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Photo: www.brokeroyals.com
Photo: www.brokeroyals.com

Rock Music with a Brain: Broke Royals

“He was building a studio and knew I was performing at coffee shops on campus, and he asked me to come in and work on some songs.”

Philip Basnight tells me this on a three-way call with the “he” he’s referring to: Colin Cross. The William & Mary alums came together to form the band Broke Royals during their collegiate years. The Virginia outfit has nothing to do with May’s British royal wedding, and no, we’re not writing a story about them to capitalize on the likely spiking SEO results from folks searching the term “royal” either.

We’re writing about these two fellas because, like a marriage between two overwhelmingly famous people, their union is working. Only instead of producing Instagrammable photos and fashion hot takes, they’re creating local pop music.

“We have a lot of respect for each other,” Cross says. “We come at it from different angles. I come at it with experience and technical knowledge, and he has a nuanced musical knowledge. We’re always willing to try different things.”

Basnight got his start in music on the piano because his dad was the de facto music teacher for his neighborhood. The Broke Royals vocalist tells me he was easily the worst piano student his father had. A love of guitar came shortly after, and so did a reputation as the “music guy” at his high school.

“I didn’t know how to talk about sports or anything like that,” Basnight says. “Anytime I met new people, I would try to shift the conversation toward music. Even if people don’t consider themselves music lovers, there’s always something under the surface, whether it’s nostalgia or just a fleeting feeling.”

Basnight discovered a kindred spirit in Cross. Before the two met, Cross had already lived the life of a touring musician, traversing the Midwest in a pop punk band. Though he enjoyed performing, he wanted to switch his focus to production.

“I settled down and moved out here to finish school,” Cross says. “I learned a lot about studio work and had seen the workflow from a musician’s perspective, and I leaned toward that process. That’s when we started working together on technical stuff.”

By 2014, Cross had set up a studio and figured he’d need some demos to tout his production talents, so he enlisted fellow student Basnight. After recording a few songs, their chemistry and similar musical sensibilities were undeniable. The latter revolved around an adoration for pop and rock music, including stalwarts like David Bowie, Prince, Spoon and Wilco.

Over the past four years, Cross and Basnight have continued to concoct songs while establishing a consistent aesthetic.
In photos, you’ll find the bandmates both dressed in white dress shirts tucked in neatly under black vests. Their music is sultry and smooth, sonically gathering from a multitude of influences and instrumentations.

“I think it’s really natural,” Basnight says. “We use Apple Music so we can see what the other is listening to. We want to use all the sounds that are exciting to us. We’re not trying to find weird things. These are the sonic influences we have in our day-to-day lives, and that’s what is exciting for us. It’s a fun guessing game to see where certain aspects come from. I think everything we do is an amalgamation of what we love.”

Because of their shared palates, they give each other the freedom to throw in any and everything they want to try before they strip away what doesn’t work. Last year, the duo released their first full-length LP, a self-titled work that seamlessly incorporated Basnight’s easygoing vocals and Cross’s production know-how. The two recorded the album in one short burst, tucked away in an upstate New York cabin.

“I wouldn’t call it closure, because when you get your album out is when the work starts,” Basnight says.

With music videos, singles and shows galore, the album only served to spark a chaotic season for Broke Royals, and the two seem to relish in this busy space.

“In the interim, we’re writing a ton of music,” Basnight says. “We are definitely in a recording period again.”

But don’t fret, they’re still playing live. Catch the band at AdMo’s Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House on June 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. For more information on Broke Royals, visit www.brokeroyals.com.

Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917; www.songbyrddc.com

Photo: Mark Raker
Photo: Mark Raker

Celebrating the Past, Preserving the Future at the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival is returning to DC on June 9. In its 9th year, the festival has grown in popularity annually, and features a wide variety of bluegrass, folk and Americana artist spread across several stages. However, this isn’t your usual for-profit celebration. The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival helps fund outdoor educational programs that enrich the lives of thousands of kids in the DC area, and puts a premium on environmental sustainability and protecting the island’s rich habitat.

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival represents both a celebration of American music and a commitment to protecting our natural lands and wildlife.

Kingman Island (and its counterpart, Heritage Island) were created in 1916 from material dredged out of the Anacostia River. Now just over a century old, you’d never guess they were man-made; the islands are covered in lush green native plants and is home to various wildlife, including foxes, possum and even wild turkey.

Since their creation, the islands have had a long and complex history, and today they remain protected.

While they are owned by the city, Kingman and Heritage Islands are managed by Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, an organization dedicated to helping kids connect with the natural world.

“We do lessons geared toward orienteering, teambuilding and habitat restoration, including in the Anacostia river,” says Lee Cain, Director of Kingman Island with Living Classrooms. “Between 2,000 to 3,000 kids come to Kingman ever year. We’re trying to make an effort to get kids to make a connection to their local park.”

Cain says another major focus for Living Classrooms is workforce development and helping young people in the neighborhood advance their careers by working on the island. Those enrolled in their summer youth employment program learn native plant identification, habitat restoration and trail work. It’s not just kids who get involved at Kingman.

“Fifteen-hundred volunteers, a year, do trail maintenance, habitat restoration and other things to improve the park,” Cain says.

The bluegrass festival helps Living Classrooms continue its work in Southeast DC and beyond. But it went through some growing pains: “there used to be a ton of trash left after the festival,” Cain says. Organizers put a zero-waste initiative in place, which resonates with many of the festival’s performers.

“They’re trying to be very sustainable,” says musician Crys Matthews, who lives in Herndon, Virginia. “A lot of that stuff is really important to me – I use zero-carbon footprint packaging with all my cd’s, so it’s great to be sharing and creating with like-minded folks.”

Silver Spring musician Dom Flemons agrees.

“It’s something that, on top of being an excellent experience for a musician, is also a very worthwhile cause that they are trying to accomplish with the festival,” he says. “It’s twofold: You have lovely nature, and a reteaching of people in the DC area of how to reconnect with nature and how to really learn sustainability.”

Both Flemons and Matthews are performing at the festival for the second time and taking new steps with their shows.

Matthews is an accomplished musician and songwriter from North Carolina who infuses folk, bluegrass, jazz and other genres into her work. She played last year’s festival solo. This year, she’s bringing her band.

“I’m looking forward to getting to play with them on that stage,” she says. “The space itself is a neat area, nestled and hidden away in the craziness of DC.”

Having been in the area for eight years, “the music scene is pretty incredible,” she says. “It’s very different from back where I lived in the mountains of North Carolina.”

Flemons is a co-founder of the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, and has traveled around the nation and the world presenting traditional folk and roots music to diverse audiences. He’ll be presenting a new performance at this year’s festival.

“I had this idea for quite a while to present the American Songster review  a multi-act program that would feature several different songsters from different parts of the world and the country to be able to present their music,” he says. “It will feature songs they have in their repertoire, as well as one song I will curate and ask them to perform.”

The festival features more than 30 bands playing on five stages this year, as well as an artist market and food trucks. While festivals by their very nature bring high foot traffic and disturbance to the island, Cain says the sustainability measures in place help protect its habitat. Festivalgoers get their own reusable cups, and “80 percent of the waste from the festival is either composted or recycled, and we’d like to get to 90 percent,” he says.

Location is also important: the festival will take place in the island’s most resilient meadows, protecting species like the Virginia mallow, a Maryland endangered plant that can be found on the southern portion the island. Holding the festival at this time of year also gives the plant life the benefit of a full growing season, and thus faster recovery and regrowth afterwards.

The festival, Living Classrooms’ educational programs and the volunteer programs on the island all help raise awareness about this unique oasis in the Anacostia River.

“If we don’t expose people to these resources, they quietly disappear,” Cain says.

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival beings June 9. For more information on the festival, islands or tickets, visit here.

Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC; 202-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

Carlotta Cosials, Ana Perrote, Ade Martin and Amber Grimbergen // Photo: Alberto von Stokkum
Carlotta Cosials, Ana Perrote, Ade Martin and Amber Grimbergen // Photo: Alberto von Stokkum

The Secret World of Hinds, Spain’s Indie Stars

On the morning I was scheduled to interview Ana Perrote – singer, guitarist and one-fourth of ramshackle Spanish indie rock group Hinds – she messaged me “Hola” before I had even headed into work. I was a few minutes late to hop on the call due to technical difficulties, and when we finally connected (after my profuse apologies) a relaxed Perrote popped up on my screen, perched at a desk on a computer and surrounded by clothes on hangers and drying racks in her room. I commented on her framed Picasso painting, and she proceeded to pan around the room to show all the laundry she was prepared to take on tour, talking to me as if I was an old friend from school and not a total stranger.

This openness and energy Perrote possesses is also so evident in her music as one of Hinds’ primary songwriters, setting them apart in a sea of beach rock revivalists that have popped in and out of the worldwide scene in the past decade. A way with words in conversation and in song, Perrote chatted up Hinds’ new album and tour, working with band idol Gordon Raphael and why no one can truly understand what life is like as a member of Hinds – and that’s a good thing.  

On Tap: You’re influenced by Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall and The Strokes – all bands that are contemporaries of yours and still currently put out music. But your overall sound is very cool and retro, so do you consider any older bands to be influences or are you just inspired by these bands who are also reimagining older sounds?
Ana Perrote: We have two faces, almost two different moments in the writing process. When we first started playing together, even when we played covers, we used to play things like Bob Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival – older stuff by bands who don’t release music anymore. Then suddenly we discovered Mac DeMarco and The Growlers, and we totally freaked out. It was like, “Oh my God, you can actually write good stuff and be alive!” That’s why we say our influences are those kinds of bands, because it’s actually what you can now be influenced by more, but there’s always the older stuff.

OT: Is there a garage rock scene in Spain, or are you on your own in pioneering your sound there?
AP: It’s not a big scene, but there’s definitely a scene. It’s a really tiny scene, actually. Mainly around six bands, but we’re all friends with each other. Like, “The guy who takes the pictures is dating the bass player of this band.” You know what I mean? So the first time we went to rehearse songs, it was with Diego from The Parrots, who also produced our first record and is from a band from Madrid. It’s not big, but it’s really, really strong.

OT: You and Carlotta Coisals (vocals and guitar) got your start as a band playing covers, and quit playing after a particularly bad show in your hometown. What made you want to not only try again but start playing your own songs?
AP: First of all, we gave two gigs playing covers. One was good and the second was a horrible – really horrible – one. And then there was maybe a year-and-a-half between that and going back to rehearsing. We didn’t play at all after that show, not even a rehearsal. We totally stopped playing because of how bad it felt to give a bad show. During that summer before we started writing, we went to this festival in Spain called Benicassim, which is our favorite festival ever – it’s really really good. Our friends from the scene, Los Nastys, were playing that festival. It was crazy because we were music lovers for so many years and suddenly we have friends in the lineup of a festival that we love. It was the biggest deal, the biggest thing ever in our community. When we came back from that, we were totally drunk off music and emotions. Carlotta used to have a blog, and she was rereading some of the posts she made when we were in the cover band. Then she just texted me, “Hey, are you free tonight? Do you want to play again?” So I drove to her house and we covered a song by Los Nastys, and two weeks later wrote our first song.

OT: What is your songwriting process like? You and Carlotta are the principal songwriters, but how involved is the other half of the band – Ade Martin (bass and backing vocals) and Amber Grimbergen (drums) – in writing? 
AP: There’s always two sides to a song. One is the four of us in the rehearsal room, and the other is Carlotta and I trying to find melodies, chords and the rest of the structure. We really prioritize the melodies in our songs, because we’ve had situations where we had great chords and a great drum solo and everything sounded really good but suddenly we can’t find a good melody. Without a melody, you don’t have a song. We would fight because we would bring it home and be like, “Guys, we changed it because we really couldn’t find a good one” and then someone says, “But I love this bass line!” It can get tricky with four people writing, but at the same time it’s more fun and more interesting. I think you can tell with this album that most of the songs started in the rehearsal room, but at the same time, we always say that the good songs are the songs you can actually play with just one guitar while you sing along, so we really want to keep that in mind even when all four of us are writing.

OT: Tell me about working with Gordon Raphael. That must have been surreal since he’s worked with The Strokes in the past and you have cited them as a huge inspiration. How did Hinds’ collaboration with him come about? Did he have any influence on the more polished direction you moved in on this new album?
AP: We chose him because he was a fan of ours back when we had just released two songs. It was only Carlotta and I, and he sent us a Facebook message – this is back when we only had around 100 followers and said, “Hey guys, I really really like your songs, and I’m going to Primavera Sound. If you guys are going, I would love to meet you there.” We were going just to see bands so we met up with him really quickly. He was really nice and sweet. When we were thinking about this record, we knew that we wanted to make a step by not working with a friend, but with someone who has a [production] background. We thought of him because he would tweet at us and had been keeping track of where Hinds was. We brought him to Madrid and he totally just let us do whatever we wanted. With the way Hinds started, everything is really private and in a close circle. It felt frightening to have someone with a name that we respected getting inside our process. But we write all the songs before we get in the studio, and he was totally cool with us coproducing the album, which was really fun for us.

OT: As a group, you’ve commented that you feel like people don’t give you a lot of credit since you’re an all-girl band. You had such a successful run on your first album and tour, and now have done the same with your second album. Do people continue to treat you that way while recording and touring with the new album, or has it gotten any better?
AP:
I think it’s gotten a little bit better, which kind of sucks because it means you have room for so many years [like this]. If you didn’t like Hinds last year, you don’t get Hinds this year. It’s not fair, but I do feel like it’s getting better, because before there was this whole belief that it was bad because we were a new [band]. Maybe now on the second one, it’s just because my hair isn’t longer   there’s always some stupid excuse. We have to fight a 100 percent more that anyone else, and all the time be proving certain things: the way we dress, talk, pose, play, sing and dance. Everything is under watch. It’s way easier to judge us than any other band.

OT: Does that get exhausting after awhile? Do you ever get to a point where you decide to just not think of people judging you, or is it always in the back of your mind? How do you get to a point where you’re all thinking, “Screw them, we’re going to do whatever we want?”
AP: We don’t usually read reviews and things every day. Those specific people’s opinions are not in our day-to-day because we’re just touring and being with our fans, who totally respect us and are the best fans in the world. The worst thing that can happen is that it can actually convince you. It gets to the point where constantly people are telling you things, and you think, “Well, maybe I’m just here because I have boobs!” In the weakest moments, the worst thing that can happen is when those things can actually convince you because of the constant pressure of it, but we’re getting better at [not listening]. It’s really lucky, being a group of four and all experiencing the same problems. It’s really easy for us to talk about it. When I’m feeling down, I have Carlotta telling me the things that I would tell her when she’s down.

OT: Tell me more about this bond that you have with your bandmates. I know you and Carlotta are old friends and you found Ade and Amber through Facebook. What’s it like making music and touring the world as a group of four women?
AP: It has gone from being friends to being sisters, which has its good things because now there’s nothing that can break that, but at the same time, you lose a lot of things because all the time we’re sharing everything. Even when we get to Madrid, the first thing we do is have a beer with each other and our other friends. We love the same things, same people and same places so it gets really exhausting. At the same time, we have something indescribable. The life we have, our whole experience, it’s such a crazy thing for four girls from Madrid. Everything we do is so specific that I think no one in the world would really understand it. You can try to explain it, but not my mom, my best friend, my manager these people who are still close to it – no one f—ing knows what it is to be in Hinds, the good things and the bad things. And suddenly you share this experience with three different people – it’s just really a sisterhood.

Hinds play U Street Music Hall on Friday, May 11 with Made Violent. Doors and show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. All ages.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Bottled Up
Photo: Courtesy of Bottled Up

Bottled Up’s Niko Rao Removes the Lid

The members of Bottled Up didn’t exactly know what their band name meant when they first considered it.

Instead of asking 29-year-old singer-songwriter Niko Rao why he suggested it, they instead floated out numerous explanations – emotions being held back only to be revealed in songs or music that starts off slow thus bottling up energy released in an explosive conclusion, among others. Rao simply nodded along as his band members each tossed worthy theories at him, all different than the real reason he suggested the phrase.

“It comes from a Devo song called ‘Bottled Up,’” Rao says, laughing. “I didn’t tell the band why I wanted to name it that and they came up with all these elaborate other meanings, which were interesting.”

Yes, the name – like so many others – started as an homage to his favorite band, but the California native has since ceded that the name has evolved past a simple reference, transforming into an apt description for what Bottled Up is as a unit.

“I’ve grown to like the name more than just as a reference,” Rao says. “I think it embodies our songwriting, and I definitely write things I keep bottled up.”

A DMV Collective

It didn’t take Rao long to find people to jam with after moving to the District in 2016. Like an elaborate domino effect, the musician went to a studio so he could bang on some drums to relieve frustration. Afterward, he badgered the guy at the front desk, Alex Dahms, to join him for a jam session. Alex (drums) brought eventual bassist Colin Kelly to the jam sesh, and during this meetup, lead guitarist Mikey Mastrangelo overheard the trio and asked to join in on the next one.

“I kind of pressured [Alex] into jamming with me, because I had a bunch of riffs I wanted to toy around with from [my time in] L.A.,” Rao says. “We really had great chemistry. I didn’t interact with other people very well. Actually, I mostly played all of the stuff myself. I was very controlling over my music. With this band, I’m just happy to play with others who bring things out of our songs.”

The group instantly formed a bond and has spent the past two years constantly jamming, writing music and evolving. Their self-titled record contains seven songs of new wave and garage-style surf rock delivered in speedy, two- or three-minute doses. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that’s a lot of genres in one sentence describing seven songs,” it’s probably because these guys define their genre as “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.”

“Well, I would definitely….oh man,” Rao says as he begins to try and describe their sounds for people who may not have heard them yet. “We’re totally new wave. Talking Heads, Devo, B-52s – that stuff is woven into my muscles at this point. I have a very angular, new wave guitar-playing style.”

The Constant of Music

One thing about the LP is that Rao’s up-and-down history is the emotional through line present in every track. Growing up on the West Coast, he dipped his toe in music after hearing the score of “Final Fantasy VII.” This prompted him to pick up a violin and study classical music, which he kept up with until his grandmother purchased him an electric guitar.

“Until that point, I was going to study classical music and play tennis,” he says. “Once I got a guitar and skateboard, all I wanted to do was play rock music, skate and smoke weed. I was 14, and that was a big year for me because I got into all this rock, indie and punk music – all of the stuff you hear in the background of skate videos.”

From then on, music was Rao’s life. After high school, he went to college for sound design, where he would formulate music for TV and video games. He also developed numerous drug addictions there, eventually leading to rehab and various group meetings. He ultimately decided to move to the DC area so he could be closer to family, and all the while he continued penning music.

“I definitely channeled that in my songwriting. It’s weird when you move to a city because no one really knows your past, and you’re this new, fresh person. You can choose all the colors you want to present. It wasn’t tough for me in the beginning, even now, because I feel like it’s nice to get out. My music deals with the aftermath of that – the emotions in dealing with those overwhelming topics, the things I was locking out. I use music to process this stuff.”

A Repackaged Bottle

“We don’t play anything off the old LP anymore,” Rao says of the band’s current shows.

Since the release of Bottled Up last year, the group has morphed, changing up how they write songs and even the pacing of their tracks. Rao says while the first release featured fast, compact narratives, the follow-up allows for a little more breathing room and is a tad less aggressive, though still energetic.

“I was just conditioned to play and think that way,” Rao says. “I don’t like bands that go on too long, and there’s always a point where a song will go on for too long. I think I can sense and feel when a song loses meaning, and I want to stop there.”

Rao no longer formulates the chorus, bridge and structure before bringing it to his bandmates; sometimes, he even approaches them with just an inkling of an idea.

“I was so stuck in my head with controlling everything. Now working with these guys, I bring something small and they take it to a place I didn’t know was possible.”

Before their May 11 show at DC9, the group plans to release two new songs digitally. But even if you miss those or are weary you won’t be able to sing along, Rao made a tongue-in-cheek pun to get you pumped for the concert.

“We have a lot bottled up, and we’re ready to explode and show everyone what we’re about,” Rao says, laughing. “We’re going to be theatrical, and we always try to change it up.”

Rao and his bandmates are set to take the stage at DC9 on Friday, May 11, opening for Olden Yolk. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and available at www.dc9.club. Learn more about Bottled Up at www.bottledup.bandcamp.com.

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

Photo: Catie Laffoon
Photo: Catie Laffoon

X Ambassadors Speak Truth, Change Sound on New Record

From the start, Adam Levin knew it was meant to be.

“It was a natural fit. I could just play the drums immediately.”

Levin found a place to exercise his passion with brothers Sam (vocals, sax) and Casey (keys) Harris when they formed X Ambassadors in 2009. Since then, the three-piece, alt-rock group has released a full-length album, VHS (2015), and toured with Muse, Imagine Dragons and Panic! at the Disco. As they continue climbing the ladder of fame and success, Levin says he and his bandmates try to appreciate the little things in life as much as possible. This mindset is central to their upcoming album, Joyful.

On June 7, X Ambassadors will play Wolf Trap’s Filene Center in Vienna, Virginia to promote Joyful and give listeners a taste of their new sound. The band has already released six singles to test the waters with fans who have been patiently waiting for another full-length album for three years now.

Although Levin says X Ambassadors is still the same band that created VHS, which featured hit singles “Renegades” and “Unsteady,” the band didn’t want to create a “VHS 2.0.”  Their latest singles, “Joyful” and “Don’t Stay,” reveal a transition into a bluesy, soulful sound that features layers unheard of in their previous style.

“As we grow as musicians and songwriters, our music is going to grow with us,” Levin says. “We embrace our soul influences and [Sam’s] voice with big choir vocals. There’s a lot more impressive vocal work on this record.”

X Ambassadors has been teasing Joyful’s release for quite some time, but has yet to announce a solid release date.

Levin says 2018 is a safe bet, and we’ll just have to take his word for it.

“It’s like a project that never ends because you write something new and it’s really cool and exciting, so it’s a constant shifting of songs,” he says. “We’re just trying to make it the best that we possibly can, and we want to take our time to put it out.”

When asked about the message of Joyful, Levin was reluctant at first, but eventually gave a few hints as to what listeners can expect from their new venture into a more soul and R&B sound.

“A lot of it is inspired by a friend of ours who’s going through addiction right now, and Sam’s been estranged from this person. I think a good amount of the record is speaking to that and Sam’s personal battle with it. It’s also about the message of taking a step to be joyful about the things that you do have.”

Levin says that much of X Ambassadors’ messaging comes from using their privilege as three straight white males to give a voice to marginalized people. Although many bands are afraid they might alienate listeners if they speak out politically, X Ambassadors decided long ago to provoke discussion and change with their music.

“People might disagree with our political viewpoints, but we don’t let that stop us from doing what we think is right,” he says.

Some examples of their recent political activity include performing a special show to benefit Planned Parenthood on International Women’s Day in 2017 and donating all proceeds they earned for six months after the release of their single “Hoping” to the American Civil Liberties Union beginning in March of last year.

“I think there are a lot of people right now who feel alienated and attacked, and we want to do what we can to represent them,” Levin says. “If that empowers them to keep fighting the good fight, then we’ve done our job.”

Since they began writing music together in 2009, the bond between Levin and the Harris brothers has flourished because of all the trials and tribulations they experienced together as rising musicians.

“There were so many times where this band felt like it wasn’t going to happen,” Levin says. “All of the different hurdles we’ve jumped have made us so much stronger.”

But to Levin, hurdles and failures are no more than signs to turn around and go the other way. This philosophy is part of what gives X Ambassadors the drive and dedication to put out the best music they possibly can for their fans.

“All of the things we’ve been through together and our ability to communicate is what it’s all about. The most important thing in any creative relationship is the ability to be candid and not afraid to say what you think, even if it might hurt some feelings.”

Along with their fearless, go-getter attitude, X Ambassadors embraces a “no bullsh-t” approach that they picked up from Imagine Dragons, who they credit for discovering them.

“One thing we learned from touring with Imagine Dragons is to be overly nice to everyone you meet because it pays to do that,” Levin says. “It’s not like we were
a–holes before that tour or anything, but we learned there’s no time for any of that rock star bullsh-t.”

With the upcoming release of Joyful and a national tour underway, X Ambassadors is steadily moving toward their dream of becoming the headliners of their own major tour and selling out arenas all over the States. But no matter how big they get, they want to continue giving their fans music that they can hold onto during hard times.

“We obviously want fans to love the music, but we also want them to feel represented or to find something that they can relate to,” Levin says. “A song can be written about one thing, but a person may hear it and they might not understand what it was originally written about, but it somehow relates to their life. That’s the beautiful thing about music and art, and that’s the message we want to bring with the record.”

See X Ambassadors open for Fitz and the Tantrums at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center on Thursday, June 7. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30-$55 and available for purchase at www.wolftrap.org. Learn more about the  band at www.xambassadors.com.

Wolf Trap’s Filene Center: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703- 255-1800; www.wolftrap.org

 

Atish

Music Picks: May 2018

SUNDAY, MAY 6

Bullet For My Valentine
Come rock out with Bullet For My Valentine and hopefully hear songs off of their latest album, Gravity, set to release on June 29. With influences like Metallica and Slayer, lead singer Matt Tuck wasn’t kidding when he said BFMV is a “hard rock band with metal influences.” I’m secretly praying they’ll play “Tears Don’t Fall” and “The Poison.” Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $27-$81. The Fillmore: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

MONDAY, MAY 7

Panda Bear
Noah Lennox, a founding member of Animal Collective, has been making music as Panda Bear since his teenage years when people first noticed his penchant for drawing pandas on his mixtapes. His last record, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015), is a down-tempo electronic record. In its synths and drums, and even the progressions, it’s reminiscent of 80s synth pop, but in its overall mood it feels more like experimental chill wave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

TUESDAY, MAY 8

Braids
Braids hasn’t released new music since Companion EP in 2016, but they’re trying out new material on their latest tour. According to their Spotify playlist, Songs that are Inspiring LP4, their new record is taking influence from Joni Mitchell, Prince, Kendrick Lamar and Fleetwood Mac. I’m not sure how that mix will play out, but I’m sure it’ll sound close to “Joni” off of Companion, which shows ties to Joni Mitchell in the free-wheeling melody, but keeps the iconic Braids beats and production that sucks listeners in. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2745 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrd.com

WEDNESDAY, MAY 9

Kid Brother
With three guitarists, a bassist, a drummer and a keyboardist, this six-piece indie rock band really fills the room with their folk and blues-inspired sound. With just over a year of playing together under their belts, Kid Brother already has two quality albums out on bandcamp.com. Not only is their music complex and their lyrics riveting, but they’re also genuinely fun to listen to. Plus, they’re from Northern Virginia, so now you have even more incentive to come to this show. 21+ only. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

THURSDAY, MAY 10

Moon Boots
Moon Boots is a Brooklyn-born and now Brooklyn-based DJ and producer, so it’s little wonder that I was first introduced to him by a Brooklynite. After school, where he may have studied engineering but more likely Daft Punk, he moved to Chicago, the birthplace of house, and those Chicago days really shine through in his music. He was there on the floor experiencing Frankie Knuckles and Derick Carter and it shows in his music, but perhaps even more so in his live shows. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

FRIDAY, MAY 11

Wye Oak
With their “most gripping and powerful set of songs to date,” Wye Oak created their biggest, boldest music yet on their fifth and latest studio album release, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. Jenn Wasner’s mystical vocals float over complex rhythms and melodies in constant comfort, even though the lyrical content is heavy. For 10 years, Wasner and her musical partner in crime Andy Stack have been working towards a truly great album, and they’ve finally accomplished their goal. Head out to their show tonight to experience their surreal sound in the flesh. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

SATURDAY, MAY 12

Frankie Cosmos
Their three-part harmonies, eclectic yet catchy pop melodies and deep, playful lyrics are out of this world. Frankie Cosmos, originally the brain child of Greta Kline, transformed into a four-piece masterpiece and really came into its own sound. The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork have already praised their sophisticated instrumentals and lofty vocals, so be on the lookout for great things from this group. And come see their live show at Black Cat while you’re at it. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Odd Mojo

This free Velvet Lounge show follows on the Funk Parade on Saturday, May 12. But don’t let the free tickets fool you. This show is worth way more than that and because it’s free, you definitely shouldn’t miss it. Odd Mojo is an MC from Maryland. Her music and flow recall old school rappers, though her verses boast a contemporary awareness and positivity. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Free. Velvet Lounge: 915 U St. NW, DC; www.velvetloungedc.com

SUNDAY, MAY 13

Jorja Smith
The R&B singer-songwriter has been on the rise since her 2016 single “Blue Lights.” To give you an idea of where she’s gone from there, she collaborated with Drake on two tracks on More Life (2017) and wrote a track with Kendrick Lamar for the Black Panther soundtrack in 2018. Smith has also recently collaborated with Stormzy and Kali Uchis. She’s known for the jazz cadences to her singing, recalling at once Rihanna and Amy Winehouse, who England-native Smith claims as her biggest influence. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

TUESDAY, MAY 15

The Artisanals
Picture 70s George Harrison – hair, mustache and incredible songwriting included. The Artisanals sound a lot like how you would picture Harrison, and they even take sonic inspiration from the rock ‘n’ roll icon himself. The Artisanals have a knack for crescendo in their American folk-rock music – building tension for over half of the song and releasing it to a euphoric combination of keys and the soft plucking of guitar strings. If you’re a 70s rock fan, you’ll love these guys. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

Fleet Foxes
The calming, ethereal and environmentally focused sounds from Fleet Foxes will take you away to another world of faeries and folklore, yet eerily similar to our own. Complex instrumentals, thoughtful lyrics and hypnotizing vocals will make you want to listen over and over again until you grasp all of the subtleties and hidden meanings beneath the surface. Experience this other-worldly sound for yourself live at The Anthem. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45-$75. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

WEDNESDAY, MAY 16

Mdou Moctar
From Niger, Mdou Moctar has become something of a star among Tuareg musician. Like Tinariwen, he is among the first Tuareg guitarists to adapt traditional Tuareg music to electronics. Among the crowded scene, he is known for his unique, genre-bending compositions and has become an underground success, playing sold out shows from small DIY clubs to Lincoln Center. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, MAY 17

Jukebox the Ghost
If feel-good piano pop tunes are your jam, you’ll love DC natives Jukebox the Ghost. With the release of their 2018 album, Off To The Races, Jukebox the Ghost now has five albums worth of uplifting lyrics and Queen-inspired music. Their top track on Spotify, “Everybody’s Lonely,” has an obvious “Bohemian Rhapsody” vibe going on and I absolutely love it. And the band’s little ghost logo is adorable. What’s not to love? Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$60. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

SATURDAY, MAY 19

Quiet Slang
Beach Slang’s front man James Alex lets his vulnerable vocals soar in a new, softer project with Quiet Slang. Consequence of Sound writes that Alex put it this way: “Beach Slang is drunk, sweaty sins on a Saturday night. Quiet Slang is salvation on Sunday morning.” With only cello and piano resonating beneath him, Alex’s vocals standout as emotionally charged and meaningful. Depending on your taste, you might even like Quiet Slang better than the original. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

TUESDAY, MAY 22

American Pleasure Club
Formerly known as Teen Suicide, American Pleasure Club, led by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sam Ray, manages to blend music genres you’d think would go together as well as Chinese food and chocolate pudding. But somehow, they make a combination of American folk, Japanese ambient music, modern rap and 90s indie rock sound surprisingly amiable, laid back and moving. Check out Ray’s 2018 album, A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This, to see what I mean. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets starting at $15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

FRIDAY, MAY 25

Atish
The Atish experience is “deep, emotive, ecstatic.” The Bay Area DJ actually got his start as a software engineer for Facebook, but soon gave that up for producing. Somehow, it makes sense that he moved from the tech industry to DJing the Robot Heart Bus at Burning Man, first in 2011 and for three years following. Since then, he’s made a name for himself for his melodic deep house and his strict devotion to DJing rather than producing. He’s also known as a charismatic performer, engaging the crowd and donning at least a wig, if not a full costume, for performances. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $8. Flash: 645 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.flashdc.com

SUNDAY, MAY 27

This Is The Kit
Kate Sables has been making music under the alias This is the Kit since 2008. Her music is a kind of alternative folk with a band consisting of regular contributors and ever-changing ones. Their latest record was Moonshine Freeze (2017), some songs of which they got to perform at a NPR Tiny Desk concert in December. For alternative folk, don’t think they’re along the same lines as Bon Iver. Their music is something more raucous and fun. If Ezra Furman gives a somewhat ecstatic take on Americana, This Is The Kit gives a more ecstatic take on British folk, though with little punk influence. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

TUESDAY, MAY 29

Michael Rault
Montreal-based singer-songwriter and producer Michael Rault makes music that toes the line between inspiring and plainly derivative. It’s music much like that of another Canadian contemporary, Andy Shauf. It’s heavy on shakers and clean, lush, stringy production. There’s more of a Laurel Canyon influence, however, which really comes out in the guitar timbres and some of the song structures. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

TUESDAY, MAY 29 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 30

John Fogerty and ZZ Top
Two Rock & Roll Hall of Fame icons, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival and ZZ Top, blues rock legends since the 1970s, are coming to Wolf Trap for two straight dates. Fogerty will be performing his songs from CCR, and from ZZ Top, you can look forward to tracks like “La Grange,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $45. Wolf Trap’s Filene Center: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 30

Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast has traveled through DC several times over the past few years. They started by opening for bands like Mitski and Porches at Rock & Roll Hotel on H Street. On their last DC excursion, they played a Tiny Desk Concert and headlined at Black Cat. Now they’re headlining 9:30 Club. Get your tickets before they sell out or you’ll have to wait until they play at The Anthem. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

SayWeCanFly
Braden Barrie, SayWeCanFly creator, singer and songwriter, began writing music in his bedroom in Ontario in 2009. Since then, his songs have streamed over 30 million times and he’s toured all over North America. Barrie brings out the 2009 emo kid in all of us with his angsty lyrics, smooth vocals and emotionally driven acoustic melodies. He reminds me of Christofer Drew Ingle (aka 2009 emo heartthrob Never Shout Never), but with darker sad boy vibes. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$25. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E, VA; www.jamminjava.com

FRIDAY, JUNE 1

Top Dawg Entertainment: The Championship Tour
The billing for this show should immediately speak for itself. Kendrick Lamar is, of course, leading the show and is easily reason enough to make it out, but other TDE highlights will be there, including SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, SiR and Lance Skiiwalker. TDE has been at the front of not just hip hop but also, arguably, music whatsoever. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $39. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Rd. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com

Photo: Alexandra Cabral
Photo: Alexandra Cabral

Twin Shadow Falls into Focus with New Album, Tour

Twin Shadow’s latest tour, which aims to bring attention to the release of their new album Caer, kicked off on March 23 and includes dates with Alt-J and Beck. The creative force behind the band, George Lewis Jr., says he looks forward to what will be something of an East Coast homecoming at their U Street Music Hall show this Friday.

“We love DC, we always have great shows there,” he says. “We’re all east coast people – we’ve got a California boy in the band now – but [bandmate Wynne Bennett] and I both like to spend a lot of time on the east coast so we’re really excited about coming back there because it feels like home.”

As for the tour itself, a new era is approaching for Twin Shadow. The spotlight is set on the magnificent new music and serves as a showcase of Lewis Jr. and his band’s talent.

“This tour is really about just getting back to the music,” he says. “There’s not a big production behind the set. We just want to play music for people. The set up with the new band sounds amazing and it’s really just going to be that.”

A lot has changed for Lewis Jr. since he released his last record in 2015. He and his band were forced to stop performing after their tour bus crashed into a tractor-trailer near Denver. Thankfully, no involved parties suffered major injuries, but Lewis Jr. and his band took time to reflect and grow while off the road, both personally and politically. He speaks of the global themes that anchor this new record.

“This is the first time I really feel like people are actually looking at the world like ‘oh man, this might be it, this might be kind of the last round in humanity,’” Lewis Jr. says. “The idea of what being human [means] is changing because of computers and I think everything is being questioned. Everything is flipped on its head. And artists are making art at a time when that’s happening, and regardless of political themes, it’s hard to not make art that has a feeling of ‘oh this might be our downfall, this might be the end or this might be the beginning of a new version of who we are as human beings.’ It’s where the emotional bed of the record is.”

While dealing with the changing ways of the world, Lewis Jr. also weaves a thread between other works of his, adding to an impressive catalog that will now span four full-length records. “I would say [Caer] is more of a progression from Eclipse and it kind of goes back to some of the musical ideas on my first record, Forget,” he notes.

Caer also includes collaborations with HAIM, the vivacious alt-rock trio consisting of three sisters who released their sophomore album Something to Tell You late last year. Lewis Jr. says after he and the members of HAIM became good friends, they eventually guided him during his creation of Caer.

“I had originally sent Danielle from HAIM ‘Saturdays’ when I wrote it, because I wrote it thinking about them,” Lewis Jr. says. “They ended up going in and working on it and that was really exciting because I just think they’re the best.”

The title of the album comes from the Spanish verb caer, meaning “to fall.” While the Lewis Jr. moves forward into a new phase of his life, he’s certainly had many things both good and bad fall into place on this record, leading to his triumphant return to stage this month.

Twin Shadow play U Street Music Hall with Yuno on Friday April 27. Doors 7 p.m. Show 7 p.m. The new album “Caer” is also available this day. Tickets $30 here.  All ages.

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

Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/
Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/

East of the River for the First Time: Porchfest Music Festival Comes to Southeast

Porchfest Music Festival is coming to Southeast DC for the very first time.

Penn Branch resident and SE Porchfest volunteer organizer Ayanna Smith announced earlier this month that May 20 will mark the first Porchfest to be held east of the Anacostia river.

Porchfest consists of mini concerts held on front porches. This structure allows attendees to walk freely from house to house, listen to local talent and meet people from the neighborhood. In the past, local business improvement districts hosted Porchfest, including an event this April on Rhode Island Avenue. This time around, the event is entirely organized by volunteers.

“I chose to focus in the community where I have relationships,” Smith says. “Penn Branch and Hillcrest have beautiful stately homes with front yards and large porches, mixed with a rich history and tons of hidden talent. We have all of the elements of a perfect Porchfest.”

The very first Porchfest was organized by founder Lesley Greene and took place in Ithaca, NY. Greene came up with the idea while sitting out on her front porch playing music and chatting with a neighbor. The event has spread far beyond Ithaca and even DC, with yearly fests taking place in over 100 locations.

“It was one of the first warm days of the year, and my husband and I sat on our front steps, soaked up the sunshine, and played some ukulele tunes,” she says. “We realized that there were so many musicians living right in our neighborhood that we could practically have a music festival with just the people who live nearby. We gave it the name Porchfest that day.”

They’ve been gaining popularity ever since: past Porchfests have drawn crowds ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 people. Greene says the community setting opens the door for the wide variety of bands that play these festivals.

“It would be very difficult to have anything like the number of bands that perform at Porchfest if it were held at a concert venue,” she says. “We would not only need a lot of time, but a huge staff. Every band sets up for themselves, and because they are spread out over a relatively large area, many bands can play at the same time.”

Musician Rasha Jay will play the festival, and plans to perform songs from her first EP, Cicada, and possibly some new material.

“I grew up with a porch, and there is nothing more intimate than that setting,” she says. “I look forward to being close up with people and sharing my sound.”

Emily Woodhull and Jeff Blake, two members of EBW Music, cover songs that speak to them on a personal level.

“We play covers of songs that reflect who we are,” Blake says. This includes a repertoire of alternative rock and well-known hits like “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer and “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Though they don’t have original songs ready just yet, they’re on the way.

“We are in the process of perfecting a few and they may very well be show ready in time for Porchfest,” he assures.

Smith says planning a Porchfest without the aid of a business improvement district is a real challenge, but still necessary and worth it.

“There’s a negative stigma associated with living east of the river in DC that is based partially on stereotypes,” she says. “In hosting the first SE Porchfest, I’m hoping to showcase the beauty of our community.”

She envisions taking Porchfest beyond single neighborhoods, and she’s taken steps to establish Porchfest DC as a tax-exempt organization with the goal of creating a citywide festival.

SE Porchfest currently boasts over 30 volunteers, who are working hard to secure sponsorship and additional performers at the SE edition of the fest. Organizers anticipate six to eight participating host homes, with two bands playing at each porch.

“I would love to see some go-go bands join the list,” Smith says. “I love drums, I appreciate that the city has its own genre of music. It’s the sound of DC.”

As Rasha Jay puts it, “DC is and has always been innovative and unapologetic, and the city is full of talent.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can complete the volunteer sign-up form. Musicians and bands who want to participate can email porchfestdc@gmail.com.

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

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

Photo: U.S. Girls
Photo: U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls Smash Patriarchy

Meg Remy’s deliberate silence early in the U.S. Girls set at Union Stage Sunday night let you know that though she was having fun; she wasn’t fucking around. Remy is U.S. Girls, who are currently touring their sixth record, In a Poem Unlimited. Center stage, silent and dressed in all black, Remy stared back at anyone making a sound.


Side note, Ian Svenonious’ solo act, Escape-ism, opened for U.S. Girls. I first heard about Svenonious and Escape-ism in talking with Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation, (see here). Hilton was talking about bands he loves to see around town and Svenonious was the first thing to come to mind:

“Anything Ian Svenonious does, I love. I just saw Escape-ism at DC9, and I just thought it was brilliant. It’s very esoteric, like a lot of his things are, but it’s awesome.”

He was right. Escape-ism was odd, very 60s performance art, but great. Check out his DC special, “Exorcist Stairs.”


Remy called for this silence after the third or fourth song of the set, (or willed rather, because she didn’t say a thing), before she started singing “Rosebud.” The title is a reference to Citizen Kane, but I like to call it “Finch Song” because of the music video, which shows her partner, Slim Twig, setting free a booty-shaking finch.

Slim Twig and his band, The Cosmic Range, actually joined Remy for the tour, as well as being a background vocalist. The Cosmic Range is a free jazz group based in Toronto, but they were a perfect fit for Remy’s disco-inflected songs. They were also able to play “off-record,” (i.e. not according to the studio recording) to flex Remy’s experimental chops.

Their look lent itself to the more surreal U.S. Girls songs. Alongside Remy and her background singer’s chic black, they looked positively Lynch-ian. The saxophonist played a comically small curved sopranino sax and the keyboard player wore all red, red slacks and red button down, though no tie; he also tended to dance like he was slapping a horse.

The drummer and Slim Twig looked very much the part of “band members.” Slim even looked like he belonged in a group who takes their coffee intravenously. Either way they were sexy; Slim was the ‘sexy garbage’ to the drummer’s ‘sexy hipster.’

Remy’s silence was a recurring note throughout the night. She refused to allow songs to die à la Frankie Cosmos, which is to say slowly and with a whimper, and instead pushed for an end with free jazz flurries, followed by stillness. Again, The Cosmic Range hookup makes sense.

The songs are long and groove. Remy has routinely experimented with countless genres over the years for U.S. Girls.  For In a Poem Unlimited, she dived deep into disco and other early dance music. Lyrically and tonally they’re on another level. Her songs tend to channel the anger of wronged women.

For example, “The Pearly Gates” imagines a woman on her way to heaven who realizes the only way in is through Peter, and Peter is a fucking monster. The song asks if heaven is safe if it’s run by men, and if Remy’s stories were only intelligible to the studied listener, she left no room for ambiguity on her position when she paused the set another time; she played a sample of someone saying “I strongly encourage you not to tell women what to do.”

She let the sample run several times, nodding toward the audience, before moving to the next.

As the show went on, the performance became more unhinged. If the first several songs were christian baby making music, then the latter were more chimera-child making music. The groove moved to a sort of slink, and you almost felt as if the band had forgotten the audience. Remy, her background vocalist and the keyboardist were dancing around one another, and you felt they might tear each other’s clothes off. But if they were to fuck, the rest of the band would probably only stare glassy-eyed.

For the encore, only Remy came back onstage. She told the audience “there are no encores in life” and dropped the microphone. For more on U.S. Girls follow them on Twitter, and for more on Remy, check out her Instagram. Find In a Poem Unlimited wherever you get your music.

Photo: Colin Medley
Photo: Colin Medley

Dynamic Duo Partner Rocks DC

Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, better known as Partner, a Canadian rock duo with hilariously relatable lyrics and guitar chops for days, graced the DC9 stage Wednesday after making waves on the SXSW circuit in March. Ahead of their show, I sat down with the duo to talk inspiration behind their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, what it’s like working alongside a close friend, and how others can draw from their example to trust in their creative work.

Niles and Caron’s subject matter has an undeniable everyday appeal. With songs about making the most of weekdays off from a hectic work schedule on “Personal Weekend,” the paranoia that comes from being high in public on “Everybody Knows,” and the excitement of a new crush on “Play the Field,” listeners will find at least one relatable song on their first full-length album. The band says their inspiration for these songs comes from common threads amongst their lives.

 

Both on and off the stage, Niles and Caron have a palpable and cohesive energy that many duos spend entire careers honing. In addition to the two on guitar, an equally talented three-piece band joins them for live performances. While they were in college, Niles and Caron spent time in and out of different projects before they formed Partner in their post grad years.

“Everyone in the other bands moved away and it was kind of just me and Lucy. We were living together and it kind of was just exactly the right circumstances,” Caron says of the band’s eventual creation. “One day we were hanging out and there was this guitar beside me and I just started yelling words.”

“It was around when she was getting into weed, so we would just smoke and talk about childhood memories and stuff like that,” Niles adds.

Forming the band led to an eventual permutation of old friends, and with each tour and recording session, their relationship becomes deeper.

“It’s a really fast way to grow as people. I think our bond is stronger now,” Niles says.

Caron is quick to agree.

“We’ve been playing together pretty much since we met, casually at first, then we started touring together but not as seriously,” she says. “It just sort of built up, but we also live together so we’re together all the time anyway.”

While their sound is distinct and decidedly self-assured, Caron and Niles say they find their inspiration from a host of artists.

“It’s all over the place,” Niles says. “Sound wise, we’re influenced by Ween, obviously, because they’re pan-genre. We’re kind of more influenced by attitudes and energies or whatever.”

“[We’re even influenced by] people that aren’t known really at all,” Caron adds. “We love to discover.”

“Pretty much anybody that seems like they know exactly what they’re trying to say and… they sound like they’re free, that’s what inspires us,” Niles says.

The duo also draws inspiration from many non-musical places.

“We’re really obsessed with the Enneagram personality test,” Niles says.

“It’s kind of spiritual, so it’s like we’re on some kind of path,” Caron muses.

Niles agrees, adding, “We’re trying to improve ourselves and shit.”

Caron emphasizes that recently, reality TV is “for sure” a huge inspiration.

This attitude translated beautifully into Wednesday’s live show, where Caron impressively belted Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons” after telling the audience the recent Netflix documentary on Gaga’s life “changed everything” for her. They also covered Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and sang a new song that was inspired by a poem written by Caron’s boss. Both band mates smiled through the entirety of the song, as if no one in the world was ever going to have as much fun as they were in that momentexcept maybe for their audience.

One of the most refreshingly unexpected aspects of their album are the skits—seven in total—scattered throughout. Consisting mostly of recorded phone calls, the skits make perfect sense in a world of songs about the band’s everyday life. Perhaps the most hilarious are the ones including Caron’s supportive and funny dad. I asked her how she managed to get such great soundbites of her dad, and she tells me the band played a bit of a trick to get them.

“We knew we had to get him when he didn’t know he was being interviewed, and then we asked for his consent later,” she explains. “But it’s also my dad, and obviously from the record you can tell he really wants me to do this kind of thing.”

Niles adds that “We definitely would not have gone forward with it if he hadn’t been okay with it.”

The band knew they wanted skits to be a big part of the album, but the better parts of it came together later.

“We knew we wanted to have skits from the universe and stuff of our album,” Niles says. “We wanted people to feel like they were having a whole experience. We didn’t really have any ideas for a skit, and then we just smoked a bunch of hash.” 

Caron says the band “wanted to show our life and everyone who was involved in the record and everything getting made.”

Niles adds, “We definitely didn’t realize how the skits would be received. But then we came out with the skits, and a lot of people said that they loved them and a lot of people are like ‘we love your album, but we hate the skits’ so it’s like completely 50/50.”

While their subject matter and energy is carefree and playful, the powerful and positive example they set as talented women telling the stories of their everyday lives is not lost on the duo. I asked them for advice they would give to any young creatives who are afraid to put themselves out there.

“I don’t wanna say there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you deserve to be allowed to take up space if you want to. In that way, you don’t have to feel like you’re not allowed,” Niles says.

“I think that when you make something that you love, you can feel safe in your creation, and can look for that feeling of being supported by your art,” Caron says. “That will give you the strength and the momentum to  put yourself out there in whatever place makes sense for you. It’s really about finding your voice.”

For more information about Partner, click here