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Christine Lilyea, Alyssa Bell and Jack Inslee // Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

A Curated Conversation: Three Voices of The DC Music Scene

It’s no secret that DC’s music scene is growing, putting us on the map with the likes of L.A. and NYC. What once was a buttoned-up city that musicians departed from to pursue careers in the big leagues is now a draw to artists looking to tap into our creative community. In other words, we’re proud of our town and for this year’s Local Music Issue, we decided to pick the brains of three stalwarts of the industry – or rather, to let them pick each other’s brains.

Full Service Radio’s founder and executive producer, Jack Inslee, welcomed us into his studio at the LINE Hotel in AdMo for a conversation on all things music in the District. We were joined by Christine Lilyea, the badass owner of Petworth darling Slash Run – a hybrid music venue, bar and community hub – and vinyl queen Alyssa Bell, who goes by the name Baby Alcatraz when she’s spinning at Showtime and pop-up art parties around the city, just to name a few of her locales.

The mics turned on and the words flowed from three very different voices all equally committed to the sounds of our city. Read on for the inside scoop on all things DC music – from why our artists have earned national recognition to the best spots to get sloppy while dancing to anything but Top 40.

MI CASA ES SU CASA

On Tap: What do you think sets the DC music scene apart from other cities? What drew you to the scene and why did you choose to stay here?
Jack: What excited me and ultimately convinced me to move here was the diversity in the underground music scene. I don’t know if that rings true for both of you, but DC is like – there’s DC music.
Alyssa: Absolutely.
Jack: I find that really interesting and still somehow overlooked in the national conversation even though every now and then, you get the go-go mention and punk mention, but it feels deeper than that.
Alyssa: Definitely. It’s a very special alchemy of things that happens here that seems [in] part [because of the] high cost of living and people having to work even harder to get through and create things. I think that adds to an interesting mix. It seems like a great mix of people.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest draw for DC for me was that Black Cat would have every band that I grew up listening to playing all the time. That’s what kept me here. Having the opportunity to see the bands that I grew up listening to and then learning about new bands and DC bands, you know? Obviously, DC [is known for] hardcore punk. Not only that, but then there’s the post-punk stuff [and the] house shows.
Jack: So you grew up listening to hardcore?
Christine: I was not a hardcore kid, no. But that’s what I learned when I first moved here, like, “Oh, okay. There’s Fugazi and there’s all this other stuff.” So [I grew up on] punk, rock ‘n’ roll, The Ramones.

OT: Didn’t Richie Ramone play a set at Slash Run in September?

Jack: Oh!
Christine: Yeah, that was a really awesome show. He ended up being a super great performer and it felt like The Ramones were playing. He was so genuine and nice to everyone. I think a lot of people appreciated having it in a smaller venue like Slash because it’s intimate and you can hang out with the performer. And they’re like totally open to it. Maybe it feels like their home too, in a sense. I want people to feel like that at Slash. Mi casa es su casa, that sort of thing.

SECRET GEMS

Jack: Where do you play here?
Alyssa: Right now, I have a monthly [residency] at Showtime [in Northwest DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood]. That’s all vinyl, always. They have a rotating schedule of people that’s mostly in the same wheelhouse of stuff that I play. Strangely enough, you can walk in on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and someone will be playing some obscure 60s R&B record, and people will be dancing. It’s amazing.
Jack: See? That’s awesome. I think a lot of people, or at least DJs I know, are like, “Oh, it must be hard not to play Top 40 in DC.” I think that’s a huge misconception. Maybe talk a little bit about how special Showtime is, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a special place. I think it benefits from maintaining that consistency […] where when people go there, they’re not walking in and expecting Top 40, which is incredible.
Jack: There’s those little secret gem spots in DC.
Alyssa: Almost all the nights I do are rarely playing anything made after 1970. I’ll mix it up sometimes but if it’s a dance night, it’s almost always going to be something [from that era]. So, it’s amazing to have people who will write to me and be like, “I’m in town for one weekend.” And I’m like, “You’re in town for one weekend and you want to go to this special place?”
Jack: I remember when I moved here, my “What the f—k?” moment was when I went to Jimmy Valentine’s [Lonely Hearts Club in Northeast DC] and I was just like, “This is not what I thought DC was – woahhh.”
[All laugh]
Jack: It was like two thirty in the morning..
Christine: …at least [Laughs]
Jack: …and it was sloppy as f—k and people were playing weird like jungle, I think? I don’t even know.

COMMUNAL SOUNDS

OT: Where do you go to hear live music or DJ sets?
Jack: I follow people more than venues. Like Flash is a perfect example. That place might f—king suck on any given night. But there are some nights where it’s like more eclectic and artsy, so I love to go there. It’s a great sound system, if the right people are there. Same thing with Velvet [Lounge on U Street]: Velvet can be awesome, [and] Velvet can be Velvet.
[All laugh]
Jack: What’s cool about seeing shows in DC for me [is] you can get decision fatigue [in other cities]. I think in New York you’re like, “I don’t know.” There’s so many venues with small bands. DC is easier to navigate. On any given night, you may have four or five things. When something really cool is happening, the community seems to really come around it in a really dope way.

OT: Coming from such a big city like New York, do you like that it seems like everybody knows everybody in DC? Does that feel weird?
Jack: There’s a honeymoon period where I [was] like, “This is the best thing ever. I love it. Everybody supports each other here. It’s like the size of a high school, the creative people here.” And then that started to feel claustrophobic maybe a little bit, but I still think there’s a lot of strength to it. In the rap scene here, it’s like everybody’s one degree away from each other in a cool way. That’s kind of how a communal sound comes to be. I think that’s what New York was in the early days of the rap scene where you hear stories about what the Bronx was like. Everybody knew everybody and collaborated with each other, and then all boats rose with that tide. The rap scene here feels like it’s in a moment like that, interestingly. I think it’s still good, the size, especially for me and what I do because I’m just here to amplify and give people this space.
OT: What local artists are on your wish list to interview?
Jack: My job here is to follow what the city’s doing, what the city wants, what the kids are into. I think there’s a lot of energy around Rico Nasty. I think a lot of people are really proud of her being from here, and she’s just doing so much cool shit. I’d love to have Rico Nasty in here. That star is shooting quickly. The [FSR] space is open. We get pitched all the time. [We’re] always trying to bring new shows in.
OT: Who is on your wish list to book at Slash Run?
Christine: I got Richie Ramone. [Laughs] My first two years at Slash Run has sort of been like, “Man, I got everybody. I think I’m done.” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot more, but [I’ve had] bigger ones than I ever anticipated so far, so I’m pleased right now.
Jack: I guess the Mos Defs of the world. I think a lot of the older legacy acts would be energized to see what the young kids are doing here in rap, and it’s hard to find places for them to interact.

STAY WEIRD, DC

OT: What’s next? What are you excited about? Any parting thoughts on the DC music scene?
Jack: There are all these initiatives that I think are good and well-intended. I hope [these organizations and government initiatives] continue to listen to the actual people with their feet on the ground doing the work and what their concerns are. I hope […] locals continue to be engaged in a real way and listened to.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s some changes happening with the grants in the city now. I’m concerned about it and I hope it goes well. I hope it changes in a way that is positive for the people who are here that need it desperately. We all know about cost of living here, and it’s so important to have those programs and to help people do what we do here.
Jack: What excites me the most is hoping that some of these underground cultural leaders keep getting bigger stages and platforms on national levels so that the thought of what the DC sound is continues to change nationally. When I talk to people in other cities, they’re like “DC – go-go,” which of course is legacy [and] amazing. But there are these new sounds and new things that I hope pick up nationally.

OT: I feel like a lot of people say that about Fugazi, and the hardcore and punk scenes in DC, too.
Christine: Yeah, that’s true. It’s one of those things where we’re so diverse now that I don’t have to worry about putting on a certain show and nobody’s going to come, because this is going to bring a totally different crowd and I’m happy about that. I’m glad that it’s not just always hardcore punk, or always just this or that.
Jack: Stay weird, DC.

Baby Alcatraz // Alyssa Bell
Catch her monthly vinyl DJ sets at Showtime and follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz to find out where she’s popping up around town.
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC

Full Service Radio // Jack Inslee
Go to www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio to learn more about the station’s offerings, and don’t miss Uptown Cypher hosted monthly by Jamal Gray and The Uptown Art House for the opportunity to freestyle with local rappers. Follow FSR on Instagram @fullserviceradio.
Full Service Radio at The LINE: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com

Slash Run // Christine Lilyea
Go to www.slashrun.com for the rock ‘n’ roll joints’ full band and event lineup, and follow Slash Run on Instagram @slashrundc.
Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com

Photo: Trent Johnson

DC’s Honey Delivers Diverse Rock

Four years ago, three volunteers with Girls Rock! DC considered joining musical forces and forming a band. Karen Foote, Saman Saffron and Ebony Smith went on with their busy lives but reunited a year later at the organization’s afterparty to discuss the band. A mutual friend offered up a basement practice space, and the musicians who had long admired each other’s abilities from afar officially created Honey.

“It was kind of amazing,” says Foote, who plays guitar. “I think we were all on the dance floor at one point and the three of us were dancing and we were like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do this band thing.’”

Foote and her bandmates have been playing music in some capacity for most of their lives, but Girls Rock! DC brought their talents together. The music education organization “aims to create a supportive, inclusive and creative space for girls and non-binary and trans youth of varying racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, identities and experiences to develop their self-confidence, build community, rise up and rock out,” per their website. And for Honey, the experience led to the creation of new music.

The band draws from their varying backgrounds, experiences and personal tastes to create a brand of indie rock that’s powerful and relatable. Although the trio only has one EP, I’m Your Best Friend, Admit It, they cover everything from dealing with the eponymous “F–kboy” to romantic relationships. And the places from which they find inspiration are as wide-ranging as their lyrical subject matter.

“I feel like we all bring such different influences,” Foote says.

Vocalist and bassist Saffron echoes that sentiment, adding, “I think it’s funny sometimes, because we’re a pretty big span of ages and upbringings, but sometimes someone will start playing a song as a joke in band practice and we’re like, ‘Yeah. That’s awesome. Blink-182. When are we going to cover that?’”

Drummer Ebony Smith agrees.

“I think what really works well for us is that we just have different backgrounds and genres that we bring in and blend together. We can put them together and it just ends up being really cool. It’s something I really appreciate and enjoy.”

Outside of their time in Honey, the group’s daily work lives vary greatly. Foote is a videographer, Saffron works in nonprofit programming and Smith for an engineering firm. Busy schedules don’t keep them from their work in the band, though, and they emphasize the importance of taking time to nurture creative work outside of their professional lives.

“It can be challenging but rewarding to explore that creative outlet,” Smith says. “We all love music and we love what we do. But I think sometimes when people think about forming bands, they don’t think about the back end. It’s not just going out and playing music and partying and stuff like that. It takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. You have to think of everything that’s included in playing music with your friends.”

For Saffron, she’s found the right balance by treating band time as non-negotiable.

“Being like, ‘Well, [on] Tuesday night, this is what I’m doing,’” she says. “And also, voice memos are my best friend. With a couple of our songs, it’s been like, ‘Oh, I’m in the bathroom. I have a line idea. I’m just going to sing it right now into my phone. I’m going to put it away six months later. I need a bridge for this song that we’re working on. This will go well here.”’

Honey has had some memorable experiences throughout the time they’ve been together. Foote recalls playing the Black Cat’s anniversary show last year – a show she describes as one of the shortest they’ve played but one of the best, nonetheless. They also brushed elbows with the legendary Ted Leo while tuning in the back room as he was looking for a place to meditate.

“We were tuning [in the] dressing room and Ted Leo came in,” Saffron adds.

Foote continues, saying he was looking for a quiet space in the backstage area.

“He was like, ‘Hey, do you mind if I come in [and] sit here for a little bit?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ But I think we were still too disruptive, so he left. And I had not yet been like, ‘Hi, I’m Karen.’”

Saffron laughs.

“We were like, ‘Wait, did we just strong-arm Ted Leo?’”

“But then we got to talk to him later and he was so nice,” Foote says. “That was my favorite.”

The band recalls the support they’ve received from their EP release show and the Girls Rock! DC community overall.

“Every experience that we’ve had has been someone who’s a few degrees of separation from Girls Rock! DC,” Saffron says. “Obviously, having been around for more than 10 years, it’s a big community.”

The band’s personal experiences speak to the necessity of the organization’s existence. The musicians lead by example, but hope the future looks different for up-and-coming musicians.

“It’s so rare that we play with a band that’s all girls, or trans folks or gender-expansive folks,” Saffron continues. “So often we’d show up and we’re like, ‘Hello, lineup of all dudes. Hello, lineup of predominantly white folks. Nice to see you.’ I don’t want young people to feel like they have to be perfect. I don’t want them to feel like they have to be experts in order to do something. People who see themselves reflected all the time are treated as individuals all the time.”

Foote concurs.

“I definitely feel that shows – especially because we are an all-female band. It’s like, ‘Oh, we have to super nail this’ or people are going to be like, ‘Look at this all-women band!’”

Saffron concludes with, “I would love for music programs like Girls Rock! DC to not even be necessary; for them to just be fun rather than being something that needs to happen, politically speaking.”

Honey plays Slash Run on Monday, July 22. For more information on Honey and to listen to their EP I‘m Your Best Friend, Admit It, visit www.honeymusicdc.bandcamp.com. Visit www.slashrun.com for more on the show.

Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; 202-838-9929; www.slashrun.com

Photos: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Slash Run, Sotto and The Crown & Crow

There are few greater simple joys than listening to great live music with an even better drink in your hand. This month, we rounded up DC’s musically minded watering holes to find out more about their bars, drinks and live music lineups.


Slash Run - Christine Lilyea and Ana Latour (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Slash Run
Christine Lilyea, Owner and GM
Ana Latour, Bartender and Manager

On Tap: What does Slash Run add to Petworth as a neighborhood?
Ana Latour: There’s something about the versatility of Slash Run that speaks to its importance in Petworth. This neighborhood is a family spot, but also a growing place for young people who want to live in the city. Slash Run can be all of those things.

OT: As a music venue, what’s the local to national act ratio?
Christine Lilyea: It’s a mix of local and national. A lot of the people I work with are local bookers, but they always bring [artists] from out of town.
AL: We had a band here last night from Japan. They were insane! It was probably one of the wildest things I’ve seen since I got here. The band who opened for them was from down the street.

OT: Any local favorites you book regularly or try to bring into the mix as often as possible?
CL: They’re from New York, and they’re called The Nuclears. They’re just really nice guys and their music is insanely good. It’s like Thin Lizzy [or] Cheap Trick – just good, in your face, on the ground sweating rock ‘n’ roll.

OT: Tell us about the drinks at Slash Run.
CL: I have managed restaurants before, so I’m really big on this. It’s supposed to be a dive bar and have shitty wine, but I can’t do it. I’m very picky about our wines and beers. If people want PBR, I’ll give it to them, but then I’ll find something cool too.

Check Slash Run’s website for a full list of upcoming shows, including:
Biff Bang Pow, a 60s garage/psych/glam vinyl dance party on November 10
Part Time with Bottled Up on November 19
Super Unison, Downtrodder, Coward and Bacchae on November 17

Slash Run - Spiced Cider (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Spiced Cider
Cotton & Reed Mellow Gold Rum 
Warmed cider 
Cloves
Cinnamon sticks
Star anise
Citrus butter
Orange and lemon zest

Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com


Sotto - Savi Gopalan (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Sotto
Savi Gopalan, Bar Manager

On Tap: How has Sotto has changed since opening three years ago?
Savi Gopalan: Sotto has really changed into a venue focusing on music. I think originally, the music was more of a perk rather than a focus; whereas now, we define ourselves as a music venue.

OT: How do you think the local jazz scene has changed in recent years? Why is it important to offer live music at Sotto?
SG: I think there’s more community behind it, not just within the musicians but the clientele as well. There’s a real connection within the jazz scene now that I don’t think was as predominant previously.

OT: Do you have any new vinos this winter?
SG: I’m really excited about the new rosé we’re offering by the glass, G.D. Vajra Rosabella. We have a smaller wine list because we are more of a cocktail-focused place, but I do like a lot of the options we offer.

OT: What’s your process for crafting new cocktails each season?
SG: When you’re going into a new season, I always look at what flavors are popular. I pick different flavors that stand out to me and I’ll build cocktails around that. For instance, the mezcal smokiness is appropriate for fall, [and] calvados too. Even though people don’t really do brandy cocktails anymore, I think it fits with the season.

OT: It seems almost all your beers are local. Why is it important to support DC area breweries?
SG: We definitely try to keep all of our beer choices super local. We try to push for local spirits as well, because there are so many great places in the area. It would be a shame not to have them on the list.

Visit Sotto’s website for a full list of upcoming shows, including:
The Lionel Lyles Quintet on November 9
Tashera on November 15
Champion Sound on November 29

Sotto - Back To December (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Back To December
Red wine
Mulled wine syrup
Lemon
Orange
St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram

Sotto: 1610 14th St. NW, DC; www.sottodc.com


Crown and Crow - Ben Sislen and Brian Harrison (Photo - Trent Johnson)

The Crown & Crow
Brian Harrison, Owner, Creator and Barman
Ben Sislen, Owner
Brooke Stonebanks, Event Coordinator

On Tap: What inspired your Victorian era theme?
Ben Sislen: We were flexible with what we were going to be. It started when we found our bar in the front room and it was [from the] Victorian era timeframe.

Brian Harrison: We thought the first room would be rustic, and the other would be sophisticated. Once that vintage feel took hold in the front, it carried throughout.

OT: Your cocktail menu seems reflective of that time period as well.What was the creative process for coming up with unique takes on period cocktails?
Brooke Stonebanks: I want to go along with the theme. The cocktails we had when we first opened were just plays off classic cocktails. Moving forward, the drinks will focus on obscure ingredients that promote smaller brands.

OT: What kinds of cocktails are you looking to make this winter?
Stonebanks: I want to focus on the spirit and and [make] simple cocktails. We have a lot of Irish and American whiskeys and we’re looking to add more. I want them to be whiskey-heavy.

OT: What’s your process for booking musical acts? Any local names you use regularly?
BS: Mostly local acts. We don’t charge a cover because we want the music to be accessible, and we want people coming in and trying out the bar.

Visit Crown & Crow’s website for shows as they’re added through the month, including:
Anthony Pirog on November 3 and Swampcandy on November 15

Crown and Crow - Le Corbeau Sanglant and The Burning Crow (Photo - Trent Johnson)

The Burning Crow
High West Campfire Whiskey
Five-spice syrup
Orange bitters 
Cinnamon stick

Le Corbeau Sanglant 
Compass Box Great King St. Glasgow Blend Whisky 
Luxardo cherry sangue 
Dolin Rouge vermouth
Blood orange juice

The Crown & Crow: 1317 14th St. NW, DC; www.thecrownandcrow.com