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Photo: Michael Coleman

DC Locals Gather at WeDC House in Austin

On the opening weekend of Austin, Texas’ international musical extravaganza known as SXSW, DC was definitely in the house – the WeDC House.

Some of DC’s hottest musical acts joined city officials, unofficial city ambassadors and hundreds of curiosity seekers for a three-day party celebrating not only the unique musical identity of the nation’s capital, but also the city’s reputation as an emerging hotbed for technology and innovation.

The DC crew set up shop at Bangers, a hip, indoor-outdoor space on Rainey Street, the epicenter of SXSW. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Austin with glittering views of the global tech hub’s rapidly expanding skyline, the District party jumped off Sunday with a distinctly DC Funk Parade theme featuring Cautious Clay, Innanet James, Sneaks, Malik Dope Drummer and DJ Mane Squeeze. Monday’s showcase was a who’s-who talent including Dubfire, SHAED, RDGLDGRN and Will Eastman.

Innanet James’ banging set was a highlight of Sunday’s party, and closed with his feel-good jam “Summer,” which had the crowd on its feet. Afterward, the Silver Spring native told On Tap he was honored to be a part of the DC-branded event, and even prouder of the music scene percolating in the nation’s capital.

“I’m real proud of it, you know what I’m saying,” James said. “It’s so good to see the number of artists coming up. I’m happy for everybody to be finally getting our stamp. It’s cool because the door isn’t all the way open but with everybody coming up next, we’re kicking the door open.”

While the WeDC House celebrated DC music, city officials – including Deputy Mayor Brian T. Kenner – were working the crowd, chatting up tech executives and selling the city as America’s “capital of inclusive innovation.”

After Sneaks’ laconic and mesmerizing rhymes further captivated the audience, Kenner took the microphone and hyped DC as a tech and innovation center to the influential crowd. Then the enthusiastic deputy mayor – brimming with excitement about possibilities for his hometown – sat for an interview with On Tap, in which he explained the city’s mission at SXSW.

“We’re pitching,” Kenner explained. “A couple of weeks ago we were in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland talking to technology companies who were thinking about expanding and asked them to think about Washington, DC. Now we’re in Austin and we want to remind people why they should think about [DC].”

While the Rainey St. event and cutting-edge music drew crowds and matched the party theme of SXSW week, Kenner said city economic development officials were all about business. Indeed, On Tap spied Keith J. Sellars, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership, deep into a long conversation with one tech executive during Cautious Clay’s intense and eclectic set.

“What you see here is the front of the office,” Kenner said gesturing toward the party. “But the back of the office is meetings and tracking of all the engagement we have coming in here. It’s a story we’re trying to curate here. We want people to know we’re a cool city and the word is getting out.”

Editor’s Note: Though the above story isn’t solely about SXSW’s music, the majority of our coverage this week will indeed focus on the tunes. Hope you enjoy! Follow our adventures on Instagram @ontapmagazine, and for more be sure to follow our music troops on the ground: @monicaclarealford, @mkkoszycki and @colemancoversaustin

Photo: Daniel Retaleato

Zahra Watches Friendship Flourish with New Single, Video

When Northern Virginia-based artist Zahra Sanie (who releases a beautiful blend of pop and r&b under her first name) sat down to write her newest single, she didn’t have to look far for inspiration. She took her relationship with her roommate turned best friend, Haley, and turned it into a sparkling song about the importance of unspoken bonds between two people and the comfort of being around someone who just gets you, no explanations needed.

“I was at a point where I really, really needed her in my life and I didn’t know it until she was in front of me,” she explains. “I was struggling a lot with my mental health and having someone who matched me in the most effortless, nurturing ways was a gift from the universe. The day that ‘Haley (Snow Jays)’ is about, was just us in our element, together, watching movies. We decided to roll joints for ourselves, laughing and calling them snow jays, and I wrote the hook right then.”

To recreate the vibe that inspired the song, they created a slumber party-inspired video, highlighting their closeness in the process. “[Our] nature is typically slumped on the couch, watching Netflix together so that just had to be a part of the video. I was really hoping to translate both our relationship and my personality through this video and I think we were successful in that.”

Zahra and a family friend built the set by hand, which eventually evolved into crafting a mini version of the set representing her and Haley in another dimension. In addition to the care and effort put in to building the world that allows viewers a peek inside their worlds, Haley and Zahra were in good company during the creative process as the video was directed by Sean Cooper who’s shot artists like Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna, to name a few.

“Working with Sean Cooper is a dream. He’s incredibly talented and is always focused on an artist’s vision and how to make that come alive in the best way. He has such a calm energy, he makes it so easy to get comfortable in front of the camera which I think makes all the difference. He’s completely self made with an absolutely relentless work ethic so I am incredibly lucky to be able to work with him.”

While the three creatives have much to celebrate with the release of the single and video, Zahra’s still hard at work with much on the horizon. Since she realeased her 2018 EP Honestly, Truly she’s been carefully putting together even more new material, and hopes to tour thoroughly this summer. If “Haley (Snow Jays)” is any indication of what’s to come, we can be sure that this new voice is one to keep your eyes on.

“Haley (Snow Jays)” is out on Rare Fruit Records today and is available to stream and purchase on all major platforms. For more on Zahra, follow Rare Fruit Records on Facebook  and Soundcloud and follow her on Instagram @zahratonin.

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside Richard the Third’s Doom Rock Inspired Soundtrack

Shakespeare and doom rock are not two things one would associate. But in the world of Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Richard the Third the two are intrinsically linked, thanks to composer Lindsay Jones. A lifelong lover of music, Jones has been playing since he was a teen and is entirely self taught. While working as an actor in Chicago, he began scoring plays as a side gig. Combined with his passion for music, it quickly became a legitimate career that’s seen him score a host of successful productions throughout the country. Now,  25 years into his career crafting innovative compositions for theatre, Jones lent his talent – and love for doom rock, punk and metal – to the score of STC’s dark performance.

OT: How did you come to work with Shakespeare Theatre Company on this play?
Lindsay Jones: When I first sat down with [artistic director] David Muse, he told me he wanted [the score] to be punk rock. I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of punk rock, but I never get asked to make punk rock. There just aren’t a lot of theatres in America looking for punk rock soundtracks. As he described it to me, he said he wanted it to start out very punk and full of energy, but as the play went on, to get distorted and ugly and dirty.

OT: How did you or the others involved in the play decide to approach the score using doom rock?
LJ: I started thinking of using doom rock, which is slow, and dirge-y but still super distorted – the soundtrack of your nightmares, basically. I wanted to start with punk rock [that became] doom rock as it went along. But it occurred to me that in the structure of Richard the Third, in the beginning of the play Richard says, “I’m planning this takeover, I’m going to slowly methodically knock out all of my enemies til’ I get to be king.” There’s not a lot of fast stuff in there. Once Richard is king, everything starts falling apart and becoming more frantic and crazy. Halfway through I realized I was doing this in reverse – it should start slower and speed up as it goes, so that’s what we did.

OT: What other elements played into the score’s composition?|
LJ: As I was walking out of David’s office after our initial meeting, he told me he had this other idea for the actors to be playing body percussion along with the music. I didn’t know how that was going to play itself out. They hired an amazing movement choreographer named Stephanie Paul, who in rehearsal worked with the actors to create complex sequences where they’re playing on their bodies with knives and sticks – all sorts of things. They’re pounding out complicated rhythms while sequences are happening. So I would watch videos of the actors doing these movement sequences, figure out what the BPM was and then create music that fit.

OT: That’s an incredibly unique element – and incredibly challenging to work with, I can imagine!
LJ: Rock music doesn’t usually have a lot of space for additional percussion. The whole idea is it’s super loud and regressive. The first challenge was just fitting everything in. We ended up [putting microphones on] the stage and performers, so I could pick up [the percussion] and amplify it to the same volume level as the recorded music.

The other challenge, which probably took us the longest time to sort out, is that these actors worked for several weeks creating percussion sequences and got pretty good at it, but they weren’t initially trying to perform these sequences along to anything else [like music].  As soon as I show up with recorded music at a certain tempo every time no matter what – it was a lot of telling them to start at a certain beat, keep up with a certain rhythm, listen to parts of the score – so they could hear the rhythm they have to keep up with.

So we’re telling them “okay actors, you’re going to speak, you’re going to play rhythm on your body and you’re going to attempt to stay completely in time with this recorded piece of music that’s playing along.” I have to give the cast a tremendous amount of credit. It was tricky but they hung in there, and wanted to make it work. When you see the performance now, it all seems like second nature. But at the time of putting it together, we definitely had moments of thinking “oh my god, what have we done?”

OT: How have your audiences received the score?
LJ: People who are casual theatre fans are really excited by it. The reviews have either said “wow, this is a totally crazy interpretation of this play and I really enjoyed it” or “oh my god, what did they do, I don’t know how I feel about it!”

One of the reviews called the score “post-Wayne’s World,” so if your relationship to hard rock music is Wayne’s World, I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help you.

OT: Scoring any play, but especially a Shakespeare classic like Richard the Third, is no small task. Why do you think this job is so important, and what keeps you in this industry?
LJ: I’ve started teaching how to write theatre compositions recently and one of the things I like to tell my students is that music is really the emotional context by which you’re going to receive drama. This speech I’m giving right now about how music affects – you could imagine that while I’m giving it there’s a slow building underscore that’s really inspirational and exciting. That’s going to totally frame the context by which you’re getting this information. If I gave the same speech with dark scar music, it completely changes the context by which you see it because now you’re imagining something terrible is going to happen.

Music is incredibly powerful and influential. When you’re given the responsibility of creating music that’s going to match live drama, you really have a great responsibility to try to make the music as close to what the action is as possible, so that the audience is receiving the clearest and most expressive form of the story.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third runs through Sunday, March 10 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Tickets $44-$102. For more on composer Lindsay Jones, visit www.linsdayjones.com. You can find the punk, metal and doom rock songs that inspired Jones’ compositions below.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Richard the Third – tracks and influences

Track: Richard III 

Influence – Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath 

Track: This Is War

Influence – Boilermaker by The Jesus Lizard

Track: To The Sanctuary 

Influence: Bliss In Concrete by Pelican 

Track: Full Speed Ahead 

Influence: Otsegolectric by Static-X 

Track: Zadok The Priest 

Influence: The Prophet’s Song by Queen 

Track: A Needless Coward 

Influence: This Isn’t The Place by Nine Inch Nails 

Photo: Courtesy of Black Girls Rock!

BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Comes to The Kennedy Center

After more than a decade since its inception, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has become an unstoppable force in the fight to empower black women in the arts and in the world. In its latest venture, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has partnered with The Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture to launch the inaugural BGR! Fest beginning on International Women’s Day.

“I think it’s going to be pretty awesome,” says Beverly Bond, founder and CEO of BLACK GIRLS ROCK!. “It’s really a great gathering of black women artists. Black women don’t always get those mainstage platforms. The combination of everybody we have on the show, together in this one space during International Women’s weekend, is going to be a powerful statement.”

The three-day event features a free welcome party with celebrity DJs Mc Lyte and Bond herself, a book talk, panels, a concert with headliner Jazmine Sullivan, DC’s own Maimouna Youssef and more.

“The crazy part is that the panel sold out before the concert,” Bond says. “And Michaela Angela Davis, who is actually one of the panelists, had to stop for a minute and say, ‘You know what? I appreciate that the panel sold out before the concert! Black women are here to fix it!’”

Bond worked closely with The Kennedy Center’s Director of Hip Hop Culture Simone Eccleston while producing BGR! Fest. It wasn’t the first time they’d worked together.

“This is the second touch point with BGR,” Eccleston says. “Back in 2014, the center had a multi-week festival celebrating hip-hop culture known as the One Mic Festival. As part of the three weeks of programming, there was a collaboration with BGR to present Rock Like a Girl.”

After connecting at the One Mic Festival, Eccleston and Bond established a professional relationship and a genuine friendship. It was only a matter of time before they found a mutual cause to bring them together again.

“Within the Hip Hop Culture program, one of our specific areas of focus has been celebrating women,” Eccleston says. “We’ve continued with that throughline over the arc of the season, and it would only be fitting that Beverly Bond be back and for us to have BGR!Fest.”

The timely collaboration between BLACK GIRLS ROCK! and The Kennedy Center on International Women’s Day weekend signifies the recognition of black women and their contributions to arts and society.

“The goal of the program is to provide audiences at large with an understanding of the breadth and depth of the culture and its impacts, not only on contemporary society, but its role in

shaping culture,” she continues. “If we’re talking about communities that have shaped culture and sparked innovation, you cannot have that conversation without having black women at the center of it.”

While the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! organization has achieved great success and popularity, the movement has inspired black women and girls to assert themselves with its now famous namesake phrase.

“I want them to know that black girls rock,” Bond said. “If they’re taking away one thing, it’s to support our art, support our artists and to help elevate our voices.”

Join BRG! Fest at The Kennedy Center on March 10 at 8 p.m. Concert tickets are $59-$119 and available at here. Learn more about BGR! Fest here.

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Silvia Grav

Review: Cass McCombs Channels Laurel Canyon and New Wave at Union Stage

To be honest, Cass McCombs’ voice struck as somewhat rough when he began to sing on March 4 at Union Stage. Despite the start, he proceeded to sing for two hours and everyone loved it.

McCombs is touring the February 8 release of his latest and ninth record Tip of the Sphere, a nonsense pun on “tip of the spear,” (because, as you know, spheres are rounded on all sides.)

The music is just as opaque as the title. Like Jonathan Wilson’s sound, the record channels a Laurel Canyon-psych quality, only McCombs’ take is even spacier. It’s music that gives you space to imagine.

For instance, “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is an Americana song that stomps and cuts right through the space of the others on the record, like “Estrella.” And he wasted no time, playing “Pixley” second in the set.

Another similarity to Jonathan Wilson, McCombs was playing with the same bass player I saw touring with Wilson this time last year, Dan Horne. Horne looks like a guy displaced from the 70s: shoulder length a hair, stache, oversized retro frames. He’s someone you couldn’t imagine anywhere but onstage.

Because McCombs has been making music for years, after a few songs off of Tip of the Sphere he moved into tracks off of earlier records like Mangy Love (2016) and Big Wheel and Others (2013). Here, a New Wave/Talking Heads influence came through. McCombs’ David Byrne style haircut didn’t hurt that read either. Frank LoCrasto, McCombs’ keyboard player, especially shined on this portion of the show.

At first I took LoCrasto with his red shirt and brown felt hat for a Mountie. But once he got to playing, I found myself craning my neck looking for Greg Phillinganes.

Sam Evian, a Brooklyn-based artist and producer, (who actually engineered Tip of the Sphere), opened for McCombs. His song “Need You,” a song that shines like the sun on 35mm film, may have been my favorite from the night, but some of his best moments came when he was playing alongside McCombs.

Evian took up a saxophone and soloed on McCombs’ track “The Burning of the Temple, 2012.” A descending bass line on the turnaround provides a spooky quality that fit Evian’s Jack Skeleton t-shirt.

As McCombs watched Evian squeal and bop, you got the sense of a blessing being conferred or a torch being passed on. I’m excited to see what Evian produces in the years to come.

Listen to both McCombs and Evian on Spotify or wherever you get your music.  For more information about the two artists, follow them on Instagram @cassmccombs and @sam.evian.

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

Photo: Kahn & Selesnick

Amanda Palmer Gets Deeply Personal with No Intermission

It’s no surprise Amanda Palmer tweeted a video of Rocky’s training montage from Sylvester Stallone’s franchise. This particular one isn’t the most famous – I think him running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps takes the cake – but the “Hearts on Fire”-led video depicts a bearded Rocky running up a mountain, chopping down trees and shouting “Drago!” Palmer isn’t a boxer, and she’s not prepping to rescue the world from communism in a 12-round bout, but she’s a f–king fighter, and she needed a little motivation this morning.

“To be f–king honest with you, that was the first [song] YouTube gave me,” Palmer says with a snicker. “I woke up with my list of sh-t to do rolling through my head, and I had to lift wood because I’m literally living in the [wilderness] and loading up on firewood. I’m training to fight patriarchy. It’s galvanizing me.”

Palmer has been shaking up the music world since 2000 when she and Brian Viglione formed The Dresden Dolls. In the nearly two decades since, she’s produced a variety of music ranging from orchestral mashups to eclectic covers of Radiohead to tributes to David Bowie. With a background in theatre and other forms of performance art, it’s rare that her music stays on the tracks as it typically bleeds into other mediums. Now she’s gearing up for a tour in late March focused on a mixed-medium release titled There Will Be No Intermission, which includes a full-length album, an artbook, videos and live performances with a stop at National Theatre on April 5.

“There was no question I’d take the show on the road,” Palmer says. “I’ve never had a cohesive show; it’s usually been a grab bag. This album, where it came from and what it represents to me, brings with it a kind of accountability where I don’t want to f–k it up. I’ve really had to think hard about how to be a guidance counselor for the audience as far as navigating this material and digesting it.”

Her career is very much built on the personal relationship she has with her audience, and Palmer’s upcoming tour features her most intimate revealings yet with songs about abortion, miscarriages and other powerful vignettes from her life story.

“This record was written in real time and while these things were happening. In a song like ‘Voicemail for Jill,’ I look at it honestly; it took me years to write. I sat down dozens of times, and I found writing about abortion incredibly difficult. You could look at that song and say it took 23 years to write.”

The music on the record and in her performance vacillates from whimsical to serious, dark to witty, political to personal. Despite the wide range of topics and emotions tapped, the piece never feels disjointed and everything is connected.

“You can’t separate the political landscape from the personal experience I’ve had the past few years,” the artist says. “My child was born when Trump became president. I’ll never be able to figure out which was the chicken and the egg, but all those things [led to] a sense of urgency. Even though this is the most personal, honest, inevitable record I’ve made, it feels the most political because the most powerful thing a woman can do right now is tell the truth about an experience.”

The album title represents a clever way of declaring that life never stops. Sometimes there are no breaks in the waves, no pauses for breath and no time to gather yourself in a tough situation. Despite the subtext of the name, the songs are broken up by peaceful interludes of instrumentation.

“There are intermissions – the irony continues,” Palmer says laughing. “They’re the breathing space in between the assaults. I wanted to give the entire album space. I’m really happy; it was a happy accident.”

She did toy with the idea of doing the performance straight through. However, because of the heavy subject matter and emotional relentlessness, she decided to reconsider after a test run where people wandered in and out of where she was rehearsing.

“It’s difficult, and I need to let them leave,” she says candidly. “I’ve tried to address people and no one’s ever angry, but I’ve had to develop a way to warn them about what’s onstage. You don’t go see Halloween 8 and expect a guy without a knife, just like you’re not coming to an Amanda Palmer show and expecting Disney songs and jazz hands.”

Luckily for Palmer, most of her fans are kept up-to-date by the artist herself. She’s constantly finding new ways to interact with the people who have enabled her to be a self-sufficient artist. Through membership platform Patreon and other fundraising methods, she has remained independent as a musician, allowing her art to be beautifully, brutally honest.

“I’ve never separated my evolution as songwriter and performing artist with the conversation I’m having with the rest of the world. If anything, those two things have become intertwined. It’s way less scary. I didn’t want to be an artist separate from a community, behind a wall. I got into making music because I wanted to connect with people.”

Connect with Amanda Palmer at National Theatre on Friday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39-$54 and available at www.thenationaldc.org. Learn more about Palmer and her tour at www.nointermission.amandapalmer.net.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org

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

DC Rock Royalty Mary Timony Talks Music, New and Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Michael Andrade

The Sundry Shades of RDGLDGRN

“We put a song on the Internet and it spiraled from there, but we thought it was justified because we had something unique that stood out.”

Marcus Parham, one-third of RDGLDGRN (pronounced Red Gold Green), tells me the backstory behind the success of the band’s 2011 hit “I Love Lamp” while on the road to Raleigh, North Carolina for a show later that evening. The guitarist (RD) and his bandmates, bassist Andrei Busuioceanu (GLD) and vocalist Pierre Desrosier (GRN), continued to gain popularity following the release of the track, even collaborating with Pharrell and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.

The Reston-based, multi-genre trio actually played together as another band before RDGLDGRN, with a fourth member identified only as Blue. Even though their partnership spans nearly a decade, Parham says the three are just scratching the surface.

“We’ve just created so many memories,” he says. “We went to Europe a bunch of times, and we’ve played cruises and stuff. It’s all these different things. It’s all growth.”

RDGLDGRN brought a unique blend of different genres to the music scene when they first hit airwaves, combining elements of hip-hop, rock and go-go music to concoct an original sound. Their backgrounds play a part in the diverse sounds of their musical style.All three artists hailed from other parts of the world before settling in the DC area.

“We have so many different influences, so it makes sense that our music is always changing,” Parham elaborates.

Going back to their initial self-titled LP, the focus was almost entirely on the band’s use of rock and hip-hop. On the releases that followed, including the band’s most recent drop Red Gold Green 3, they slowly set out to reveal their entire repertoire. For instance, the last record shifted away from their heavier guitar riffs and established a more electronic sound as the album’s foundation. Parham says he feels like the band is still just making an extended version of their first album.

“We’ve [always] shown more of our palette. [We’ve] shown all the things we can do from day one. It’s not that we’ve gotten bored of a sound and evolved per se; it’s just us giving our fans a taste of everything we do.”

Not much has changed for the group apart from their music, including their process. The guitarist says they still record songs in their parents’ basements when in the DMV. Of course, they make use of professional studios as well, but they want to maintain the same authenticity that put them on the map.

“We never lost that. We haven’t changed; that’s just who we are. We record whenever we have a thought or idea, and the beauty of technology is we can do it wherever.”

The name on their albums remains the same, too. The group decided to repeat the title a la Led Zeppelin 2 and 3 in an effort to get the name’s phonetic pronunciation stuck in people’s heads.

“Our band name looks like gibberish, so it’s not something that people remember instantly,” Parham says candidly. “To make it easier, we decided to stick to our brand.”

Even with Red Gold Green 3’s February release and their busy touring schedule, he says the band is set to drop more music throughout the year.

“Any time you get music from us, it’s more of who we are. We have two EPs and another album that are already far along in the process.”

The band is set to return to its de facto hometown for ShamrockFest at RFK Stadium on Saturday, March 23. While fans can expect popular hits, Parham assures there will be some DC flair added to their set.

“Different people from the area [will] come and play songs with us,” Parham says. “We’re definitely from different places, but we’re DC at heart.”

ShamrockFest is from 12-8 p.m. on Saturday, March 23. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.shamrockfest.com. For more information about RDGLDGRN, visit www.rgldgrn.com.

RFK Stadium: 2400 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.shamrockfest.com

Photo: Shervin Lainez

Honest Enough: Cautious Clay’s Rise to Stardom

Every so often, a singer rises through the ranks of artistry, swiftly reaching heights of stardom earlier than their peers. Think of artists like Alessia Cara or The Weeknd.

Another significant rising artist to watch is Josh Karpeh, also known as Cautious Clay. In the first year of his career, he already has a accumulated a varied list of accomplishments and accolades.

For those blessed with an HBO subscription, watchers of the hit show Insecure, created and written by Issa Rae, may have already heard the budding star and not known it. Apart from its comedic genius, the series has had a penchant for uncovering musical hits and in August, Cautious Clay was included among the recent pop sensations with his debut song “Cold War.”

In October, he was featured on NPR’s “Tiny Desk,” passing through as other influential artists like Erykah Badu, Yo-Yo Ma, Wu-Tang Clan and Florence + the Machine had in past iterations, generating praise from a broad eclectic audience.

Staying loyal to his roots and the inspiration behind his sound, Cautious Clay also performed on stage at BET’s 2018 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena in November, where he crossed paths again with Erykah Badu by sharing the same band. Continually marketing himself as a complex, multi-dimensional artist, not feeling a need to subscribe to one route or notion, Cautious Clay diverse abilities show no signs of slowing down.

Prior to the Cautious Clay moniker, Karpeh was working in real estate and advertising after graduating from George Washington University. Eventually, he took a huge leap of faith and quit his job to pursue a music career full-time.

“I never doubted [music] would be in my life. I never knew I could make a living out of it,” he says. “I never knew I would have a full functioning business model. That’s all very new and humbling and interesting for me.”

But stepping out on faith wasn’t a hard act for Cautious Clay.

“I’ve always felt confident in my abilities as an artist and a musician. I don’t feel like it was happens chance. But I feel like since a very young age, I’ve had a natural inclination for music, it’s kind of how I express myself in the most genuine way, it’s in my blood.”

His love of music is not only evident in his “genre-less” music, but in his dynamic skill set. Not only does he sing, write and produce music as an independent artist, but he also plays the saxophone, flute, and piano, among a long list of others.

Cautious Clay draws inspiration from all aspects of life. While he has a particular sound, which he characterizes as “melodic, percussive, thoughtful and ambitious.” He doesn’t allow himself to be boxed into one consistent narrative or style.

“I have songs that are more bright hard-hitting and I have more [acoustic] stuff. Melodies are probably the strongest aspect of my music, but then I also kind of reinforce it with the production, kind of fresh and different.”

Cautious Clay is a fascinating mix of humble and confident. His YouTube page displays a recent post, “Writers block doesn’t exist,” sparking users to urge him to elaborate in the comment section.

CautiousClay_YouTube_screenshot

 

Some asked if Cautious Clay was simply so talented that even writer’s block can’t slow him down? Quite the contrary.

“People don’t have writer’s block because writers’ block is just a fear of bad idea,” he explains. “People will have writer’s block because they don’t like their ideas. I don’t think a lack of ideas is necessarily possible. There’s always going to be something. It could be a terrible idea, it may not be a new idea but you could develop something.”

As an honest and self-aware artist, he pushes past the insecurities and swallows his pride to inspire fans.

“Being an artist is part being yourself and expressing that to your fans. [It’s] about being innovative in some ways; being creative and being an artist is synonymous.”

Cautious Clay will perform newly released single “Honest Enough” at a sold-out concert this Friday, February 1 at U Street Music Hall. For more information about Cautious Clay, click here.

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

Music Picks: Winter 2019

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2

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

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7

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

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8

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

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11

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

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

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13

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

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

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

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

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

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

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15

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

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

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

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16

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

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

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

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

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

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18

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

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19

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

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

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20

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

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

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21

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

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

FRIDAY, FEBURARY 22

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

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28

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