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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo: www.brokeroyals.com
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
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/
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 porchfestdc@gmail.com.

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

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