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Photo: Ray Polanco
Photo: Ray Polanco

The Many Lives of Toro y Moi

Chaz Bear has written, recorded and released music under a host of names over the years, but is perhaps best known for his work as Toro y Moi. One of the most successful names to come out of the chillwave movement in the early 2010s, the Berkeley, California-based musician has done much more than simply be part of the larger scene. The release of his most recent effort as Toro y Moi, Boo Boo, saw a more introspective and stripped-down era for Bear. He’s lent his production talents to some of this year’s most exciting up-and-coming artists like Tanukichan (who’s signed to Bear’s label Company Records, an imprint of DC’s own Carpark Records) and Astronauts, etc. We caught up with the artist ahead of his 9:30 Club show on November 12 to chat chillwave, community and what’s next for one of the hardest working names in music.

On Tap: Your album Boo Boo sounded like a slight departure from the more electronic-influenced sounds of your previous efforts. What were some of the themes surrounding this record?
Chaz Bear:
This record was written in 2016, a time when I was going through a change, and that’s what the record is about. It’s not really about a relationship with another person. It sounds like that, but it’s more of a relationship with society and about how to navigate the world in hectic times.

OT: You came onto the scene during the chillwave zeitgeist in the early 2010s. Were you ever worried about being associated with one of the first trendy blog rock genres? Do you care how people classify your music?
CB: It was never intimidating to be part of the genre. I always felt like it was helpful and useful to be connected to a scene. I’ve always used it to my advantage. It’s definitely easy to want to play into it and satisfy the listeners you have, but my goal with Toro y Moi is to explore as much as possible. I want to grow and explore different types, styles and sonic palettes, whether they be lo-fi sounding or shiny and hi-fi. I think that’s the whole challenge for most, if not all, listeners: to take down those sonic barriers and enjoy music from everywhere – all genres, all qualities.

OT: Your background is in graphic design. Has your work in that field influenced your music at all?
CB:
Graphic design initiated the conversation in my head about taste and style – what I think I want to present and how I want to present myself. That carried on to music as well. Before I got into graphic design, my music was more of the times: emo and post-punk stuff. I never really referenced music from the past until I got into graphic design. It taught me how to achieve and maintain a sense of timelessness.

OT: In addition to your own work as Toro y Moi, you’ve been producing work for artists like Astronauts, etc. and Tanukichan. How does approaching these projects differ from your own solo work?
CB:
When working with new artists, the first thing that I’m drawn to is a person and their actual character. If their music is good on top of that, they become a friend who makes dope music and it’s like, “Oh man, we should make more music together,” and we just go from there. The motivation behind making music with friends comes from the idea of building something together within our community. Everyone on Company Records is based in the Bay Area. It’s a label that’s sort of eclectic in the sense of [having] a lot of different genres. It’s also still very honed in with a community vibe.

OT: Speaking of community, Berkeley recently honored you by declaring June 27 “Chaz Bear Day.” What was it like to be recognized by the city in such a public way?
CB:
That was a really big turning point for me because I hadn’t realized that my presence was so impactful. I needed to truly think about how the city was looking at me and where I wanted to go with this. It was truly flattering, and it still is an amazing thing. It was kind of like more of the city recognizing you for your good work. That’s really all I can do: keep working.

OT: You’re also overseeing the aforementioned Company Records. What are your goals for the label, and how are you choosing who to sign and work with?
CB:
There’s two ways to approach it: working with new and younger acts and working with your peers. Everyone I’m working with, I’ve known them first not as musicians. I like that approach more. I do feel like we’re all around the same age – 20 and 30-somethings – and we all started playing music around the same time. But some of us didn’t get the exposure, so I think bringing up the community is what I’m focusing on and making sure there is a solid, level platform for everyone I’m rising with. It will make the city better, it should make the Bay Area better and inevitably it should make (laughs) everything a little bit nicer.

Toro y Moi will play 9:30 Club on Monday, November 12. Tickets are $25 and doors open at 7 p.m. Follow Bear on Instagram and Twitter @toroymoi. His next album Outer Peace will be released on January 18 via Carpark Records. Learn more at www.toroymoi.com.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Gray
Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Gray

Movers & Shakers: Who’s Behind the Music in DC?

DC’s music scene is an organism in flux. This is not so surprising, with several new venues recently opening – and several closing – and despite the city’s increasing population, it remains a relatively transient town. Still, DMV artists are finding more ways to build community and establish legitimacy on local and national levels, but not without hard work from some individuals behind the music who truly believe in the strength of the District’s musical past and the potential for its future. We caught up with a few of the movers and shakers making an impact on DC music.

Jamal Gray

DC native Jamal Gray is a musician-curator-organizer who founded the Uptown Art House – a creative incubator and activism-focused artists’ space “without borders” – and leads the avant-garde jazz troupe Nag Champa Art Ensemble. His projects often bridge the underground and the conventional in an effort to elevate the whole of DC’s music scene.

On Tap: How did you first come to be involved with music culture in DC?
Jamal Gray:
My personal connection with music is through my parents. They met working at WPFW 89.3FM, which is a local radio station in DC that focuses on jazz and public affairs. Both of my parents are from DC. My dad was a record producer and [eventually] started his own label. I’ve been around music my whole life.

OT: What major changes have you seen in the local music scene in the past 10 years?
JG:
Once things moved more toward [the] Internet, people were moving less toward trying to cultivate a scene and more toward trying to cultivate a persona. That’s where I think we are in music in general, and DC’s just a microcosm of that. A lot of people are spending a lot of energy to cultivate their persona.

OT: With your own music, the collaborations you work on and the performers you support, it seems you’re trying to counterbalance that and keep the “real” in the music. Is this your goal?
JG:
If I’m going to support an artist, I want to know what they’re going to add to the conversation. It’s got to be a dialogue, not a diatribe. You should create from yourself, but not only for yourself. You have to be able to jump inside people’s worlds, especially if you want to make an impact. That’s part of what I’m trying to do – push things forward. Art is always a vehicle for progress or change, because it’s usually the artists that will take that risk before other people. That’s what I’m about.

OT: What do you think DC music needs to push forward?
JG:
There’s a real conversation that has to happen between the artists themselves so we are held to a certain standard, and between the venues and artists so everyone can feel appreciated. A lot of people who want to leave [DC] say there’s no industry here [and] no infrastructure for musicians. I want our community to be globally minded but locally based. People passing through need to know you can come and see good music happening. We need documentation for it – platforms that are invested in the future of it. I’m an advocate, but I’m an artist too. The best thing I can do is continue to push forward good content and experiences, and help build spaces to incubate toward the next level.

OT: What projects are you most excited about right now?
JG:
We are working on a new Nag Champa record. I’m also really excited about my radio show on Full Service Radio called “Late Bloom” that airs live every Wednesday from 7-8:30 p.m. We feature a mix of new and obscure music, and interviews with locally based artists working to make global impact. The Uptown Art House project is continuing, but as a creative agency for artists, musicians, curators and activists.

Listen to Gray weekly on Full Service Radio at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio and check out Nag Champa and Uptown Art House on Facebook: @nagchampadc and @uptownarthouse.


Photo: Sam Segal

Photo: Sam Segal

Peter Lillis

Not only did Peter Lillis help establish Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House’s success as an intimate venue in Adams Morgan focused on local musicians, he’s part of the team behind independent record label Babe City Records, a member of DC-based band Den-Mate, and the marketing manager for Union Stage.

On Tap: You have been involved in many facets of the DC music scene for several years and taken on new roles as the energy has shifted. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Peter Lillis
: In the past five years and perhaps longer, DC was the center of the DIY music and house show scene and really focused on doing shows in nontraditional venues. I got involved around that time, around 2014 or so. I began throwing shows at similar places. I was inspired by the idea of active participation. I got disillusioned by the idea of covering music and wanted to be in bands and put on shows. It took me a few years of doing that to realize I wanted more, and the DIY community was a great opportunity to dive into that. I was inspired by everybody’s personal and communal interest [in] bettering themselves and the scene. There was an exciting movement happening.

OT: Do you think the DIY era is over?
PL:
There’s still a good amount of it, but DC is not getting more affordable. The spaces that were central to that experience are gone now – torn down or renovated and sold. But for me and my colleagues at the other collectives, everyone seems to have upped their game. DC has done a better job of investing in nightlife and entertainment options for people. There’s a lot of money and young people and new options for performers. The Wharf where I am now with Union Stage is a great space for people to play. Songbyrd does great work engaging locals. [Dangerously Delicious Pies] is open on H Street. The house show arc was necessary to get us here. We all got the practice we needed to develop empathy for promoters and bookers. The DIY concept doesn’t need to be confined to people’s homes; it’s not mutually exclusive from commercial venues. The fact that they are going away just means we’ve built something that people want, which is encouraging.

OT: You organize industry panels and meetups. What is the purpose of those?
PL:
When we opened Union Stage, [owners] the Brindley brothers had a very welcoming attitude, which is kind of rare. We concocted this effort to directly engage the music community and see what it would bring. The central idea is to give people a platform to meet and talk and see how everybody works together. The music industry is very connections-based. That can make it difficult for people who don’t have the knowledge or resources to be involved but want to be and are talented and motivated. The meetups and platforms we’ve organized have that in mind. It’s been successful so far, [but] there’s a lot of work left to be done. The city could support local arts in a more effective way. The only way we can communicate that to decision-makers is through collective action, so this is a small effort at doing that. We give people the initial tools and contacts to grow their business while keeping it concerted and learning from the community itself, and we can get feedback and learn how to run our business better.

OT: What do you think is unique about DC as a local musician?
PL:
It’s a somewhat small city but [a] very big media market, so it’s somewhat easy to navigate compared to some of the more entertainment industry cities where there’s a ton of noise. You can meet people and there’s a scrappy attitude, but being the city it is, we get more eyeballs and cred than a city of a similar size in a different location. [It’s] advantageous for local artists to live in our area and be able to play in Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Richmond – you can play any of those places and still be home in your bed at the end of the night. People need to get out of town and start evangelizing the community here, and that’s the only way we’ll become effective on the national, international level.

Join the DC Music Industry group on Facebook to get involved in Lillis’s community efforts. Learn more about Union Stage at www.unionstage.com and Babe City Records artists, including Den-Mate, at www.babecityrecords.com.


Photo: Alicia Raft

Photo: Alicia Raft

Sasha Lord

Sasha Lord has promoted, partnered and worked with numerous groups in the DMV. She has also managed tours for several artists, booking shows abroad and traveling with the musicians. Now based in Brooklyn, Lord is currently GM of the Market Hotel (Brooklyn) and Trans-Pecos (Queens) while remaining the primary booker at Connecticut Avenue-based music venue Comet Ping Pong.

On Tap: How did you get into the business of artist promotion?
Sasha Lord:
I have a background in community outreach and working with at-risk populations. I worked for an outdoor leadership school and I’ve always been community-oriented. In college, I worked at Black Cat and then got the opportunity to [work] at Comet Ping Pong. I also have a background working with people with disabilities, and that’s why I tried to make Comet as accessible as possible. I’ve combined my professional background and community work with my love of music to make a diverse, accessible venue for all ages.

OT: What did you see at Comet, in terms of artists and audiences?
SL:
Comet is beautiful because it’s very much a community. We have a variety of promoters so we have a broad range of types, ages, genres and diversity in music – and that makes it a unique space. My shows will sometimes have an older demographic [while] other promoters have a younger [demographic]. It’s very well-rounded and community-oriented.

OT: What should venue operators and promoters do to elevate DC as city where musicians want to come but also pay attention to the artists who are already here?
SL:
Taking care of artists and being mindful of their needs is crucial. Over the past 10 years booking [at] Comet, I was able to go to festivals [and] tour with people. I curated a showcase at South by Southwest, helped with two events [at] Art Basel and [participated in] art fairs. I toured so I could be a better promoter. It made me realize that Comet is a really good venue, and we’re really good to artists. It made me understand what touring artists go through when they arrive. Maybe they’re exhausted, maybe they spent their last $20 on the Baltimore [Harbor] Tunnel, maybe they’re hungry [and] slept on someone’s floor. I didn’t think about those things until going on tour. I realized how hard it is. So when bands show up, be mindful. I feel for the most part, most of the venues in DC do a good job at that.

OT: Now that you are based in New York, how will you stay involved in DC music?
SL:
I have shows booked at Comet through April and plan to continue to book there. A lot of bands reach out to me now wanting to be booked in both NYC and DC, and it’s awesome that I’m able to do that. I recently booked [80s indie band Beat Happening’s] Calvin Johnson in DC and New York, and have some other things in the works for the next year. I’m cultivating and curating in both cities, so bands will know that they’ll get a good experience at [multiple shows]. I’m not leaving DC. I’m hoping to contribute even more by bridging the cities together.

Read about Lord and her projects at www.sashalordpresents.com and learn more about Comet Ping Pong’s winter lineup at www.cometpingpong.com.

Photo: Courtesy of Ezra Furman
Photo: Courtesy of Ezra Furman

Ezra Furman is Excited About Lunch

Tomorrow, punk-ebullient artist Ezra Furman comes to U Street Music Hall with ex-Deerhunters and ex-Carnivores, Omni. Furman is still touring his 2018 record Transangelic Exodus, a work that rings of inspirations like Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen. However, his take on Americana is queer and it’s the good time we’ve been looking for.

Furman played a wild show at Rock & Roll Hotel last March, one of the funnest I’ve been to, so I jumped at the chance to talk to him, even if only via email. Furman was a fun pen pal though, and I got to ask him about his latest single, a cover of Vampire Weekend’sUnbelievers,” touring life and what excites him (SPOILERS: LUNCH! Also, Furman’s “Unbelievers” kicks the ass out of Vampire Weekend’s original. The difference is that you can tell he’s having a ball.)

On Tap: Tell me about this current tour. How long have you been on the road?
Ezra Furman: Technically this is day three of the tour. But to accurately answer this question, I have to tell you about how tours seem to run together. One ends and you begin preparing for the next one immediately. One begins and it seems like the last one never ended. This is day three of the tour, but also I have been touring for 12 years. It’s a ragged and beautiful tour. It’s a lot of work and often incredibly satisfying, especially in the evenings.

OT: Is the upcoming show the only one you’re going to play with Omni?
EF: No! We started on tour with them last night in Columbus, Ohio. They are playing all eight of these shows with us and I’m delighted about it because they are quite good.

OT: How did you get connected with Omni?
EF: Someone recommended them, can’t remember who. I’d heard of them but not heard their music. I loved it, they were down to do some shows together, and lo, a terrible beauty is born.

OT: Let’s talk about your latest release, because I didn’t see a Vampire Weekend cover coming. Why this song?
EF: First of all, because it’s a very good song from one of my favorite albums of the decade. Second of all, because it’s a song in dialogue with religion, which I am always in dialogue with. I have such a push and pull with my religion, Judaism. I love it so much and find it so fascinating, and also, it often bites, burns [and] rejects me. It’s an untrained dog made of fire. Sometimes I just feel like screaming about it, which this cover gave me the chance to do. Third of all, I could hear the punk song buried inside the Vampire Weekend version. I wanted to dig it up because lately I am persistently in the mood to play punk rock.

OT: Do you play covers often?
EF: Yes. I love playing great songs. Also, I think it helps a band become better – to have some standard of excellence, to study great songs, to see how they’re made and what makes them work. We’ve covered tons of artists: Beck, Kate Bush, the Velvet Underground, Arcade Fire, Little Richard, Madonna [and] more. It’s delicious.

OT: How do you incorporate covers into your practice?
EF: We rehearse them and create our own version and then we play them live. Once in a while we record them. We made an EP of covers a couple of years ago called Songs By Others. I think it’s only on vinyl – there might be CDs. It might not be online.

OT: Do know Vampire Weekend personally? Hear any feedback from them?
EF: My old band and I (Ezra Furman and the Harpoons) heard about them in 2007; they were a college band like us and we were talking about doing shows together. We were messaging on MySpace, I think. Anyways, they put out their first album and blew up so we never played with them. I met them briefly some time around then and we’ve sent some Twitter messages, but we don’t know each other. I heard they liked our cover.

OT: Are you working on any more music?
EF: Always. Been writing and recording punk songs. [It’s] very satisfying. I hope to show you them sometime.

OT: Let’s talk a little about DC. I saw you last time you were at Rock & Roll Hotel. Is there anything that you like to do while in town?
EF: We tend to blow in to town, sound check, have dinner and play music, and then blow on toward the next show. We don’t get a lot of time. But last time we had a night off. It was Shabbat, and I went to services and dinner at a great Jewish congregation called Sixth & I. I highly recommend it, if that’s your sort of thing or even if it might be.

OT: What have you got coming up that you’re excited about?
EF: I’m having lunch really soon and I’m so excited. I get excited about very mundane things sometimes. They’re just amazing.

Furman will be at U Street Music Hall Thursday, November 1 at 7 p.m. Tickets $18. Don’t miss the party. And don’t miss post-punk trio Omni either.

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

Photo: Jim McGuire
Photo: Jim McGuire

Banjo Legend Béla Fleck Part of Terrific Trio

With 16 Grammy Awards to his name, Béla Fleck is not your average banjo player. He’s known throughout the world for redefining the instrument, and sits proudly in the American Banjo Hall of Fame alongside notable players like Jim Henson, Steve Martin and Pete Seeger.

“I first heard the banjo on the Beverly Hillbillies theme,” Fleck says about the bluegrass stylings of banjoist Earl Scruggs, who famously played the tune. “Something about the sound hooked me as a little kid, and then my grandfather unexpectedly got me one just before high school. I became obsessed and still am.”

In 1973, Fleck began at New York City’s High School of Music and Art where he studied the instrument seriously. It didn’t take him long to discover he’d play the banjo for the rest of his life.

“I took no steps to do anything else once I got into it, so there was no escape,” he continues. “No colleges were submitted to, I trained for no jobs. I just came out of high school and right into bands. I was fortunate that my mom was surprised and distracted with a new baby when I was a senior in high school, otherwise I never could have gotten away with it.”

His group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones have been touring for 30 years and have released a plethora of music, most famously, the landmark three-disc Little Worlds. Recently, Fleck also moved into the teaching side, inspiring future youngsters to pursue the instrument professionally.

“I’ve just returned to teaching after not doing it for many years. I just hosted my first banjo camp  The Blue Ridge Banjo Camp – and it went very well, with 100 students.”

On November 10, Fleck will join forces with bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla performer Zakir Hussain for a trio performance presented by Washington Performing Arts at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. While each member of the group is expected to play some solo pieces, Fleck notes there won’t be any individual sets as they’ll perform as a band.

“We are adding a wild card this time: an incredible bansuri player named Rakesh Churasia. The music will be sometimes beautiful and sometimes very exciting. There will be a strong groove, with Zakir’s incredible percussive abilities, and a lot of melody and warmth coming from Edgar’s bowed bass and the rich sounds of the flute. And I’ll be fitting my banjo in there somewhere in the middle.”

The trio has known each other for awhile and play together periodically.

“Rakesh is new to the group, but Edgar and I go way way back, and Zakir and Edgar and I go back 10 years or longer. We got together to create a triple concerto to celebrate the opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony. After that, we loved playing together and toured quite a bit with the trio.”

They even found time to record The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio in 2009. The tour marks the first time they’ll reunite on stage since 2013.

“I would say that Edgar and Zakir have both impacted my music making immensely,” he says. “I can learn from everyone, and that always keeps me intrigued and on my toes.”

Once the tour ends in December, Fleck will start performing again with his wife, clawhammer banjoist Abigail Fleck, who recently gave birth to their second child in June. Together, the two won the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk album.

“I have lots of things brewing, too early to say much, except more touring with the Flecktones and Chick Corea. There is something very powerful about the experience of improvising in front of an audience. There are things that I can only pull off in front of a crowd. They are part of the collaboration.”

Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain will play the Lisner Auditorium on Saturday, November 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40-$50. Learn more about the performance here, and about Fleck here.

Lisner Auditorium: 730 21st St. NW, DC; 202-994-6800; www.lisner.gwu.edu

Photo: Courtesy of St. Pete Holland
Photo: Courtesy of St. Pete Holland

New Single from an Artist to Watch: St. Pete Holland’s “Different Hymn”

Every now and then, dads are right.

Last March, mine told me to check out a new musician – a friend’s son – who had a song on Spotify. Yeah, yeah, sure okay, Dad. Since when did he know what Spotify was?

A month or so later, I needed a procrastination aid and finally got around to looking up, Who was it? [scrolls through emails] St. Pete Holland. By this point, the song Dad had referenced evolved into a seven-track EP entitled Seven Deadly Hymns, which included that first studio-finished single “Yours and Mine.”

Preparing to be underwhelmed by another Romeo and Juliet ballad, I hit the play button on “Capulets.” I was not underwhelmed. In fact, I was kind of whelmed. A whistled intro led me into a perfect little not-love song.

Folksy but not folk and with a little bit of funk, St. Pete Holland is exactly what you want from a modern acoustic act out of Nashville. There is sweet naiveté in the lyrics and singalong beat, but clean progression, clever transformations and educated instrumental references make the earnestness more alluring than maudlin.

A combination of songwriting and guitar skills and a voice tinged with The Fray’s Isaac Slade and The Tallest Man on Earth won the act’s lead – who at the moment goes only by his musical moniker St. Pete/Pete Holland – Demolition Music’s 2017 Nashville Songwriters Competition.

It was also in Nashville where he met the other two core performers on the Seven Deadly Hymns EP, Jackson Bruck (Dukes of Hume) and Patrick Fuller (son of country rock’s Craig Fuller). “Nashville is incredible,” St. Pete says. “It’s porch-sitting. It’s open and vulnerable unlike anywhere else I’ve lived – NYC, Philly, London, L.A…”

St. Pete says he knows what he’s supposed to be doing is music, and soon enough, it’s going to be his main focus.

“When I was about 13, I started playing the guitar. I had stumbled on a Led Zeppelin remastered box set. I went crazy with it and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I just wanted to be Jimmy Page.”

While his personal style has veered away from Zeppelin, the musician says to be a good songwriter you have to listen to what inspires you. By listening, and paying attention to the ideas that float by, he can sit down and build a song from the inside out to “come up with something that has a pulse when it’s done.”

“I wrote 100 songs in Nashville. Now it’s time to record.”

He has done a bit of recording recently – the latest single from St. Pete Holland, “Different Hymn,” dropped today.

St. Pete is currently based in Los Angeles, but frequently travels back east for musical collaboration (and because we all know that “best coast” thing is bullshit). Take a listen. Maybe we can get him to swing through the District.

For more information on St. Pete Holland and Seven Deadly Hymns, click here.

Photo: Dan Ball
Photo: Dan Ball

Unheralded Lucero Soldiers on through 9:30 Club

Lucero‘s upcoming concert at 9:30 Club will hopefully serve as a reminder of how hard longevity is for rock bands and why the accomplishment is worth celebrating. Returning to their “home away from home,” Lucero will feature new literary songs fashioned by solo singer and lyricist, Ben Nichols, who has written their heartbreaking hits since the band’s inception in 1998.

For 20 years, Lucero has toured under the radar, serenading listeners across the country. Even with 12 albums under their belt, Lucero sometimes sees blank expressions when their name is mentioned. Fortunately, this does not deter them from traveling year-round for an ever-growing following throughout the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

The band’s current lifespan was unexpected for the four-piece band.

“I didn’t think it would last, but I had this romanticized idea of starting a rock and roll band and piling in a van and traveling the country,” Nichols says. “I never planned on changing the world or becoming The Beatles. I just wanted to be one of those garage bands that get in a van and play punk rock shows.”

Despite playing for two decades, the band doesn’t lament mainstream notoriety, as Nichols humbly insists, “we are not a slick, professional-type band. We have shot ourselves in the foot numerous times, probably. Poor decision making here and there.”

“I think there are only certain music listeners that are going to appreciate what we do,” he continues. “It’s not for the general public, even though our crowds keep growing. It’s never going to be mainstream; we don’t want to be.”

Content with their status in the music industry, Lucero prides themselves on maintaining artistic integrity.

“We are a small business, a working band,” Nichols says. “We’re not rich and famous, but we get to do what we love doing, and we’re paying the bills [while] doing it. We ended up exactly where we wanted to be.”

Nichols’ life has traditionally provided much of the inspiration for the band’s often emotional music. However, the latest album Among the Ghosts features a generally fictional narrative drawn from books and old war letters.

“I wanted to become a better songwriter,” Nichols says. “It’s easy to write down a diary entry and have raw emotions spill out on the page, which works sometimes, but we’ve done a lot of that in the past.”

The reach of the new LP is broader, meant to connect with different listeners.

“There’s a song, ‘To My Dearest Wife,’ [and] it’s kind of about a soldier being far from home and writing back home to his wife,” Nichols explains. “There’s an impending battle, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He says [in the letter] kiss our baby girls.”

“There are things I can relate to in this song that aren’t about me,” he continues. “Obviously, I’m not a soldier. I’m not in a war anywhere, but being gone from home is tough. I have a two year-old baby daughter back home, and it’s a different kind of heartbreak being on tour now.”

For a time, Lucero was touring 200-250 shows a year, but has recently scaled back to an average of about 140 per year.

Though the style and years have changed Lucero, their tone has largely remained unchanged.

“I like old rock and roll songs,” Nichols says. “There’s nothing wrong with songs about girls, songs about having a good time. I do a little bit of that, but I like dark, sad songs too.”

To engage their following, Nichols constantly strives for consistent resonance between the band and fans.

“Writing these songs have really gotten me through some tough times,” Nichols says. “To hear from those who have been through tough times and hearing that our music helps [is] big. Hearing about soldiers in Afghanistan… and it helps get them through, those are very nice stories to hear.”

Even though Lucero has accomplished more than they originally set out to, the band still has more goals for the future.

“I would love to have Stevie Nicks’ voice on some of the stuff we’ve written,” Nichols says. “Especially with the Among the Ghost record, her voice would actually fit right in there perfectly. That would be a dream come true.”

Lucero will perform at 9:30 Club on October 14. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at www.930.com.

Learn more about the band here and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @luceromusic.

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

Junglepussy

Music Picks: October 2018

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3

Leon Bridges with Khruangbin
These two Texan musicians are bringing their acts to the East Coast early this month. Khruangbin sources their inspiration from their newest work Con Todo El Mundo from soul and funk music in the Middle East, which I wouldn’t have even considered to be a thing until I looked into this album. Leon Bridges will bring some classic R&B and soul with a country twang to The Anthem from his new album Good Thing. Though they may occupy dissimilar genres, the smooth soulfulness of their music ties them together really nicely and makes pairing them together on tour a fantastic idea. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6

Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation’s Hillfest
Hillfest, an all-day, free concert held in Garfield Park, will bring musicians together in an effort to translate performances into policy. The festival begins with a conference addressing policy concerns that directly affect musicians on a local and national level, followed by a day-long concert. Enjoy performances by bands such as Stefon Harris & Blackout, JOGO Project, Cheryl Pepsii Riley and many more. Learn more about music and marketing through the conferences that will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, and enjoy the various vendors showcasing their wares on Friday. Garfield Park: 2nd and F Streets in SE, DC; www.hillfest.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5

Lupe Fiasco
Chicago rap veteran Lupe Fiasco released his new album Drogas Wave in late September. The 24-track album features frequent collaborators like Nikki Jean, Crystal Torres and Simon Sayz, as well as new ones like Damian Marley. Though he’s always been a prominent voice in conscious rap, Fiasco’s work has taken on a new level of self-awareness – especially amid the various controversies and threats of retirement of the past few years. Hopefully, this new album gives fans of his old work something to be excited about again. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $30. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6

Black Masala CD Release Party
Celebrate the release of Trains and Moonlight Destinies from this dynamic live brass band based in DC. One of their many musical influences comes from India in the form of Bhangra music. Even their name refers to a term used to describe a mix of spices often used in Indian cuisine. Their eclectic tunes run the gamut from jazz and New Orleans funk to Balkan brass and free-spirited, Romani-tinged folk with punk-rock vibes. Hopefully, their new album demonstrates a bit of growth when it comes to their liberal use of the “g” slur. It’s 2018 and we need to do a bit better, no? Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

The Presets with Blood Red Shoes
Australian electronic duo The Presets and English alt-rockers Blood Red Shoes take the stage this month at U Hall. Rolling Stone Song of the Year winners The Presets released Hi Viz a few months back after going years without releasing any big projects. Blood Red Shoes took a similar hiatus right before starting to record their new album Get Tragic, which is set to debut in January. According to a recent Clash interview, their leading single “Mexican Dress” is about the lengths people will go to for attention. “Whether it’s online or in real life, small hits of validation and the feeling of having all eyes on you have become our generation’s biggest drug problem,” says guitarist and vocalist Laura- Mary Carter. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

MONDAY, OCTOBER 8

J Cole, Young Thug, Jaden Smith and EarthGang
There’s so much to be excited about for this tour – for one, you get to see J. Cole. Did you know his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive went platinum with no features? I’m so thankful for Cole’s KOD era so that meme can finally be laid to rest. Also, Young Thug posted bond for the felony charges he stacked up in Georgia, so we can expect to see him on this tour date. Plus, he has a new song “On the Rvn” in the works with the legendary Elton John, 6lack and tourmate Jaden Smith that should be coming out any day now. Smith and EarthGang round out this very comprehensive lineup that represents various facets of the rap world and conveniently places them all together on one stage just for you. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $29.50. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9

Nine Inch Nails with The Jesus and Mary Chain
In honor of their ninth album Bad Witch, NIN is joining fellow white noise lovers The Jesus and Mary Chain on The Cold and Black and Infinite Tour in October. Scottish alternative pioneers JMC released Damage and Joy in 2017 – their most recent music prior to that was from 2002, so it’s been more than a decade since any fan has seen them play new music on tour. It’ll be an experience to see these two bands touring together again since it’s been almost 30 years since they’ve shared a bill. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $95-$175. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC;
www.theanthemdc.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11

Mija
The mysterious producer is coming to Ten Tigers and bringing her unique sound with her. Some of her musical influences include Björk as well as Chopin, Imogen Heap and Nicolas Jaar. The Just Enough EP, which only features two songs, debuted earlier this summer. With these tracks, Mija delves deeper into the concept of her own genre-bending production that she somehow still manages to fill with sensitivity, introspection and raw emotion. She also has a collaboration with Heelys, which accurately reflects her reluctance to stick to only one medium of expression. Any artist that’s making music while simultaneously designing (and probably wearing) Heelys out here in these streets is someone that is clearly riding their own wave, and I definitely respect that. Doors at 10:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Ten Tigers Parlour: 3818 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.tentigersdc.com

MONDAY, OCTOBER 15

Mikaela Davis
Singer, songwriter and classically trained harpist Mikaela Davis dropped her debut album Delivery this July, but it’s definitely not the angels-coming-down-from-heaven harp playing that you’d think. Davis uses her harp as one would use a guitar, and her music takes elements from psychedelic rock, chamber pop and folk. For good examples, check out her songs “Get Gone” and “Other Lover,” and be sure to check out her show when she comes to DC, too. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $13-$15. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18

Junglepussy
Junglepussy continues to flourish as she steps further into the greatness she claimed for herself on 2015’s Pregnant With Success. Since then, this queen of affirmation, health and self-awareness has catapulted to new heights not only with musical cameos (shout-out to Insecure) but onscreen ones too. The good sis has an IMDb page now and has appeared in shows like Mostly 4 Millennials, the SXSW movie Support the Girls and HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness. If you missed her in any of these roles, you owe it to yourself to check out her live show when she comes to DC to give us a taste of her newest album JP3. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Little Dragon
Little Dragon is a Swedish electronic band, or at least that’s how they’re often described. To me, Yukimi Nagano’s vocals and the intelligent musical compositions of her bandmates catapult them into their own realm. The haunting soulfulness in Nagano’s voice makes them able to work with people like Big Boi, Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller (RIP), De La Soul and more. They have a newer song with Faith Evans called “Peace of Mind” up on their website that you should check out if you want to see what I’m talking about. In any case, this is a can’t-miss show especially since it’ll be at an intimate venue like Rock & Roll. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $35. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC;  www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20

Mae
Call me a nerd for this, but I literally did a project about Mae and the concept albums they released back when I was in high school. Oddly enough, it was for a class where we made our own websites from scratch to learn HTML, and my little artist page and bio that I wrote about them turned out really nice if I do say so myself. Maybe it was the precursor that led me to my true destiny of writing tons of mini-artist bios about upcoming concerts for a local magazine. Personal anecdotes aside, I have a tremendous amount of reverence for one of the bands that formed my emotional landscape as a youth, cemented my love of concept albums and earned me an A in my web design class. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $22-$40. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 21

J Balvin
At the time this was written, Colombia’s own J Balvin was the second most streamed artist on Spotify – worldwide. The artist has been working tirelessly to bridge the language barrier of popular music in the American mainstream, and whatever he’s doing is finally paying off. With the recent success of his Cardi B and Beyoncé collabs, and the constant stream of bangers he puts out, I’d say his goal is well within reach. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $39. EagleBank Arena: 4500 Patriot Cir. Fairfax, VA; www.eaglebankarena.com

Lily Allen
LDN-born Lily Allen is back with her new album No Shame. The last I’d heard from her was about her culturally appropriative video for her single “Hard Out Here,” and since then, I’ve not been able to see her music the same way though I had been a huge fan of hers since 2007. Upon realizing she would be coming to DC, I looked to see what she had been up to. In the four years since Sheezus, it seems the pop star has experienced much growth. Not only has she apologized for the insensitive video, but she wrote a memoir detailing her experiences with motherhood, addiction and the perils experienced since rising to fame at such a young age. In her new album, her maturity is apparent – the cheeky honesty that’s been a hallmark of her music from the beginning now comes forth with a lot more vulnerability and wisdom. Her evolution as an artist makes me proud to be a fan again. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $35-$40. The Fillmore: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25

NSO Pops Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Live Orchestra
The number one reason to go see this show is to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of having an orchestra play you the Star Wars theme (and the other songs from the soundtrack that are arguably much less iconic) note for note while the movie plays in real time. The number two reason is that if you go see this, you will be able to brag to your friends about how cool it was – and no one would be able to top it unless, you know, they were in the original film or something. Tuesday’s show begins at 7 p.m. but the other two shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets $34-$149. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25

Beach Fossils and Wavves
For some reason, I really like surf-inspired rock that’s heavy on the angst and emotion. It makes me feel like I’m lying on the beach next to my surfboard contemplating my life choices (mind you, I’ve never even so much as looked at a surfboard up close in real life). Beach Fossils and Wavves will be joining forces with opener Kevin Krauter, whose music offers a nice change of pace to balance everything out. Wavves will be headlining on Wednesday and Beach Fossils on Thursday. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I’m going to keep it 100 here and say that what marginal knowledge I have of Nick Cave comes from eavesdropping on the excited chatter of my editor. Quite a few members of our editorial staff really go up for this man and are super excited for him to come all the way from Australia to our little corner of DC. From what a brief jaunt through some Google pages has taught me, this post-punk poster boy and his crew are a very on-brand choice to really amp up the Halloween vibes. Catch them at The Anthem this fall. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $60-$100. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28

Kllo
Australian duo Kllo is a staple on many “chill” type playlists populating Spotify. The light, airy R&B-inspired vocals of Chloe Kaul and the skillful production of her cousin Simon Lam make for an ambient blend of music that is danceable yet incredibly calming. Come see what all the fuss is about when they travel to DC this month on the U.S. leg of their tour. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Photo: Doug Van Sant
Photo: Doug Van Sant

Homegrown Festival All Things Go Highlights DC Music Scene

Zack Friendly has been committed to advancing DC’s music scene for more than a decade. Determined to share his taste and talent for spotting artists on the verge of making it big, he did what everyone within his niche did in the mid-2000s: ran a blog. What started out as an online side project would eventually become the All Things Go Fall Classic, a fast-growing music festival in the District.

This year’s festival will be held at Union Market on October 6-7, with an all-female lineup the first day. All Things Go is focused on highlighting as much female talent as possible to help combat the myth that female festival headliners are economically lesser than their male counterparts, and the statistic that only 14 percent of headliners are women, according to a 2017 Pitchfork study.

Headliners Maggie Rogers and Lizzy Plapinger, formerly of the band MS MR but currently performing as LPX, collaborated with the festival’s founders to help curate the performer lineup. Artists like Ravyn Lenae, OSHUN, Billie Eilish and Jessie Reyez are a few of the kickass women they’ll share the stage with, but the female-powered partnerships don’t end there.

Rogers and Plapinger – along with other women in the music lineup and prominent women in the DC food and distilling communities – will speak on free-with-RSVP Women X Music and Women X Entrepreneurship panels at the new Eaton Hotel on October 5 to kickstart the festival weekend. The event is also partnering with the Women’s March to register festivalgoers to vote in their Power to the Polls initiative.

Friendly and his fellow founders (Will Suter, Adrian Maseda and Stephen Vallimarescu) chose Union Market as this year’s festival host, a spot brimming with local food vendors, brewers, artists and other DC-based businesses highlighting the District’s cultural contributions. The NoMa locale has morphed from a large wholesale area to a bustling metropolis of cuisine and distilling, with a “block party” vibe that Friendly is particularly excited about.

His blog-turned-festival got its start in 2006, when he and Maseda were searching for a way to share their musical preferences with the world.

“It was when music blogs were the source of new music, rather than Spotify or Tidal,” Friendly says.

As streaming services proliferated, they pivoted to stay relevant. Rather than sharing music directly, they began curating playlists, using the platforms to promote their discoveries. From 2009 to 2010, Friendly took one step closer to launching the festival by setting up a series of live music components with the help of publicists, labels, managers and agents. They hosted shows at venues like U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club and SXSW, as well as other pop-ups around DC.

The inevitable transition from smaller events to a larger-scale festival was a “natural progression.” The group launched the first All Things Go in 2014 to spotlight emerging artists from the DMV and beyond. It’s extremely important to the founders to provide a homegrown spirit to the festival.

“We grew up going to music festivals, like the DC101 Chili Cook-Off and HFStival,” Friendly says. “[We’re] trying to bring some of what Lollapalooza brings to Chicago or Austin City Limits brings to Austin. We wanted to highlight DC. It’s a real destination for music.”

Friendly adds that the DC music scene has been alive and well for a long time, citing the city’s contributions to the punk scene and the birthplace of go-go music. With that in mind, the All Things Go founders always pay close attention to musicians cutting their teeth in the area. Among this year’s local acts are FootsXColes, Cautious Clay – a Brooklyn transplant who moved here to attend George Washington University – and the now New York-based OSHUN.

But highlighting DC as a music destination goes beyond drawing in famous performers for the festival. As All Things Go continues to grow with innovation and inclusion, Friendly knows there will always be room for improvement.

“We always joke that the first year we made 100 mistakes, and we fixed 90 of them and created 20. There’s just a constant back-and-forth. What’s been great for us is trying to find our way to get it perfect. We’re not there yet, but I just love seeing these fans buy tickets on the first day who I recognize and who were there [from] day one. Slowly seeing the audience build organically and [hearing] people say ‘Hey, I don’t know who [this artist] is, but I trust you guys.’  That feeling is why we do this.”

Don’t miss the 2018 All Things Go Fall Classic from Saturday, October 6 to Sunday, October 7 at Union Market. Tickets start at $65 and can be purchased at www.allthingsgofallclassic.com.

Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; 888-512-7469; www.allthingsgofallclassic.com

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez

St. Lucia Brings New Record To Life On Stage

Some bands have the ability to sound great on a record but struggle to bring that same quality of sound onstage. Others are the opposite, captivating in real time but less inspiring later on. Since the release of St. Lucia’s first EP in 2012 to their new record Hyperion, they’ve proven time and time again that they’ve hit the happiest of sonic mediums.

Jean-Philip Grobler (the group’s founder, frontman and primary songwriter) and company make the perfect music to soundtrack an early fall road trip with earworms like “Dancing on Glass” and “Elevate.” They also consistently sell out iconic music halls, including their last run at 9:30 Club. In fact, they sold out two New York City shows at Pier 17 ahead of Hyperion’s release. Grobler is adamant their live show has helped them realize the full spectrum of their music, set them apart from peers and has garnered them a loyal fan base through the years.

“I loved making the album,” he explains. “It’s a grueling process, but it’s necessary. Through that process, I fully rediscover who I am as a person and an artist each time. The record really comes to life onstage, through people seeing and hearing the songs performed live. Sometimes [listening to a record] is too much for people to absorb. It’s like hearing just the audio of a movie and thinking, ‘What exactly is going on?’ and then seeing the movie and hearing the audio, which makes way more sense.”

St. Lucia is preparing to bring even more energy on this tour, which kicked off at the aforementioned sold out Pier 17 dates. Grobler and his bandmates will be back at the 9:30 Club on November 5 and 6.

“I feel like out of all of our records, [Hyperion] is tailor-made to be played live because it was constructed as a ‘band in a room’ kind of record, even though there’s also a higher production value there,” he says.

“We have the craziest production lights and rigs we’ve ever taken on tour, and we have this custom video content.”

Aside from the bells and whistles, their live show is part of their identity at this point.

“We believe in playing music as a band, but we also believe in bringing a show so that people get more than maybe what they would expect from the size venues that we’re playing.”

While their lush, breezy sound will have you dancing in your car on a daily commute as much as in front of the stage in concert, don’t write them off because of their pop-leaning sound – especially in this contemplative full-length effort. The band is more than meets the eye, or the first listen.

“I feel like in music and art in general, it more celebrates what’s f–ked up and negative,” Grobler says. “People, for some reason, believe your art more if you’re a dark person. I’m making this music that’s very positive and uplifting, but I think it’s important that all art has balance – that it explores the dark and light sides of the human condition. Having Indy made me think a lot more about that. To me, it comes across on the record and it feels like it’s a deeper exploration of both ideas.”

Indy is, of course, Grobler’s son with his wife and St. Lucia bandmate Patti Beranek. She was pregnant during the writing and recording stages of Hyperion, and that life-altering experience for both naturally gravitated into the sound of the album. Global chaos and impending first-time fatherhood led him to meditate on what kind of good and bad things in the world would greet Indy when he finally arrived.

“I would definitely call myself an optimistic person. I’m quite romantic and I think the world is beautiful. But I also see how it’s f–ked up in a lot of ways. A lot of the album is just dealing with being that kind of person in this world. We have this very positive vibe to our music. From the outside, I think for people who listen to darker music, it can be difficult for them to make that jump. But I think if they did, they would find something good in it.”

The reciprocal relationship music creates between artist and listener lies at the heart of everything St. Lucia creates. As excited as he is to inspire listeners through a record and in person, Grobler thrives off the energy and excitement fans new and old provide with each new album.

“When you start touring [and] you see people singing along to the words, that’s such a moving thing. There were so many moments of self doubt in making all these records. I think it’s natural for an artist to experience that. You go through this really grueling pilgrimage and process of making a record and then you release it, and you’re f–king terrified of what people might think. But then to just see how it moves people – and we haven’t seen it yet with this record – I’m really, really looking forward to that.”

Move and be moved with St. Lucia at the 9:30 Club on Monday, November 5 and Tuesday, November 6. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32.50. Learn more about the show at www.930.com, and about the band at www.stlucianewyork.com.

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

Photo: www.4uprince.com
Photo: www.4uprince.com

Prince’s Musical Magnificence Lives on Through 4U

Honoring a genius like the late Prince requires a particularly artistic tenacity few artists can reach. The short list includes 4U, the official Prince estate approved symphonic orchestra who delighted Prince aficionados on September 15 at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Art’s Filene Center

In the grand wood-paneled amphitheater, 4U offered both familiar and unheralded renditions of Prince’s catalog. Hits as notable as “Little Red Corvette” and “When Doves Cry” even made guests in the upper tiers croon, as the 20-member orchestra reminded attendees why loving Prince is an uncontrollable sensation.

Songs not popularly played on radio stations during his glory days still sat well with listeners, as the audience tried their best to catch the melody and hum along; it was as though they were connecting with royalty despite the barriers between life and death.

Despite his absence, the voice of Prince was heard and his essence was felt. It was most obvious as jiving and clapping was seen throughout the grounds as if Prince had resurrected for once last performance to say I love you all.

4U’s full-scale production was curated by Questlove, and included imagery offering a glimpse into the world of Prince. Shown on stage were handwritten notes, classic black and white inspired short films and history-making concert performances all honoring the culprit of their collective joy.

The night created a rare occasion where past and present intersect, allowing the two to coexist, creating new memories for the future. Generations came together effortlessly, amplifying the significance and legend of Prince.

It was appropriately grand and continued past the encore of “Purple Rain,” when no one wanted to leave because the truth would set in shortly after; the idea that we have heard the last of the artist formerly known, but never forgotten as Prince.

For more information about Wolf Trap’s fall schedule, please visit their online calendar.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1645 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1868; www.wolftrap.org