band Ignition and saw them play all the time when I was a teenager. I love Chris [and] Mark’s playing. Mark was basically trying to start a new project and it just happened. Mark is the songwriter and I’m playing bass, which is fun because I don’t do that normally.”

Timony can usually be found playing guitar in bands like Ex Hex, who just announced a new album, It’s Real, out later this month. She and bandmates Betsy Wright and Laura Harris were busy with their individual musical pursuits between their debut album and the upcoming record, and the break saw Timony’s band Helium reissuing and touring their material. But Timony says that crafting another Ex Hex record was always everyone’s main priority.

“We were just trying to get enough songs together to make it happen. It took awhile because we toured forever, but it was really fun to do other stuff like the Helium reissues. We toured too much and were a little burnt out and just needed to regenerate or whatever. Once we started going, it was a really exciting thing to put together.”

The balancing act of playing in multiple bands sounds like enough to keep one person perennially busy, but Timony finds time for another passion: teaching music. While she says she’s scaled back in the wake of her touring life picking up again – “I’m going to miss my students while I’m gone, but hopefully they’ll be okay” she laments with a laugh – she still has a handful of students under her tutelage that she guides into similar musical greatness. She even taught a few lessons to Maryland’s Lindsey Jordan, perhaps better known as Snail Mail, before Jordan broke out into the indie rock scene in a big way.

“I went to one of the first shows she played and I was like, ‘Whoa, she’s just so alive and mature beyond her years,’” Timony affectionately recalls of Jordan. “She has a real natural charisma and talent, so it’s been cool and totally crazy to watch. It was like a tornado. I’m really happy for her. It’s so exciting.”

While Timony herself certainly has a hand in shaping the world of DC music, whether it be through teaching, playing or joining forces with some of the city’s finest musical talents, she notes her excitement around the recent resurgence of rock bands in the District. She lived in Boston for a bit, but got her start in the DC-based, Dischord Records-signed band Autoclave. She recalls how when she returned home the scene had quieted down a bit, but much to her happiness it’s picked back up at full speed.

“It’s mostly kids in their 20s and the whole Sister Polygon label and everyone surrounding that. It’s really nice that it’s happening now. I’m glad that there’s creativity happening and people are putting out their own records and making all these cool shows happens.”

She adds with a laugh, “Although I’m like pretty old and never leave my house, so.”

On the contrary, Timony and her talented bandmates in Ex Hex hit the road in support of It’s Real next month, including a stop at 9:30 Club on Friday, May 10. For more on Ex Hex, visit www.mergerecords.com/ex-hex.

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

Photo: Julia Lofstrand

Pie Shop Returns to Rock ‘N’ Roll Roots

You may recognize Dangerously Delicious Pies from their aptly named operation spanning pie sales in food trucks, coffee shops, and their brick-and-mortar H Street outpost. While the pies themselves are now fully part of the fabric of the DC fast-casual scene, the shop expanded into something else last summer: a full-fledged music venue, affectionately named the Pie Shop. On the surface, this might seem like an odd pairing, but co-owner Sandra Basanti says the dual-purpose digs were always part of the master plan.

“The pie and rock ‘n’ roll thing isn’t a schtick,” Basanti says. “A lot of musicians do work here, and it is ingrained in the business. Last year, we opened the bar and music venue on the second floor, which used to be my apartment. It’s kind of come full circle.”

Although Dangerously Delicious Pies as the DC area knows it has been in its current form for a decade, the pies and the music have been important parts of the owners’ lives for much longer.

“The whole concept came about from the Glenmont Popes, the band my husband [co-owner Stephen McKeever] and [founder] Rodney Henry are in,” Basanti continues. “They’ve been touring for many years, and Rodney grew up baking pies in Indiana. He would spend summers with his grandmother there, and so a lot of our recipes are her recipes. He had it in him – he was just raised on pie.”

The trio opened the shop in 2009 – Basanti manned front of house, her husband ran the kitchen and Henry lent his passion for pies to the shop. She fondly refers to McKeever and Henry as the “brains and the brawn” behind the operation; they’d often sell pie at merch tables or trade the treats for a couch to crash on while on tour with their band.

“One day, [Henry] thought if rock ‘n’ roll isn’t paying the bills, which we know it doesn’t for a lot of musicians, then maybe pie will pay for rock ‘n’ roll,” she explains. “And it has – the Glenmont Popes are still going strong.”

In fact, Basanti and the band had just returned from playing shows in Ireland the day before we chatted about the group’s new ventures. And it was pies that brought them back to the apartment-turned-bar and venue that now boasts live music alongside top-notch food and a refreshingly unpretentious beer and drink menu.

While opening the venue was always part of the pie and rock ‘n’ roll business plan, Basanti and company took their time to open it. As musicians who’ve been part of the local scene for many years, the trio wanted to get things right and fill a void in the realm of DC live music.

“There’s a lot of these big, beautiful clubs opening up, which is amazing, but they mostly cater to touring bands and acts that have kind of already made it,” Basanti says as she describes the ethos that drives Pie Shop. “To offer a room that is also beautiful and has excellent acoustics – and to treat the smaller bands who are on the up and up with the same respect as a super famous band – is our goal. I didn’t want to be a basement, taped-together place where bands could just play. I wanted it to be a room that gives these artists justice. We put a lot of time, effort and thought into how it’s laid out.”

Dennis Manuel is Pie Shop’s sound engineer, with help from Melina Afzal. Manuel even helped design the venue, and hand-selected the space’s equipment. The stage boasts a full backline of equipment, and prides itself on the high-quality sound it can provide smaller local bands and touring acts.

The spot also accommodates comedy shows, literary workshops and burlesque shows, among other eclectic events supporting the local creative community. Basanti started out booking Pie Shop shows on her own but is now assisted by Jon Weiss of Union Stage and Babe City Records; the two consistently collaborate on what bands are the best fit for the team’s vision for the venue.

“We want to offer that smaller room for bands who are on their way up – to have that space to build a following, especially with local bands, which has been a lot of our focus,” she says. “It took us a while because we didn’t have the money, and we wanted to do it right. We try to treat all the artists with lots of respect and offer them top-notch hospitality.”

All of that and a dazzling array of delectable pies is sure to satisfy the appetite of local music lovers and foodies alike for years to come. Follow Pie Shop on social media @dangerouspiesdc to learn about upcoming shows.

Pie Shop Bar: 1339 H St. NE, DC; 202-398-7437; www.dangerouspiesdc.com

Photos: Lauren Melanie Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

den-mate.4

Photo: www.brokeroyals.com

Rock Music with a Brain: Broke Royals

“He was building a studio and knew I was performing at coffee shops on campus, and he asked me to come in and work on some songs.”

Philip Basnight tells me this on a three-way call with the “he” he’s referring to: Colin Cross. The William & Mary alums came together to form the band Broke Royals during their collegiate years. The Virginia outfit has nothing to do with May’s British royal wedding, and no, we’re not writing a story about them to capitalize on the likely spiking SEO results from folks searching the term “royal” either.

We’re writing about these two fellas because, like a marriage between two overwhelmingly famous people, their union is working. Only instead of producing Instagrammable photos and fashion hot takes, they’re creating local pop music.

“We have a lot of respect for each other,” Cross says. “We come at it from different angles. I come at it with experience and technical knowledge, and he has a nuanced musical knowledge. We’re always willing to try different things.”

Basnight got his start in music on the piano because his dad was the de facto music teacher for his neighborhood. The Broke Royals vocalist tells me he was easily the worst piano student his father had. A love of guitar came shortly after, and so did a reputation as the “music guy” at his high school.

“I didn’t know how to talk about sports or anything like that,” Basnight says. “Anytime I met new people, I would try to shift the conversation toward music. Even if people don’t consider themselves music lovers, there’s always something under the surface, whether it’s nostalgia or just a fleeting feeling.”

Basnight discovered a kindred spirit in Cross. Before the two met, Cross had already lived the life of a touring musician, traversing the Midwest in a pop punk band. Though he enjoyed performing, he wanted to switch his focus to production.

“I settled down and moved out here to finish school,” Cross says. “I learned a lot about studio work and had seen the workflow from a musician’s perspective, and I leaned toward that process. That’s when we started working together on technical stuff.”

By 2014, Cross had set up a studio and figured he’d need some demos to tout his production talents, so he enlisted fellow student Basnight. After recording a few songs, their chemistry and similar musical sensibilities were undeniable. The latter revolved around an adoration for pop and rock music, including stalwarts like David Bowie, Prince, Spoon and Wilco.

Over the past four years, Cross and Basnight have continued to concoct songs while establishing a consistent aesthetic.
In photos, you’ll find the bandmates both dressed in white dress shirts tucked in neatly under black vests. Their music is sultry and smooth, sonically gathering from a multitude of influences and instrumentations.

“I think it’s really natural,” Basnight says. “We use Apple Music so we can see what the other is listening to. We want to use all the sounds that are exciting to us. We’re not trying to find weird things. These are the sonic influences we have in our day-to-day lives, and that’s what is exciting for us. It’s a fun guessing game to see where certain aspects come from. I think everything we do is an amalgamation of what we love.”

Because of their shared palates, they give each other the freedom to throw in any and everything they want to try before they strip away what doesn’t work. Last year, the duo released their first full-length LP, a self-titled work that seamlessly incorporated Basnight’s easygoing vocals and Cross’s production know-how. The two recorded the album in one short burst, tucked away in an upstate New York cabin.

“I wouldn’t call it closure, because when you get your album out is when the work starts,” Basnight says.

With music videos, singles and shows galore, the album only served to spark a chaotic season for Broke Royals, and the two seem to relish in this busy space.

“In the interim, we’re writing a ton of music,” Basnight says. “We are definitely in a recording period again.”

But don’t fret, they’re still playing live. Catch the band at AdMo’s Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House on June 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. For more information on Broke Royals, visit www.brokeroyals.com.

Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917; www.songbyrddc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Bottled Up

Bottled Up’s Niko Rao Removes the Lid

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

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

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

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

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

A DMV Collective

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

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

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

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

The Constant of Music

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

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

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

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

A Repackaged Bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/

East of the River for the First Time: Porchfest Music Festival Comes to Southeast

Porchfest Music Festival is coming to Southeast DC for the very first time.

Penn Branch resident and SE Porchfest volunteer organizer Ayanna Smith announced earlier this month that May 20 will mark the first Porchfest to be held east of the Anacostia river.

Porchfest consists of mini concerts held on front porches. This structure allows attendees to walk freely from house to house, listen to local talent and meet people from the neighborhood. In the past, local business improvement districts hosted Porchfest, including an event this April on Rhode Island Avenue. This time around, the event is entirely organized by volunteers.

“I chose to focus in the community where I have relationships,” Smith says. “Penn Branch and Hillcrest have beautiful stately homes with front yards and large porches, mixed with a rich history and tons of hidden talent. We have all of the elements of a perfect Porchfest.”

The very first Porchfest was organized by founder Lesley Greene and took place in Ithaca, NY. Greene came up with the idea while sitting out on her front porch playing music and chatting with a neighbor. The event has spread far beyond Ithaca and even DC, with yearly fests taking place in over 100 locations.

“It was one of the first warm days of the year, and my husband and I sat on our front steps, soaked up the sunshine, and played some ukulele tunes,” she says. “We realized that there were so many musicians living right in our neighborhood that we could practically have a music festival with just the people who live nearby. We gave it the name Porchfest that day.”

They’ve been gaining popularity ever since: past Porchfests have drawn crowds ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 people. Greene says the community setting opens the door for the wide variety of bands that play these festivals.

“It would be very difficult to have anything like the number of bands that perform at Porchfest if it were held at a concert venue,” she says. “We would not only need a lot of time, but a huge staff. Every band sets up for themselves, and because they are spread out over a relatively large area, many bands can play at the same time.”

Musician Rasha Jay will play the festival, and plans to perform songs from her first EP, Cicada, and possibly some new material.

“I grew up with a porch, and there is nothing more intimate than that setting,” she says. “I look forward to being close up with people and sharing my sound.”

Emily Woodhull and Jeff Blake, two members of EBW Music, cover songs that speak to them on a personal level.

“We play covers of songs that reflect who we are,” Blake says. This includes a repertoire of alternative rock and well-known hits like “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer and “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Though they don’t have original songs ready just yet, they’re on the way.

“We are in the process of perfecting a few and they may very well be show ready in time for Porchfest,” he assures.

Smith says planning a Porchfest without the aid of a business improvement district is a real challenge, but still necessary and worth it.

“There’s a negative stigma associated with living east of the river in DC that is based partially on stereotypes,” she says. “In hosting the first SE Porchfest, I’m hoping to showcase the beauty of our community.”

She envisions taking Porchfest beyond single neighborhoods, and she’s taken steps to establish Porchfest DC as a tax-exempt organization with the goal of creating a citywide festival.

SE Porchfest currently boasts over 30 volunteers, who are working hard to secure sponsorship and additional performers at the SE edition of the fest. Organizers anticipate six to eight participating host homes, with two bands playing at each porch.

“I would love to see some go-go bands join the list,” Smith says. “I love drums, I appreciate that the city has its own genre of music. It’s the sound of DC.”

As Rasha Jay puts it, “DC is and has always been innovative and unapologetic, and the city is full of talent.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can complete the volunteer sign-up form. Musicians and bands who want to participate can email [email protected].

For updates, visit Porchfest DC’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Porchfest DC – Southeast Edition: Penn Branch, SE, DC; www.facebook.com/PorchFestDC