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Photo: Amanda Demme
Photo: Amanda Demme

Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross Find A New “Home” Onstage

On “Home,” one of her first songs in a decade, veteran pop star Ashlee Simpson sings,  “this little house that I made for myself, keeps me occupied…keeps me satisfied.”

It’s a far cry from the twenty-something vocalist who triumphantly cried, “got stains on my t-shirt and I’m the biggest flirt” on the title track of her debut album Autobiography nearly 15 years ago.

However, “Home” is much closer to another couplet from that disc, featured in the soaring pre-chorus to a little, international smash hit called “Pieces of Me.”

“It seems like I can finally rest my head on something real, I like the way that feels,” the tunestated.  

That little house, that something real for Ashlee Simpson, 34, has been a loving marriage to actor and singer Evan Ross, two young children and a life out of the spotlight, at least until recently.

Simpson and Ross, the son of American music icon Diana Ross, put out a six-song EP this past October as the duo Ashlee + Evan. It’s the first new music from Simpson since she released her third album, Bittersweet World, in 2008 and the first since Ross dropped the single “How To Live Alone” in 2015.

The music on the Ashlee + Evan EP ranges from intimate, easy, breezy tunes like “Home” and “I Do,” to electrified, sultry club numbers like “Paris” and “Safe Zone.” There’s a lot of growth in these songs and a maturity to the sound, but still features elements of the winking edge and fist-pumping fun that made Simpson a household name and Ross an emcee who shares the mic with the likes of T.I. in the first place.

Both Simpson and Ross are making a long awaited return to their second home, the stage, for a run of club dates this month. Tonight they’re stopping by Union Stage at the Wharf for an intimate, energized shows. On Tap caught up with the two via email to talk about being back in the studio, and on the road, tease out a preview of the set list and see if there is any more new music down the pipe.

On Tap: So tonight will be the first time either have you performed live in front of an audience in sometime. How are you feeling? What are you thinking in the lead up?
Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross: We are so excited and can’t wait to get in front of our fans, friends and family. We’ve been working hard on our live performance so we hope everyone has as much fun as we do on stage.

OT: Ashlee – I know that a lot of your previous musiOT: Both of you have been on hiatus from the music world as you’ve been starting your new family, belated congratulations by the way, but did both of you miss performing while you were away? 

AS and ER: Definitely, it’s been so nice to be home and spend time raising our family, but performing is in our blood. We can’t wait to get out there and meet our fans.

OT: Had you been working on material in these intervening years or did your new songs come much more recently?
AS and ER: We’re always working and singing to each other. But these songs came to us pretty quickly recently. It felt so natural and fun to work together in the studio.

OT: Your EP is a mix of acoustic and produced electronic tracks. How will you be adapting them to these live spaces?
AS and ER: You’ll have to come to the show to see!

OT: Will you go for more of the sound of “I Do” and make these intimate, quiet shows or do you still want that big, electro-pop sound?

AS and ER: Our EP is definitely intimate, but we love to dance. We’re performing some old stuff and also performing some covers to keep the energy high. We want fans to sing along and forget their outside life for the hour they’re with us.c reflected a specific time and place in your life. How do those songs resonate with you now?
AS: Performing these songs now is so fun and takes me back. I was going through so much at that time, and I feel like young people have things to say and it’s really important to remember that.

OT: Do they mean something different to you now as a mother, as a performer in this new space with Evan?
AS: No, these songs were such an important part of my life then, and it’s very cool to sing them now and have my husband be a part of it.

OT: What are you most looking forward to about playing this short run of shows?
AS and ER: Being able to have fun with each other on stage, see familiar faces again and for it to inspire us for what’s to come.

OT: Where do the two of you seeing this new musical venture going: A full album, a larger tour; another tour period?
AS and ER: We’ll have more music out together soon but we’re also working on our own projects. Plus who knows which city we’ll end up in next after this run?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross‘ performance is at 8 p.m. tonight, doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information about the performance, visit here.

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

Photo: Kate Warren
Photo: Kate Warren

The Times and Travels of Odetta Hartman

Odetta Hartman describes herself as a vessel for stories, songs and sounds.

“Sometimes it feels like lightning striking, and other times, I’ll be really intentional about the poetry of it,” she tells us of her writing and recording process. “Without getting too witchy about it, I think that music is a really spiritual thing for me. I’m a superstitious person, and a fully formed song will sometimes come out of me and I’m just like, ‘Where did that come from?’”

Whether it’s some sort of musical witchcraft or simply fate, music has been embedded into the fabric of Hartman’s life for as long as she can remember. She recalls her New York City upbringing surrounded by music on the streets and exposure to avant-garde performances at her parents’ encouragement.

Hartman trained as a classical violinist and honed her self-described “nerd focus” on traditional folk music, writing a college thesis on ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s travels with author Zora Neale Hurston. Now she crafts a masterful blend of American folk and country with modern sensibilities, weaving many of her music-related memories into her songs.

When given the opportunity to move to DC, she embraced the change of scenery as a way to envelop herself in another city’s musical framework.

“I fell in love with DC really intensely, and I wasn’t expecting that,” she says. “It was an immediate crash landing into this really vibrant community. I understand that’s not most people’s experience with uprooting yourself to a new city.”

Similarly, the community embraced Hartman. She found herself collaborating with countless DC artists – Babeo Baggins and The Rob Stokes Band among them – and used the tightknit aspects of the city’s creatives to add another facet to the many things in her life she has to draw inspiration from. Jack Inslee, founder of Full Service Radio in AdMo’s LINE Hotel, provided creative direction on and produced both of her albums.

“Everyone is super supportive and really reached out and welcomed me. I know as an outsider New Yorker, I could have been just whatever, but I felt so immediately absorbed into the team. There’s a fluidity and openness that I really appreciate. In a place like New York, it’s a little more difficult to have the freedom and the space to do that, so I found it really refreshing.”

Even though her move to DC and work with the community here has been intentional, part of Hartman’s success is owed to her ability to embrace the unknown and accidental in both her creative process and music.

“A lot of it is just mistakes in the studio,” she explains, specifically of a moment on her sophomore record Old Rockhounds Never Die. “My favorite part of the record is on a song called ‘Widows Peak’ when an orchestra of strings comes in. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Jack accidentally triggered all the tracks. You can have an idea, but you have to be open to weird things happening.”

This year has seen Hartman hard at work, on tour for Old Rockhounds Never Die with bands like Let’s Eat Grandma and The Ballroom Thieves. Although she’s been exceptionally busy on the road, there’s a sense of complete joy in her voice as she explains how even a grueling schedule can give way to inspiration each night.

“Going to different markets and meeting different people is interesting [to me]. You get such a beautiful depiction of this slice of life in each town, talking to people and learning about the personality of different places.”

She pauses for a moment and ends with this.

“I don’t know if you can hear me smiling.”

Hartman plays Rock & Roll Hotel with The Ballroom Thieves on Thursday, December 6. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7 p.m. Visit www.odettahartman.com to learn more about the artist.

Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625; www.rockandrollhotelldc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Manmade Media
Photo: Courtesy of Manmade Media

DeVotchKa Dives Into New Era

It has been seven years since indie-folk rockers DeVotchKa released a new album. While a break like that is hardly unusual in the music industry, the seven-year hiatus seemed lengthy for a band that was putting out new albums – including film soundtracks – every one to two years for a decade.

Even more surprisingly, the Denver-based quartet went quiet following their major arena tour in 2012 that saw them at the peak of their popularity. Frontman Nick Urata admits that despite DeVotchKa’s accomplishments like producing the wildly popular Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, he wasn’t enjoying the band’s success as much as one might expect.

But his feelings of disconnect were not for nothing. Spurred on by feelings of detachment from his music and audience, DeVotchKa traded the big arenas for smaller, more intimate venues. It was at these smaller shows that he saw the connection the crowd had with the lyrics. This would drive Urata to take time with the band’s next album – developing the lyrics, revisiting them and letting the words drive the music.

Released in August, This Night Falls Forever marks the return of DeVotchKa – a band whose sound is bigger and whose lyrics prove more authentic than ever, but with all the signature characteristics their fans know them for. Ahead of the band’s stop at U Street Music Hall on December 12, we caught up with Urata to reminisce about the past and look ahead to what’s in store for DeVotchKa.

On Tap: How do you feel about coming up on your first album SuperMelodrama’s 20th anniversary, and playing with bandmates Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King for two decades?
Nick Urata:
Wow, well you know, pretty scary when you put it in that frame [laughs]. We released that album in the year 2000 and man, it’s been quite a journey. For us, it seems like just yesterday. But I’m actually really proud that we’ve held it together this long.

OT: Not a lot of people can say that.
NU:
No. If you’d ask me back then, I would have laughed in your face [laughs].

OT: Do you feel like the chemistry between the four of you is the same after all these years, or do you feel like you all have changed?
NU:
I think we have grown up together. And the chemistry is even better right now because we’ve been through a lot together, and so now we’re just like a family. And you know, in your family you can have massive disagreements and still get together and have dinner.

OT: What drew you and the band to the folksy, Eastern European-inspired and sometimes dark sound you all have and what keeps you going back to it?
NU:
I was always fascinated with it. I wanted to create the kind of music that I wasn’t hearing and I was able to find the same people that wanted to help me with that. We’ve always been drawn to that sort of palette – that gypsy, folk sound that we have. And in those early days of traveling around playing hostile environments, we found that really broke down barriers and connected with people.

OT: You grew up listening to that kind of music, right?
NU:
Yeah. I think that was a big part of it, too. There was a lot of sentimentality to that music, and when I was trying to write my own stuff, I was just kind of searching for who I was and that was the kind of stuff that was deeply ingrained in my bones.

OT: I would imagine a lot of people could relate to that. For example, I’m Italian and I also grew up listening to that kind of music. Frank Sinatra was always playing in my grandparents’ house.
NU:
I’m glad you said that because I think that was a part of it, too. I can relate [with] one story. We got booked at this bar in one of the subway stations in New York. But when we got there, the staff was very angry, the patrons were angry and the bar manager was acting like he was going to kill us [laughs]. But when we started playing and brought out our accordions, that same big, tough, scary guy came up with tears in his eyes and said that his grandfather played the accordion. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

OT: Your 2012 tour saw the band playing big arena shows and at the peak of popularity, but you were having a bit of an identity crisis. Could you elaborate on where you were in your life at that point?
NU:
I don’t want to sound too negative, but the main problem was I had lost my connection with [the music]. We got to the end of that album tour and release and unfortunately, I sort of hit a low point and had this emptiness. In the end, it was good because it forced me to rebuild and the rebuilding process was the album [This Night Falls Forever] that we just released.

OT: Why the switch to playing more intimate venues?
NU:
We came up that way [in smaller venues], and I just think there’s a purity to it. I was losing the connection with the crowd and it wasn’t feeling as natural as when we’re in a smaller place where everybody has a good seat and everybody’s part of the show.

OT: How have all of your professional experiences over the last couple of years influenced your new album?
NU:
The experiences made me want to go back to really focusing on the lyrics and letting the lyrics guide the song. The lyrics really drive where the music goes. That was one of the reasons why it took so long [to make the new album], because the lyrics take a long time to develop. Because of all our experiences with writing and arranging for orchestras and producing soundtracks, we were able to have a big, epic sound as well.

OT: Where did the album name, This Night Falls Forever, come from and what does it mean?
NU:
A lot of the songs and subject matter deal with the fact that your entire trajectory romantically, or even your destiny, can change in one night. You never see it coming, you’re never prepared for it and I just wanted to capture that feeling that this night is going to be with you forever.

OT: Moving on to your upcoming tour, how do you handle having so many instruments onstage?
NU:
It can get a little overwhelming and sometimes it doesn’t work. We end up having to each haul a lot of suitcases around [laughs]. But going back to our origin, it was one of the reasons we all connected so much because we have a love for picking up new or underrated instruments and bringing them into the fold and making them do things that maybe they weren’t meant for. So bringing them onstage is definitely a part of that.

OT: It’s been a few years since you’ve done a tour. What are you most looking forward to and what should people coming to your shows expect?
NU:
I think we’ve done a good job of performing the new songs live, which was a challenge because they are large and epic on the record. We’re doing a nice mix of our past albums with our new songs and new instruments, and we have a few new guest players. It’s going to be a good time.

OT: Any final thoughts?
NU:
Man, I think I’ve added a lot! No, I just wanted to add how excited we are to get back to DC. We didn’t mean to take so long to put out a new album, but these things take time. We hope it will be the beginning of a stretch of new albums and a new period of creativity.

Catch DeVotchKa at U Street Music Hall on Wednesday, December 12. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Learn more about DeVotchKa at www.devotchka.net.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

the helio sequence

Music Picks: December 2018

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4

The Helio Sequence
This Portland, Oregon duo hits the road to celebrate the ten year anniversary of their album Keep Your Eyes Ahead, which is (in my humble opinion) the best breakup album of all time. And while I can find no solid evidence it’s actually a breakup album (that’s the beauty of music, it’s whatever you need it to be!) it’s definitely worth the critical reevaluations it’s been receiving, whether or not listeners are brokenhearted. In fact, I had no idea the band was only a duo until today; their sounds are so lush and large I’d have insisted it was the work of a six piece band. If that’s not a testament to lasting talent I’m not sure what is. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5

Justus Proffit & Jay Som
Musicians and friends Justus Proffit and Jay Som make music inspired by the likes of Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes and other purveyors of sensitive and sensible guitar-driven music. Both accomplished artists in their own right, they’ve joined forces to bestow the gift of their EP Nothing’s Changed upon the world. And in the spirit of holiday giving and fierce friendship, they’ll take the stage at DC9 together. Doors 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $13. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6

JD McPherson
JD McPherson is ready to get you in the rock and roll holiday spirit that will have you dancing through the Christmas season and, let’s be honest, probably beyond. McPherson released Socks, his first Christmas album, this year and it’s full of eleven original holiday tunes. As someone who’s officially sick of traditional carols already, Christmas came early for me (and everyone else who’s ready for some originality in their seasonal playlist. Doors at 7:30. Tickets $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Kimbra
Electro-pop artist Kimbra’s live shows are usually colorful and electric, but she’s adding a new dimension to her artistry with this “intimate, reimagined evening” at Sixth & I. This comes on the heels of her EP Songs from Primal Heart: Reimagined released earlier this year, and will hopefully also include reworked or stripped down versions of her experimental but honest to goodness pop. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

Roosevelt
French singer, songwriter, DJ and producer Roosevelt (real name Marius Lauber) has been making waves with his danceable indie pop since 2013. Now back on the scene with the recently released album Young Romance – to which prolific producer Chris Coady lent his chops – Lauber will bring warmth to event the chilliest December night with what’s sure to be a high energy dance party. 18-plus. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8

Cloud Nothings
The last time I saw Ohio post-punk outfit Cloud Nothings, their rainy festival set concluded with security guards attempting to rush the band offstage in the midst of lighting strike while frontman Dylan Baldi attempted to hang from an amp. Oh, and there was a mud-filled mosh pit. While I can’t guarantee the same things will transpire at Union Stage this month, I can guarantee Cloud Nothings will show you a good time. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9

DRAMA
DRAMA return to DC after a recent stop at the 9:30 Club supporting French pop singer Jain for their very own headlining show. The purveyors of a perfect blend of soul, R&B and good old-fashioned pop self released their impressive Gallows EP in 2016, followed by a handful of singles this year, and have been busy touring behind their self-described “happy-sad music” ever since. They’re definitely ones to keep on your radar, so don’t miss seeing the duo at the intimate DC9 space. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $13. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

MONDAY, DECEMBER 10

Jingle Ball
The most stacked lineup in pop returns to DC this year with Top 40’s biggest hitmakers new and old. This year sees Shawn Mendes, The Chainsmokers, G-Eazy, Meghan Trainor, Bebe Rexha and more bringing both their hits and holiday cheer to Capital One arena. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $40-plus. Capital One Arena: 601 F St NW, DC; www.hot995.iheart.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14

Curls
I mourn the breakup of the band Girls, helmed by California based singer-songwriter Christopher Owens, on a more or less daily basis. Lucky for me (and for anyone who’s a fan of 60s influenced psych pop) Owens has been hard at work with solo albums and now a full band, Curls. Here, Owens has enlisted the wildly talented lineup of Cody Rhodes and Luke Baće to complete this trio. While a fully formed and very different band on their own, Curls has the same surf rock sensibilities and introspective songwriting that’s been a hallmark of Owen’s career so far. DC’s own Baby Bry Bry & Friends open, marking their first live performance in nearly two years. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $13. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

The Japanese House
Amber Bain has yet to release a full length album under her musical moniker The Japanese House, but she’s still garnered legions of fans and songs with over 20 million plays on Spotify since the release of her first EP in 2015. As Bain gears up to release her first full length album, she’ll visit DC with the music of her spectacular EPs and hopefully some new tracks this winter. If you’re a fan of the dreamy vibes of bands like Cocteau Twins, Imogen Heap and Mazzy Star, this is a can’t-miss show. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $18. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15

Darlingside
If you’re looking for a show that screams winter vibes, this is it. The indie folk quartet Darlingside bring their warm and wonderful harmonies to the halls of Sixth & I just in time for the holidays. Fresh off the release of their critically acclaimed album Extralife, which is described as “an experimental ode to the apocalypse,” they’ll bring songs new and old out for what’s sure to be a toe tapping, guitar picking good time. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $22. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16

Cat Power
There is a fantastic profile on Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, written by the eloquent and iconic music journalist Jessica Hopper, that ran in The Cut earlier this year. It deals with Marshall’s prolific 25-year career, motherhood, rejection from her longtime label and finding camaraderie in other – namely female – musicians. It’s an enlightening deep dive into the enigmatic world of the artist that has me counting down the days til Marshall graces the 9:30 Club’s hallowed halls with her phenomenal new record Wanderer in tow. Read up and grab your tickets to see this living legend as soon as you can. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $40. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Ryley Walker
Ryley Walker makes impressive, intricate psych rock that draws from a pantheon of differing genres but somehow ends up incredibly cohesive. In an ever interesting turn, he covered Dave Matthews Band’s late 90s bootleg album The Lillywhite Sessions from front to back. Part reimaging and part paying his dues to one of his most well loved bands, Walker is nothing if not a breath of fresh air in the music world. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19

Hammered Hulls
This band features some of DC’s best musicians all in one place: Alec MacKaye, Mary Timony, Mark Cisernos and Chris Wilson. With so much unfettered talent in one place, it’s hard to think of a better way to spend your Wednesday night than watching the five piece band tear up the Black Cat’s backstage. If you missed their amazing set at the Black Cat’s 25th Anniversary show, the universe is granting you a Christmas miracle in the form of a do-over. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20

Hiss Golden Messenger
I saw Hiss Golden Messenger open for Bon Iver back in 2017, and when Justin Vernon thanked the band for opening he quipped, “I feel like I was listening to his music when I was in the womb or something.” An odd but apt description, the work of Michael Taylor is warm, comforting and does have the feel of something you may have heard in a past life. Sure to remedy the cold winter nights we’ll have late December, he’ll stop at the 9:30 Club in support of last month’s release Virgo Fool. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21

Snail Mail
Maryland’s Lindsey Jordan (a.k.a. Snail Mail) has been making waves since her 2016 EP released on DC’s Sister Polygon Records, and many (myself included) eagerly awaited the debut of her full length album, Lush, which arrived this past summer. Hands down one of the best releases of the year, Jordan will be rounding out a year of touring and critical acclaim just a hop, skip and jump away from her hometown at the 9:30 Club. Celebrate with her and end your 2018 right at this show, where she’ll be joined by Empath and Instupendo. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28

The Roots
The legendary Philadelphia outfit will pick you right out of your post holiday slump, guaranteed. They’ve been named one of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Live Bands, so that’s not an understatement. And although they haven’t released new music in four years, they’re sure to pull the classics from their massive catalogue of hits. Bring your family in town to the party or use this as an excuse to take a break and dance away. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $69.50. The Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 31

White Ford Bronco
90s babies and 90s music enthusiasts rejoice. The District’s all 90s band returns to the 9:30 Club for New Year’s Eve. While December 31 is typically all about toasting to new beginnings, there’s no harm in looking a little further back and dancing into the new year to the best 90s hits spanning all genres. Round out your throwback with a champagne toast at midnight. Doors at 9 p.m. Tickets $55. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Photo: Greg Gorman
Photo: Greg Gorman

Rufus Wainwright Celebrates 20 Years at Strathmore

On the day of his breakthrough album’s release in 1998, Rufus Wainwright walked into a café expecting to be noticed. But when he took off his sunglasses, he remained unrecognized.

“I was believing everything people were saying to me: that I was going to be a massive star and make lots of money and become this legendary figure,” he says. “That’s not the way it went. But I have nothing to complain about. I’ve worked a long time and very hard, and matured. I learned the reality of being an artist and have done quite well.”

His self-titled debut album did quickly establish him as a singer-songwriter to watch thanks to songs like “Foolish Love,” “Millbrook” and “Sally Ann.” Not only did Rolling Stone name the record one of the best of the year, the publication also honored him with its Best New Artist designation. His follow-up album Poses came out three years later, another critical darling.

“Not long after the first two records, I realized that like my parents [who were folk singers], you’re only going to be as good as your live show is,” he says. “So I started doing a lot of solo shows to supplement my income and made it about what I could do as a troubadour. That has really gotten me through a lot of tidal waves of economics that have occurred since.”

Wainwright will perform songs from both albums at The Music Center at Strathmore on December 8 as part of his All These Poses tour to commemorate his debut album’s 20th anniversary.

“For the first half of the show, I come out and do most of the first album and intersperse with a couple of other tracks,” he says. “I am promoting a new record too, which is only available at the concert, so I’ll sing some of those songs.”

He’ll also be telling some stories about his family and what inspired some of his songs, and the early days of his music career. Then, for the second half of the show, Wainwright will play Poses top to bottom, complete with lighting effects and costume changes.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “We have the wonderful Rachel Eckroth opening up the show, and she’s also in the band. People are going to really enjoy hearing her.”

Over the years, Wainwright has released seven studio and three live albums and won countless awards. One of his most beloved recordings is the Grammy-nominated Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall paying homage to icon Judy Garland.

Besides being a celebrated pop singer, Wainwright has also found a calling in writing operas. In 2009, his much-admired Prima Donna premiered at the Manchester International Festival and has traveled the world since. His second opera Hadrian opened to critical acclaim this past October in Toronto.

“I discovered opera when I was 13 and was completely transfixed and transformed into this rabid 70-year-old opera queen all of a sudden. I couldn’t get enough of those old recordings, and it’s almost like the art form chose me and devoured me.”

Each of his operas took about four years of intense work, but nearly 10 years of thinking about them and getting them to where he wanted them to be. They are labors of love for Wainwright, and a big part of who he is.

“I also realized early on that I could use some of opera’s musical ideas and concepts and transfer them to my songwriting.”

The singer is finishing up his new album and aiming for a 2019 tour. Last month, he released a video starring Emmy winner and Glee star Darren Criss for his new song “Sword of Damocles,” which includes a powerful message addressed to President Trump.

“Damocles is a story where there’s a sword hanging over a tyrant’s head to show that when there are rulers who are belligerent, there’s a chance for danger for everybody involved,” he explains. “It’s directed toward Trump, but I feel it’s really directed toward everybody because no matter what happens, that sword is eventually going to come down.”

Don’t miss Wainwright at Strathmore on Saturday, December 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39-$89 and can be purchased at www.strathmore.org. Learn more about the artist at www.rufuswainwright.com.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5200; www.strathmore.org

Photo: Matt Hogan
Photo: Matt Hogan

Caroline Rose Dug Her Own Grave

I’m almost ashamed to admit that it wasn’t Caroline Rose’s music that first caught my attention, it was her powerful aesthetic.

When you’re doing the Music Picks at On Tap, and you don’t recognize a band, sometimes you make a judgement call on whether to give them a listen or not based on their artwork or images. For Rose it was a shot of her in a bright red tracksuit with a blasé expression and mouth full of cigarettes. It was one you couldn’t just scroll past.

You’ll notice in all her photos and videos she’s wearing that signature red, and that’s something I brought up with her when I got her on the phone in anticipation of her November 17 show at the Miracle Theatre.

“It’s just too far gone at this point,” Rose tells me when I ask her why she always wear red.

She’s speaks very down to earth and you can feel the humor.

“I’ve gotten rid of all my other clothes at this point, I’m in too deep,” she adds.

I press her on what the red makes her feel and she tells me that sometimes she’ll see a “very beautiful red and feel passionate,” but otherwise, she feels, “nothing.”

“I’ve dug my own grave,” she says laughing.

Rose’s music is much like the aforementioned photo, which is album artwork for her latest release, LONER. It’s funny, but also vulnerable. Her songwriting is a less weathered U.S. Girls, and not unlike Meg Remy too. She’ll inhabit characters, but never in a way that feels mean spirited.

The lead track off the album, “More of the Same,” gives a good example of the way her songwriting uses humor to make its point.

The second verse in particular: “I go to a friend of a friend’s party/ Everyone’s well dressed with a perfect body/ And they all have alternative haircuts and straight white teeth/ But all I see is just more of the same.”

Rose says there’s two stories to that song. The first has to do with a record label that didn’t trust her and had her constantly sending in demos of her music. The other is the one she often tells onstage, captured in that verse.

Sonically, the track is a hard turn from her previous release I Will Not Be Afraid. Until LONER, Rose’s music has been very much Americana.

On the 2018 release and in “More of the Same,” Rose moves into art-pop, making ample use of wobbly synths and other funky sounds, namely a range of samples from her apartment including “glass clops,” as she calls it. 

Over the phone, we talk a little bit more about the party.

“I was the only person dancing,” as she puts it.

That’s a succinct way of expressing a moment of displacement. She says the song is ultimately about how to be yourself when everyone is trying to make you fit in.

On tours, she and her band make a point of having some fun, so before or after the show look for them about town. Previous outings for the band include the movies, laser tag and Mall of America. Follow her on Instagram to catch up on the band’s latest shenanigans.

Also check out the production value on these the music videos for “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” and “Soul No. 5” on YouTube, they’re lush.

Caroline Rose plays with And the Kids at the Miracle Theatre on November 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Miracle Theatre:  535 8th St. SE, DC; 202-400-3210; www.themiracletheatre.com

Photo: Exploded View
Photo: Exploded View

Exploded View’s Anika thinks Berlin Winters are Rubbish

Anika’s (Annika Henderson) voice sits somewhere between Nico and Sibylle Baier: it has a classic, melancholic singer-songwriter bent. Unlike those two singers, she’s not from Germany, but from Britain, which may not be so apparent in the way she sings. The accent certainly comes across when she speaks. 

“Mexico City is the best place to escape the Berlin winters,” she says. “Berlin winters are rubbish.”

I’ve listened to her music since high school, when her solo record Anika (2010), was in a stack of CDs my sister gave me. To hear her voice on the other end of the phone tripped me up for a moment.

Since 2016 Anika’s been making music as Exploded ViewThe Exploded View material is quite different from the earlier stuff I grew up listening to, as her old music came prominently from a singer-songwriter tradition even if the instrumentation was post-rock.

For Exploded View, the post-rock experimentation comes to the forefront in both the sound and song structure, and folk comes through as an accent.

While Anika is based in Berlin, Germany her bandmates Martin Thulin and Hugo Quezada are based in Mexico City, Mexico.

Talking to both Thulin and Anika on the phone, I try to ask how they manage the distance. The answer isn’t clear, although I get a quick response as to why they play together. Anika tells me she was never able to find a band she really clicked with in Berlin, “surprisingly” she adds.

“It never felt right,” she says. “I’m looking for people who are just searching, who are not looking to create the next best record. People who are just looking to make music and see what happens. Music for me is about life and growth and it’s not about producing a record that will sell.”

When she went to Mexico to tour her solo material she found Thulin and Quezada while looking for a backing band. One day in rehearsal they were held up by a late fourth band member and decided to have a jam session while they waited. When they listened back on their jam session recording, they liked what they heard and Exploded View was born.

Fast forward to today and Exploded View is touring their latest release Obey, including the band’s first North America tour, which Thulin and Anika are excited for.

One of her favorite things about playing a show is seeing that spark of inspiration on a listener’s face, and she loves playing for those who are equally interested in learning. She says she doesn’t just perform for those who stand there cross-armed and “waiting for you to fail.”

“If you you look at a tree and think ‘oh I’ve already seen that before,’ that’s a sad attitude,” she says. “Of course you [have], but also you haven’t. They’re each their own.”

Exploded View plays with Brooklyn-based Forma and DC’s Luna Honey at DC9 Sunday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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

Photos: Trent Johnson
Photos: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Slash Run, Sotto and The Crown & Crow

There are few greater simple joys than listening to great live music with an even better drink in your hand. This month, we rounded up DC’s musically minded watering holes to find out more about their bars, drinks and live music lineups.


Slash Run - Christine Lilyea and Ana Latour (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Slash Run
Christine Lilyea, Owner and GM
Ana Latour, Bartender and Manager

On Tap: What does Slash Run add to Petworth as a neighborhood?
Ana Latour: There’s something about the versatility of Slash Run that speaks to its importance in Petworth. This neighborhood is a family spot, but also a growing place for young people who want to live in the city. Slash Run can be all of those things.

OT: As a music venue, what’s the local to national act ratio?
Christine Lilyea: It’s a mix of local and national. A lot of the people I work with are local bookers, but they always bring [artists] from out of town.
AL: We had a band here last night from Japan. They were insane! It was probably one of the wildest things I’ve seen since I got here. The band who opened for them was from down the street.

OT: Any local favorites you book regularly or try to bring into the mix as often as possible?
CL: They’re from New York, and they’re called The Nuclears. They’re just really nice guys and their music is insanely good. It’s like Thin Lizzy [or] Cheap Trick – just good, in your face, on the ground sweating rock ‘n’ roll.

OT: Tell us about the drinks at Slash Run.
CL: I have managed restaurants before, so I’m really big on this. It’s supposed to be a dive bar and have shitty wine, but I can’t do it. I’m very picky about our wines and beers. If people want PBR, I’ll give it to them, but then I’ll find something cool too.

Check Slash Run’s website for a full list of upcoming shows, including:
Biff Bang Pow, a 60s garage/psych/glam vinyl dance party on November 10
Part Time with Bottled Up on November 19
Super Unison, Downtrodder, Coward and Bacchae on November 17

Slash Run - Spiced Cider (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Spiced Cider
Cotton & Reed Mellow Gold Rum 
Warmed cider 
Cloves
Cinnamon sticks
Star anise
Citrus butter
Orange and lemon zest

Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com


Sotto - Savi Gopalan (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Sotto
Savi Gopalan, Bar Manager

On Tap: How has Sotto has changed since opening three years ago?
Savi Gopalan: Sotto has really changed into a venue focusing on music. I think originally, the music was more of a perk rather than a focus; whereas now, we define ourselves as a music venue.

OT: How do you think the local jazz scene has changed in recent years? Why is it important to offer live music at Sotto?
SG: I think there’s more community behind it, not just within the musicians but the clientele as well. There’s a real connection within the jazz scene now that I don’t think was as predominant previously.

OT: Do you have any new vinos this winter?
SG: I’m really excited about the new rosé we’re offering by the glass, G.D. Vajra Rosabella. We have a smaller wine list because we are more of a cocktail-focused place, but I do like a lot of the options we offer.

OT: What’s your process for crafting new cocktails each season?
SG: When you’re going into a new season, I always look at what flavors are popular. I pick different flavors that stand out to me and I’ll build cocktails around that. For instance, the mezcal smokiness is appropriate for fall, [and] calvados too. Even though people don’t really do brandy cocktails anymore, I think it fits with the season.

OT: It seems almost all your beers are local. Why is it important to support DC area breweries?
SG: We definitely try to keep all of our beer choices super local. We try to push for local spirits as well, because there are so many great places in the area. It would be a shame not to have them on the list.

Visit Sotto’s website for a full list of upcoming shows, including:
The Lionel Lyles Quintet on November 9
Tashera on November 15
Champion Sound on November 29

Sotto - Back To December (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Back To December
Red wine
Mulled wine syrup
Lemon
Orange
St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram

Sotto: 1610 14th St. NW, DC; www.sottodc.com


Crown and Crow - Ben Sislen and Brian Harrison (Photo - Trent Johnson)

The Crown & Crow
Brian Harrison, Owner, Creator and Barman
Ben Sislen, Owner
Brooke Stonebanks, Event Coordinator

On Tap: What inspired your Victorian era theme?
Ben Sislen: We were flexible with what we were going to be. It started when we found our bar in the front room and it was [from the] Victorian era timeframe.

Brian Harrison: We thought the first room would be rustic, and the other would be sophisticated. Once that vintage feel took hold in the front, it carried throughout.

OT: Your cocktail menu seems reflective of that time period as well.What was the creative process for coming up with unique takes on period cocktails?
Brooke Stonebanks: I want to go along with the theme. The cocktails we had when we first opened were just plays off classic cocktails. Moving forward, the drinks will focus on obscure ingredients that promote smaller brands.

OT: What kinds of cocktails are you looking to make this winter?
Stonebanks: I want to focus on the spirit and and [make] simple cocktails. We have a lot of Irish and American whiskeys and we’re looking to add more. I want them to be whiskey-heavy.

OT: What’s your process for booking musical acts? Any local names you use regularly?
BS: Mostly local acts. We don’t charge a cover because we want the music to be accessible, and we want people coming in and trying out the bar.

Visit Crown & Crow’s website for shows as they’re added through the month, including:
Anthony Pirog on November 3 and Swampcandy on November 15

Crown and Crow - Le Corbeau Sanglant and The Burning Crow (Photo - Trent Johnson)

The Burning Crow
High West Campfire Whiskey
Five-spice syrup
Orange bitters 
Cinnamon stick

Le Corbeau Sanglant 
Compass Box Great King St. Glasgow Blend Whisky 
Luxardo cherry sangue 
Dolin Rouge vermouth
Blood orange juice

The Crown & Crow: 1317 14th St. NW, DC; www.thecrownandcrow.com

 

30 Days of Music

30 Days of DC Music

In honor of our local music issue, we present DC musicians, both well-established and on the rise, who make the city’s music scene stand out. To check out these tastemakers for yourself, listen to our 30 Days of DC Music playlist on Spotify – you might even find your new favorite artist.

AV

April + VISTA
This genre-bending DC duo recently opened for Swedish electropop icons Little Dragon during their sold-out, two-night run at H Street’s Rock & Roll Hotel last month, and stole the show with their live versions of recent releases and a cover of Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song.” They’ll continue to captivate stages while supporting like-minded acts Kllo and The JujuExchange, but be sure to listen to their spectacular EP You Are Here in the meantime. Visit www.aprilandvista.com for more.

BM

Bad Moves
Bad Moves are doing big things. Four DC natives with very DC day jobs joined forces to lend their incredible talent to make one of 2018’s most exciting records. Their music is cheerful, their subject matter relatable and their lyrics are seemingly handcrafted to make a live karaoke session at their shows a reality – Tell No One is practically perfect. They recently celebrated the release of the album at Black Cat in September, and I’m already eagerly awaiting new music from them while keeping this album on heavy rotation. Follow them on Twitter @BadMovesDC for more.

BU

Bottled Up
This DC band’s M.O. is surf rock with a soul, and an ever so slight nod to punk predecessors who occupied hallowed DC venues before them. While their lyrics deal with deeply personal matters – addictions, anxieties and general malaise – it’s clearly an outlet with which they heal and offer joy to others. Their boisterous guitars and penchant for peppering in “la la las” at the perfect moment will have you singing along in no time. No stranger to the myriad of venues on the local music circuit, they’ll be at DC9 on November 14. Visit www.bottledup.bandcamp.com for more. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW; www.dc9.club

BRNDA

BRNDA
Babe City Records-signed BRNDA make jarring, frenetic indie rock akin to Black Lips and Thee Oh Sees. Their short but impactful Thanks for Playing EP clocks in at 18 minutes but stays with you for much longer. The best part of BRNDA? Every member of the quartet contributes to vocals, evoking a fun call-and-response vibe that will have you singing along too. See them live at The Dougout on November 5. $5-$10 suggested donation for entry. Visit http://brendatheband.com for more. The Dougout: 1498 Douglas St. NE, DC; www.facebook.com/thedougoutdc

CC

Cautious Clay
While the musician, also known as Joshua Karpeh, may be a New Yorker now, his stint in the District as a George Washington University student gives him the right to say he’s part of the DC scene. Following a critically acclaimed EP, he sold out a show this past May and stood out as one of the highlights of this year’s All Things Go Fall Classic. The performance included Karpeh singing, and playing the saxophone and flute onstage. Unfortunately, you must wait until early next year to see him live in DC – he’ll take the U Street Music Hall stage on February 1 – but it will be worth the wait. Visit www.cautiousclay.com for more. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

CG

Chain & the Gang
“Hey you want to check it out/ this experimental music they’re talking about?” Ian “Chain” Svenonious asks his listeners in the titular track of Experimental Music, the band’s late 2017 release for DC’s Dischord Records. If your answer to that question is yes, Svenonious and company are ready to take you on a journey. With influences from 50s-style surf rock to DC punk, and many genres in between, the track is both on the nose and a statement of the band’s ethos from their many years of making music. While Svenonious has been hard at work with one of his many other projects – Escape-ism – Chain & the Gang remain one of the most exciting and unexpected bands to grace the streets of DC. Visit www.dischord.com/band/chain-and-the-gang for more.

DC

Dreamcast
This project takes its name from the old school gaming console and borrows nostalgic sounds to make something totally new, courtesy of Davon Bryant. The DC native is a singer, songwriter, producer and drummer who makes extremely groovy tunes with retro sensibilities, but modern production flair. This fall, he released the spectacular jams “Outer Space” and “Up 2 U.” Visit www.soundcloud.com/burymeinamink for more.

FLA

Flasher
DC post punk fans rejoice. One of the most exciting bands in the genre right now is one of our own. Their June release for Domino Records, Constant Image, is heavily featured on my “Best of 2018” list. Flasher recently shared the stage with the iconic Breeders and will return to their hometown on November 30 at Black Cat. Follow the band on Twitter @ffflasher. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

FA

Foreign Air
Electropop outfit Foreign Air remains one of the hardest working duos in DC music. The smooth and spacious sounds of their 2016 EP For the Light catapulted them into the national music conversation. Their sounds have been featured in TV shows and commercials and for good reason – their brand of emotion and electronics is the stuff of a music supervisor’s dreams. To the excitement of many fans (myself included), their single “Turning” was released last month and will be included on Foreign Air’s first full-length album, to be released soon. Visit www.foreignair.net for more.

Gauche

Gauche
An amalgamation of members from Priests, Downtown Boys and various other DC musicians, this rotating cast of musicians is anchored by Jason Barnett, Mary Jane Regalado and Daniele Yandel. Their playful beach goth, a.k.a. surf rock with emotional lyrics, infused brand of rock provides the perfect platform for a rotating cast to meditate on ending relationships, independence and navigating existence in the online world. See them live on December 4 at Black Cat. Visit www.g-a-u-c-h-e.bandcamp.com for more. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com


SHAED

SHAED’s Chelsea Lee
SHAED is comprised of Chelsea Lee and twin brothers Max and Spencer Ernst. A favorite of the DC pop scene and beyond, their emotive electropop is perhaps best exemplified by their EP Melt, which came out this past September. We caught up with vocalist Chelsea Lee on what the band’s been up to lately.

On Tap: I know that you all met at a 9:30 Club show. Can you tell me a bit more about your origin story?
Chelsea Lee:
I was a solo artist and a friend suggested I go see this band, raving about these twin boys who were opening. It was Max and Spencer on stage playing an acoustic set. I was 15 and instantly fell in love. We started hanging out regularly after and became best friends. We couldn’t fully commit to a project together until SHAED.

OT: You’ve played a lot of DC venues – 9:30 Club, Union Stage, Rock & Roll Hotel – do you have a favorite? A place on your wish list?
CL:
We’ve toured a lot, and 9:30 Club remains one of our favorite venues in the country. We would love to play The Anthem.

OT: How has the DC music scene supported you as you’ve progressed in your career?
CL:
DC has been incredibly kind to us. We just played a sold out show and recognized so many people that have been coming to see us since the beginning. Fortunately, the scene here is growing and some great music is coming out of the DMV.

OT: You recently released an EP. Any plans to release a full album soon?
CL:
Right now we’re focusing on writing. For now we just want to keep creating music and see what happens.

OT: Anyone from the DC music scene you’d really like to work with?
CL:
April + VISTA and GoldLink.

OT: Do you have any upcoming shows in the area?
CL:
We’re playing the 9:30 Club with St. Lucia on November 6.

SHAED opens for St. Lucia at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, November 6. Tickets are $32.50. Doors at 7 p.m. Visit www.shaedband.com for more.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com


GEMS

GEMS
The duo comprised of Lindsay Pitts and Clifford John Usher dropped their first release for the District’s own Carpark Records in 2015. Kill the One You Love is equal parts sad and smooth – everything you could ever want from a synth-pop album. The band kept fairly quiet for three years after but to the delight of all of us who love dancing and crying in equal measure, returned this year with several beautiful singles. They’ve also reimagined and re-recorded John Lennon’s iconic album Imagine in full. I can only hope this is an indication of another melancholy gem (ha) of an album on the horizon. Visit www.gems-band.com for more.

HC

HOLYCHILD
The brainchild of George Washington University graduates Liz Nistico and Louie Diller burst onto the pop scene in 2014 with “Happy with Me,” a song examining the daunting task of living up to impossible beauty standards with a crazy danceable beat. Since then, the self-described brat pop band set up shop in Los Angeles, California, and worked with artists like Kate Nash and Tkay Maidza. They returned as powerful as ever with three new singles this fall. Visit www.holychildmusic.com for more.

IJ

Innanet James
I like to think I’m on top of most recent releases, but my little brother is always one step ahead of me – a healthy sibling rivalry of who knows the best new artists frequently ensues. He sent along several tracks by this Maryland born, DC based rapper – 2018’s “Amazing” and “Bag” – and I’ve been hooked ever since. He raps over neo soul beats with honesty and precision, and featured his once DC residence on Quebec Place on the cover of his EP of the same name. He released his fantastic album Keep it Clean this September, complete with features from Pusha T, Taliwhoah and more. Follow him on Twitter @innanetjames for more.

JG

Jenna Camille
Maryland-born, DC-educated Jenna Camille has natural talent and classical training in spades. Her gorgeously smoky voice finds itself combined with jazzy electronic production on her infectious tracks. In addition to writing, recording and producing her own music, she is a frequent collaborator of other acts such as BELVE, Poor boY EXP and Seven Jackson. Follow her on Twitter @JennaCamille for more.

JUL

Julian
I’ve had the joy of seeing this project, helmed by Julia Leiby, open for several bands throughout the city. Bringing together a rotating cast of like-minded musical friends, Julian makes understated but powerful indie pop worthy of soundtracking a dreamy movie montage. Their latest release, Real Distance, saw them polish their sound, and is their strongest and most affecting work to date. Visit www.juliandc.bandcamp.com for more.

LAV

Lavender
This indie pop group comprised of five college friends makes ethereal anthems for anyone who loves glossy, dreamy tunes with a side of emotional honesty. They cite contemporaries The 1975 and The Naked and Famous as influences, and are a necessary addition to any playlist built for introspection or relaxation. Don’t be fooled by their chill vibes, though – the instrumentation is powerful and refined as well. Visit www.lavenderdc.bandcamp.com for more.

LL

Loi Loi
This pair of DC natives is set to release their album Me: Dystopia early next year. They’ll bring their vivacious marriage of darkwave (think dark and romantic), timely lyrics and worldly sounds to Union Stage on November 10 and Dupont Underground on November 16. Listen to the lead single “Company Girl” now. Follow them on Instagram @yo_soy_loiloi for more. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com // Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Cir. NW, DC; www.dupontunderground.org

LH

Luna Honey
Evoking the dark and powerful feelings of genre greats PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, Luna Honey makes music that can only be described as cathartic and beautiful. While Maura Pond’s vocals stand out on every track, what anchors Luna Honey is the marriage of bare basslines and baritone sax: unsettling and comforting all at once. Don’t miss them take the stage on November 11 at DC9. Visit www.lunahoney.bandcamp.com for more. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

MG

Makeup Girl
Have you ever discovered a band that makes you excited for the future? Both the future of that band and music as a whole? I couldn’t shake that warm, fuzzy feeling the first time I listened to Makeup Girl’s Living Safe EP, released this past summer. While their sound is reminiscent of early Two Door Cinema Club and Humbug era Arctic Monkeys, it’s clear this band is in a league of their own. Catch them at Arlington’s Galaxy Hut on November 11 and keep your eyes on them in general – this four piece group is going places. Visit www.makeupgirlband.com for more. Galaxy Hut: 2711 Wilson Blvd. Arlington VA; www.galaxyhut.com

MESS

The Messthetics
This band is nothing if not a supergroup. Comprised of two former Fugazi members and several other heavy hitters in the DC hardcore scene, the group harkens back to the heyday of DC punk and reminds us it’s not going anywhere. Their self-titled album was released on the beloved Dischord Records, and is a must for DC music lovers and anyone else who appreciates an excellent rock record. They’ll play Baltimore’s Rams Head Live on December 27. Visit www.dischord.com/band/messthetics for more. Rams Head Live: 20 Market Pl. Baltimore, MD; www.ramsheadlive.com

NH

Nick Hakim
I recommend Nick Hakim’s 2017 release Green Twins to just about anyone who will listen. What I won’t recommend, however, is putting Hakim’s music in a box. His retro-futurist vibe and hypnotic vocals are just the beginning of what makes his music stand out. Citing a whole host of “one of these things is not like the other” influences, Hakim’s music is perfect for a dreamy, cold winter’s day and something you have to synthesize for yourself. He dropped the single “Vincent Tyler” this summer, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for Hakim. Visit www.nickhakim.com for more.


WYLD

Wylder’s Will McCarry
Wylder’s dreamy blend of folk pop is heavily influenced by the natural surroundings of their native Virginia. As they gear up for their much-anticipated sophomore album, singer and guitarist Will McCarry told On Tap all about influences, favorite venues and upcoming music.

On Tap: With roots in DC and Virginia, how have both influenced your music?
Will McCarry: Rural Virginia had a huge influence on my musical taste and the kind of songs I want to write. The organic and naturalistic elements of our sound comes from my upbringing.

OT: Do you have a favorite local venue? Any that you haven’t played on your wish list?
WM: DC is home to amazing venues. In February we headlined U Street Music Hall for a show presented by the 9:30 Club. Performing in front of fans that braved a snowstorm to be there made it one we’ll never forget. Recently we had the chance to perform on stage at The Anthem, the venue is unlike any space we’ve performed in before.

OT: How have the music scenes in DC and Virginia supported you?
WM: [We] began in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The early days playing on campus helped us discover our path. As we began performing in DC more often, venues like Black Cat and Jammin Java gave us a chance to headline.

OT: What can listeners expect from your sophomore album?
WM:
I think this new record represents the next logical step for Wylder and features the most fully realized version of what I’ve always wanted this band to be. It is at once a major departure from Rain and Laura and an expansion on all the things fans enjoy about that record.  Our first single from the record, “Ready to Break,” will be out on November 16.

OT: Anyone from the DC music scene you’d really like to work with?
WM: We’d love to put together a show featuring a full orchestral section performing the songs alongside us

OT: Any upcoming shows in the area?
WM: You can catch us performing live in DC at Gypsy Sally’s on November 30 alongside The Last Bison or in Tysons Corner on December 1 for an acoustic set at Records and Rarities.

Catch Wylder at Gypsy Sally’s on Friday, November 30. Tickets start at $15. Visit www.wyldermusic.com for more.

Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com


OG

OG Lullabies
I was lucky enough to catch OG Lullabies, the project of singer and violinist Taylor Brooke, earlier this year right around the release of her EP CRUESCONTROL. The otherworldly nature of her music evokes peace and an existence on a different earthly plane at times. With an emphasis on the all-encompassing experience music creates in a listener, Brooke’s beautiful sounds create a welcome respite from your everyday woes in sonic form. Visit www.oglullabies.com for more.

OTD

Oh He Dead
I have no idea what this DC duo’s name is in reference to, but I love it. I also love their bass-heavy, neo soul and refreshingly honest songwriting. To date they only have one single and a three song EP available, but I have full confidence the duo of Cynthia Johnson and Anthony Valenti will bless us with more repeat worthy tracks soon. Visit www.ohhedead.com for more.

PS

Park Snakes
“I am an alien, I am a ghost, I am the devil, I am alone,” sings vocalist Nenet on the band’s track “Alien,” a meditation on identity. Self-described as “degeneration rock,” this group’s music could easily soundtrack a noir film (or more realistically, a long DC drive on a foggy day). Be sure to add their latest release, Silk, to any winter playlists you may be curating. Visit www.parksnakes.com for more.

PRIESTS

Priests
DC’s most prolific punks of today released their album Nothing Feels Natural last year and have focused heavily on the District’s creative circuit and national tours. They run Sister Polygon Records and lend their talents to other DC bands, all while providing an unwavering political voice that’s needed now more than ever. They’ll take the stage at Baltimore’s Metro Gallery on December 11. It’s worth the trek to Charm City to see these icons in action. Visit www.666priests666.com for more. Metro Gallery: 1700 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD; www.themetrogallery.net

RN

Rico Nasty
Everyone loves Rico Nasty but only the DMV gets to call her our own. She’s one of the hardest working artists in any genre. At 21, she’s already released six mixtapes, including her first release as an Atlantic Records signee, Nasty. She calls her catchy, sweet blend of rap “sugar trap,” and while she’s certainly come a long way from her first hit “iCarly” to her newer releases soundtracking shows like Insecure, she’s bound to be a fixture on the national rap scene for a long time. Visit www.riconastymusic.com for more.

SS

Stronger Sex
This experimental electronic duo will have you dancing as much as contemplating a variety of timely topics. They blend 80s synth sensibilities dating back to The Cure or Talking Heads with theatrical and impassioned vocals. Their 2018 full length release There is No Stronger Sex is a smart breath of fresh air and the answer to everyone’s contemplative but groovy needs. Visit www.strongersex.bandcamp.com for more.

UB

Ultra Beauty
This band provides an unlikely combination of pop and punk, but not in the way bands you loved in middle school did. Instead, it’s more like jagged, heavy instrumentation layered with catchy choruses sung sweetly. By combining the best elements of these two genres, the trio provides some of the most exciting tunes to come out of the city this year with their self titled debut.  Visit www.ultrabeauty.bandcamp.com for more.

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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