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AYO on left // Photo: Jim Saah

AYO Gets Help And Opportunity At Strathmore With AIR

AYO needed help. That’s the first thing she mentions when discussing her recent inclusion as one of Strathmore’s Artist in Residence (AIR). The program is intended to help them gain opportunities to perform, create and teach workshops at the Bethesda-based arts center.

Being an independent artist while juggling an upcoming EP, singles and performances is a full time job, and if you couple that with limited resources, the life can seem daunting. For a majority of her early life, AYO never even considered the path of a full-time musician, citing that she enrolled at Howard University to study Biology. Despite this, her undeniable talent behind a microphone coupled with her messages of empowerment have made her an artist to watch in the DC area.

At 7:30 p.m. on January 15 and January 29, AYO will take the Strathmore stage with two unique concerts. Before she performs at The Mansion, we got to talk to the artist about the life of a musician, AIR and writing music that resonates.

OT: What made you want to get involved with the Strathmore Artist in Residence program?
AYO: I needed help, that’s what. I needed help.  This program keeps stretching me, and it’s crazy how much help I didn’t know I needed. Creating a strong email list is something that seems common sense, but it wasn’t to me. Being your own music director or pitching yourself to venues. It’s been a lot of things, and it’s forced me to do those things. It’s classes: It’s all six of us in the room with [AIR director Betty Scott]  and one of her assistants and aids, and a presenter. We ask as many questions as we want. For example, we had a grant writing class, and I didn’t know all this money was available for people like me.

OT: What was your reaction when you found out?
AYO:
I screamed when I found out, just YAY, you know. I was really really excited and I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. I was just really honored, and I didn’t know what to expect.

OT: Obviously the AIR participants are all from different backgrounds, what’s it like getting to know your contemporaries from different genres? 
AYO: Yeah, it’s definitely been very encouraging to see, to feel this much support in this music thing. To know that it’s possible to know that other people are on this journey with me. It can feel very alone. Like you’re out here alone trying to make this ting work, to know that other people are working toward the same thing in other genres is really inspiring.

OT: How did your musical journey start? How did you start singing?
AYO: I lived in Nigeria, from five to 11, and my babysitter used to sing songs with me. She heard me sing, and realized oh you have a nice voice. She was also the director of our Youth choir at our church, and she would give me little solos and stuff like that. 

OT: From there, what kind of involvement did you have with music and singing?
AYO: I remember singing a lot of church music, a lot of leading worship. Didn’t really sing anything outside of church. I did a couple of talent shows. My dad listened to a lot of Sunny Adaye, Nigerian artists and afro beats and stuff like that. 

OT: You’re sound is often listed under the umbrella category of pop, so what’s your relationship like with that term?
AYO: For me, pop music happened when I was in high school. I used to go on Limewire and Frost something, all of those ripped music sites, I would go on there and type in artists. At the time I loved Maroon 5, and then I listened to Coldplay, then Plain White Ts. I loved the way those songs made me feel and how they would build. I loved Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I was obsessed with Pink and Katy Perry. I loved big pop songs, those go to another place type pop songs. Coldplay was really good at that. I loved Journey, a lot of these songs I would hear on the show Glee, and I would go look at it from there. 

OT: Were you writing your own “big” pop songs at the time?
AYO: There’s stuff I wrote my senior year at high school, [and] I’m not saying I was a bad writer, but I definitely wrote different. My freshman year of high school, I would write melodies and I would play the piano by ear. I would just play the harmonies I heard in my head. That made songwriting slow for me, versus now, I can hear a melody in my head and build songs fairly quickly.

OT: What changed about your song writing? Was it the inclusion of the piano as a tool?
AYO: Oh absolutely, for me, it was very much hand in hand. I started playing piano when I was five, but I didn’t really do anything. The guy would try to teach me, and I would run around. In high school, my mom would make us sing worship at night, and I would play different chords on the piano. I tested into the remedial music course in college, and I took classical and jazz piano, and I practiced my butt off and I started to see a difference in my writing. It was really playing piano and theory that fueled me as a writer.

OT: Your music is extremely emotional, which makes sense because of your church backgrounds. Where you always writing songs like this?
AYO: I was a sad child. I wrote about my parents’ divorce, I wrote about being alone a lot. I wrote about liking people, crushes. So yeah. It definitely was there, I wrote about everything I experienced. I basically loved seeing people’s stories and having the chance to tell them. It was very unrefined, when I was raped in college, it took me six years to write about it, but I did. The struggle with depression and anxieties, seeing what children in Baltimore went through when I was teaching them. Despite that, I don’t want the music to sound depressed, or have that vibe. 

OT: How do you strike that balance during the construction process?
AYO: Most of the time I have a theme. If I’m feeling a certain type of way. With my single “Direction,” I remember really liking this guy and I didn’t want to be the one to approach him, I wanted him to approach me. [So], what kind of chord would make it seem like I was moving in a direction? I also thought about what artist I wanted to influence the song, so I used Earth, Wind and Fire and early Michael Jackson. [When] I wanted to write a Christmas song [“Direction”], I love Jazz music, and I wanted to use Nat King Cole, he used a lot of two-five-ones and key changes, and I figured out what sounded Christmas-y, and wrote the lyrics according to that. That’s kind of my process.

OT: You have several concerts coming up, an acoustic performance on January 15 and a larger pop show on January 29, what should people know about those showcases?
AYO: So, the first one couple of concerts is very intimate, very singer songwriter type of vibes. The second one is a very pop show, with huge pop songs, such as “Don’t Stop Believing.” My music is very uplifting and very fun, but it’ll make you think. It’ll make you think about those experiences that you have in life. That what my music will do. 

AYO’s performances on January 15 and January 29, tickets $25. For more information, click here. For links to her music, click here.

The Music Center At Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org

On Tap Writers Joyelle Ronan and Destinee Harper with Fitz and the Tantrums // Photo: Joyelle Ronan

Fitz and the Tantrum’s Noelle Scaggs Talks New Album, Political Lyrics and DC

Fitz and the Tantrums has been bringing their unique sound to pop music for more than 10 years now.

On November 7, Fitz and the Tantrums performed a private concert for Hilton Honors members at The Conrad Hotel in DC. Mark Weinstein, Hilton Senior Vice President & Global Head of Customer Engagement, Loyalty and Partnerships, described the concert experience as “amazing artists that are used to selling out major arenas in a private, intimate setting delivering an exclusive concert experience for Hilton Honors members.”

After the show, I sat down with co-lead vocalists and percussionist Noelle Scaggs to talk about their new album All the Feels, using political messages in music and her favorite things about DC. Fitz and the Tantrums will return to DC on Friday, February 14  at the Anthem for their Twin XL tour.

On Tap: How would you describe Fitz and the Tantrums’ sound? How has it evolved over time?
Noelle Scaggs: I put [our sound] in the category of alt-pop, I think I’ve always put it there. Our earlier works were more in the world of new age – alternative meets Motown kind [of] vibe, that blue-eyed soul period. As we’ve progressed as a band, like our second album through the third and now All the Feels, we’ve progressed more into our pop element. We always keep things that inspire us in our music. Fitz and I always sing in tandem. That’s always been our dynamic together, and of course all the guys in the band – the way that we do our production – we’ve always really wanted to push ourselves to modernize our sound as much as we possibly could.

OT: How does the band’s new album All the Feels differ from previous ones?
NS: I would say it’s the most worldly conversation. Our third album, our self-titled album – that record for me was probably our most challenging album, because we were still trying to figure out what we wanted to do creatively and going through this crazy writer’s block period. With All the Feels, it felt like all the songs were really flowing and it came down to what songs we were going to run with. There was a flow this time around and a global conversation. It’s really tapping into our personal experiences and not being afraid to share those stories, not being afraid to have political messages in our songs as well. That’s something we’ve never really done before.

OT: What songs on the album feature political messages?
NS: The song “Hands Up” is actually about today’s political environment and resisting what you see morally wrong in this world. We have another song called “Kiss the Skyand that entire song is about gun culture in America and the lust for it. It’s my interpretation [of] if a gun was trying to woo a buyer, it would probably be saying these things. But it just sounds like a party song; it has a temptation about it. That’s something that I wanted to talk about and found an interesting way of doing [so] on the album.

OT: How did you guys decide that  “All The Feels” was going to be title track?
NS: I think it’s an all encompassing song. The entire record itself is about our own inner turmoils that we go through, our lives on the road and things that we see in the world. I think “All The Feels” has this very triumphant build up, which is honoring that humanity we get disconnected [from]. We’re always on our phones and stuck in the world of bad news. We forget to sit back and take a breath, reconnect with our families, friends and ourselves to have those moments. That’s what this song is all about, a lot of the record is about that – mental health, getting through life and trying to find gratitude and positivity where you can.      

OT: Favorite track off the new album?
NS: It’s kinda crazy because when you’re putting together an album, you go through so much blood, sweat and tears in trying to figure out what you’re going to put on it. I have a few favorites. “Dark Days” is a song myself and Fitz [Michael Fitzpatick, lead vocals] wrote together and it talks about the earlier part of our career when there were a lot of people that doubted our abilities as a band and didn’t think that we would make it as far as we did. So that song is really important to me on that personal note. “All The Feels,” obviously. “I Need Help” is probably one of my real favorites because it touches home for me. I’m bipolar. I deal with mental health. I’ve dealt with it my entire life. That song talks about asking for help, being able to reach out when you need it, not being afraid of that and taking away the stigma of vulnerability.

OT: The new album has 17 songs, I read that it started off with 80. Is that true? 
NS: Yeah. You write songs, you write half songs, you write songs that you come back to and you try and try and it doesn’t happen. Then you sit on this one song, think it’s going to make it, and then you take it off. It’s a crazy process figuring it out.

OT: Both the music and lyrics from “All The Feels” tend to be upbeat and uplifting, is it a conscious effort to promote a message of positivity?
NS: Yeah, absolutely. I think from the start of this band, we’ve always put out the energy of allowing the audience to become a seventh member. I’ve always performed very energetic shows even before this band, when I was doing my own thing. I love the energy. I think in our music, we always wanted to have a nice juxtaposition, we can have really biting lyrics about the break up in a relationship and how we felt about our exes but also have this joyful experience in the music that allows the audience and listener to let go for a minute. Like “yes, I can identify with what you’re saying and also dance this off and feel better in the morning.”

OT: What’s it like to make that connection with fans?
NS: It’s interesting because we have a lot of fans who come up to us talking about songs they’ve played at their wedding. I remember earlier in our career, [a fan] was talking about “Moneygrabber,” and I was like, “Do you know what that song’s about” and they said, “It was our wedding song!” I said, “Okay, hope it works out for you!” It’s just one of those songs that is a complete breakup song but because energetically, it’s all about the movement and the experience of enjoying the music itself. It just makes it one of those songs that everyone wants to play at their wedding, I guess. Even people that have been in the hospital or going through crazy times in their lives, our music has in some way been able to break through that and get them through whatever they’re going through. I think that’s a blessing that we’ve been given to offer that to people.

OT: Next year you guys are set to headline a North American tour, what’s your favorite thing about being here in DC?
NS: There’s just a vibe here that I really love. There’s this elevated sense of community and people wanting to be connected to the world and having important conversations. For me, it’s being an African American woman, I come to DC and I feel like I’m surrounded by family. It’s really different from my experiences in a lot of cities where sometimes I’m the only person in the room. I just really love DC for giving me balance, diversity and experience. People come out here to do things, not just sit around. You can feel that when you come out here.

To learn more about All the Feels and Fitz and the Tantrum, check out their website here. For information about their Anthem show in February, visit here.

Jason Moran (left) and The Bandwagon // Photo: courtesy of Jason Moran

Between the Riffs: Catching Up With Jazz Musician Jason Moran

The DC music scene is known for being the home of the go-go, however, it’s also more diverse and alive than ever. This includes its burgeoning jazz. To add to this, in May 2014, the Kennedy Center recognized Jason Moran, an accomplished jazz musician, for his talent and appointed him as the Artistic Director for Jazz. With his help, the Kennedy Center has expanded their jazz programs here in DC. On November 9, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon will celebrate their 20th anniversary, and along with Ingrid Laubrock, they will perform music from Moran’s album, Black Stars at the Kennedy Center. We got the chance to ask Moran a few questions and learn more about him and his thoughts on DC’s jazz atmosphere before his big performance.

On Tap: In 2016, you said you’re still trying to play like Teddy Wilson. Taking a moment to reflect on your musical journey, have you managed to play like him yet?
Jason Moran: If I referred to Teddy Wilson, it was that my teacher Jaki Byard had a father that loved Teddy Wilson. Jaki’s father said to him, “if you’re going to play piano, can you play like Teddy Wilson.” Wilson is a marker for not only technique but also in terms of being one of the “firsts.” To be the African-American musician that symbolized the breaking down of racial codes in the same way Jackie Robinson did for [Major League Baseball]. To answer your question, no, I won’t ever be able to crystallize quite like Teddy Wilson, but I am happy to be on the journey of musical excellence combined with civilian bravery.  

OT: What did it mean for you to be appointed as the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center?
JM: The Kennedy Center continues to define its role as an arts leader and to know that how we cultivate the history of jazz under our roof is very exciting and challenging. I take the role very seriously, and only after a few years have I begun to understand the magnitude of such a position. The creator of the role, Dr. Billy Taylor, was an advocate for the music. His foresight brought much of what I hope to continue to preserve within the Kennedy Center. He continued to nurture the music in each state: past, present and future.  

OT: What has it been like to work with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits for the 20th anniversary? What are some of your fondest memories from when you first formed The Bandwagon?
JM: Tarus and Nasheet are my big brothers. I depend on them to push and pull The Bandwagon to new territories. One of my fondest memories for us is around how we were actually fired as a band. We were the rhythm section for a few bands around the turn of the century (funny phrase). The bandleaders did not like us all together, so they usually fired one of us and kept two. Eventually, we figured out that we were a unit that was better left free to roam. Despite the criticism from the beginning, we remained a unit because we were forming a language as a band that would help define our era. We ruffled the edges, folded them in, then burned them and smeared the ashes along the wall. We tagged the music.  

OT: You performed with Sam Rivers on the sax for Black Stars. What was it like working with him?
JM: Sam Rivers was a revolutionary. He was free thinking in his playing and composing. He was also the band mate of two of my teachers, Jaki Byard and Andrew Hill. So, to create Black Stars with him was thrilling because it was as if he was my uncle. He took The Bandwagon on a ride that we are forever thankful, because it was the first sign that we were looking for history to tell us the future.  

OT: You believe in cross-genre collaboration. In Facing Left, you covered Björk’s electro-pop/avant-garde song “Joga” and paired your music with comedy. Is combining genres a personal preference, or does it serve a bigger purpose for your sound?
JM: I believe my compositions sound better when set against another composer. Björk is one, Albert King [is] another, Rachmaninoff, etc. Also, I think I look for themes in the music to find meaning. Sometimes the next best thing to playing a song you wrote is to play a song you love.  

OT: You reshaped and refocused the Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead professional development program. You helped create a curriculum to work with other DC art organizations. Can you share the results of collaboration?
JM: You would have to ask the students because the students continue to tell us about the value of Betty Carter’s program. Many of the students have gone on to create quite a stir. In recent years, Jazzmeia Horn has set quite an example as a student of Jazz Ahead and then striking out on world tours. I think awakening the students’ sensibilities toward the arts is important to keeping the music healthy.  

OT: What do you think of the jazz scene in DC? Do you think your work with the Kennedy Center has helped jazz connect with a younger audience? What more could be done?
JM: The DC jazz scene is profound. Watching musicians lead sessions nearly every night of the week, open new venues, create new jazz festivals, document the music with different online resources, historians abound and at all of the clubs listening. [Plus] DJs on the radio with all the history one would ever need, institutions preserving and continuing to employ the musicians, the universities pushing out great musicians. The scene in DC has always been vast, and at the Kennedy Center, we continue to promote the music, and the (hopefully young) audiences know they have space here to live and grow with the music. 

OT: What can jazz fans and people who frequent the Kennedy Center for events expect from the November 9th show?
JM: Openness!!!  

Moran is set to hit the Kennedy Center stage on November 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the performance are $29-$49. For more information about the show or Moran’s work at the Kennedy Center, visit here.

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

Photo: courtesy of the Kennedy Center

A Footloose Conversation with Isabelle McCalla

The movie Footloose evokes memories of a young Kevin Bacon angrily dancing next to that iconic yellow Volkswagen Bug. Maybe you think of the popular Kenny Loggins’ song of the same name? The music, clothing and cinematography all scream 1980s. So why is this story continually rewatched and remade? After speaking with Broadway Center Stage: Footloose star Isabelle McCalla, it’s clear this narrative is still extremely relevant.

The Kennedy Center is bringing Footloose to DC with a star-studded cast. Among them is McCalla, who in addition to playing the role of Ariel in this production, has played Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway and originated the role of Alyssa on Broadway’s The Prom. Like her character Ariel, McCalla is no stranger to standing up for what she believes in. She and her The Prom co-star, Caitlin Kinnunen, shared the first same-sex kiss in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade history. Before seeing her on stage, read on to learn more about her history with the material, performing in DC and more. 

On Tap: The movie Footloose came out in 1984, the musical was introduced in 1998, and the movie was then remade in 2011, what do you think is so compelling about the story that makes it able to span decades?
Isabelle McCalla: I think it’s really a story of communication, or the lack thereof, and people with different ideologies who don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s a story of people who listen and understand someone who walks in a different pair of shoes. So I think that has transcended and we do it with musical comedy, and that’s what’s so incredible. 

OT: At the very heart of it, Footloose is about young people fighting for what they believe in. This is very relevant today, especially here in DC. Does performing at the nation’s capital have a different impact?
IM: Oh absolutely! We are in a very difficult time in our history where there is a lot of negative rhetoric going on and the people in charge aren’t necessarily representing their constituents. [Footloose] is about a time when the new generation has to do some toe stepping while standing up for what they believe in and it will resonate a lot with the people living in DC today.   

OT: What was your first experience with the film?
IM: I’ve actually never seen it!

OT: Really?
IM: Yeah, I somehow managed to go my entire life without seeing it. It helps keep it fresh for me in the role.

OT: What drew you to the character of Ariel?
IM: I like that she is very intelligent and able to play the various facets of her society. She knows exactly what roles she has to play with which type of people to get by. She has a hunger and thirst for knowledge, and she just wants to get out of her small town and make something of her life. That’s not something that many people in her community aspire to necessarily. That’s been fun to tap into. She’s very dynamic. It’s hard to find roles that are so versatile, in the sense that they can be vulnerable and demure yet so confident and sexy at the same time. Ariel is kinda the whole package there.

OT: Obviously, the narrative focuses on a small town that bans dancing. You originated the role of Alyssa in The Prom, a musical about a small town that shuts down a prom because Alyssa and her girlfriend want to attend. Are there any similarities between Ariel and Alyssa?
IM: There are similarities in that they both have broken relationships with their parents. They love their parents but for some reason or other, Ariel with her father and Alyssa with her mother, their parents have visions for their daughters that don’t line up with their daughters and who those characters actually are. It’s constantly a fight to just be seen for who they are by their parents. 

OT: If music and dancing had been banned from your town, what would you be doing today?
IM: Oh my god. I would have to move towns. I love singing and dancing, but I’d probably be an investigative journalist. That was always a dream of mine. 

While McCalla isn’t sure what’s next, her successful career thus far is an indication of great things to come. See her in Footloose this Wednesday through Monday, October 14. Showtimes vary, tickets $59-$175. For more information, click here.

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

Photo: Josh Cheuse

Tales Of America: J.S. Ondara Intertwines Kenyan Roots and Americana Style on Debut Album

It seems counterintuitive that someone raised in Nairobi, Kenya could tell such compelling stories of the American experience through song. And yet J.S. Ondara does so with such skill on his first album Tales of America, released this February, that he’s seen high praise from the likes of NPR, Rolling Stone and Billboard. Raised on 90s alt-rock like Nirvana and Radiohead, the 27-year-old musician discovered great storytellers like Bob Dylan and Neil Young in high school, forever altering his musical style. In 2013, Ondara moved from Kenya to Minneapolis where he taught himself guitar and was eventually picked up by a label. We had the chance to ask Ondara about his roots, moving to the U.S. and why he never gave up on his goals before he plays Sixth & I on October 30.

On Tap: What was it like to move to the U.S. and pursue a career as a musician?
J.S. Ondara: It certainly wasn’t easy, but really, I was just too far from home. There was no looking back. If home was a bus fare away, perhaps I would have given up at some point. I never really had a choice.

OT: Who influences your sound?
JSO: I am mostly influenced by music from the 60s and 70s – songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley.

OT: What was it about Minneapolis’s music scene that drew you to that city, and how has it affected your music?
JSO: I was initially drawn to Minnesota after learning it was [Bob] Dylan’s home but the scene and the people of Minneapolis are why I chose to stay. The city has a lively music scene, but it also has a certain quietness about it that is essential for writing and growing without too much distraction.

OT: Why were you able to tell such a compelling American story with Tales of America despite having grown up in another country?
JSO: I suspect it is because I was making observations about America as an outsider with no bias other than to draw a portrait of the America that I saw.

OT: What lead you to the Americana genre and why did you decide to make the album entirely acoustic?
JSO: As an avid fan of stories, I was drawn to the storytelling nature of folk music and I believe that’s why I found myself drawn to that kind of music. That said, the journey has just begun, and I most certainly intend to experiment with more sounds and arrangements as I make more records.

OT: What do you hope people will get out of listening to Tales of America?
JSO: I think art at its best is a mirror through which a society can observe itself and hence change course whenever necessary. I hope that people will see a mirror in Tales of America and gain insight into themselves.

OT: What can people expect from your DC show?
JSO: I am looking forward to playing some new songs live for the first time.

OT: Where do you go from here? What are some of your goals for the future?
JSO: I am currently working on my next record so the next step for me is to finish that and share it with the world. My goals change all the time, but this year my goal is to try to make it through 27 without dying unceremoniously.

Catch J.S. Ondara at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Wednesday, October 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. For more information on Ondara, go to www.jsondara.com.

Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW; 202-408-3100; www.sixthandi.org

Photo: Nick Donner

Confessions of Traveling Snack Slingers

What happens at the food truck rodeo doesn’t always stay at the food truck rodeo. We caught up with food truckers around the region to hear about the highs and lows of cooking on the road.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman

On Tap: What is the craziest event you’ve ever taken your truck to?
Founder // co-owner Kirk Francis: That would be The Festicle, which was a testicle-cooking festival held at the Bullpen. There were numerous testicle-cooking competitions, a team who did WWE-style wrestling and pole dancers. A close second was the Flugtag by Red Bull, where we saw various teams compete to push their homemade flying objects on hilariously unsuccessful launches. There was a lot of smashing and a tiny bit of flying.

OT: Most surprising order?
KF: We make cookie cakes, and over the years we’ve been asked to make some highly inappropriate cookie cakes for bachelorette parties. We also made and delivered a cookie cake once that simply said, “F—k you.” I hope it was a joke.

OT: What’s your favorite snack to enjoy after Captain Cookie calls it a day?
KF: Kimchi with rice and a fried egg. I ferment my own so there’s always a jar handy. It’s salty, sour and spicy, but still pretty healthy.

www.captaincookiedc.com

Photo: courtesy of CapMac

CapMac

On Tap: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever made for a customer?
Owner Josh Warner: The craziest order would probably be catering. They wanted to get fancy, and they wanted six courses and a plated dinner for four hours. Zero mac and cheese at all.

OT: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about owning a food truck?
JW: You think we’re only open for two hours, but we make everything from scratch so it’s a full day. It’s so much more if you do it right, and we do it right. We love people more than we love food.

www.capmacdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Rebel Taco

Rebel Taco

On Tap: What’s one aspect of owning a food truck most folks don’t realize?
Owner Mike Bramson: It gets hot inside the truck! If you’re feeling hot, imagine 10 degrees warmer – at least. Whoever is serving you on a warm day, just give them a “thank you.”

OT: What Rebel Taco dish do you crave post-shift?
MB: I’m normally craving the taco that I saw go out the most that day. It’s usually either the Super Chick (chipotle-marinated chicken, avocado crema and pico de gallo on a flour tortilla), steak quesadilla or the Shrimp Gone Wild (cornflake-battered shrimp, slaw and Rebel sauce).

OT: Name the food order that made you raise an eyebrow.
MB: One time, we had an order of 16 tacos from one person. I figured he was taking it to a group, but it was just him and his friend. I guess they must really like our tacos.

www.rebeltacova.com

Photo: courtesy of Swizzler

Swizzler

On Tap: What’s the oddest food order you’ve received?
Founder Jesse Konig: The weirdest thing that I’ve seen get ordered is asking for two hot dogs in one bun. I think people see the spiral-cut hot dogs and think they should be able to fuse together and make a super-sized hot dog. I respect the creative thinking, but it just doesn’t quite work out the way you think it would. Please, don’t order it.

OT: What’s your go-to Swizzler snack after a long day?
JK: I’ve been on a big burger kick recently so I’d have to say my number one choice would be a Swizz Stack fresh off the grill, maybe even with some caramelized onions and candied jalapeños added on top if I’m feeling crazy! After a long day working on the truck, that thing will disappear in 30 seconds flat. If we’re talking hot dogs, it would have to be a Feast Mode. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!

www.swizzlerfoods.com

Photo: courtesy of Pepe

Pepe by José Andrés

On Tap: After a long day with Pepe, what do you eat standing over the kitchen sink?
Chef Aaron Helfand: Spanish pulled pork with shredded cabbage slaw, hold the bread.

OT: What’s the weirdest thing someone’s asked you to make?
AH: Being a small workspace, we only have so many options to alter something. But guests come up with all sorts of interesting tweaks, whether it’s adding jamón to everything or adding croquetas to the inside of a bocata.

OT: What’s the one thing you can’t do without on your truck?
AH: This depends on where we are in the DMV area. It is interesting how guests at each location crave different items from our menu. We try to bring as much as possible so everyone can enjoy, but we can never be without jamón.

www.joseandrescatering.com

Greta Kline (second from left) and Frankie Cosmos // Photos: courtesy of Frankie Cosmos

Frankie Cosmos’ Greta Kline Talks Addiction to Newness, Stupid Lyrics and Close It Quietly

When Greta Kline joins the stage with the rest of Frankie Cosmos this Friday at Black Cat, she won’t want to be Greta Kline. Whoa, whoa, that actually sounds harsh, but I promise I’m not writing that in the way you’re reading it so let me clarify:

*clears throat*

What I’m saying is, she’s currently in search of a stage persona, an alter-ego. Think of Corey Taylor putting on one of his several Slipknot masks or Beyonce channeling Sasha Fierce, or even Tyler, the Creator throwing on a silver wig during his IGOR tour. She’s in search of a different outlet, a way to avoid giving all of herself on a nightly basis. Frankly (ha, rhymes with Frankie ((as in Frankie Cosmos)), when she’s describing this to me over the phone before the band’s latest album Close It Quietly has even come out, it sounds like an exhausting position to be in, constantly opening yourself up. Throw in the fact that the band is insanely prolific, three albums in four years prolific, and you being to see how touring so much could become cumbersome. Perhaps this is the real reason why superheroes put on masks and capes. Yeah, they say it’s because they want to protect their loved ones, but maybe it’s actually because being yourself, your true self at home and at work and during your side gig is too much to offer. What if Batman’s cowl and cape is actually just a result of this truth: being Bruce Wayne all the time is a lot of freaking work. I don’t know, and neither does Greta, probably, I mean I didn’t ask her this stuff when we spoke. However, she is an indie rock superhero.

While I didn’t ask her about comics or Batman, I did get a chance to speak to the singer, songwriter before her show at the Black Cat this Friday, ranging from her fascination with marbles and that ability to churn out an incredible amount of songs. Oh, and we of course chatted about the latest record, a 21-song indie rock epic which represented a slight departure from their previous works, but still contained the existential mid-20s drama you’d expect from the group. It’s soothing, powerful and fun. So read on and get excited to see whatever alter-ego Kline comes up for the band’s set at Black Cat.

On Tap: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musician with as many alter egos as you on their Wikipedia page, it’s like that scene in Rocky when they’re reading all of Apollo’s nicknames. Do you have a favorite?


Greta Kline: Ah man, it’s my addiction to newness. I need a new band name all the time. It’s easier than being one person forever. Definitely Frankie Cosmos is the one that stuck, it feels like the band and it feels like me. I relate it to what we’re doing, that’s why I haven’t changed it. I’m still constantly coming up with band names, but you can’t just make a new band, because people will get confused. I just like names, the ideas. When I was doing the bandcamp, and I didn’t have a band, it was just a way to pretend that I have a band. It’s easier than being yourself. 

Even GRETA feels weird, whenever, whenever someone calls me Greta. More often, people come up to me and call me Frankie, I guess. A lot of it’s Frankie Cosmos, I thought it was funny to have other names. It’s fun. It’s like you’re getting to escape yourself. It’s like having a wrestling name. Something that I want to do this album cycle, is be a different person on stage. One of the things that exhausts me on touring is giving my soul in an earnest way, and being purely me. I don’t know, it can be nice, but I want to have an option to be a performer on stage. I want to take on a performer character. Greta isn’t a performer, Greta is shy and anxious, and for awhile “we’re Frankie Cosmos” was enough of a mask, so I don’t know being different in some way might make it easier. I wore some wigs in our latest music video, I don’t know. I haven’t put enough thought into it.

OT: This is your third album in four years, are you exhausted yet? It feels like you might be?
GK: You know, to me it’s not that much. It’s not that much [to be] making albums. What’s exhausting is touring. Getting time to make an album is the break, that’s the fun part, that’s the creative part. [When] we can really do the work, I don’t even think about it. We’re not exhausted by anything at all, it’s so exciting. I have a little bit of an addiction to newness, I always like my newest song the best, and that’s making an album, it’s a way to enjoy that. 

OT: You’re exceptionally prolific, do you find that songwriting come easy to you?
GK: Sometimes, yeah, it definitely something that’s fun for me. I never really force myself to write a song. I think the hard time I have is finishing songs. The idea part of it is something that just happens, and the other part is setting apart time to work on it. When I’m writing songs, it’s when I feel the most in touch with myself and everything. 

OT: You compared this record to changes people make when they rearrange your room or get a flashy haircut, it’s still your stuff or your hair, but it’s different. What sort of spurred this sentiment, and how were you able to turn the record around so quickly? Was this reshuffle something you had in mind already?
Greta Kline: I mean, I guess it does feel easy and natural; we just want to make music. We don’t think about how it’s too soon to put out records. We definitely started thinking about making this album before we put out Vessel (2018). I mean we didn’t record it until this winter, so it feels pretty fresh. Yeah, that line about your hair and rearranging your room, I really like that image, I feel like it makes sense. My bandmate Luke [Pyenson] said we sort of give ourselves room to mess around, even it if doesn’t sound the same. 

I never think about what [the music is] going to sound compared to the other albums. We had more time and more equipment, but it’s still us arranging the songs and me writing them. There are some different tones on it. I keep thinking about the modular synth on a couple tracks, that feels like a big change. Yeah, it feels like a pretty different album to me. 

It’s more organic. We had room to play, so we did. We felt about that on the last album too. We had a marimba on a track, crazy keyboard sounds and it’s in the moment. We’re not thinking about what it’s going to mean in the concept of the album until it’s done. All I think about is what it feels like when I’m singing it or playing it. I know it’s a good take if it feels good, but sometimes it doesn’t sound good even if it does feel good. You have to sort of do it.

The hard part for me is thinking about the album as a whole and talking about it. I always think about this quote, “If I could explain it all, I wouldn’t need the song.” Writing the bio doesn’t come as naturally to me as sitting and making it with my friends. 

OT: How did you all come up with the title Close It Quietly?
GK: It sounds so stupid to say it. It’s kind of meaningless. Every time we make an album, I know the name the whole time. This was different — the album was done and we didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t want it to have a title track and it was a weirdly hard album to name. One day I was like F-it, I was going to name it like I would on my bandcamp demo. It was just going to be something that I say today, then I told someone about my gate, to close it quietly, and that’s the album title. Since thinking about it, it could be a lot of things. It could be a chapter, a relationship and the album sort of closes quietly, we all just fade out. 

OT: So it was kind of profound and universal after the fact?
GK: Never A day goes back that I don’t say something profound [laughs]. I really wanted to call the album I have to do the dishes.

I kind of like that, it’s funny to give a pedestal to stupidity.

OT: The short songs, how do you know when to cap off an idea? I feel like most artists hover around the 2-4 minute range, but you have a ton of songs that are like 45 seconds.
GK: I mean, I guess you just know. If I force it to be longer than it needs to be, it’ll get scrapped. The fun part is coming up with a melody and doing something new, I don’t want to repeat the same lyrics and melodies longer than I have to. Once in awhile, I’ll write a song where it takes more time to say what I want to say, or to explain the feeling. I like short songs, and I think it’s about having a short attention span and liking something that’s new. I like that we play dirty songs instead of thirteen longer songs. I don’t know, sometimes it gets boring. The songs that make it longer have to feel right. 

OT: Lately it feels like a ton of artists are doing this thing with less than 10 tracks, whether that’s because of the listener’s attention span or whatever. Close It Quietly has 21 tracks, and I kind of love that you zigged while a lot of musicians are zagging. Was there any consideration to condense the album? Is it hard to put a track list in order when it’s 20+ songs?
GK: On all the records we cut songs, so this is the condensed version. It is hard to order it, it’s always hard to put in order. I never think about it as an album. I always think of every song as a single. I think the last two albums, Luke has decided what the first track is going to be, that’s the easy part. We think about it like Side A and Side B, which doesn’t translate to Spotify, obviously. It’s a weird process, we all just sat and listened to a first draft of the order, and we made notes. If I put it in whatever order I want, it would be meaningless, so my bandmates are definitely helpful. I have a hard time thinking of an album as a whole, I can’t think of how they relate to one another when I’m in them.  

OT: Let’s talk about marbles since their heavily featured in the album artwork. How many did you own as a kid, are these pictures in the album art just your marbles? What is the significance of them?
GK: I think it’s sort of like, well we almost called the album marbles. It’s just the idea that these are my marbles, and you could lose your marbles. The song “Marbles” is sort of a love song, and I just have a feeling about how marbles have a personal meaning to me. I had this image come to me in the album art, I wanted to take a photo, and I described it to Lauren [Martin], and she drew it as I imagined it, and that became the art.

A marble is this tiny thing and it holds this depth and you could look at it forever. I definitely played with marbles as a kid. It was fun to just get a bunch of marbles, take the photos. It was trippy because I was looking at them with a magnifying glass. They just kind of take you out of the real world for a second. 

OT: Last question, you asked what the stupidest Frankie Cosmos lyric was on Twitter a few months ago, so I’m wondering what your opinion is on that question, and also what’s the stupidest lyric you’ve ever heard? I know, I know, this is on the spot.

GK: I think I tweeted that to be self deprecating, but I got some really funny responses. There are so many stupid ones. Sometimes you hear a lyric and it’s so dumb, but I kind of like that, it’s funny to give a pedestal to stupidity. I really like when songwritiers use cliches in a way that’s moving, and you’re turning it on it’s head by using it, that’s my favorite kind of stupid lyric. In Frankie Cosmos some of them are just stupid and funny. 

I think that there is a lot of emotion in the silly off the cuff sort of thought. One person wrote “I drank bad coffee, I hope that you call me.” First of all that takes me right back to the moment when I wrote it and I know what coffee I was drinking and who I was hoping to call me. There’s a pureness that takes you straight to your stupid emotions. It’s deep, but you don’t have to put it in some poetic way. I think sometimes the best lyrics that i get really excited about come from letting myself spew out. Letting loose and not worrying about being stupid; it represents how you feel. It can mean something bigger than the stupid thing that it says. 

See Great Kline and the rest of Frankie Cosmos at Black Cat DC on Friday, September 27. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. For information on the show, click here.

Black Cat DC: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com

Kaena Kekoa as Jasmine // Photo: Deen van Meer

Into A Whole New World: A Q&A with Aladdin’s Kaena Kekoa

“Jasmine knows what she wants and she is determined to get what she wants, she stood out to me because she is a sign of empowerment for young girls.”

Kaena Kekoa said to me over the phone as we discussed her role in Aladdin. The Broadway national tour of the play is making its way through cities across the country to bring a whole new world to each audience, taking the Kennedy Center stage on July 18. While many remember the classic 90s Disney film, the stage version has chosen to rewrite Jasmine in order to give her more “umph” as Kekoa says. On Tap was able to speak with her about her start in theatre and what it means to play such a well-known character.

On Tap: When did your interest in the theatre first begin?
Kaena Kekoa: I got into the theatre when I was 11, mostly church musicals and community theatre. I have been singing for most of my life. 

OT: What brought you to Aladdin?
KK: I went to an open call at the end of January 2019 in Honolulu, when I auditioned for the show. I had moved back home after college, they had an open call for Frozen, Lion King and Aladdin. I had no intention of going because I was already home and I missed it and wasn’t planning on leaving. I thought it would be a fun thing to do, I got called back for Princess Jasmine in mid-February, which felt so fast!

OT: Why were you interested in playing the part of Princess Jasmine?
KK: Honestly, I had no intention of doing any of it, it kind of just happened for me. She is a role model for young girls, especially in this time where girls need a strong independent woman figure. Especially on the stage, they get to come to the show and see her. She knows what she wants and she is determined to get what she wants. She stood out to me because she is a sign of empowerment for young girls. 

OT: In terms of the power dynamic, Jasmine tends to get pushed away as a female, how did you approach this?
KK: In the show, we give her some umph, she was written with more umph than the animated film. She has her friends who push her, we have three attendants instead of a tiger, who push her to run away. “Love comes to those who go and find it, and if you dream then stand behind it,” she really takes that on in this show. She is determined to find what she wants. Even though her father is telling her what to do, she is still determined to go out and be a better person for her people and for herself. She’s not just another Disney princess, she has developed [much more].

OT: Do you think Jasmine’s story as a character is important? Why?
KK: Oh most definitely! Mostly because she kind of wears the pants, she is the only Disney princess who wears pants, actually. She takes charge of her own life. In this production, Jasmine is one of the only female principles in this show and she is surrounded by men telling her what to do. [It’s] relatable to this day and age, and it’s a story for all, not just for the little ones. 

OT: Did you feel pressure playing this character that is so well known and well loved by anyone who grew up with Disney?
KK: Honestly, no. I love taking on a character and figuring them out and adding my own flavor to it, but I didn’t feel as much pressure with Jasmine. As a woman of color, I love to represent that on stage because it is so important. 

OT: Do you ever get pre-show jitters/how do you get past them?
KK: I definitely had pre-show jitters for the first month straight. I’ve never been part of a Broadway national tour. I had a mentor in high school who told me to turn my nervousness into excitement and that will give you the energy to go on stage and take people to a “whole new world,” [laughs] if you will. 

OT: What are your favorite productions, what is your dream role?
KK: Hmm, good question! A Chorus Line, everyone in the theatre can relate to the first song, “I Hope I Get It,” and that song runs through your head and the story overall, getting to know all the different characters and their stories is just so touching and moving. Honestly, I probably don’t have a dream role, I feel like they are the ones we don’t know about yet, whether they are written or not, I haven’t played it yet so I guess I wouldn’t know what it is. I can [also] tell you that Princess Jasmine is my dream come true. 

OT: What advice would you give to anyone coming into this business? Something you wish you had known?
KK: Hmm, I guess I would say to be kind to everyone, and I kind of knew to be kind to everyone, but it’s something that not a lot of people know how to do. There are so many people working hard behind the scenes making sure you are safe and that your show works, be thankful and say thank you and express that to everyone backstage. Express your gratitude, because if they weren’t there then you wouldn’t have a show. 

“Aladdin” will be featured at the Kennedy Center from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, September 7. For more information and for tickets please visit here.

John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Courtesy of Mark G. Meadows

Changing Minds Through Jazz: A Q&A with Mark G. Meadows

If you’re tuned into the jazz music scene, then you’ve probably heard the name Mark G. Meadows. Best known for his social change album, 2016’s To The People, wherein he encourages his listeners to look toward their future how to best handle the successes and failures.

He meditates on how to best move forward as a nation, while also making sure we take care of each other. We were able to sit down with him and talk about his upcoming performance at AMP by Strathmore and the creative process for his new album, Be The Change.  

On Tap: What brought you into jazz music originally?
Mark Meadows: Honestly, my dad is my biggest influence in terms of jazz; my dad, Gabriel Meadows, [he] is a jazz vocalist in Dallas. I started with classical piano when I was five. He actually lied to my Russian piano teacher, saying I was six. She didn’t take anyone under the age of six. I would go to my dad’s gigs and would listen to him play jazz, I already had the ear, that’s when I began taking formal lessons with Nora Jones’ teacher Julie Bunk. 

OT: What do you love about the jazz world?
MM: I love the fact that it is never the same and always fresh, no matter what song or what field I am performing in, we are already listening to create and to create something new. Similar to having a conversation with old friends, no matter what, you always enter the conversation not knowing where it’s going to go.

OT: Where do you typically draw your inspiration when writing your songs?
MM: My personal experiences, without a doubt. My music is very telling of my personal life. It is generally my therapy. I use my music to grapple with different life choices I have to make and whether it be career choices or more philosophical thoughts or relationships. Everything I write stems from a sincere honest place and that phase of my life. 

OT: How did you feel post-2016? And how did that inspire your next works?
MM: Sure, well 2016 was a crazy year, the year I released To The People, my mantra for social change. It was also the year that I played the lead role in a musical called Jelly’s Last Jam. Where I took on a whole new world of possibility and connections, a fearless leap for me. After that, I was dazed and confused, between a whirlwind of dropping the album and having my first experience acting. I didn’t know which direction to go in, whether I was an actor, musician or music director. It shook me after I made this statement of change and how far we have to come, what’s the point all the time I spend and all the messages I want to convey. Is it being lost? from that came Be The Change, which is about what your change is, whether smiling to someone on the street, we all can and should do something to make that change. 

OT: What do you hope to achieve with Be The Change?
MM: After everything I had done, that we still as a country made the decision we made and I saw all the alt-right groups and things I never thought I would see again. I thought “man, maybe I’m not really making a difference.” After some meditation and conversation I realized I am, it sounds a lot like Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror,” this is my 2019 version of that. 

OT: Any pre-show rituals?
MM: I like to spend time with my band and talk and hang with them. Most importantly, I need 5-10 minutes by myself to meditate and convince myself of my mission to communicate joy, love and understanding to people. 

OT: What is it that you want listeners to be aware of when listening to this album?
MM: I want them to be aware of listening to music outside of their comfort zone. People who know my music know that the track is not my normal sound, it is my attempt to be the example of the change. In order to be the change you have to change the way you talk and interact with people, you have to change your circles. My attempt to reach outside the typically jazz, soul and R&B world. To be honest, most of the people who are my fans probably think and have the same political views as me, we as a world need to try and find a way to interact with those who are different than us.

OT: What are you most looking forward to with your next performance?
MM: I’m looking forward to performing a very special evening to what I hope will be an amazing audience. I don’t set expectations, I live in the moment and on July 11 I will give my all to the crowd, and hope they are with us.

Mark G. Meadows plays at AMP by Strathmore on July 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets $18-$32. For more information visit the website.

AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.ampbystrathmore.com

Photo: Eleanor Petry

Julia Shapiro Presents Imperfect Perfect Version

Julia Shapiro didn’t want to talk about it. In April 2018, amid health concerns, a fresh breakup and an existential crisis, she couldn’t tour anymore. Her indie rock outfit Chastity Belt cancelled what was left of their tour, sparking a long overdue period of self-discovery for Shapiro.

Her solo sound doesn’t differ much from the pathos of her beloved band. The music is still constructed upon a lyrical foundation that ranges from witty banter to existential thought experiment. The low-key instrumentation and soft melodic choruses are where the subtle differences become noticeable.

With questions of self and very real trepidations concerning the literal grind of touring, the artist had already planned to explore music solo. Upon returning to a newly empty Seattle apartment, she transformed the space into a makeshift studio and dove headfirst into writing, performing and producing songs that would become her latest release: Perfect Version.

“This is like its own thing,” Shapiro says of her solo project. “I think it’s helpful because if I was in a nice studio, there would be too many options. Having limitations and having to do it myself, I had to go with what sounded best.”

Shapiro has learned from last year’s record cycle. She’s checking in with herself and her bandmates more, and generally feels “way better.” Chastity Belt has a number of dates confirmed for the winter and she’s currently touring for Perfect Version, with a stop at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe in Adams Morgan later this month. She’s ready.

On Tap: You recently said you were questioning whether you were interested in music anymore and pondering why you fell in love with it. At what point did you decide to start even thinking about music again?
Julia Shapiro:
I’m always questioning what I’m doing. At the time, I felt exhausted from how much we’d been touring and disillusioned from the whole album process. I never thought I’d stop making music, but at that point, I didn’t want to tour anymore. Coming back, I started writing songs right away. I got really attached to the demos and thought they were good. I figured, “Why record another version?” because I’m lazy and they had a kind of magic.

OT: You basically self-produced Perfect Version. Were you learning on the fly or did you have the demos at the ready?
JS:
There’s no one right way to mix something. I just used my ears. Doing it with someone else could have sounded more pro, but this is more personal. I don’t love records that are only high fidelity. I like demos because they feel more personal and there’s a uniqueness to them. I don’t think your average listener will be able to tell it’s not the best quality. It sounds like music.

OT: Are you officially renting out your apartment as a studio?
JS:
A couple of my friends have asked me to produce things but I haven’t started on them yet. I don’t know what it would be like to produce someone else.

OT: Did you feel any pressure for your solo album to sound different than Chastity Belt or [your punk band] Childbirth? It seems slower and more melodic than your previous work.
JS:
I didn’t really think about it. I hoped and assumed it would sound different. It’s going to be in the same vein because I’m writing the songs. Writing parts of my own songs seems so easy, because I know exactly when the transitions are.

OT: From your time in other bands, how different was it for you to answer to yourself? Was it difficult?
JS:
I had feedback because I needed to make sure I wasn’t completely in my own head and doing something weird. I still had people to bounce things off of, but ultimately, all the creative decisions were mine. It felt really good to be totally in control. That’s kind of f–ked up, but it felt good. I made the music video [and] did the album cover myself, and it made it easier. It was a very different experience.

OT: How did you settle on the title Perfect Version? When I first saw it, all I could think of was how one of my favorite aspects of your songwriting is this unabashed imperfection.
JS:
The whole experience of writing the record was about embracing my flaws and embracing imperfection, and it’s represented by this record that isn’t perfect. The song [“Perfect Version”] is inspired by that scene in Lady Bird when Lady Bird goes dress shopping with her mom and they’re getting in a fight and she says, “I want you to be the best version of yourself.” And she replies, “What if this is the best version of myself?” I related to the mom [because] I tell myself I should always be improving. I’m going to always strive to be better and [sometimes], it’s not going to happen. It’s embracing that.

OT: Even when you and your bands are having fun with lyrics and being whimsical and silly, you seem to always be dealing with a sense of existentialism – from the perils of Tinder to coming to the conclusion that you’re bored all the time. Would you agree that going further in this direction was completely natural for you?
JS:
It’s not something I consciously thought about, but yeah, I guess it is the next level. It’s even more vulnerable – it’s less funny and more earnest.

OT: How did you go from leaving the Chastity Belt tour to where you are now? How big of a role did Perfect Version play in helping you heal and grow?
JS:
I’m still transitioning a little bit, but I feel way better than I did a year ago. [Chastity Belt has] a ton of tour dates we’ve been setting up and it feels kind of daunting. It feels like I’m in a really good place. We got really lost in the last album cycle. We felt forced to do a lot of things we didn’t want to do, and I didn’t like it. Labels feel that you need to fit in these little boxes and stay within these lines, and we wanted to feel more in control and be intentional. I was kind of having an existential crisis, like, “Who am I outside of this band?” It was fun to have a few months to not be in the band.

OT: When you talk about your label asking you to do things you didn’t want to, was that actually happening or was it a more subconscious sense of duty?
JS:
Kind of a bit of both. Subconsciously, we felt this pressure we hadn’t realized. Now, we’re just kind of questioning everything and making sure that everything is in our control. Even with music videos – we don’t need to do something crazy. We can record something on an iPhone. Stuff like that, where the label goes, “Are you sure about that?” Our album covers, they let us get away with that, and our new one is really f–ked up looking. They’re like, “Are you sure?” and we’re like, “Yeah, absolutely.” They’ll challenge us, but you have to stand your ground. Maybe we weren’t confident enough in our ideas [before], but now we’re like 100 percent. Them challenging us on it makes us think it’s good and interesting.

Shapiro headlines Songbyrd on Monday, July 22. Doors open at 7 p.m., tickets are $12-$15. Follow her on Twitter @cool_slut.

Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917; www.songbyrddc.com