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Photo: Jamie James Medina

Interpol’s Indie Rock Ingenuity

Interpol is still finding ways to make their post punk-inspired, guitar-driven sound even better after nearly two decades of recording music together. The band saw some minor changes on their sixth studio album Marauder, released last August, with their raw, energetic sound captured by recording on tape. Most importantly, the band’s dynamic as a trio – Paul Banks (bass, guitar and vocals), Daniel Kessler (lead guitar) and Sam Fogarino (drums) – and individual contributions to the process were solidified, as they found a new sense of ingenuity as a group.

“It sounds like us,” Kessler says when we chat about Marauder. “It’s not a perfect record in the sense that there are mistakes there. Some are happy accidents and things that have charm and character that we could have fixed, but there’s something human about the fact that it’s just there in a very direct form.”

This record recalls the urgency of the band’s signature sound, first heard on their 2002 breakthrough album Turn On the Bright Lights. While the group has seen some members come and go and produced quality albums throughout their career, Marauder has ushered in a new, inventive era for Interpol. By allowing band members to take on new roles – including Banks recently adding bass to his repertoire – the band was able to “give the project a bit of a new spin,” according to Kessler.

“The way we write songs now is different,” the guitarist continues. “When we write songs as a three-piece, it feels like we’re just scratching the surface of that new process and dynamic. In the two records we’ve written as a three-piece, there hasn’t been a moment where we’re like, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ We’re not lacking for ideas, which is very fortunate. We’re still very inspired by one another.”

When speaking on his role in the band, Kessler offers a deeper look into his part of the writing and recording process. He notes that Banks added some “stellar guitar moments” to the record, but Kessler’s own guitar chops are also essential to the backbone of the trio’s renewed synergy.

“On songs like ‘If You Really Love Nothing,’ the origins of the song can be heard on my guitar. When I was writing its basic riff, I thought of a melancholy approach to things. But the moment that Paul started playing the bassline, he saw that the song had a bit of a swing to it and so it became a bit more upbeat.”

Kessler says that he and Banks react to each other during the collaborative process, even letting songs veer into completely new territory when inspired by their bandmates.

“That’s the kind of band I was really hoping to be in when we started out, but that’s a really tall order. We’re very lucky.”

See Interpol’s powerful new dynamic at play when they play The Anthem on Friday, February 15 with Sunflower Bean. Doors are at 6:30 p.m. and tickets start at $40. For more on the band and Marauder, check out www.interpolnyc.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0020; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Julia Lofstrand

Pie Shop Returns to Rock ‘N’ Roll Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Deerhunter and 4AD

Deerhunter Broadens Sonic Palette On New Album

Much has been said about Deerhunter that has nothing to do with their music. The band’s outspoken and unapologetic frontman, Bradford Cox, continues to captivate the music press with his thoughts on any topic imaginable. But Deerhunter is a band, after all – a five-piece operation based out of Georgia, each member bringing their own musical background and solo projects to the table. What has attracted listeners to the group is not a candid comment on the state of the music industry but their dense and developed sound that’s only improved with time.

Enter the band’s new album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, released earlier this month. Described as “a science fiction album for the present,” it draws from specific events – revolutions in the streets of Russia in 1917 on “Death in Midsummer,” Labour Party MP Jo Cox’s death on “No One’s Sleeping” and themes of ecological destruction weaved throughout. It clocks in at just 37 minutes but packs a punch both sonically and thematically.

Deerhunter’s drummer Moses Archuleta spoke with us in advance of the band’s March 2 show at 9:30 Club, detailing the intricate technicalities that make their new record so different from anything else they’ve ever done before. As he explained their process for writing and recording, it became increasingly clear that as much was transpiring in the notes of this record as in its lyrics.

“The album is simultaneously very familiar to fans of Deerhunter, and hopefully comforting and enjoyable in the way of it not being a wild departure,” he said. “But I do feel like there are definite things that are different and interesting and unique about this album because of the process it went through.”

Archuleta said that while the breadth of topics approached on the new album makes it next-level, there’s more at play here. Roles were solidified, band members went through life changes and people matured. That’s all evident, especially to Archuleta, who found ownership of his role as drummer a beneficial addition to the process.

While internally becoming masters of their musical domain, the band sought outside inspiration from musician Cate Le Bon, who produced the album and gave the band the jolt they needed to weave in the multifaceted aspects of the record in a cohesive way.

“There had been a magnetic pull to try and do something a bit different,” Archuleta said of Le Bon’s involvement, which included singing on “Turnung” and playing harp throughout.

“Sonically, [the album is] very full and rich sounding. We’re all older and it feels like a much more mature effort overall. Cate was a big part of that as far as having that sort of direction. It was an artistic camaraderie that was new and interesting to work with.”

The band also toured with new material before even beginning to record it, a process unlike anything they’ve endured before. And while it was helpful from a technical standpoint, their songs became living, breathing things that changed when it came time to record.

“It’s interesting because we became overconfident,” Archuleta elaborated. “We were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to nail this.’ And then you start to realize that you’re trying to make a different point with the record than with the show. So that was a self-deception in some ways. On the flipside, the positive things that were working had been so rehearsed and nuanced at that point that it allowed for a lot of creativity to happen.”

Now that Archuleta and his bandmates have added another piece to their creative tapestry with Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, they’re sharing it with fans on tour. Don’t miss their 9:30 Club show on Saturday, March 2. Doors are at 6 p.m., tickets are $25. For more on the band, visit www.deerhunter.com.

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

Photo: Ryan Pfluger

Sharon Van Etten Talks TV, Her New Record and Focusing on the Positive

Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten is many things. The recording artist has scored movies, acted in Netflix hit The OA, returned to school to pursue a psychology degree and navigated motherhood. Her accomplishments are dizzying and her talent is seemingly unending, but the musician is incredibly grounded and open about her creative process and personal life. On her fifth studio album, Van Etten put down the guitar and took to a Jupiter-4 synthesizer to compose 10 stunning songs about falling in love and forgiving yourself. The cover of her record Remind Me Tomorrow – yes, like the software notification update that’s universally postponed on computers and phones across the world – features two children in a sea of toys and play clothes.

The children belong to Van Etten’s friend and collaborator, director Katherine Dieckmann, who showed her the image after she expressed her worries around raising a child and being an artist. Dieckmann presented the photo with a laugh and the sincere encouragement of “You’ll figure it out.”

It’s clear that she not only figured it out but also entered a new era in her personal and professional life that’s responsible for the creation of her best work yet. Van Etten describes the photo as beautiful and liberating – an apt description for the feeling that anchors Remind Me Tomorrow.

On Tap: Your music is making a mark on current TV shows. “Serpents” is featured on The Walking Dead, your The OA character Rachel shares her pipes with viewers and you perform at the famous Roadhouse in Twin Peaks: The Return. How did these opportunities present themselves?
Sharon Van Etten:
“Serpents” connected with the zombie crew. It wasn’t something that I had planned or asked for. Someone made the connection and it was an honor, because that show is pretty epic. As far as The OA, I found out the casting director was in the audience when I was touring for Nick Cave in 2013 and I got asked to audition in 2016. They were looking for a singer because that’s a big part of the role of Rachel. In so many ways, that’s her superpower. In the few acting roles I’ve had, they were looking for a version of myself, which is comforting. For Twin Peaks, it was a similar thing. I think [director] David Lynch’s son [Riley Lynch] is a fan, and he turns his dad on to a lot of music and is also a musician himself. I also have a friend whose role is music and film crossover work who also said a kind word to David. There’s also a stroke of luck somewhere in there.

OT: How did you land on “Tarifa” for the Twin Peaks scene?
SVE:
It was a request! It was like, “Well, David wants ‘Tarifa’ so David gets ‘Tarifa!’” [laughs] It was kind of a no-brainer.

OT: It seems like so many people really connected with The OA and are really excited for the new season. Why do you think that is?
SVE:
I think real people in a sci-fi context is just something people connect with. The cinematography is so visceral, and all the characters have such a different emotive feel that it’s hard to just connect to one character. There’s a lot of care put into that show at every level. I’ve never been part of a production that large and everybody cares so much about all the fine details. It’s fun to watch them unfold.

OT: When did you start working on Remind Me Tomorrow?
SVE:
During the writing of this record, which spanned from 2015 to 2017, I was asked to score a film for Katherine Dieckmann called Strange Weather. A reference she gave me for the film was Ry Cooder’s score for Paris, Texas. It’s really beautiful and ambient – very Southwestern, dreamy guitar, introspective playing. It’s a style that I had to try very hard to give an homage to, but I don’t know how to play that naturally. In moments where I was feeling writers’ block, I put down the guitar and gravitated toward the keys [and] synthesizer that my space mate Michael Cera had called a Jupiter-4. I ended up writing a handful of songs on it.

OT: So in the midst of that, how did the record itself take shape?
SVE:
I did it without realizing I was writing for a record, which is really liberating – just to play and sing and not care about what it was for. It was more of a vibe that I was creating. The goal of that was just to cleanse my palate so I could return to the guitar and finish Catherine’s score. So by the time my son was about six months old, I got the itch to be more creative and write again. I opened this folder of demos and realized I had like 40. My partner encouraged me to make another record, but it was not my intention.

OT: How did you narrow it down from 40 demos to the 10 songs that make up Remind Me Tomorrow?
SVE:
When I started whittling down the songs after hearing everyone’s favorites, I wanted to pick the ones that also felt positive. I also wanted to pick the ones that were left of center. When I met with [producer] John Congleton, I had three folders: Folder A was all the songs I felt like needed to be on the record, Folder B was backups, and Folder C was wild cards that were either going to be great or terrible. He picked some from each.

OT: Which of the Folder C wild cards made the cut?
SVE:
That would be “Hands.” I wasn’t sure if it made sense. You don’t know until you go into the studio and let the sonic palette unfold. It ended up really standing out on the record to me.

OT: You said you wanted to pick songs that sounded positive. Why is that?
SVE:
When I was touring my last record, I was really proud of my songs and the production. But playing those songs over the years was also heartbreaking in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I was going in a dark place to perform those songs. I feel this responsibility to be a positive influence and a role model. I want to share a positive message and my positive experiences. I want to feel good, to sing love songs not about mourning something that didn’t survive but about something that is just born. I think that will help me endure the next couple years of touring as I perform these songs every night, just infused with a bit more love than regret.

Sharon Van Etten performs at the 9:30 Club with Nilüfer Yanya on Wednesday, February 6. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $30. For more on Van Etten, visit www.sharonvanetten.com.

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

Photo: Kyle Gustafson for The Anthem

Kacey Musgraves’ Gentle Revolution

Kacey Musgraves stands before an audience of a few thousand at The Anthem, exuding a calm but taut command of the stage. The Grammy and CMA-winning singer-songwriter guides her band through the final lines of “Golden Hour,” the enveloping, intimate title track of her most recent album.

She sings the post-chorus refrain “Yeah, I know everything is gonna be alright” like she’s leading the audience through a group-exhalation of all the world’s pressures. Musgraves flashes the smallest hint of a wicked smile before letting the words “golden showers” ring through the theater.

The crowd grins and guffaws in response before she smirks mischievously and says, “Y’all know you like it, shut up!” The moment would seem pretty unthinkable at any other country concert, but such irreverence and boundary pushing are part and parcel for Musgraves, whose been leading something of a soft-power revolution in the country world.

At this sold-out stop for her Oh, What A World Tour you could find purple-haired punks and salmon-shirted preps, glitter-glammed queens and cowboys wearing ten gallons standing shoulder-to-shoulder, wrapped in awe as they sang along to every word, from the country chill-wave opening of “Slow Burn” to the final, triumphant, rhinestone-disco kiss-off closer of “High Horse.”

That audience reflects the work Musgraves has been doing for the last six years of her touring career: bringing her own brand of country out of dirt road wonderlands into hard-walked city streets while maintaining the validity of both.

Long before she spent the last year opening for Little Big Town and Harry Styles, Musgraves was rocking the rhinestones with Katy Perry. It’s a vision of country music that is inclusive and almost democratic in its own way, where Musgraves is less trying to bring the country to the people and more trying to make a country with the people.

“I know that country music isn’t the most inclusive of environments,” Musgraves commended near the end of her set, “So, it’s really f-cking cool that you guys don’t care!”

Her sound has evolved alongside the growth of her audience and spread of this mentality, although less than you might think. Songs from her first two records, which leaned more into the traditional country palette, nestled comfortably into the celebratory sound of “Golden Hour.”

“Die Fun” from Pageant Material picked up a slapping, early Maroon 5 meets the dance floor bassline that had the room grooving; the twang of “High Time” glided along the pedal-steel melody to the rafters.  The biting message of “Merry Go ‘Round,” reverberated across every ear drum, pushed into our aural passages by the arena-pulsating power of the new keyboard, bass-punctuated arrangement.

The songs that comprise “Golden Hour,” all of which were played in one form or another across the 90-minute set, were an ideal match for the cathedral-like space of The Anthem. These are unhurried songs that need time to settle to be fully absorbed, and the acoustics aided this sonic osmosis.

The wide-open, booming-across-the-plains sound of “Space Cowboy” reverberated into every corner of the venue, carrying the full weight of her wit and melancholy with every word. Songs like “Rainbow,” “Wonder Woman” and “Oh, What a World” rose like the sunrise as hymns of self-empowerment, introspection and compassion.

As Musgraves launched into numbers like “Space Cowboy,” “High Horse” and “Follow Your Arrow,” the cornerstones of her catalog of laureate wit rebukes – they seemed less like tell-offs and more like communal celebration, a group exorcism of all the ills that motivate those songs.

It proved another small step in her revolution, as she brings country music into big venues without the bombast and swagger of her more industry-accepted peers, to choose honey over vinegar. It reflected her utopia vision for country, one where space cowboys riding in on high horses are welcome, as long as they let everyone follow their arrow.

For more information about Kacey Musgraves, visit here.

Photo: Amanda Demme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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

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

Photo: Kate Warren

The Times and Travels of Odetta Hartman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She pauses for a moment and ends with this.

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Manmade Media

DeVotchKa Dives Into New Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Greg Gorman

Rufus Wainwright Celebrates 20 Years at Strathmore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Picks: December 2018

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4

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

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5

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

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6

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

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

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

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8

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

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9

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

MONDAY, DECEMBER 10

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

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14

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

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

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15

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

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16

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

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

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19

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

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20

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

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21

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

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28

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

MONDAY, DECEMBER 31

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