5 Questions: Spring Silver

Are music genres like bones – made to be broken? One listen to Maryland-based “post-genre” project SPRING SILVER and you might be inclined to think so.

Spring Silver 1(photo by Zig Coughlin)

The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist K Nkanza, SPRING SILVER keeps listeners guessing with its spinning plates approach to genre-shifting. “I Could Get Used to This,” Spring Silver’s recently released second full-length, is a tour de force of the band’s many strengths, encompassing everything from fist-pumping post-hardcore fury to wistful indie pop, strutting dance floor flourishes and even some dollops of dream pop.

It’s a credit to the talent of K Nkanza that this wide-eyed, multitudinal approach to music-making never comes across as contrived. In fact, all of SPRING SILVER’s different musical flavors blend together seamlessly like your favorite rainbow waffle ice cream cone — and the music is just as delicious.

With Spring Silver set to play the Friday, June 3rd edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, I reached out to K to ask him a few questions about his remarkable music project.

1) Let’s start with a little background. How did Spring Silver form?

K: Spring Silver is my musical project that I started after my previous band Aerial View broke up. I felt that having it be a solo project would feel more freeing creatively.

2) One of the things I love most about Spring Silver’s music is how the band breaks down barriers between genres. From the irresistible metallic crunch of “Little Prince” and “O Kristi” to the dance floor ready rhythms of “My Feelings on the Matter” to the Robin Guthrie-inspired dreaminess of “Call It Strength,” Spring Silver weaves together so many different styles and sounds so effortlessly and it’s always emotionally powerful. Is the band on a mission to tear down perceived genre barriers or is this something that’s not even thought about?

K: I try my best to create music that’s kind of “post-genre” where I take as many of the musical styles that I’m fond of as I can and combine them. It’s also meant to be a reflection of the vast amount of information that we all take in on a daily basis. “We” as in just everyday people.

3) Spring Silver has never sounded better than on the new album, “I Could Get Used to This.” Everything sounds so crisp and clear. What was it like to make this album, especially with so many guest performers and different instruments and sounds to capture? How pleased is the band with the end result and the reception it has received?

K: I feel as though both I and my friend Ananth whom I mixed this album with are really honing our engineering skills. I’ve always been fond of really tight, clean production. I wanted this album to stand out in an era of noisey stuff and lo-fi (which I love as well). I think the performances and the mix really helps unify the guest vocalists and the different drummers on this album. That and the fact that I was doing guitar and bass for all the songs unified the sound quite a bit.
Spring Silver 2(photo by Caroline Miller-Bruns)

4) In an interview with Bandcamp, K says that one of their aims with Spring Silver is to “represent a sort of abstract feeling, an abstract anxiety through a narrative.” Is there catharsis from this anxiety when performing these songs live?

K: I think there is some catharsis. Though I’m also preoccupied with trying to perform my best. I’m really lucky to be doing live shows with such talented players. I feel like we’re all on the same wavelength, so that makes it a lot of fun!

5) Spring Silver’s bandcamp page makes it clear the band likes to have fun with genre signifiers. Queer metal and They/Themcore immediately jump out, of course, then you have the old standbys “alternative,” “progressive rock” and “math rock.” But the one that makes me laugh out loud is “shugazi” – shoegaze infected post-hardcore because…why not? If there’s one thing Spring Silver has taught me, it’s that any combination of sounds is possible. Care to comment, K?

K: “Shugazi” is based on this post from a message board that’s kind of a running joke in music circles online. Somebody posted about how they had thought “shoegaze” was pronounced like “fugazi.” It’s kind of a fitting genre descriptor for Spring Silver, because the music kind of sounds like a mix of shoegaze and 90’s post-hardcore.

Listen to and purchase Spring Silver’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Spring Silver at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, June 3, 2022 at 10pm. DC punk legends Brendan Canty (Messthetics) and Tom Berard (Tone) will be guest DJing.

June2022(1)

5 Questions: L’Avenir

Jason Sloan_Jan2019USE

If there’s one musician who understands the enduring allure of the analogue synth, it’s Jason Sloan.

Since 2012, Sloan has specialized in crafting weird and wonderful minimalist electronic and synth wave via his passion project, L’Avenir, all while adhering to a strict “analogue and vintage equipment only” mantra. For fans of early 80s synth acts like Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Fad Gadget, the chilly electronic aesthetic of L’Avenir is a dark dream come true.

L’Avenir has released six albums to date, most recently “Shadow & Reflection,” which came out in September 2021. One look at the gorgeous album cover art and pale, pink vinyl, and it’s obvious that Sloan’s commitment to crafting a distinctive aesthetic for L’Avenir goes beyond the music. As a video artist and professor who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Sloan draws on his many talents to produce a visual experience for fans that matches the music every step of the way.

Interestingly, L’Avenir represents something of a second life for Sloan. For many years, Sloan’s primary musical focus was in crafting gorgeous ambient sonic canvasses using electronic sounds. While Sloan clearly revels in L’Avenir’s more structured pop approach, he is by no means finished with ambient. We can expect more experiments with pure electronic space in the very near future, he assures.

For DC area music fans, the Friday, May 6, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant presents a great opportunity to discover what makes L’Avenir so compelling. I asked Jason Sloan five questions via email to learn more about his beguiling music project and journey as a musician and artist. Read on…

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1) Tell us a little about your journey as a musician and sound artist. How did you go from making spacey, ambient music for many years to icy synthwave?

Jason: For me there was never that much of a sonic disconnect between the genres. So much of the sequencer driven music of “ambient/space music” artists like Tangerine Dream, Michael Hoenig and even early Steve Roach has a lot in common with the synthwave genre.  I was never classically trained as a musician so my approach to compositions was, and still is to an extent, a lot like painting. I think about sound as colour, texture etc. So when I started writing and recording music back in the 90’s it was easier for me to learn my craft thinking about sound like watercolor if that makes sense. The strict beatless ambient music I created for almost a decade and a half was, in hindsight, my music school as I learned about music technology and what it could do. But I’ve always loved Synthwave, Post-punk, New Wave, New Romantic (sooo many sub genres – ha) since I can remember. I owe a lot of that to my Aunt who introduced me to bands like The Cars, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran etc. back in the very early 80’s. Once that door was cracked open I just tried to find about as many of those bands as I could back then by reading NME, Melody Maker, Smash Hits and mix tape trading. So in my mind, moving from the ambient genre into Synthwave was just a natural progression once I got a better handle on the technology.

2) What is it about the analogue synth sound and vintage equipment that resonates with you?

Jason: At the risk of sounding corny, there’s something about the sound of vintage analogue equipment that just feels like home to me. Part of it, I’m sure, is that so much of the music from my teenage years was composed using what, back then, was state of the art. But I’m also very much about process and craft. I really enjoy the tactile nature of interconnecting drum machines, sequencers, synthesizers and getting them to talk to each other. Even more so with a non-MIDI kit. Not that I’m opposed to working strictly on a computer or in a DAW, but there’s something about creating with vintage hardware and pure electricity that really is appealing to me. It’s like the machines are alive with the current flowing through their non-human, circuit-veins. Yum. Haha.

Jason Sloan_Dec2019

3) How would you describe your writing and recording process? Has it evolved as you have gravitated to more structured pop sounds?

Jason: With L’Avenir the process is a bit different from how I might approach writing an instrumental ambient track. Primarily because ambient music is best if it has time to evolve and breathe so those tracks tend to be in excess of 15-20 min. That length just really wouldn’t work well in more of the traditional pop music context. Especially for radio and club DJs. When writing for L’Avenir, I’ll usually begin by writing a basic drum pattern or melody line and just build around that. Once it’s recorded, I write the lyrics and record the vocals. It’s both an additive and subtractive process from that point forward. The song’s are usually inspired by personal experiences as well as books, films, current events and sometimes surrealist or existential concepts and ideas.

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4) I love how the L’Avenir aesthetic isn’t just about the music – it’s also about the presentation. From your album and EP release artwork to your music videos and website design and even your decision to put out a home video release on VHS(!), it’s clear you put a great deal of thought and craft into defining the L’Avenir experience for the listener. Would it be fair to say that this is just as important to you as the music itself?

Jason: Without a doubt. It’s probably pretty obvious but I’m a huge fan of Factory, 4AD, Mute, Situation Two, DoubleVision and so many of the early EU based independent labels from the 80’s. The designers and owners for those labels, Vaughn Oliver, Peter Saville, Daniel Miller, Tony Wilson, Ivo etc, were just as concerned with the visual presentation of the music as the sound itself. That philosophy always resonated with me. In the pre-internet days you obviously couldn’t go sample an LP on YouTube or wherever, so I was always buying LPs based upon the visual presentation, sleeve design and song titles. 95% of the time, even if I had not been familiar with the band up to that point, I could see/hear how the sonic aesthetic had informed the design as much as the design had informed the music. So when presenting L’Avenir, besides it being a tip of the hat to my personal inspirations, it’s very important both the music and design are informed by one another.

5) How do you feel about performing live versus making a record? Is there a particular vibe or feeling that you look to create with audience members who experience L’Avenir live?

Jason: Yes. First and foremost, I don’t want the live L’Avenir sound to mirror the records. I do play the album tracks live but I also want them to be slightly different. Sometimes faster, slower or a different arrangement all together… just something special for the audience. That’s just my personal philosophy for live music in general. But if a live performance sounds exactly the same as the record, why spend money to go see the show if there isn’t any difference besides volume? Again, just my personal philosophy. But that’s what I always loved about bands like Section 25, Sleep Chamber or even Cabaret Voltaire. You knew the songs, but they were always a bit different or just more raw. I’d say live, L’Avenir is a little more stripped down, but still maintains the spirit, atmosphere and mood of the LPs. When possible live, I love to create an almost ritual-like immersive atmosphere with low lighting, a fogger, incense and video projection. Total sensory immersion if you will.

Listen to and purchase L’Avenir’s music on Bandcamp. Check out L’Avenir’s website for more information about recordings, live performances and merch. Be sure to catch L’Avenir at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, May 6, 2022 at 10pm. Jake Reid from Secret Wilderness and Screen Vinyl Image is guest DJing.

May2022

6 Questions: Vivien Goldman

How does one even begin to describe the singular force of nature that is Vivien Goldman?

Vivien-Goldman_by-Alexesie-Pinnock-copy(photo by Alexesie Pinnock)

According to Pitchfork, “no one’s more punk than Vivien Goldman.” But “punk” hardly encompasses the scope of Goldman’s prodigious talents and contributions to pop culture.

Goldman, who was born in London, played a key role in helping Bob Marley achieve worldwide fame. As Marley’s PR maven, Goldman helped put Marley on the front pages of some of the most widely read music publications at a time when Jamaican music had yet to be embraced by the mainstream. Helping Marley with publicity, however, was just the start. Goldman’s love for Marley’s music and Jamaican culture runs deep. She has authored two books on Marley (including his first biography) and is a well-respected reggae scholar that has lectured on his work at NYU, Rutgers and other universities, earning her the nickname the “Punk Professor.”

Of course, reggae is just one of Goldman’s areas of expertise. The other is punk.

Punk culture has shaped Goldman’s life and worldview in unique ways. When punk broke, Goldman had a front row seat as one of the few female music journalists when the British music weeklies were dominated by men. Goldman documented the extraordinary changes in music that punk ushered in, particularly the newfound starring role that women musicians played.

In the late 70s and early 80s, a time when many U.K. musicians would turn to reggae for inspiration, Goldman shifted from occasional backing vocalist to front-and-center post-punk artist, first as a vocalist for The Flying Lizards, then making solo recordings with a litany of talented friends and artists, including John Lydon and Keith Levene from Public Image Limited, Vicky Spinall from The Raincoats, experimental musician Steve Beresford and legendary percussionist Robert Wyatt.

Her collected works from this period, along with her recordings from her Paris-based collective Chantage, were released in 2016 as part of the widely heralded “Resolutionary” collection on Staubgold.

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Goldman has become an unabashed champion of how punk offers a unique form of empowerment for women. Her 2019 book, “Revenge of the She Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot,” blends interviews, history and Goldman’s personal experience to explore what makes punk so liberating for women. The book has received rave reviews and is a must read for anyone interested in feminism and punk culture.

The success of the “Resolutionary” compilation inspired Goldman to write more songs. In 2021, Vivien Goldman released her first full-length album, “Next Is Now,” produced by Youth of Killing Joke. Following its release, Goldman hit the road in support of the record. Last August, Goldman teamed up with DC duo Dunia & Aram for a special outdoor concert at Rhizome DC. It was an exhilarating experience.

Of course, audiences were left wanting more. And now the “Punk Professor” herself is back in DC for another show – this time at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant to help celebrate the 18th Anniversary of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, DC’s longest-running monthly underground music party. Usually, artists who perform at WFTBO are asked 5 questions for a blog interview. But Vivian Goldman is anything but usual, and with so much to talk about, we have asked her 6 questions. As you will see, Goldman has a lot to say about what drives her multi-disciplined creativity, what life was a like as one of the few female music journalists and how she became part of the post-punk scene herself as a performer who continues to add to an impressive legacy. Read on!

1) By any measure, your career and life experience is nothing short of extraordinary. You have distinguished yourself as a music journalist, PR maven, author, broadcaster, documentarian, pop cultural commentator, music video director, “punk professor” and of course, musician. What led you to be involved in so many different disciplines and aspects of pop culture?

Vivien: So kind of you to say so! My instinctive answer is that for almost all my working life I have been a freelancer! Trying like all freelancers to use my skill set as actively and productively as possible with whatever medium is happening at the time that coincides with said skill set, to get information through. It was exciting to become a musician in the late 1970s/early 1980s, having been writing about the scene — it was the friends I made as a writer who invited me to sing, really. Then, when I did start doing music as an artist more than as a reggae backup singer, which is how I started, looking back it was as described in my book, Revenge of the She-Punks; when my musical partner Eve Blouin had to change course for personal reasons, the music business was not a massively welcoming industry for someone as weird as myself, entering rather late in my thirties. It felt natural to gravitate to making television when I had the chance; the medium in the UK was starting to make space for indies, rather than just the BBC. And I had always intended to make films, really, when I was a student! Things changed again when I moved to America in the early 1990s, leading me to become a Professor; lecturing large classes gave me the confidence to go in front of an audience, having never performed when I was a post-punk artist back then. SO when my compilation Resolutionary became popular and people asked me to perform, the teaching made me ready!

Vivien Goldman young punk prof
(photo by David Corio)

2) You started your writing career in 1975 – a time when there were very few female music journalists. What was it like for you as a woman to carve out a space for yourself in the industry at that time, especially as a woman with an interest in black music and Jamaican culture?

Vivien: I didn’t have much competition in the music press in terms of wanting to cover the “black music” scene, as it was then called in the UK. Most of the lads were interested in rock’n’roll, or maybe punk, more than reggae. Actually, there was a lot of gender-based conflict working on the paper where I wound up as Features Editor. Several of the lads really didn’t like having a female colleague pushing a somewhat different agenda, and were firmly convinced and invested in the idea that rock was a boystown and so it should remain. But the punk scene changed a lot of things, giving somewhat more of an opening than had been previously enjoyed by women in pop. The musicians in general were much more welcoming.

3) During the twin pop cultural tides of punk and post-punk, you lived in a flat in the neighborhood of Ladbroke Grove – a nexus for a lot of exciting activity. What was it like to be surrounded by so many creative friends and neighbors – from The Slits and John Lydon to Joe Strummer and Brian Eno – and to not only see the merging of punk and reggae, but document what was happening for the influential British music weeklies?

Vivien: It was West London’s Ladbroke Grove, around the famous Portobello Road, and it was a daily buzz to be part of such a creative community. That first punk/reggae axis was a small community. London was much more navigable then! There were squats and cheap housing available which is a big part of making a creative community.

Dirty Washing EP
(cover of Vivien Goldman’s “Dirty Washing” EP, released in 1981 by 99 Records)

4) It wasn’t long before you started making music yourself – first with The Flying Lizards, then your own solo recordings. How did the “Dirty Washing” EP come about? And how did you manage to involve so many talented friends from John Lydon and Keith Levene to George Oban from Aswad, Vicky Aspinall from The Raincoats and even Robert Wyatt?

Vivien: The first singing I did was as a reggae backup singer with people like Neneh Cherry and the Slits’ Arri Up, for producer Adrian Sherwood. I was invited to join the Flying Lizards, who were really an avant-garde collective that collided with New Wave and early synth-pop, by the man I call King Lizard, David Cunningham. I can’t really remember how, but he heard me singing, and Deborah, who sang on the “Money” classic hit, had no interest in doing any more recording, so off we went. All the people on Launderette were my pals. George and I had made a cassette of the songs and I played them to the musicians, and they liked them, starting out with John Lydon who really helped me make the Dirty Washing 12″ on a practical level as well as co-producing..

5) In the early 80s, you moved to Paris and formed Chantage with Eve Blouin. What led you to leave London for Paris and what was it like to make music as Chantage during this time?

Vivien: Human reasons took me to Paris at the time, and it was a thrilling period, with Jack Lang as Minister of Culture there was a much-missed sese of artistic renaissance. Having been working with reggae in London and Jamaica, it was Paris that opened the world of African music to me, as it was all around. I was writing for the magazine Actual, and our editor/publisher was a champion of soukous and other sounds, steered by my partner in our duo Chantage, Eve Blouin. It was such a glorious optimistic moment with a sense of new beginnings. Every time I hear Many Dibango’s guitarist, Jerry Malekani, play on our Chantage record, it transports me back there.

Vivien Next Is Now
(cover of Vivien Goldman’s “Next Is Now” LP, released in 2021)

6) Fast forward to 2021, and you released your first full-length album “Next Is Now,” which was produced by Youth. What led you to make the album and what was it like working with Youth? Also, what was it like to go on tour and share your songs with live audiences after covering live shows as a music journalist for so many years?

Vivien: The popularity of my 2016 compilation Resolutionary led to my being asked to do shows. I had never done shows before. I didn’t have enough music to cover the length of the shows, and Youth, an old friend, suggested we record a couple more tunes which went so well, they led to the LP! It might have been much more challenging had I not been teaching for quite a few years now. Some of my classes were vast, bigger than a full club (not NYU, but other institutions.) That got me used to interacting with actual live people rather than a microphone in a studio.Going out on tour, or on stage, is still a fairly new experience for me and I am loving the engagement. Just to perform with my dear friends Dunia and Aram and sing the songs I love, turns out to be a joy.

Listen to and purchase Vivien Goldman’s Resolutionary compilation and Next Is Now album on Bandcamp. And check out Vivien Goldman’s website for more information about her amazing contributions as a writer, educator, broadcaster and musician. Be sure to listen to and purchase Dunia & Aram’s music on Bandcamp. Be on the lookout for their soon-to-be-released debut album. The WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE 18-Year Anniversary show is at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW) on Friday, April 1st at 10pm.

April2022

Preview: WFTBO Turns 18 with Special Show Featuring Post-Punk Icon Vivien Goldman

IMG_6143Legendary post-punk icon, renowned writer and celebrated musician Vivien Goldman will be performing a special live music set on Friday, April 1 at the Marx Café in Mt. Pleasant as part of the We Fought the Big One 18th Anniversary event.

Goldman, who began her writing career in the British rock press of the 1970s, has authored two books on Bob Marley, an award-winning book on female-led punk bands and contributed reviews, interviews and commentary to Rolling Stone, NME, The New York Times and many more. Goldman is also a long-time Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recording Music, earning her the unofficial title of “punk professor.”

As a musician, Goldman was a member of The Flying Lizards in the early 1980s, then recorded solo with members of PIL, The Raincoats, Aswad and Robert Wyatt – recordings that have achieved cult classic status and were included on the 2016 compilation album, “Resolutionary.” Goldman released her first full-length album, “Next Is Now,” in 2021 to great acclaim.

As with Goldman’s outdoor concert at Rhizome on Aug. 19, 2021, the April 1 show will see Goldman supported by Dunia & Aram, a DC-based duo who blend punk, reggae and jazz into their own unique sound. Dunia & Aram are getting ready to release their debut album this summer, which will include a cover of Goldman’s cult favorite “Launderette.”

Expect top tier DJ sets before and after the live music, with some surprise guests behind the turntables! There will also be a chance to win a Vivien Goldman LP!

The Marx Café will be offering Happy Hour prices on Chimay and Bitburger (from 10pm to 2am) while supplies last. There is no cover for the show, but donations are encouraged.

WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE started in 2004 to celebrate trailblazing artists like Vivien Goldman and The Flying Lizards from the Marx Café turntables. Goldman’s “Launderette” has remained a staple of the night over the past 18 years. To have the honor of hosting Vivien Goldman for an in-person live performance at WFTBO’s 18th Anniversary event is nothing short of surreal. We hope you will join us for this momentous occasion.

Listen to and purchase Vivien Goldman’s Resolutionary compilation and Next Is Now album on Bandcamp. And check out Vivien Goldman’s website for more information about her amazing contributions as a writer, educator, broadcaster and musician. Be sure to listen to and purchase Dunia & Aram’s music on Bandcamp. Be on the lookout for their soon-to-be-released debut album. The WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE 18-Year Anniversary show is at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW) on Friday, April 1st at 10pm.

April2022

5 Questions: Nice Breeze

It’s hard not to smile when listening to the snarling, saber-toothed guitars, stomping beats and off-kilter vocal yelps of NICE BREEZE.

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(Photo: Mike Maguire)

The DC-based trio of Andy Fox (vocals), John Howard (guitar, vocals) and Martha Hamilton (percussion) have been causing a ruckus since 2014 with a rambunctious sound that draws liberally from 90s American indie rock staples (Guided by Voices, early Pavement), The Fall, 60s garage rock and experimental music.

To date, NICE BREEZE has recorded three full-length albums (with a fourth on the way) and several EPs — each release dripping with the visceral joys of loud guitar, foot-stomping rhythms, and sudden twists and turns, along with plenty of sing-along moments (even if the singing in question is anything but conventional.)

We may be living in a global pandemic that’s been raging for more than two years, but things haven’t changed much lately for NICE BREEZE. When the world came to a standstill in spring 2020, the band released an amazing EP, “Abysm,” which contained two cracking originals and two covers. A third full-length album arrived the following year, and NICE BREEZE shows no signs of slowing.

With the band performing a special live set for the March 4, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, I got in touch with guitarist John Howard to learn more about what makes this ferocious, force-to-be-reckoned with band tick. Read on!

1) I think my favorite description of NICE BREEZE’s music is “a bargain-bin bare-bones Cramps bred on sugar-coated cereal and Altered Beast.” Haha. Putting aside how silly that statement is for a sec, I think it does capture the band’s proclivity for mining classic DIY sounds and sense of playfulness. As literary as NICE BREEZE is, do you ever feel that part of the band’s purpose is to simply remind people how much fun rock n roll can be?

John: I don’t know that we think of it that way, but if I am writing a guitar riff I want it to be memorable and I know Andy is always trying to come up with some catchy vocal riff. I think some of what you hear is that we are actually kinda pop in our way and not really so much of a “rock” band except for the loud guitars.

Nice Breeze 2748(Photo credit: Crescendo Studio)

2) I know that you have a background in improvisational and experimental music. When you guys are creating music for NICE BREEZE, how much of the process is premeditated and how much comes out of jamming to see what sticks?

John: Nice Breeze as a project has always been about giving space to the lyrics, the focus is more on songs and arrangements. So, definitely not improvised, but improv can’t help but seep into my playing. Its where I started as a player. I do like a lot of texture and noise and all of my guitar solos are improvised.

 

NICE BREEZE a1891538092_103) In May 2020, during the height of the pandemic, NICE BREEZE released the “Abysm” EP featuring two originals (“Just Becuz” and “Lou Says”) and two covers (“No More Heroes” by The Stranglers and “I Know Where Syd Barret Lives” by TVPs). The covers are inspired. The originals are amazing, especially “Lou Says” with the xylophone. How did this EP come about?

John: I love the Stranglers and I got obsessed with No More Heroes and forced the band to cover it. Right as we finished it, Dave Greenfield died of Covid. So it made us want to put it out and we built the EP from there. Andy suggested Syd Barrett and we already loved that song, we actually played it at the last show we played before COVID shut it all down. It seemed like a good one to soup up a bit so that it was a different kinda vibe. The original is like a shared secret, ours is more like a hymn. Lou Says was a loop I made and we built on that. Just Becuz was a new song at the time,

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4) Nearly a year later, NICE BREEZE returned with a full-length album, “Magician’s Rabbit.” Would it be fair to say that the pandemic hasn’t slowed your creativity?

John: It didn’t really affect us at all except for playing live. Honestly we are kinda casual about it. Its just what we do. Keep playing, keep recording, keep writing. Keep trying to do new stuff. We have about 2/3rds of a new record recorded right now.

5) You guys have been making music as a band since 2014 and before that in other projects. What keeps you coming back?

John: Its fun!!

Listen to and purchase Nice Breeze’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to ‘Like’ the band on Facebook. And be sure to check out the Nice Breeze show at the Friday, March 4, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in-person at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC). You can watch the show online via Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_NICEBREEZE. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

March22

5 Questions: Secret Wilderness

Under the nom de plume Secret Wilderness, DC multi-instrumentalist Jake Reid follows his creative muse wherever it takes him.

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For someone who has spent the better part of the last 25 years pushing the boundaries of blistering noise and pummeling beats (Alcian Blue, Screen Vinyl Image, Machine Drift), Jake is using his Secret Wilderness project to mark something of a departure.

Instead of squalling guitars and cavernous reverb, Secret Wilderness swims in more subtle psychedelic waters – the kind of floating, ethereal space music that one associates with Germany’s pioneering komische movement in the 70s and the 90’s U.K. ambient scene. Jake’s love of early Detroit Techno is still on display, but Secret Wilderness is less about the frenzied dance party, and more about the calm late night drive to destinations unknown.

In April 2021, Secret Wilderness released “The Endless,” a selection of tracks born out of impromptu jams that explore different moods. There is a stately, almost regal quality to the way Jake weaves together different sounds and textures to form these gorgeous compositions. The gentle synth patterns of “Cloud Forest” are especially evocative of the way clouds move in the sky, with plinking keys peaking through the chords like sparkles of sunshine. It’s a lovely piece.

As comfortable as Jake is making more abstract music with Secret Wilderness, rest assured he hasn’t abandoned his affinity for piercing, wall-of-sound shoegaze. 2021 marked the release of “The Collection” on Anathemata Editions, which compiles Alcian Blue’s CD-R EP releases across a double cassette package that includes liner notes by Oliver Ackerman (Skywave/A Place to Bury Strangers/Death by Audio). The tracks were lovingly remastered by Jake. These recordings have never sound better.

Maybe it’s no surprise then that Jake has been picking up his guitar more frequently lately? In fact, Jake has been finding solace in playing covers from his past bands and past favorites, and he’s performing a special show at the Friday, Feb. 4th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Zoom (register here). I got in touch with Jake to see what he’s been up to lately and learn more about his rekindled interest in the guitar. Read on!

1) When we last did an interview, Secret Wilderness had recently put out a gorgeous tape called “The Endless.” What have you been up to since then?

Jake: I didn’t work on a whole lot of music most of the summer. I hit a creative wall where I wasn’t feeling inspired to make anything and when I did I was being really critical of it. There’s a few projects I’ve worked on with others and a few I still have hanging around, I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things.

2) What’s it been like to pick up the guitar again after taking a break to explore electronics? Is it fair to say you’ve rediscovered your love of the instrument?

Jake: I got into skateboarding last year, like for the first time ever. That’s been a big part of the guitar catalyst, there’s something about riding a piece of wood across concrete and blasting Dinosaur Jr that go really well together, I got the itch again to start playing.

I started playing covers and that led to me recording some covers for fun. Some of it will never see the light of day and other stuff might get a release. Paul (Static Daydream) and I did a really rad cover of a Psychedelic Furs song, sort of a later catalog track that has a Phil Spector wall of sound vibe to it and I did a M83 cover recently I’m really happy with.

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3) Speaking of playing guitar again, what can you tell us about remastering the Alcian Blue catalog for the “Collection” release on Anathemata Editions last year? Was there anything that surprised you about those recordings when you revisited them?

Jake: This project was a long time in the making. Sean Grey and Terrence Hannum had talked to us about this a few years back but it took Sam and I a long time to source some of the material. The masters from Years Too Late were way over-compressed. Sam had to find the old PC we recorded the songs on and fire it up and we found old final mixes of songs pre-mastering and we were able to re-master those to how we thought they should sound.

The mastering process was fun, I’m glad it took us a while because I re-visited some of the masters a few times in order to push myself to make them sound as good as they could. It wasn’t until I had to do the artwork that the memories really flooded in. Alcian Blue was formed from 4 friends that went to high school together with a mutual love of similar music and it grew from there to Kim joining, our sound developing, and our ability to play beyond DC. I’m thankful Terrence wanted to do this and pushed us to do it, as he put it, we have this document of what we did.

4) Does working on the mixing and mastering side of things scratch an itch for you that writing doesn’t?

Jake: Mastering is a lot of fun and I know what I need to do to get the work done where writing is always a longer process. Mastering is 50% technical and 50% creative in a way that’s hard to explain. The best part is I either get to work on stuff I don’t know and always get surprised or, I get to work on my friend’s material which is always a treat. Last year Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor sent me their new album to master. I put it on and was just floored by how incredible that album is. I’ve known them since they first started and being able to hear their progression to such a “firing on all cylinders” psych band is so exciting. I love mixing but I’m only ok at it which is great because it means I’m always learning and being challenged. It’s easier to mix other people’s stuff than my own, I’m my own worse critic haha.

5) Have you always been interested in covers? Or is that more of a recent thing? Can you give us a tease about some of what we’ll be hearing at the WFTBO Livestream show?

Jake: Covers are a great way to learn songwriting and different ways to approach playing over what you already know. I learned to play guitar by sitting in front of my stereo and played along to Jesus & Mary Chain songs and Cure songs. My first show ever was playing this very 90’s coffee shop in College Park called PLANET X, it was like right out of So I Married An Axe Murderer, gigantic latte mugs and everything. I played Jesus & Mary Chain songs and Velvet Underground songs, Matt played bass and Clark played bongos haha. When Alcian Blue was called “Wintermute” we’d play house shows and do Blur’s “Song 2” and The Verve’s “Rolling People” before we moved onto doing The Cure and a personal fave, Slowdive’s “Joy.” And in Screen Vinyl Image, we’d cover The Stooges, Slowdive, and Ride.

Without listing song titles I’ll be playing Damien Jurado, The Bats, Skywave, Ride, and Slowdive as well as some Alcian Blue and Screen Vinyl Image tonight.

Listen to and purchase Secret Wilderness’ music on Bandcamp. Be sure to visit the Secret Wilderness website and the Ice Station Studio website. And be sure to check out Secret Wilderness’ online show at the Friday, February 4th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_SECRET. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

February4

5 Questions: Requiem

How does one even begin to describe the indescribable sound and vision that is Requiem?

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If you were fortunate enough to catch one of the two in-person performances at Rhizome in the fall of 2021, you know why I’m asking this question. On the one hand, I could tell you that DC musicians Tristan Welch (guitar, electronics) and Doug Kallmeyer (bass, electronics, production) anchor Requiem’s sound in gorgeous ambient textures and drones — drifting in and out of sonic boundaries seamlessly, veering from moments of sustained dread to awe-inspiring beauty. But that’s just part of what’s going on here.

As you can see from the above screen grab (taken from Requiem’s 11-09-21 performance at Rhizome), visual artist Monica Stroik draws a connection between the group’s sound and the boundlessness of natural phenomena — from deep sea images of colorful fishes and floating jelly fish to sweeping vistas of clouds in motion at sunset. At certain moments, the images move in a 360 degree, circular fashion. It’s almost as if Requiem wants us all to play God for a while.

To put it simply: Requiem’s art is only PARTLY about music. It’s about a total immersive experience — one that invites us to engage with the natural phenomena the project is celebrating.

The considerable talents of Welsh and Kallmeyer are tailor-made for this project — the former known for his acclaimed DIY ambient/drone releases and relentless DIY work ethic, and the latter for his extensive experience (and impressive CV) as an audio engineer and frequent music collaborator, not to mention his connections as a label head for Versus Records.

Outside of local shows, Requiem exists as a truly international project, with connections around the globe, mostly notably in the U.K., with cellist Simon McCorry. The trio of Welsh, Kallmeyer and McCorry have made two albums together and recently recorded a third.

While we wait for the next album to be released later in 2022, Welsh and Kallmeyer are continuing to play local shows, accompanied by the stunning visual art of Stroik. Lucky for us, Requiem is playing the Jan. 7th Livestream edition of We Fought the Big One. I got in touch with Tristan and Doug to learn more about this intriguing project of theirs…

1) Doug and Tristan – how did your involvement with the Requiem project come about? I know that outside of performing live in the local DC area, the project also includes the U.K.-based cellist Simon McCorry and other collaborators. What has it been like to work with Simon as well as each other?

Tristan: Doug and I have been working together for a little bit. Just musical friends really – we were doing our own thing but hanging out and making music together… which truthfully is not something I’m ever much interested in doing so obviously our chemistry was good. We have always been talking about how to release and present music – what’s important to us and what’s not. One night we were recording some of our sessions and kind of got into the idea of immediacy or maybe “honest music” is the better term. Just releasing music we had made without much editing, revamping or thinking. We put out a bunch of singles and to our surprise people seemed to like it. Simon is someone Doug had connected with through Verses Records and I’m thrilled he thought what we were doing was cool and agreed to record with us. The process with Simon is similar to what we’re doing (Doug and I) – focused on immediacy and feeling – we just happen to be doing it from across the ocean and we’ve ended up with two albums of material together.

Doug: Tristan and I met through the local DC arts community. We have shared shows, and worked on each other’s music and in various projects together over the past 4 years. We both wanted to do a project that would just be honest, spontaneous experiences and not get caught up in production aspects, the weight of making “product”. This approach makes a broader collaboration process simple. We send out a track, we get a track in response, and we do as little as possible to make it all work. This has allowed us to have two releases so far with Simon, who is based in the UK. I met him through running the Verses Records label, which Tristan has also released work on, so we reached out and began trading tracks. We all share full confidence in each others’ abilities. All the released music is one take per musician, a quick balance, and it’s finished. We are happy with the amount of acceptable material that has resulted. The upcoming release for Rusted Tone Recordings will be a bit more involved. We will be joined by Simon again, as well as Meg Mulhearn (Asheville, NC.) on violin and electronics, and Dmala Bozkurt (Istanbul, Turkey) on violin.

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2) I find that I am filled with many different emotions and feelings when I listen to Requiem’s music. There’s an unmistakable melancholy, but also feelings of dread and even anger (especially the track “Public; Domain” from Joy; Division). At the same time, I find Requiem’s music to be strangely uplifting and beautiful. Is there a particular emotion or feeling you are aiming for? 

Doug: It would seem by your reaction, the approach has imparted an honesty to the music that we were hoping for. The goal is to capture a full performance for each piece, so there is an underlying string of emotion from each player that is not broken.

Tristan: I think Doug and I have similar states of being. I think we are both discontent with the world around us but we are both naturally “happy” people. I think that could explain how the sounds can be grim, dark or brooding – but still have beauty, light and uplifting traits. I think it’s a tug of war between letting the world tear us apart but still trying to exist peacefully. We’re using music to express ourselves – it’s a conversation with sound. The world sucks and it’s full of pain but these sounds make it all feel a little better. We don’t ever really talk about how a piece should sound when it comes to an emotion – we might talk about things in a very musical sense – but never in an emotional sense. I think the music is a true representation of humans being pulled into directions they never intended to be pulled in.

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3) Anyone who witnessed one of the Requiem live shows at Rhizome in DC this past fall would attest that visuals play a huge part in the Requiem live experience. How did you end up collaborating with Monica Stroik? What can you tell us about her incredible contributions to the project?

Tristran: I think Doug’s portion of this will be much better than mine – but I want to say when it comes to collaborating with Doug and Monica I truly just feel like I’m along for the ride. They have been doing projects under various names for a long time – honestly I’m just a fan. Currently they have something in the works called Oms. I want nothing more than for everyone to experience it. I don’t understand the technical side of the visuals really… but I know we’ll all sit around and talk about titles and themes – Monica will offer her input in the themes and general ideas – then kind of take it from there. We’re still working on various ways to completely make the audio/visual collaboration much more than a “show” and a total immersive experience. One thing we all like are big, expansive and overwhelming works of art. Monica creates giant paintings and does large scale projections, Doug and I love large expansive sounds.

Doug: Monica is also part of the Verses Records crew, is a visual artist and has been involved in video arts for over a decade. She has worked with many bands and galleries, doing installs and live performance pieces. She received an MFA from MICA in 2013, a large portion of the thesis being video mapping and animation.

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(Photo of Doug Kallmeyer by Cameron Whitman)

4) I understand that the Requiem project is currently recording with Simon McCorry, Meg Mulhearn (violin, electronics, modular synthesis, Asheville NC), and Damla Bozkurt (violin, Istanbul Turkey) for a 2022 release. How are the recordings going so far? What can you tell us about this new release?

Doug: The recording process is completed for this release. The more people involved remotely, the longer things can take (especially when the involved musicians are as prolific as the three mentioned!). One interesting aspect of this process is the order of who got what tracks, and when. Whenever anyone did something, it would be added to the initial take and sent out. So, there was no particular order, and the collaborators involved would often track simultaneously without being aware of each other’s contribution. This has resulted in some incredibly interesting moments, and some challenging. Unlike previous works, this is taking one extra step as there has to be some decisions made on what to use. There is also a very interesting thing happening with tonality and structure- for example, Damla doesn’t hear music in the given “western European” format, as her cultural background is completely different. So note choices are different, phrasing is different. Sometimes though, it’s as if there was a score written, the way the strings end up blending. We are very excited to share this, via Rusted Tone Recordings (UK) this year. There is more extreme dynamics and structure (by happenstance). It is nearly completed, sonically. Once done, we will give it to Monica for possible visual interpretations. 

Tristan: The new release is coming along. It’s going to be a bit different than the others. A little more “produced”. As many know – or if they don’t they should – Doug has had a long and successful career in sound. On this record there’s going to be a bit more using the sound board as an instrument. Which will be really cool with extra collaborators. We’re very excited to have a record with a diverse and dynamic group of collaborators. We’re mixing the record right now – but once again in my mind that’s still writing the record in a sense. I’m excited for it though.

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5) As we do this interview, it’s January 2022 and the world has been brought to its knees by yet another COVID-19 variant and we are about to mark the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. It’s a dark time in many ways. What – if anything – gives you hope for the future?

Doug: These last few years have offered all of us one thing we were in scarce supply of- time to think. People are tired of being tied to the wheel, and we see it and hear it in all the necessary movements and reactions, the massive changes and expanded awareness we have seen in a short time. While the systems we are used to will resist these changes, they will have to accept them or fail. This gives hope.

Tristan: I’m writing this on January 6th, 2022. I honestly think I’m exactly where the government wants me. I’m hardly holding my head above water and have a hard time even understanding what the fuck is happening. I’m holding on for dear life to prop up shit that I wish would fall apart. I’m suffocating to maintain some sense of comfort. I know I have it much better than others and I’m grateful for that. My hope is that maybe, just maybe, music and art can be a uniting force for everyone that suffers in different ways and bring us together.

Listen to and purchase Requiem’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to visit Doug Kallmeyer’s website and Requiem’s page and Monica Stroik’s page on the Versus Records website. And be sure to check out Requiem’s online show at the Friday, January 7th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_REQUIEM. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

january22

5 Questions: Seamstresses

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when DC four-piece SEAMSTRESSES took the stage at Slash Run in November.

I was told it was the band’s first in-person show, which made the prospect of seeing them perform even more exciting. Here was a chance to experience a live show that was going to be just as new for the band as it was for the audience. What would they sound like? What kind of show would they put on?

The only hint I had was the evocative description on the show flyer, which promised: “Haunted carnival music from the end of the world.”

SEAMSTRESSES did not disappoint. I was immediately struck by how confident and self-assured that “ringleader” Hester Doyle was when they introduced the band’s first song. What proceeded was the first of many standout songs that reverberated with a wide-eyed wonder and theatricality that is rare for a local indie rock band.

While SEAMSTRESSES’ sound draws from vaudeville and dark cabaret acts like Dresdan Dolls, it’s also evident this is a band that revels in the emotional power of the music it makes. Yes, SEAMSTRESSES will entertain you. But they will also move you in unexpected ways.

I was delighted when SEAMSTRESSES kindly agreed to perform their second, in-person show at the Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant. I know the band’s show will be one to remember. To coincide with this exciting event, I reached out to Hester via e-mail to find out more about this intriguing band. Hester has some interesting things to say about how the band formed, what the creative process is like and how the band feels about bringing these powerful songs to a live audience. Read on!

1) How did Seamstresses form? Who’s in the band?

Hester: Seamstresses consists of Alyson Cina, Greg Svitil, Rachel Bauchman, and me–Hester Doyle. The band started nearly two years ago, in February 2020, when a friend and bandmate introduced me and Greg. Our first jam together, which was supposed to be about two hours, went for more than four hours, and we even created the first parts of “Maya’s Song,” one of the songs we perform now. We worked on both my compositions and Greg’s songs for Teething Veils pretty much nonstop for two weeks before the world shut down for COVID. We tried practicing together online, but too many technical glitches kept us from jamming the way we wanted to (the inspiration for “Plague Love Song”: “It was a day without a day, an unday, a joke that time played on us–sitting in separate homes, singing softly alone”). Finally we decided we’d be in each other’s bubble, and we spent most of lockdown creating a lot of the songs you heard in our first show. When the world began to open back up, we finally had a chance to recruit members to build the full band sound we’d been dreaming of all along. Alyson joined on drums and Rachel picked up keys and they’ve brought so much to our imaginations and our sound.

2) To me, the phrase “haunted carnival music from the end of the world” is an inspired description of Seamstresses’ songs. It simultaneously captures the larger-than-life, theatrical aspects of the band as well as the powerful emotion at the core of your music. Did you form the band with a clear vision of the band’s sound in mind?

Hester: Yes and no; Seamstresses is the first band I’ve fronted and the first band I’ve been the primary songwriter for (in my first band, Daamsel, I’d say I split songwriting pretty evenly with my collaborator Rye Rayne). So when I first started jamming with Greg, I’m not sure I had any idea of where I wanted it to go–in fact, I was mostly focused on overcoming my own fear and insecurity and finding the courage to sing in front of another human. I definitely have very strong influences from cabaret punk, The Dresden Dolls, Beirut, Rasputina, and other groups that build eclectic, eccentric worlds along with their music. But it’s hard to say I set out with that vision in mind because I’m so raw at writing music that I don’t feel I have that much control over how it comes out. I’ve had times I really wanted to form a psychobilly band or a metal band or a folk punk band, but whatever comes out of me just comes out the way it does, without adhering to my wishes for a specific genre. I write by feeling and then figure out what the common thread is. Once we had a body of work taking shape, I started to imagine the character of the ringleader–it started with the outfit, because even in my day-to-day life I try to dress as the persona I want to be that day. It felt like a natural fit with some of our themes–magic, Tarot, child-like wonder–and it’s a world I felt possessed by, a world I felt I could build on stage and invite listeners into. In that way it’s a lot like how I write fiction; first and foremost, I want to create a world for readers, and people in that world who they can connect with.

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3) What is the band’s process for writing songs? Is there one or two primary songwriters?

Hester: I (Hester) am the lyricist and I’ve shaped most of our songs, but I still feel awkward saying I’m the primary songwriter because all my bandmates have brought so much to each piece. First of all, Greg’s presence is in every song, gentle and encouraging, and both his friendship and his musical senses have helped each song develop; he also generated the riffs that became Plague Love Song and Patterson Park. Then, after 18 months of just the two of us playing, it was a revelation to get Alyson and Rachel involved (we also briefly had Alex Touzinsky playing fiddle and organ, and her musical sensibility definitely helped us shape the songs even though she didn’t have time to stay in the band). We started switching instruments, which gave me leeway to imagine how to take the lush instrumentation I imagine for these songs and adapt it for a four-piece band on the stage. With some songs, all I have is a bass part or keyboard part and some lyrics, and the band takes it to another level I never would have been able to invent on my own. With other songs, I have fully composed multiple parts, including baritone guitar, bass, organ, etc–but I’m no drummer, and the second Alyson touches it, I realize how much more there is to be realized about that piece of music. Or Greg adds a flourish on the guitar that completely opens it up, or Rachel hits a bass groove or keyboard element that elevates everything. So even when I do a lot of writing ahead of time, these songs really are collaborative and I’m grateful to the very talented and kind humans who help me make this strange dream a reality.

4) What recording plans do Seamstresses have? Can we expect a release anytime soon?

Hester: We’d like to record an album, though we don’t have studio time booked in the near future. Right now, I’m focused on getting ready to head into the studio this January with Greg for Teething Veil’s newest record, and playing with Seamstresses live a bit more so we can get a feeling for how the songs feel when they interact with listeners.

5) I realize the band has only played one in-person live show so far, but I am curious to know – what does it feel like to bring these songs to a live audience?

Hester: I keep thinking about one of my film professors from college, who said you never make the movie that’s in your head–you just learn how to get a little closer each time. That’s held true for everything I’ve created. What’s unique with Seamstresses is we tinkered for 18 months before we had a chance to share anything with a live audience, so it was a big moment to see how it would finally come together–how people would react to the ringleader character, whether the instrument switching would work or if we’d be able to incorporate the little novelty instruments into transitions and fully enact all the things we’d been dreaming of. There were all sorts of little things I’d meant to do that I forgot or just didn’t have time for, or lost the courage for in the last minute. But afterward, to hear that people had received what we were trying to create–that they experienced even a bit of what I’d hoped to share with them–was incredibly reassuring. I’ve been off in my own little world my whole life, but it feels good to finally invite others inside.

Be sure to check out Seamstresses’ live show at the Friday, Dec. 3rd edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in-person at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW DC 20010) OR online via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_SEAMSTRESSES. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

December2021

5 Questions: The Caribbean

Whenever I attempt to describe DC’s talented trio The Caribbean to a new listener, I always struggle to find the right words. Are they post-psychedelic pop? Experimental indie? Weird folk? Off-kilter lounge?

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The Caribbean (Michael Kentoff, Matthew Byars and Dave Jones) might be the ultimate example of a band that defies easy categorization – and that’s a good thing.

I prefer to simply think of The Caribbean as “a music lover’s band.” The Caribbean’s unique blend of easy melodies, unexpected stylistic detours, odd chord progressions and unusual rhythmic patterns are a delight to listen to, even as the relaxed vibes come with a dose of the unsettling.

It’s been a while since The Caribbean graced listeners with a new full-length (2014’s “Moon Sickness” is the band’s most recent album), but rest assured, the band is very much alive and well and working on some cracking new tunes. The good news is listeners don’t need to wait until the next album is released to hear them — The Caribbean are showcasing them in their live sets.

This is especially exciting news with The Caribbean back at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE for a special in-person show at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, Nov. 5th. I took the opportunity to get in touch with vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Michael Kentoff and ask a few questions about his journey as a DC-based music maker, what it’s like making music in The Caribbean vs his solo work, and what drives him to be a music “lifer.” Read on!

1) Can you tell us a little about your journey as a DC-based music maker? When did you first realize that you wanted to write your own songs?

MK: Not being very good at playing other people’s songs was one motivating factor, but it feels like I’ve always written. Once upon a time, I was going to be a great novelist. Or short story writer. John Cheever. Raymond Carver. But I never liked what I wrote (everything read like John Cheever and Raymond Carver) and once I was finished, then what? Then I was reading an article in Musician Magazine about Suzanne Vega many moons ago and she said something like “the great thing about writing a song is when you’re finished you can play it!” Love that. I always came up with a melody here and there, but it wasn’t until after college that I really focused on songwriting. Suzanne Vega helped.

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2) Pitchfork once wrote about The Caribbean: “they have a strange way of constructing songs, from the lyrics on down. Verses have no rhyme scheme, chord progressions seem drawn from a hat. It’s as though the band had all the pieces for comfortable indie pop in its possession but no interest in putting them into a standard order.” What is it that compels you to make songs that sound so wonderfully skewed?

MK: Thanks for the wonderfully. Writing skewed songs is never really the goal – I try to write tight little pop songs that Dionne Warwick might sing, but it never turns out that way. Part of that is because once Dave and Matt get involved, things sometimes tend to get weirder. Also, because I write for an audience of two abnormal people, it never occurs to me what might work for the rest of the world. Whenever I try to guess, the result is . . . less than satisfactory. Also: I’m very ADHD and the group sort of is, too. We’re highly motivated to not ever repeating ourselves, so we’re always pushing outward. And I know that’s my commission as a songwriter. Like I could help it anyway. Ultimately, The Caribbean’s feeling has always been if this already exists in some form, we don’t need to do it. Like KISS, we’re the group we always wanted to see and hear.

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3) It’s been a while since The Caribbean put out a full album (2014’s “Moon Sickness”). What can you tell us about the new music that you’ve been recording? Is a new album in the cards?

MK: It HAS been a pretty long time. Whattaya know? Part of that is down to the fact that our label, Hometapes, shut down operations a couple of years ago. But the bigger reason is that, consistent with what I said earlier, the challenge gets steeper and steeper. The standards get higher. By definition, if you avoid repeating yourself, the world of possibilities shrinks little by little. It can be a maddening path to follow, but it’s the only one we want to follow. It’s not fun any other way. Being in a band is not the be-all end-all; creating something new and reaching new people is the prize. It always has been.

We’ve also been working on both new songs and new schematics for what we do live. We have our basic live set up, which is, two guitars, synths, and drums. And another formulation which is guitar and synths. We’re bringing the latter to WFTBO. We decided that it was silly and rather counterproductive to try to squeeze ourselves into a small space when we don’t have to. We have a bunch of different ways of approaching our songs and this gave us an opportunity to explore that. The experiment actually started when the pandemic hit and we didn’t feel like lugging the drums out onto the front lawn. And it was a groovy alternative to how we usually arranged stuff. We like both ways. It’s cool to have two different alignments. And like I was saying, it’s a better use of space. We have a tall drummer and after he sets up, sometimes Dave and I are setting up on the sidewalk.

We did finish a new record (Don’t Go is the working title), but I have no clear idea of when it’s coming out. We need to either find a new label or put it out ourselves. We play a lot of it out live and it sorta smokes.

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4) You put out a digital release under the moniker Washington Hebrew in 2017 that showcased your love of samples, loops and remixes. What’s your take on making music as a solo artist versus playing with a full band?

MK: Not as different as you might think. Just a different way of writing and approaching songs. Instead of guitar or piano, everything was written from samples. Instead of just sampling, though, I wrote entirely new pop songs with those samples as a foundation. It was fascinating and cool. I started the project as a treatment for the postpartum depression I felt after Moon Sickness (I always go through that when a new Caribbean record comes out). Like I said, I don’t need to be in a band so much as we hang out anyway, so we might as well make art! Ultimately, I really like playing and working with people I like and who have ideas that are exciting. So, because there’s no one more likable and exciting than me, I enjoyed making the Washington Hebrew record

5) You’ve been making music for a long time. I believe we can safely refer to you as a “lifer.” What keeps you going? Is there a particular source of inspiration that fans the flames of your creativity?

MK: I have no fucking idea. It’s central to my existence. How’s that? I feel like The Caribbean fills an empty space crying out to be filled with something beautiful. Everything fans the flames, Rick. Matt and I have an old saying: Everything’s R&D.

Listen to and purchase The Caribbean’s music on Bandcamp. And be sure to check out The Caribbean’s live show at the Friday, Nov. 5 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in-person (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW DC 20010) OR online via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_CARIBBEAN. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

November(1)

5 Questions: Chester Hawkins

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I’ve never spoken with sonic dadaist Chester Hawkins about aliens, but I have a hunch he’s a believer.

In fact, I’m convinced the ominous sci-fi drones of “K516156​/​91044,” the 7 inch single released by Hawkins in August 2020 is NOT the result of some modular synth mutation, but rather a field recording of the inside of an alien spacecraft. How else could these harrowing sounds exist? There is life on other planets, and it ain’t pretty.

It’s no surprise that Hawkins can evoke the scariest of sci-fi imagery in his work. The long-time DC – and now Baltimore – resident has specialized in crafting surreal sonic creations that could only be of extraterrestrial origin since 1985. For over 35 years, Hawkins has been pushing the boundaries of sonic possibility in ways that defy expectation and easy categorization, deftly balancing dark psychedelia and pulsing Krautrock and yes — field recordings.

The fact that Hawkins has been a frequent live performer at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in our nation’s capital speaks to the affinity we have for this very special madman’s avant-renegade approach to music making.

We could not be more excited that Chester Hawkins’ first show since the pandemic started is the September 10, 2021 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. To mark the special occasion, I asked Hawkins “5 Questions” to see how he’s holding up during the age of COVID-19 and learn more about his unorthodox methods to his musical madness. Read on…

1) I’ve always thought of you as a quintessential DC musician (some of your records even feature field recordings from Rock Creek). I know you recently relocated to Baltimore. What prompted the move and how do you like it so far? Do you see some interesting possibilities there?

CH: It was pure economics. DC has been unsustainably expensive for ages. Neighborhoods have gone from under-supported areas with long family histories to glossy, bourgeois nightmares in one step, pricing out the old-timers in favor of Brunch Zombies with credit cards. At some point while I was too busy or not paying attention, the “tyranny of affluence” rushed into my city and plucked out its heart. SAD.

Then I realized I never considered Baltimore, after growing up in & around DC, just a short hop away. Came to find out it has much more economic diversity and independent/small business, it has more of its old residential architecture intact (why must DC knock down anything over 20 years old?), flavor. Vibe. Life. 

Of course there are huge swaths of Baltimore City that are long neglected and in dire need of some progressive econ solutions, some care and support. It’s a complicated place with many faces. But for me, it was finally time to cut DC loose & stop blowing half my income on simple housing.

Baltimore DOES have a scene for creative music, at least I think it does. With COVID, I’ve made zero attempts to assimilate so far, but seriously looking forward to it. Small venues not afraid of mysterious music…… that’s the target. Just need to get a certain pandemic out of the way.

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2) You’ve been making experimental music, for lack of a better term, since 1985 or thereabouts. That’s quite a run for any musician, let alone someone known in underground circles for twisting and turning all manner of odd sounds into unusual shapes and permutations. I’m curious to know – how do you keep your creative fire burning so bright for so long? (A Replicant named Roy Batty also wants to know).

CH: I realized that “creative fire” needs to be snuffed out sometimes, to keep it creative. I’ll walk away from all music production for ages, to clean out the old habits. Shortly before COVID I decided to take a year off and shut the whole thing down. I had been noticing certain patterns forming in the creative process, it was getting predictable, and that’s not good. This is extremely SELFISH music: The goal is to enjoy the ride and forget I’m driving in the first place… to be surprised by what’s happening, and revel in it. 

So the plan was to take a year off and basically forget everything, then turn on the lights, fire it up again, and see what “music” sounds like. Then came COVID, and I decided to keep the muse deep in the grave for a little longer, and really push the experiment. 

I started getting the itch again about a month ago, so this event at Marx is the perfect kick in the arse to get going & see what happens.

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3) From a gear standpoint, what are you using these days to create the “Chester Hawkins” sound? Are there specific modular synths that you tend to gravitate to? Has your sonic arsenal changed much in recent years?

CH: Field recordings have been a recent thing, a way of bringing some (literal) fresh air into a piece. Recording environmental stuff from a significant place and finding some narrative arc in the sound, then using the older instruments to play against it. Build this really elaborate sonic scene with many layers, all influenced by a faint impression in a background field recording. Then take the background away and you’re left with this deliberate (but totally mad) structure. 

That’s how the “Magnetisk Nord” CD came to be. I went to Denmark and walked the streets of Copenhagen, Helsingør, and Aarhus with an audio recorder, capturing street musicians, parents with strollers walking past, the water and boats in Roskilde Fjord, various things. Walking all day doing this, then staying up all night in the room, building the piece. So it was also an experiment in massive sleep deprivation.

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4) I think of you as having a special talent for improvisation, but as your 2017 LP “Natural Causes” demonstrated, you are just as comfortable creating composed music. I know you’ve made several more albums since then. How do you feel these days about improvised vs. composed sounds? Has your perspective changed at all?

CH: Definitely want to get back to the composed stuff. “Magnetisk Nord” was composed, so to speak, on the operating table, whereas “Natural Causes” was really mapped out from the beginning. By the end of that project, the studio looked like a conspiracy-theory nutcase basement, with notes and scribbles on cards everywhere. Chaotic in a different way, but it does yield a really different sound. 

Many of the other releases were compilations of live-in-studio moments — excerpts of improv sessions. So naturally those capture a different energy: more of an urgent, animal-brain vibe. 

Perhaps the answer is……. no change in perspective, but the goal is to rotate between those methods and always offer something fresh.

5) Your live shows have always been something to behold. I know that in some experimental music circles it is verboten to think of shows as “entertainment” but damnit Chester, your shows are entertaining. I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I feel you even have a bit of a “showman” quality to your performances, albeit in the best possible avant-garde “let’s blow the roof off this venue” kind of way. Am I way off base here? How do you see your live shows?

CH: HAHA! You may be thinking of the Blue Sausage Infant days there: That project was 100% rooted in that animal-brain, immediate-magic thing. There were costumes and insanely edited video projections, or accomplices in costumes doing irrational things during the set. One favorite set at Velvet Lounge DC involved reaching a totally nuts musical crescendo, setting it on auto-pilot, and letting it go while firing confetti guns over everyone with strobe-lights, so it was impossible to see what was falling on people. I think that was during the “ghillie-suit” era, so I’m dressed as a giant lump of moss during this madness. 

What did it all mean? Absolutely, aggressively, arbitrary nothingness. It meant nothing but Here and Now.

But alas, I’m a distinguished older gentleman now and the theatrics have mellowed in favor of a more careful musical experience. No more rabbit costumes and confetti, but I still love to generate an overwhelming sea of audio for a room, “beautiful” in maybe a psychedelic sense, but with a little friction in the mix, a little tension to keep things from getting TOO pretty. It might be tribal and pounding or it might be abstract textures and drones — 

It’s all different paths to the same place. No maps allowed, you’ll know you’re there once you arrive..!

Listen to and purchase Chester Hawkins’ music on Bandcamp. And be sure to check out Chester’s live show at the Friday, Sept. 10 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in-person (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW DC 20010) OR online via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_CHESTER. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

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