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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

Photo: Chad Moore

Yeasayer Bring Episodic “Erotic Reruns” to 9:30 Club

A quick Google search on the band Yeasayer will show they fall under the genre of “experimental rock.” The Brooklyn-based trio consisting of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder have long been revered for their clever lyrics, electronic influence and inventive aesthetic.

But on their fifth studio album Erotic Reruns, released in June, the band looked to new sources for inspiration, drawing from the urgent and guitar-heavy sounds of seminal bands from the 60s and 70s. We caught up with Keating ahead of their stop in the District on July 12 to talk new music, the ideal setlist and why 9:30 Club is an important venue to them.

On Tap: Your new record Erotic Reruns has more guitar and rock influences than some of your past work. What inspired that sound to really come through here?
Chris Keating: I think we were looking to make something very immediate. I wanted the songs to be under three minutes and reference some of the 60s and 70s music I liked: some Bowie stuff [and] The Velvet Underground. We tried to make it guitar-based and not as electronic as some of our past albums.

OT: The shorter songs leave the album at just under 30 minutes (29:05 to be exact), which seemed like maybe a different approach to a full-length album.
CK: In theme with the title, Erotic Reruns, we wanted it to feel like a half-hour TV episode. People these days have a tendency to overload and pack an unlimited amount of material onto a streaming album. One of my favorite albums that came out in the last few years was the Pusha T album [Daytona] that was only seven songs long. I really appreciated that because I listened to it a few times and I was like, “Oh, a lot of other albums have like 21 songs on them.” We wrote about 20 songs and just decided it was a cool concept to come in under half an hour.

OT: The brevity almost makes you enjoy an album as a whole even more. Almost every album that I love has a couple of songs where I think, “I don’t really know why this is here.”
CK: It’s very rare that you can just listen to an album all the way through. And I think partly that is because we have this short attention span culture when it comes to music. It’s also partially because we want to curate our own singles, but it’s cool when an album can be played the whole way through. We tried to make it work that way.

OT: How did you decide what to include while avoiding filler or an overly long album kind of vibe?
CK: To be honest, I’m not really sure. At a certain point, you start listening through and you’re like, “Eh, I don’t know about this one” or “Yeah, let’s do that one” or “Let’s put out another seven-song record in a year.” When you start listening to them and you think [about] what works together in a group, some things stand out as outliers. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really sort of an aesthetic decision.

OT: Yeasayer already has a rather large back catalog of music before you even factor in the new album. How do you curate the setlist you have now, and balance the old and new?
CK: We basically play the entire new album because it’s short enough. Then, we still have another 45 minutes of stuff from older records to play for [a total of] an hour and 15 minutes. You’re playing a new song, an old song, a new song, an old song. It usually works out pretty well if we time it right.

OT: It must feel good to incorporate a little bit of both. I would imagine as an artist who just made this new material, you’d really want to share it but not forget about older material or audience favorites.
CK: Oh, definitely. I hate it. I mean, just like everyone else, I hate it. I hate going to see a band when I know they’re only playing new stuff. We are very much of the mindset of, if a song was popular 10 years ago, you just keep it in the rotation. Maybe you shuffle some in and out. I guess there’s some level of artistic integrity to abandoning your back catalog, but I always thought it was a little frustrating.

OT: Speaking of live shows, you recorded your live album Good Evening Washington D.C. at 9:30 Club in 2013. Why did you decide to record it there, and what are you looking forward to being back there on your upcoming tour?
CK: Anand [Wilder] and myself both grew up in Baltimore. When we were in high school, the 9:30 Club was a really big deal. Whenever a friend was able to drive, we were going there to see bands like Pavement and Kool Keith, or The Roots and Weezer. It seemed like we were there once every few months. It was always just a special place. I didn’t realize how great it was until we started traveling the country and playing other clubs. DC is so lucky to have something like that there. I think it’s probably the best c lub of that size in the country, if not the world. It’s always a stop everybody looks forward to. It’s the kind of place where I’ll see a lot of family members and friends. I’ll look out in the crowd and see teachers from high school, which is really cool. Some random person will stop me at the dressing room door and be like, “Hey, we went to school together” or I might run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years.

Yeasayer return to 9:30 Club on Friday, July 12. Tickets are $30, and doors open at 8 p.m. For more on the band and their new album Erotic Reruns, visit www.yeasayer.band.

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

Photo: Eat Humans

Folksy Faye Webster Plays DC9

Faye Webster is more than a folk artist, though that’s how most websites and music critics classify her. The 21-year old singer-songwriter from Atlanta does indeed strum acoustic guitars and her soft voice comes with a faint Southern accent, but her sound has undoubtedly evolved since her first release, 2013’s Run & Tell. Though traces of that traditional twang is still evident in 2017’s Faye Webster and this year’s Atlanta Millionaire’s Club, it’s clear the young musician is growing exponentially with each release.

There’s little doubt the use of her name on the second record was intentional, acting as a fresh introduction to a new direction she wanted to take her music – trading some of the bluegrass for pop and some of the country for R&B. If Faye Webster was a taste of Webster’s versatility than  Atlanta Millionaire’s Club is a buffet.

While Webster is on the road, we had a chance to chat with her pen pal style, where we asked her about her photography, her Braves, her yo-yos and, of course, her music.

On Tap: The first thing I noticed listening to Atlanta Millionaires Club is how different it is than your self-titled LP and especially Run & Tell. It seems like you’ve sort of reached this point where you’re truly free flowing from R&B to folk to country to wherever else you feel like going, but it all still sounds uniquely you.
Faye Webster: I don’t think about that stuff when I make music, I just write and record and let the song call for whatever it wants or “meant” to sound like.

OT: This album has a seamless flow to it, even as it goes from a song with a tropical sound like “Room Temperature” to a pop-sensible “Right Side of My Neck.” How much work did you put into getting the order right to better tell your story?
FW: It was a lot of back and forth, I probably made five drafts of the track list. When I finally made this order and listened to it front to back, it was just an instant feeling that this was the one.

OT: Before this record, you sang a few hooks on hip hop songs, was there anything learned from the experience of doing features that you brought to Millionaires Club?
FW: Definitely, I learned to let things happen in the moment because when you are there doing a feature and collating with another artist you don’t nit pick lyrics or make revisions, you just let your heart out. With this record, I tried not to go back and touch on songs; I just left them raw and imperfect. Also having Father on this record is really special to me and is kind go a homage to him and Awful Records. They hold a very special place in my heart always.

OT: Speaking of hooks. Being from Atlanta, what hip-hop legend would you most want to do a song with? I know you did a photo shoot with Killer Mike, does this mean we can expect you on RTJ4? (Please say yes!)
FW: He’s not from Atlanta but JPEGMAFIA and I have been talking about doing a song together, and I really want that to happen.

OT: I know you’ve said in other interviews that everything you write is personal, but was this one more difficult because of the subject matter? I think you mention crying approximately 57 times, it’s extremely open and intimate.
FW: Approximately, yes. Singing about my family is always hard, especially when they are there in person listening. I used to have conversations with my brothers about whether or not I should take out something I said about my mom or grandmothers, but it’s how I wrote it and that’s how it should stay.

OT: As a photographer, do your album covers sort of mean more to you than they would other artists, because so far they’ve all been some take on an a portrait of yourself. What was the process of doing the coin photo? Also, how many of the coins did you actually eat? 
FW: Yeah, I try to not just make it an album but a art piece as a whole. It took two days to get that picture and I didn’t eat chocolate for three months after that.

OT: Does your music and photography intersect at all, do you find yourself inspired by the music you for a shoot and vice versa? 

FW: I think it’s just something that I enjoying doing. It definitely shows off in my music videos though.

OT: What was the toughest environmental portrait you’ve done as a photographer? Why was it difficult?
FW: I think the portrait of Killer Mike because we met at his barber shop and that’s all I had to work with. It was just hard transforming the photograph to look like we aren’t in a barber shop.

OT: Switching gears, what is the most expensive yo-yo you own? Is there a difference in quality or is it simply the design/aesthetic that makes it expensive, because I’ve looked some up and prices are WILD.
FW: An $80 Cadence (Kieran Cooper’s signature yo-yo made by SF Yoyos). When yo-yos are metal they start to get fancy and expensive. But that’s what people compete with.


OT: Do you ever sing and yo-yo at the same time? Is it like brain gymnastics, like does it help spark ideas when you’re stagnant?
FW: No, but I have a whole playlist to yo-yo to.

OT: Lastly, what happens first: 1.) You sing the National Anthem at an Atlanta Braves Game? or 2.) You throw out the first pitch at an Atlanta Braves Game?
FW: First pitch. I would forget every word to the National Anthem, it would be terrifying.

Faye Webster will play in front of a sold-out DC9 tonight. For more information on her, her music and her yo-yo exploits, follow her on Twitter @fayewebsters.

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

Whole Lotta Soul: Eli “Paperboy” Reed Wears Influences on His Sleeve

Full disclosure: I’m a total sucker for a retro-inspired sound. Add crooning vocals, soulful instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics to the mix, and I’m sold.

A girlfriend introduced me to soul singer Eli “Paperboy” Reed about a decade ago (fun fact: she went to the same high school as Reed in a Boston suburb and was super proud of this fact) and I was immediately smitten with his modern-day take on the genre. Since then, I’ve seen him play DC venues multiple times – most memorably with a full brass band at Rock & Roll Hotel – and listened to his records incorporate everything from blues and gospel to R&B and pop sensibilities. But soul always remains the foundation of his signature sound.

With a new album, 99 Cent Dreams, out on April 12 – produced in Memphis by Matt Ross-Spang with Ken Coomer (Wilco) on drums – and a tour that includes a stop at The Hamilton Live on May 4, I finally had the opportunity to pick the artist’s brain about reinventing what has come before and making it his own. We chatted on the phone recently when he was at home in Brooklyn doing some spring cleaning about life as the father of a two-year-old, how DC has the best Ethiopian food (duh) and what soul music means to him.

On Tap: I want to start with a question that sometimes mildly offends musicians when I ask it, although I’m not completely sure why.
Eli “Paperboy” Reed:
[Laughs] I’m very excited to hear what the question is now.

OT: I find that so much of the music I love is a reinvention of older sounds. With soul being the backbone of yours, and as a musician on the soul scene for more than a decade now, how do you reinvent that sound with each new album and keep it fresh and true to you?
EPR:
I think it’s a good question. I think if you had asked me 10 years ago when I started out, I might’ve been one of the ones who was offended. I think that I’ve come around to the idea that I don’t mind wearing my influences on my sleeve. I hope at this point in my career that I’ve been able to make records that people can identify [with] sounding like me. Everybody takes from something. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to deny it or be upset about being called a revivalist or whatever. I guess just at the heart of it, the point is that people want to put your records on and listen to them, you know? I think that my goal has always been to make music that I want to listen to and love.

OT: I would for sure say you have a signature sound that’s all your own. Your music feels like something I can dance to, and Top 40 isn’t that for me, do you know what I mean?
EPR:
Sure, well that’s great. I think that’s also part of the goal for people like myself or any of the other artists that are clearly very influenced by 60s soul music is to provide their listeners with something they can enjoy that they might not otherwise be able to find on the radio or at a show. The fact that you can come out and see me play live and enjoy yourself and dance is something you can’t do with a record that’s 50 years old.

OT: Very true. So tell me about 99 Cent Dreams. How long was this record in the making?
EPR:
I have a daughter now who’s two-and-a-half and I had this idea that I was going to write a lot of this record while I was home on paternity leave and that didn’t really happen [laughs]. Once she started daycare, I buckled down in earnest to write the songs. Thankfully, there’s a really amazing community of musicians and singers and songwriters here in Brooklyn, and a lot of people were able to just come over to the house and sit down with guitars or on the piano and write. It was a nice chunk of time that I was able to set aside at home with my family and also work with a lot of people who I really respect. It was a very productive time period for me.

OT: Did you draw on home life – being a parent and a husband – at all during the songwriting process?
EPR:
Absolutely. I think these are songs that are really representative of my current situation and how I feel about my wife and my family. I feel like it’s a more settled record, that’s for sure. But in a good way. And I don’t think that makes it any less soulful or any less emotional. I think it’s just a different kind of feeling that I’m drawing on.

OT: I have a two-and-a-half-year-old as well, and I grew up playing classical piano. I’ve been wondering when to start teaching him how to read and play music. As a professional musician, have you already started thinking about teaching your daughter how to play an instrument?
EPR:
We play music together in the house all the time. I’m not really trying to do the lessons thing. For me, the idea is just to have [music] be around, and I want her to pick up on things that she likes to do. I want to let her figure it out for herself. As long as we can listen to music together, that’s enough for me.

OT: Are there any songs on the record that are particularly close to your heart or that you think listeners will really connect with?
EPR:
I like “Tryin’” a lot. It’s a song that I wrote from my wife’s perspective. She’s the one in the family with the 9 to 5 job, and sometimes it’s a tough life to have a 9 to 5 gig and try to come home and be a parent, or a husband or a wife.

OT: When did you have that moment of, “Okay, I’m all in, I’m doing this” about soul? Why was it the genre that you connected with the most?
EPR:
Soul music is kind of the quintessence of all the things that I love – blues and R&B and jazz and gospel and country music – put through the lens of a pop format. That’s something I could wrap my head around as a performer: how to do that and do it in a way that I felt was original and that people would be interested in hearing.

OT: Do you feel like your sound has changed a lot over the past decade in terms of sticking to soul, or even your live performances?
EPR: I had a period where I made a pop record that came out on Warner Bros. and for one reason or another, it didn’t really connect. Then I kind of went the opposite direction and made the My Way Home album, which is more [of a] gospel record. I felt like I had to do something that was just for me. I’m incredibly proud of that record. It felt cathartic and necessary. When it came time to make this album, I wanted to do it in a little bit more of a controlled and thoughtful way. I feel like it became what I wanted it to be, for sure.

OT: Are there any sounds or genres you’d like to explore or pursue in the next few years? What’s next for you?
EPR: I’m still buying gospel records all the time. I love gospel music. It’s an endlessly deep well of inspiration for me. Man, there’s so much, you know? But for the most part, I come back to the same things because I think there’s so much to discover in the genres that I love. There’s still records that knock me out. I’m finding new music every day and it’s still amazing how much good stuff there is that is undiscovered.

OT: Who would be your dream co-bill for a future tour?
EPR: Probably Beyoncé [laughs]. I think Beyoncé pretty much takes the cake for all of it.

OT: What’s your favorite part of playing shows in DC?
EPR: Ethiopian food, man. Ethiopian food in DC is the best. There’s a particular place and I’m forgetting the name, but every time we play in DC, I stop in Alexandria at this tiny Ethiopian place in a strip mall that’s open until 2 o’clock in the morning. We go there after every show. It’s SO good.

Eli “Paperboy” Reed plays The Hamilton Live on Saturday, May 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $15-$20. For more information about the performance, visit www.live.thehamiltondc.com. Learn more about Reed at www.elipaperboyreed.com and follow him @elipaperboyreed.

The Hamilton Live: 600 14th St. NW, DC; 202-769-0122; www.live.thehamiltondc.com

Photo: Ryan Pfluger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Manmade Media

DeVotchKa Dives Into New Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ray Polanco

The Many Lives of Toro y Moi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Zack DeZon

A Day in the Life: Maria Manuela Goyanes

There won’t be an ice age at Woolly Mammoth anytime soon. The theatre company’s new artistic director, Maria Manuela Goyanes, is DC’s latest creative transplant from New York. She’s bringing a decades-long theatre career and her first-generation, Latinx-American perspective to champion Woolly’s inclusive mission and edgy productions.

While artistic direction usually entails reviewing performance options for the upcoming season and executing creative decisions, my interview with Goyanes was one of her many scheduled meetings during the first few weeks in her new role. On our call, intermittent laughter made its way between her words. She answered immediately and honestly – and without taking herself too seriously. But Goyanes is absolutely serious about her passion for Woolly and what it means to succeed the company’s co-founder, Howard Shalwitz.

On Tap: What do you think has really prepared you for this role?
Maria Manuela Goyanes: Does anyone ever feel really prepared? [Laughs] I think I stand on the shoulders of giants, there’s no question [about] that. I think one of the things that makes me uniquely connected to Woolly and [our] mission is that I have both the experimental, innovation side with the work that I did with 13P [Thirteen Playwrights, Inc.], which is a playwrights’ collective, coupled [with] having been at the Public Theater for 15 years.

OT: What aspects of a story are you immediately drawn to when selecting productions for the upcoming season?
MMG: I’m looking for two different things. The first is trying to push the art form, so plays that are really  interesting, exciting or new – pushing the aesthetics [or] experimenting with an idea in terms of structure or language. But then on the other side, I’m also really looking for something that is going to be challenging or provocative to an audience. The reason why I feel so aligned with Woolly Mammoth – I’m really pinching myself, I’m the luckiest person in the world to have this job – is because I am a huge fan of all of the writers that Woolly has [featured].

OT: What’s different about your perspective and influence at Woolly compared to your predecessor, Howard Shalwitz?
MMG: I love Howard, and this has been the smoothest transition probably in the history of American theatre. But I will say, I am  a short Latina from New York! [Laughs] What I experience and how I walk through the world is very different from Howard. I think that my perspective is going to stem from my own life and what I care about. Who gets to tell what story? Does it really reflect the world around us? Is it pushing the boundaries of theatre and what people expect? How can we make the biggest impact?

I’m really excited about the mission statement of Woolly. It’s about galvanizing artists and audiences. “Galvanizing” is so powerful and aspirational, and something for us to live up to and attempt to make happen for every single one of our shows and every single one of our experiences.

OT: I’m also a first-generation American, and it’s exciting to interview someone with this identity who is making an impact.
MMG: It’s important for me that people know I do identify as a first-generation American. It’s a big wave, a big change happening in the American theatre and culture right now, and my hope is that the people who are leading these arts organizations all across the country are going to start to reflect the diversity of the country. I know that I am part of that wave, and I feel that responsibility and the excitement about that too.


Maria Can’t Live Without

Her husband and partner Dave
He keeps everything real for me with his witty sense of humor.

FaceTime
This is how I stay in touch with everyone I love, especially my family in NYC, Spain and the Dominican Republic.  

Theatre
Some of the most transformative experiences of my life have been in theatre. I believe in the power of theatre to deeply impact our lives and shape our relationship to the world around us. 

Producing
I love connecting people and artists, creating events and works of art, and generally making sh-t happen. It’s in my bones. The possibilities are endless! 

Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother
I began meditating because of her books. Her words ground and center me. I actually bought 100 of her books to give as gifts to my favorite people. You know I like you if you get a Pema Chödrön book.


OT: Why is it important to be a leader in the DC theatre scene?
MMG: I am just now getting to know the DC theater scene. I just had a great dinner with [Arena Stage Artistic Director] Molly Smith, who is the bomb. Everyone has been so welcoming and generous with their time and words, so it’s made me really excited to be here and get to know everybody. It feels like a really tight-knit community, which is exciting too. I’m going to be doing a lot of listening and getting to know the artistic community [and] the people in our audience, and understanding what it is about DC’s arts and culture [scene] that might be missing that we need to tap into. Woolly stands for being alternative to the mainstream, and the mainstream is starting to do more provocative plays. How can Woolly stay at the vanguard and leading edge of provocative, challenging and explosive work?

OT: Tell me about Woolly’s October production of The Fever by theatre experimentalists 600 HIGHWAYMEN.
MMG: It is a [performance] that the audience actually has to participate in to create. I think there’s some people who think of that interactivity as really scary. There is nothing difficult, embarrassing or confessional about what [the audience does]. It is actually about the power of the collective and our humanity and responsibility toward each other. It’s beautiful. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m so excited to bring this to Washington, DC right now. It’s not just about changing minds but also changing hearts. What this piece is attempting to do is lead from the heart before leading from the head, and that is a really interesting thing to experiment with.

The Fever runs from October 23 to November 4. Tickets are $20-$35. Learn more about the daring production, and the rest of Woolly’s
2018-2019 season, at www.woollymammoth.net.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; 202-393-3939; www.woollymammoth.net