5 Questions: Teething Veils

A global pandemic. A racial reckoning. Misinformation. A violent attack on American democracy.

There’s a lot to feel anxious about in these strange and scary times. Fortunately, DC-based singer-songwriter Greg Svitil has an almost preternatural gift for crafting cinematic songs with the power to heal.  

Teething Veils

@roXplosion #dcrocks #a99ii

I should know. Throughout the pandemic, I have been leaning heavily on Svitil’s beautifully crafted creations to help me cope. Teething Veils, Svitil’s self-described “chamber folk” outfit with cellist Hester Doyle, released a must-hear album in August 2020 called “Canopy of Crimson.” Svitil has produced consistently excellent music throughout the years, but this latest opus is possibly his finest hour, crystalizing what makes his songwriting so special.

Even The Washington Post took notice. Music critic and former Q and Not U member Chris Richards praised “Canopy of Crimson” for the way Teething Veils transform songs that feel “funereal” into cathartic experiences, allowing “emotions to be purged and smothered, making time feel stranger than slow.”

I have not been shy about my love for Teething Veils. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the collective has performed at We Fought the Big One more than any other artist, including a Livestream show with Hester Doyle last October. It was a wonderful show, admittedly marred by some sound issues in the first half that prevented attendees from experiencing Teething Veils in its full glory.

I am delighted that Teething Veils is back to play again so soon. For the February 5th Livestream edition of We Fought the Big One, Svitil will be performing solo – much as he did when Teething Veils first started playing shows roughly 10 years ago. As he explains in our interview below, “playing alone allows the songs to show different parts of themselves, just as playing with a band does.”

As you can see from the interview, our conversation covered some fascinating ground, including the influence of cinema on his songwriting, the nature of creativity, the artistry of album sequencing, his definition of community and what he’s learned about himself through years of making music. Read on…


1) There’s always been a certain cinematic quality to Teething Veils, but never more so than on “Canopy of Crimson.” I especially love “Bare Trees, Silver Sky,” which features some truly gorgeous imagery with lines like “At dusk, the bare trees, caressed by silver sky are enveloped by the lamps that light the stillest nights” and “My car hums down the street, I look beyond the lonesome passenger seat at buildings rumbling in and out of focus.” To what extent does cinema inform your work? Do you see cinematic vignettes in your head when you’re writing lines like these?

Greg: Movies play a main role in how I make some sense of the world. The way that I relate with what I see on a screen is really similar to how I relate with music, books, and visual art. When I’m involved with making an LP I think of it as a movie or a three-act play; when I’m involved with making an EP, it’s like a short or a one-act play. I structured the first Teething Veils album Velorio based on how Michel Legrand unfurls the music in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg / The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, as far as having a recurring melodic theme that begins with a pensive quietness, swells into an ebullition, simmers, and ultimately boils over. My brain tends to operate really visually, and I try to describe the images with words. Those scenes in “Bare Trees, Silver Sky” was just how the setting looked on a particular day when I was driving westward through D.C. at sunset.

2) Does songwriting ever come easy for you? Or is it always a struggle?

Greg: Words and melodies come in bursts, and I dig more carefully into the details in-between. I tend to not think of writing as something to struggle with, even as it comes in waves, and when the lulls aren’t to my liking. If I fight with how smoothly or quickly I’m writing, that’s just me trying to steer it, and I want to avoid doing that, to respect the practice.

If songs don’t come one day, they might come another day. Or, they might never come at all. And, that’s okay. Music doesn’t owe me anything, and I’m lucky to have had the songs that I’ve had. There’s a Phil Ochs song called “No More Songs” that ends his final studio album. It can be taken any number of ways, though I tend to hear it as being completely literal. One day, there just might not be any more songs. Any time now, they can stop showing up. At the same time, there’s a matter of faith that the well won’t dry up, that keeps a hum or a pulse going during the dry spells.

I’d probably not survive for very long without songwriting. The songs that come more slowly than others are just going at their own pace, and that’s more than alright with me. The ones that seem to fall out of the sky feel a little differently, too, than the ones that I spend months or years with before they really take shape. My teacher Erin Frisby knows which ones are which, from how they sound and how they present themselves. I don’t know what makes some of them come without a whole lot of effort while I get stuck on others. It might not be for me to know.

Teething Veils CoC Painting HiRes
“Canopy of Crimson” album artwork: Adam de Boer

3) This might sound like an odd topic for a question, but I’d like to ask you about album sequencing. Teething Veils is that rare artist where the order of the songs – the context in which the listener hears them – is just as important as the songs themselves. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. How important is sequencing to you? At what point do you start thinking about it when crafting an album?

Greg: That’s true that the order of the songs is just as important as the songs themselves. The sequence of songs on an album is important in the same way that the order of the scenes of a movie is important. With Teething Veils songs, it’s really clear from their early stages where they belong as far as placement within the larger body of music. When we came together as a band to make Canopy of Crimson, we fell into the habit of practicing the songs in the order of the album. Sometimes we’d play them in reverse-order. When we went in to record with Don Godwin, we played the songs in the album order in the studio. 

Once an album is written, I record sketches of the songs, just really bare guitar-and-voice or keyboard-and-voice embryos. I do this for every album to share with the band, so they can get to know them, and with our artist Adam de Boer, for him to start working on the painting for the album. When I was at this stage for Velorio, I also shared the sketches with my friend Ali Miller. She works in theater, and I’d worked for her as a sound designer for a stage show, and I was curious to hear her impressions. The song “Dinner Date” was part of the album at this stage, and Ali asked me why. She found it confusing to the narrative, and she was right. I realized in that moment that my motivation for including it on the album was to preserve it, in case I was hit by a bus. She said, “then why not record it, and leave it someplace else?” So, that’s what we did. The song eventually found a home on our third album, Sea and Sun. I’d nearly disrupted my own music with hastiness. Some songs just take longer than others to find their destination. 

4) I’d like to ask you about the word “community.” What does it mean to you? Has your concept of community evolved over time?

Greg: I was really introverted as a kid. I relied on my imagination and music to give me a sense of the world. When I was fourteen, I found punk and hardcore, and felt a kinship with people who I wasn’t related to by blood and who I didn’t know from school. Walking through life with that sort of a close-knit group of people showed me the power of exchanging ideas, mutual support, and healthy conflict resolution, and helped to align my moral compass over time. For the first twenty-one years of my life, I floated around a lot geographically, and anchored myself through maintaining correspondence with the people who I’d come up with. I landed in DC in 1998, and it took a few years for me to slow my momentum as a naturally more nomadic sort of person. I came to value the stability of having a geographic place to call home. The further I venture outward with touring and playing this music, the more I appreciate having that anchor to come back to at the end.

Human beings need other human beings. We help each other when individual or communal needs arise, when someone needs food or medical care, when someone needs snow shoveled from their sidewalk, when someone falls ill or dies; we provide what we’re able to, according to whatever it is that we each bring to the table. We find community in our neighborhoods, activist groups, arts scenes, churches, 12-step fellowships, and loads of other pockets of people, many of which I wouldn’t even be aware of due to my limited perspective. What my communities mean to me is forever evolving. I depend greatly on my loved ones, teachers, neighbors, and peers.

5) You’ve been making music for many years now, both as a solo artist and as part of bands. Over the course of your musical journey, what have you learned about yourself along the way?

Greg: I started writing songs when I was nine years old. My mother had a piano, which now lives with my aunt in Tennessee, and I’d fumble around with the keys, and use the bench as a drum. I started with guitar when I was twelve, and have played in bands since I was thirteen. I was never the most technically proficient musician, but I was passionate from day one. I’ve always thought of myself as part of a band. It’s true that there were years, and tours, when Teething Veils was just me, but I always thought of it as a band. There have just been times when it’s taken me a while to find band people, and I’d rather play than not play, so I’d play alone sometimes.

Playing alone allows the songs to show different parts of themselves, just as playing with a band does. Writing songs digs into a lot of what’s crawling around under the surface. I’ve discovered some pretty unsavory parts of myself through writing music. I’ve also found traces of light to stand in. I’m not the most articulate person verbally, but through music I’m able to be a part of a conversation. With music, I’m able to make some sort of sense of myself and the world, with more revealed with time and patience. There’s a great power in anything that shines a light on something that makes no sense until it makes some sense. 

Catch Teething Veils’ performance at 10pm EST on the Friday, Feb. 5th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE! Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/BigOne_TVeils

Listen to and purchase Teething Veils music on Bandcamp here and check out the Exte Records website. Don’t forget to “Like” Teething Veils on Facebook, and follow Teething Veils on Instagram and Twitter.

February2021

5 Questions: Adriana-Lucia Cotes

There is something intensely personal about the music of DC-based singer-songwriter Adriana-Lucia Cotes.

Adriana-skeiky-33
(photo by Farrah Skeiky)

Whether she’s playing just acoustic guitar and singing, or embracing ethereal-sounding electronics, or turning up the angst as the vocalist for D.C. post-punk troublemakers Mock Identity, Adriana-Lucia Cotes’ music always feels REAL – and often raw.

This lack of artifice is a big part of what makes her music so compelling.

Adjectives typically used to describe post-punk vocalists — words like “detached,” “cold,” “indifferent” — could never be applied to Cotes. And that’s a good thing. As her solo recordings and performances demonstrate, there is a lot more to Cotes than post-punk. Even in her most unassuming moments, Cotes’ voice conveys a depth of feeling that is rare. Her lyrics are socially aware, intelligent and pointed at disrupting toxicity in its many forms — and always personal.

I am feeling very grateful for Adriana-Lucia Cotes’ music right now. We are living in an age where we are reminded on a daily basis (especially on Jan. 6, 2021) of the very real human cost of detachment. We need artists who aren’t afraid to feel — even if it means drawing from painful lived experiences. Cotes is an artist who is bold enough — and brave enough — to transform the pain of personal experience into transcendent moments of euphoria.

With Cotes set to perform at the first WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE Livestream show of 2021, we could not be more excited. Cotes kindly took time out of her busy schedule to answer 5 questions via e-mail. As you can see from our interview, she has some interesting things to say about her journey as a music-maker in our nation’s Capitol, her creative process both as a solo artist and as part of a band, and how she continues to feel hopeful in these frightening times.

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?

Adriana: I’ve been playing music and singing since I was 8 years old, so music has always been a big part of my life. I moved to DC from the Maryland suburbs in 2011 and soon found myself in art-making communities, at the time I was already friends and acquaintances with a lot of local jazz musicians after working at music stores like Music & Arts and Dale Music in my teens. 

It took a while to find my footing and go for making my own music. In the beginning, I had a duo with another local musician, Johnny Fantastic (Di Lascio), and then began my own project and performed under the name Antonia. Then another few years after in my band Mock Identity.

I’ve made and created music since I was a kid, so you could say I’ve been writing songs for most of my life so far!

Adriana-Lucia Cotes at home — “Wild” (live on BTR tv)
http://

2) What is your creative process like? With a track like “Wild,” do you usually start with a vocal melody?

Adriana: I don’t have a usual process, because I’m in a different headspace or working with a different interest, or even trying to communicate something different. Sometimes, I have writer’s block, so then I’m forced to try something new. Wild is still in the works, in the sense that the acoustic version is not the final iteration. Something I’ve liked doing recently is writing a song on guitar and taking that idea, those chords, and creating a new version on synth. Guitar’s not my favorite instrument (not my least favorite either, I just have very stout hands), but it is one of the best for me to use to begin writing a song.

91UM-nhDRHL._SS500_

3) I love the sparse, almost ethereal electronic approach of your solo work on the “La Clave” EP as much as the more aggressive, overtly punk infected sounds of Mock Identity. What’s your take on making music as a solo artist versus playing with a band?

Adriana: They’re different experiences, both of which have taught me a lot. Playing in a band is so much fun because you’re feeding off of each other’s energy, and therefore sharing the load of any logistical or aspirational goals you’d like to accomplish. It’s also nice doing everything your way, without anyone else’s input when working alone. I wouldn’t have been able to be an integral part of my band’s sound without already having done my work as a solo artist, and I wouldn’t have learned how to really motivate myself to keep playing shows (or even release an EP) if it hadn’t been for who I met and what I learned in the band and from my bandmates who also have their own solo projects. I think both experiences are vital in getting to know yourself as a musician.

Adriana-skeiky-59
(photo by Farrah Skeiky)

4) I’d like to hear your perspective on DC’s underground music and arts community. As a woman of color and member of the LGBTQ community, what has your experience been like so far?

Adriana: That’s a loaded question! I’m hesitant to call our community underground – we’re definitely well above the ground at this point!

I’m happy with the growth I’ve had in this community and inspired by my peers to push on and continue to make music that speaks to ourselves and others. And I’m excited about the future!

5) Now that 2020 is behind us and 2021 is here, is there anything that makes you feel hopeful?

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide to not be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou

Adriana: To me, hope is in another day, with new choices to make to continue moving forward to learn grow and experience life. As people who know me well know, I’m driven by the things I aspire to achieve, and even when things seem their darkest, I can look back on where I came from and what struggles I had to rise from. Soon those dark moments will also become a memory to refer back to during the next challenge. Hope is innate, it always will be there, even if it’s a little hard to see sometimes. 

Catch Adriana’s performance at 10pm EST on the Friday, Jan. 8th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE (e-mail Rick for more details: rick.taylor0710@gmail.com)!

Listen to and purchase her solo music on Bandcamp here and with Mock Identity here. You can also follow Adriana on Instagram and Twitter, “Like” her on Facebook.

January(2)

5 Questions: Tristan Welch

The title of DC musician Tristan Welch’s new album, “Ambient Distress,” might lead you to believe the sounds contained within are barely noticeable. After all, ambient music is often characterized as sonic wallpaper that creates an interesting ambiance but is easy to ignore. One listen to “Ambient Distress,” however, and it’s clear that Welch has very different intentions.

Digitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2

Photo by Cameron Whiteman

First and foremost, this is music designed to be front and center. Welch wields reverb-drenched drones and cycling patterns of ethereal textures like an expert marksman.

I can’t help but think of German electronic experimentalists Cluster when I listen to the pulsating tones of opening track “Employment Frustration,” or the repetitive patterns in “Family Stress,” only these wonderfully strange sonic vistas derive not from a keyboard, but from Welch’s guitar.

Equally noteworthy is just how strikingly accessible and engaging this record is. Each track strikes with force and has its own beguiling personality. “Ambient Distress” is the kind of album that could serve as the ultimate “gateway drug” for “normals” to fall in love with the wider world of experimental music.

With Tristan Welch scheduled to perform a special livestream show via Zoom for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, I took the opportunity to ask him some questions about his journey as a musician, how he comes up with his sounds and the relationship between the issues he cares deeply about and the music he makes. Read on!

1) Can you tell us a little about your journey as an artist? Did you always set out to make instrumental music that explores different tones and textures?

Tristan: Sure! My journey is simple really… I’ve played in various bands/full groups – but nothing substantial. It’s hard to find people you can actually click with and create a structure to practice with peoples jobs and stuff so I’ve always found myself alone over the years. Honestly, that fits my personality; I’m kind of a loner for the most part. Instrumental music has always spoken to me. I actually find more feeling and emotion with sound that I do words. I enjoy poetry and song lyrics but I listen to mostly instrumental music and I’m not very vocal in my everyday life – so it suits me. Music is about expression and while not everything I make sounds exactly like the title I may have given it – the title will give an idea of where the sound is coming from. It’s like an abstract painting for me. Musical portraits in a sense. 

2) What are some of your go-to sound sources? Would it be accurate to say most of the sounds on “Ambient Distress” are manipulated guitar?

Tristan: Everything on “Ambient Distress” is sourced from an electric guitar. I use a variety of electronics but I do my best to create from a standpoint of performance to make sure I can repeat certain things. So instead of going crazy with computer plugins and other things I like using actual pedals and loopers. It’s funny though… I’ve sent this record to various publications for review or whatever – most of the responses have been “we enjoy more guitar focused tunes.” I’ve battled and battled over the years trying to find pedals that create the sounds I hear in my head… this is just a recording of the process really; I’m still not quite there.

PSX_20200712_121417

3) One of the most striking things about “Ambient Distress” is how engaging and accessible it is. The new record utilizes a wide array of textures and sounds, with each track leaving its own mark. The tracks are almost pop-music length.  What led you to take this approach? When you were making this album, did it occur to you that this could potentially connect with “proletariat” listeners, and not just experimental avant-garde music elites?” 😉

Tristan: I appreciate that you find it engaging! Accessibility is something I do think about. A reason I put my music on streaming services is for accessibility. I know a lot of people who enjoy music and are open to new ideas but are not going on Bandcamp, Soundcloud or even visiting various blogs to find out about stuff… so I like to know it’s there for anybody to find. The shorter song lengths are influenced by pop music. Although I listen to a lot of instrumental music – my next most listened to style of music is hip hop and I enjoy that the production is repetitive but in digestible pieces. I also think about how people live their lives… it’s a privilege to take in a 30 minute masterpiece. If you are anything like me and struggling to find 15 minutes to eat then maybe this will be more suited for you. You don’t have to be privileged to enjoy the avant garde! I guess in line with this concept is why I love graffiti so much – it’s art for the masses. It’s not in a gallery. I like things to be kind of easy. I hate working.

PSX_20200921_102501Photo: Stephen Palke

4) Speaking of the proletariat, I can’t help but think of the iconic slogan “The personal is political” with your work. The new album features track titles like “employment frustration,” “family stress” and “environmental anger.” How do you see the relationship between the music you make and the issues you care about? Is your music primarily a means of catharsis from these stresses?

Tristan: Music is pure catharsis for me. I think that’s why sometimes things don’t necessarily sound like my images I’ll portray with words. If I name the song ‘Environmental Anger’ – I’m not exactly trying to sound like that but I’m trying to deal with it. At one point in time I had the audacity to think I could kind of put some views out into the world with music… but I’ve started to just think that if I just share my experience through the sound and the little glimpses of a troubled world then the point will be made. It’s going to be more how I approach things that will matter. It’s more of sharing the struggle. While I sometimes will do things that are more related to the abstract or focused on other areas… I’ll always have a soft spot for art centered on real social / political experiences… even if it is vague. I’m from the D.C. area and grew up on punk. It’s in my blood. 

DSC_7665
Photo by Cameron Whiteman

5) 2020 has been a harrowing year for obvious reasons. When you think about the year to come, and what may lie ahead for you personally and our society, what gives you hope?

Tristan: What lies ahead of me personally is another record. Maybe more. With society? I don’t know… In my 9-5 I work at a funeral home. I deal with every walk of life. I find that most people have a decent heart even if maybe we disagree on so much stuff. I hope that maybe that can bleed into the world politically. I know most people are just trying to do the best they can with what they are given. When I remember that I’m able to forgive the asshole on the road or in the store. We all have bad days… sometimes they just last a lifetime. That gives me hope? 

Listen to and purchase Tristan Welch’s new album “Ambient Distress” via Bandcamp; follow him on Instagram and Twitter; and ‘Like’ him on Facebook.

Catch Tristan’s special live show at the Dec. 4, 2020 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. To register for this event, e-mail Rick Taylor: rick.taylor0710@gmail.com

December2020

5 Questions: Janel and Anthony

Janel and AnthonyPhoto: Maria Louciero

The names Janel & Anthony have long been synonymous with DC’s fertile experimental music scene, but the duo are anything but easy to pigeonhole. As a duo and as individuals, Janel & Anthony’s musical contributions encompass a vast spectrum of sounds, styles and tones — “experimental” is just the tip of the elegantly odd-shaped iceberg.

Whether it’s Janel’s exquisite cello (her primary instrument), or her viola, bass or pedal steel playing, or Anthony’s seemingly endless iterations of guitar, the one unifying thread that ties all their sounds together is an unmistakable thrill of risk-taking. Such is the quality of their performances that the duo has played the Kennedy Center.

While Janel & Anthony have been prolific as individual musicians, it’s been a while since the duo have released an album together, but a new record is on the way, and this one is extra special — it’s the first one featuring vocals from Janel on every track. I can’t wait to hear it!

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long for our next Janel & Anthony fix. The duo recently collaborated with the Black Cat in DC to record a special improv performance for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. The performance will be shared via a livestream event on Zoom on Friday, Nov. 6th at 10pm.

To mark the occasion, I got in touch with Janel and Anthony via e-mail to ask them about what’s happening in their world, and how their connection to music and creativity is helping them survive a scary and uncertain time. Read on!

1) How are you both doing these days? Has the pandemic — and the election — affected your creativity?

Anthony: Well, as you know, this is a very challenging time and it’s extremely depressing to read what’s happening in the news. Given the state of the world, I feel beyond lucky that I have music in my life. All I ever want to do is sit in my room and develop ideas on my guitar. And with all of this extra time that’s what I’ve been doing. During the pandemic I was also able to wrap up and complete 4 four records and wrote/recorded two new ones.  I’ve released Six Six which is a improvising duo I have with Luke Stewart on Atlantic Rhythms, a trio recording called Pocket Poem with Michael Formanek and Ches Smith on Cuneiform Records, a 30 person ensemble rendition of Terry Riley’s In C on Sonic Mass Records and my earliest documented compositions are compiled on a record called Ignorant American which is also available on Sonic  Mass Records.  I recorded but have yet to release a “harsh” solo guitar record called tm and a solo guitar record with overdubs called In Side. These two records should be out next year. Janel and Anthony are also set to release our third record next year.  So, even though this time is very stressful and depressing I’ve been working hard to remain focused on moving forward.

Janel: It is a terrible time. I feel for so many musicians who can’t play shows or missed recording projects they cared for. Everyone is just trying to hold on. Personally, I have been balancing my time between releasing some of the catalog of my live shows and writing new music. In June, Ideologic Organ (Paris) and Editons Mego (Vienna) labels released a live album of my arrangements of pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn’s music which I was honored to curate the group for. It’s called The Heart Sutra which is out now on bandcamp digitally and will be pressed to LP via those labels this Winter. 

Another release I put out this Spring is again with long time friends pedal steel player Susan Alcorn and vocalist Meghan Habibzai on the Atlantic Rhythms label (DC). I call this collection Sister Mirror which is available digitally and on tape via bandcamp. Sister Mirror includes a recording of Villa-Lobos’s piece for cello orchestra and soprano, Bachianas Brasilieres No. 5, Aria. We recorded it at The Brink with Mike Reina a long time ago. It was a marathon recording all of the cello parts. We had performed it at Meghan’s senior recital with a live cello orchestra of which I was the lead cellist.

Side B of Sister Mirror is an early recording of Susan Alcorn and I playing live at the venue/church in Baltimore called 2640. You can hear birds singing in the rafters which is appropriate because at the end we played a piece called “O Sacrum Convivium!” by Messiaen, a composer who transcribed bird song. We had been playing in her music studio a lot and were looking at our favorite classical pieces as well as each others compositions. I got to know her work in this way and we played in other groups she organized until she asked me to arrange her work for her Issue Project Room residence as heard on The Heart Sutra. In this way, this has been a time of summing up.

2) One of the things I enjoy most about your music is the sense of adventure. Your music as a duo explores so many different sounds, styles and tones, as does your work in other projects. It feels like you can go almost anywhere.  Would it be fair to say you both share a certain creative restlessness?

Anthony: I’d say that’s fair. For me it doesn’t really feel like I have a choice.  I have to work on music. I need it. I get very down if I’m not able to work on musical things that are interesting to me at the moment. I know that we both love all types of music/sound and yes, playing music with Janel has always felt very adventurous. I think a lot of that has to do with our love of free improvisation. We’ve always freely improvised between our compositions in the live setting and that really helps to keep things fresh.  We’ve rarely done sets of fully improvised material which makes this performance that you’re about to show very exciting for me. We just showed up and played what we felt. Improvised situations have been some of the most rewarding musical experiences for me over the years.

Janel: I don’t like to get too comfortable. It’s death to me in a way. I think a lot of artists feel this way but I like having a broad knowledge base musically speaking. It makes me more flexible. I also really enjoy a challenge. Honestly, being versatile has been the only way I could continue making music. I am interested in playing multiple instruments so I have access to that ability when it’s called for when I’m in the studio with Anthony or solo or with any band I’ve worked with.

I credit musician, engineer, producer Mike Reina for that because he first allowed and encouraged me to try different instruments when we were working on my first solo album, Mellow Diamond and my second solo record, Songs for Voice and Mellotron at The Brink. Also, I have suffered from tendinitis for decades and can only play an instrument for so long without developing inflammation and pain in my arms. It developed in college when I was over practicing, something like 8 hours a day, and I became debilitated. I was unable to play the cello, open doors, write or type, or even wash dishes etc. for about a year. Regardless, being able to play a viola or bass or a pedal steel simply helps me continue creating bc each one uses a different set of muscle groups and is held in a different position. That’s how I continue to work in music even though I’ve had this physical problem for so long. For me, being versatile has been the key to survival I’m not sure I could do another job. I am a terrible employee.

3) You’ve been making music together for years. It must seem intuitive at this point. How has your process evolved over time?

Anthony: It’s always felt almost telepathic when Janel and I perform together.  We don’t even have to look at each other and we know that something is about to shift or change.  There is no way for me to explain.  In this performance you can see it at the end of this set.  We turn off our loops at exactly the same moment without any cues.  That’s what it is. 

Janel: As Janel and Anthony we’ve worked intensively for years of recording and playing shows which served as a laboratory for us, musically. When we started working with Mike Reina at The Brink we took our time to get our second album right. We’ve done a record at home before (LP Cricket Cemetery Fifth Anniversary Rerelease) but we of course prefer working with him. Generally we bring our song ideas together and play them for each other and then the other person contributes something and we build it jumping off of one another’s ideas which is a lot of fun. We haven’t had a lot of energy for much duo writing for the past few years because we’ve been so busy but it’s been good to take a break. We started writing our third album in 2012 and have been working on it through the finishing touches in 2018. Since then it’s been sitting on the shelf because we just couldn’t let go of it. Watch for it next Fall on Cuneiform Records.

4) Are there any sonic avenues you have yet to explore that you would like to? A slightly related question – might there be a possibility of newly recorded Janel & Anthony music in the near future?

Janel: We have been sitting on a mainly vocal record for several years. As I said, we have a hard time letting go of records. We recorded Where is Home at two different studios before making The Brink home. We’ve always had a backlog of music because we are partners in music and in life and we’d rather hang out when we’re together than work. That’s changing though we’ve been taking some time for an artist in residency for a few months and we are really excited to try some new paths as a duo.

Anthony: Like I said earlier we have a third record coming out next year.  It’s very exciting for me because Janel is singing on every track.  I love the new music and I can’t wait for people to hear it!  

5) These are dark and scary times for a multitude of reasons. When you look at the state of the world, is there anything that gives you hope?

Janel: We were just talking about this today. We feel honored to have worked in a scene with an audience of very deep listeners and thinkers. That is ultimately where we feel hope and where we feel the most free. The experimental music and free jazz communities in D.C. have meant everything to us.  We got to know ourselves as artists at places like Pyramid Atlantic where Sonic Circuits used to put on shows, Bobby Hill’s series Transparent Productions was centered at Bohemian Caverns, Luke Stewart’s work with Capital Bop and at Union Arts and I did a residency at Twins and we played who knows how many shows there. We love the welcoming nature of these groups of people who just want to listen and be taken somewhere for a while and they don’t shy from being challenged sonically. It’s refreshing to call on your bodies instincts to play creatively and with abandon. That personally brings me joy and I hope you’ll enjoy this Janel and Anthony set of purely improvised music. Thanks to you and to the Black Cat for having us!

Check out their website here, the duo’s Kennedy Center page here, & Anthony’s Bandcamp here, and the Cuneiform Records Bandcamp here.

And be sure to watch their special performance for the Nov. 6th WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE Livestream on Zoom!

November2020

5 Questions: Teething Veils

Teething Veils

@roXplosion #dcrocks #a99ii

DC duo Teething Veils (vocalist/guitarist Greg Svitil, cellist Hester Doyle) describe their music as “chamber folk,” but I prefer to think of them as their own genre.

That’s because there’s nothing quite like Teething Veils. Sure, there are recognizable elements — most notably, the world-weariness and wistful melancholy of Leonard Cohen, the emotional grandeur of Nick Cave and the poetic beauty of Bob Dylan — but Teething Veils has a certain indefinable magic all its own — a magic borne out of finding beauty and meaning in life’s tender moments. To refer to Teething Veils as a band that revels in melancholy is to miss the point — their songs are about the transformative power of catharsis and release.

If you haven’t been paying attention to Teething Veils’ majestic output over the last 10 years, now’s the time. The band has just released a breathtaking new album, “Canopy of Crimson,” which, in my humble opinion, represents their finest work to date. Everything about the album reflects a commitment to artistry and an eye for detail that is truly rare. The album doesn’t just take you on an emotional journey – it transports you to its own sonic universe where sorrow, joy and transcendence all live in harmony.

With Teething Veils set to play the Friday, Oct. 2nd WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE Livestream show via Twitch, I wanted to reach out to Greg and Hester to learn more about their remarkable new album, the evolution of their line-up and the strange relationship between melancholy and joy.

1) It would be an understatement to say a lot has happened in the world of Teething Veils in 2020. You recorded and released a brilliant new album, Canopy of Crimson, that features the contributions of frequent collaborators Hannah Burris on viola, Kevin Buckholdt on drums, Craig Garrett on bass and Kelly Servick on violin. There was also a recent line-up change and now Teething Veils consists of you and Hester Doyle. Can you talk a little about your talented collaborators and the evolution of the Teething Veils line-up?

Greg: Thank you for your kind words on Canopy of Crimson. Teething Veils started as a name I gave myself to play shows when my bandmates in The Antiques weren’t available. I’d meditated on these Marisol wall pieces, and two in particular, “M.Marisol” and “Veil” looked the way that songwriting felt to me. In one, she gives herself fangs for teeth and a monstrous face. In the other, her expression is solemn and clumps of long hair veil much of her face. I felt strongly about writing and playing music as having a similar function as sharp teeth would in the wild, serving to both nourish and to protect. Likewise, a person steers whatever degree of themselves they reveal or conceal in a song, as with a veil.

For those first few years, “Teething Veils” was the name I went by when playing Antiques songs, alone. For the Velorio album, I needed people to play the arrangements, and that birthed “Teething Veils” as a band. Kevin, Craig, and I have played in bands together for twenty years, including The Antiques, Parlor Scouts, Kohoutek, and The Mares. Craig and I went to England to play some shows with Kohoutek last summer, and we stayed at a place called Littleton Mill near the festival where we played in a house where Virginia Woolf once had great parties, and that was where I saw what I describe in the song of that name. We’ve lived and traveled together, and after so much time, there’s an innate knowing of how the other person will play or approach a song, and what we want from one another.

Teething Veils band photo 1
Photo by Claire Packer

I met Hannah fifteen years ago as a fan of her band School, and we traveled around in similar circles for a few years before we started to play together in Teething Veils. It was really important to me to birth these songs with an intimate group of close friends, to manage the emotional nuance. I’ve known Kelly as a fan of Near Northeast, whose records we’ve released on Etxe and who have recorded at Empress of Sound. Her whole band collaborated with Teething Veils for a live version of “Constellations,” the 26-minute title song of our second LP, to close out the Etxe ten-year anniversary showcase at Capital Fringe in January of 2018. Kelly and I have played together here and there, and I don’t think that anyone else would have played those violin parts in quite that way.

We had just wrapped up the recording of Canopy of Crimson when I met Hester. I recorded the vocals on February 6, and I met Hester when their band The OSYX played at Comet on February 20. We’ve been playing music closely from day one, and Teething Veils organically worked its way into the equation. The four of us—Kevin, Craig, Hester, and me—recorded our first Teething Veils song together, “I’m Waiting for My Love to Sleep,” as a part of a companion album of response songs to the songs of Erin Frisby’s Ecdysis album, the proceeds of which go to Casa Ruby.

Teething Veils

@roXplosion #dcrocks #a99ii

Hester: When my OSYX bandmate Erin Frisby put me in touch with Greg, who was looking for a collaborator, I immediately hopped online and listened to the Teething Veils music that was available at the time; I was completely enchanted with Sea and Sun. It immediately became one of my favorite albums, and I was eager to work with Greg. We performed our first show together as Teething Veils 10 days after we met. I feel like that sums up a lot of the dynamic; Greg is not just an incredibly gifted musician, but a remarkably kind person, and I’m very grateful to join this band, which feels like an entity unto itself, that we each get to be a limb of.

2) Let’s talk about Canopy of Crimson. Each Teething Veils album is special, but Canopy of Crimson feels even more so. I can’t help but see it as the culmination of your life’s work as an artist up until this point. Everything about it – the quality of the songwriting, the lyrics, the performances and the sheer beauty of the different sounds – just coalesces beautifully. I feel like this album is your masterpiece. How do you see this album in relation to your past work and how do you feel about the finished result?

Greg: Thank you. It may not be for me to judge how Canopy of Crimson relates with our past work, but it is one of the first bodies of music I’d play for a person who hasn’t heard any of it and asks to know what it’s like. The songs overtly relate with dire life states, and one aspect of the writing that was really different was how I wrote with the guidance of Erin Frisby, through our voice classes, in how she shone a flashlight along the path for me to walk, in a very light-handed and careful way. It would be hard to overstate the importance of this to the shape that this album took on. Her teaching reached into my lungs and extracted elements of those songs that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise found.

Teething Veils

@roXplosion #dcrocks #a99ii

3) What was it like working with Don Godwin at Tonal Park on this record? Did you go into the recording with a specific vision in mind for how you wanted it to sound? I think it’s the best sounding Teething Veils record to date.

Greg: Thank you. I knew I wanted to record with Don as soon as I heard Anna Connolly’s After Thoughts LP. I’d heard those songs live on countless occasions, and the relationship between how Anna’s songs are live and how they sound on those recordings is comparable to how I wanted our songs to be on Canopy of Crimson. There wasn’t much of an aesthetic reference for Canopy of Crimson, not even Anna’s record, though I did want for the sonic landscape to have a similar sort of expansive desolation as Lucinda Williams’ Ghosts of Highway 20.

Teething Veils started out very much as something that I wanted to record at home, first to cassette eight-track, and later to the 16-track machine that I use at Empress of Sound. I generally don’t care at all about fidelity, but when we recorded Sea and Sun, I did want a fidelity that I couldn’t get at home, and I also wanted trusted people to be the ones turning the knobs, so we went into Inner Ear with Kevin Erickson and Hugh McElroy, and they really performed phenomenally on that album.

For Canopy of Crimson, Don also facilitated a great spirit and comfort in the room where we recorded, at Tonal Park. Between Don’s energy as a person and skills as an engineer, the band playing all together live, and Erin being in the studio to align my approach to the singing, I feel we carved out the appropriate space to birth these songs.

Teething Veils CoC Painting HiRes
Album cover by Adam de Boer, photographed by Rafa Cruz

4)  The album cover of Canopy of Crimson features remarkable artwork by Adam de Boer, another of your frequent collaborators. What can you tell us about your collaboration and what, if any, guidance did you give him to create his work for Canopy of Crimson?

Greg: Adam has painted every piece of Teething Veils artwork from day one. We’ve been friends since the time that he was still living in D.C., and on the day before he moved away, he mentioned being really interested in making album art. He made three paintings for Velorio, and one each for Constellations, Dinner Date, Sea and Sun, and Canopy of Crimson. There are parts of the process that are similar for each record, and there are parts that are different every time according to the needs of the music. For each record, I share sketches of the songs with Adam, before the band records the proper album; it’s mostly either a keyboard or a guitar, and singing, raw and skeletal. I avoid guiding his process, other than sharing the content of the music with him.

For Velorio, Adam visited the hotel in Madrid where parts of the narrative take place, and found relief etchings on the facade of the building, which I hadn’t noticed when I was there, and he used those as a jumping-off point. For Constellations, he was starting to practice batik-making, which he learned in Indonesia while studying the visual arts related with his Dutch-Indonesian heritage. Dinner Date was explicitly related with the Marisol sculpture of the same name. Sea and Sun I had written mainly for Marisol, and she was alive when we started recording, and she died before the album was released, and I feel that Adam’s cover art relates heavily with the moment that she transitioned into death. For Canopy of Crimson, I only shared with him a single image, though I feel that he embodied the heartspace of the songs and painted what he heard. Adam is as much of a part of this band as any of us are.

Teething Veils

@roXplosion #dcrocks #a99ii

5) I wanted to ask you about the Teething Veils live show, which has gone through multiple iterations through the years. Personally, I have always found Teething Veils performances to have a “cleansing effect” on me – with your songs feeling like a form of emotional catharsis. Is that how it is for you as a performer? What do you hope audience members feel and experience when they see a Teething Veils show, either live or in a virtual context?

Greg: Thank you. For a band that was born in a bedroom, I do depend heavily on playing the music live to understand it. Playing music is a privilege, and I’m grateful for any one person who lends their ear to us for any length of time. My ideal scenario is that a person engages with a song as a living thing, responding however comes naturally. We’re fortunate to play in rooms where people are willing to respond.

Hester: When I listen to Teething Veils’ previous albums, I often keenly long to have been there when they were created, recorded, and performed, with their lush, questing instrumentation and earnest, quizzical vocals. I was blown away when I began playing with Greg and he was so open to me bringing my own interpretation and touches to these songs, especially considering how deeply personal this album is and how carefully and delicately all of Teething Veils’ songs are constructed.

But collaborating with Greg, I’ve come to understand how alive and always growing they are. The songs aren’t carvings set permanently in their shapes; they’re like cats with their own minds, who let you pick them up sometimes and other times wiggle out of your arms and show you where they want to go. Sometimes the feelings they create as I play, and the notes I play to express those feelings, surprise me. It’s a joyful, special treat to send these feelings toward other people’s hearts, and see reflected back the movements the song has made inside them. I miss those moments of live interaction.

October_2020

Check out Teething Veils performance on the We Fought the Big One Livestream show on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 from 10pm – midnight EST. It’s happening on the WFTBO channel on Twitch: www.twitch.tv/WFTBO

You can listen to and purchase Teething Veils music on Bandcamp. Check out the Etxe Records website here, ‘Like’ Teething Veils on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

5 Questions: Katie Alice Greer

WFTBO kag photo 2

Katie Alice Greer is a force of nature.

As the charismatic vocalist for Priests, Katie commanded the stage with a fire, energy and unpredictability that ensured every live performance was seared into your memory.

When the band announced an indefinite hiatus at the end of last year, it prompted fans to ask — what’s next? Katie decided to opt for a major life change by moving to the West Coast. The passion that always ignited Katie on stage continued to drive her to create and explore in her new environs.

Since moving from DC to L.A. in the early part of the year, Katie has released two EPs and a stunning cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic, “Play With Fire.” She is currently working on what promises to be a must-hear solo album — no doubt infused with the wild creative abandon that has long been her hallmark both in Priests and in her own previous solo material.

With Katie playing a special livestream show for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Aug. 7th via Twitch, I took the opportunity to ask her new life in L.A., her evolution as a solo artist and how she is staying positive in a world that is trying its best to keep us all from feeling that way. Read on…

1) You relocated to L.A. not long before the COVID-19 pandemic. What prompted your move and what has L.A. life been like for you in these strange and scary times?

KAG: I moved across the country and got about 2 weeks of what was previously normal Los Angeles life before we all started staying home. It’s been a strange time. I moved here to continue making music. I love DC and now I love Los Angeles too. It’s a great city for what I’m working on these days because so many other people are working in creative fields. My life is probably similar to most other people’s these days– I tend to stay home, I mask up when I go out for groceries or a jog. I keep in touch with people by phone. I try to spend time in nature regularly because it really brings me a sense of peace. I also try to meditate once a day. And I’ve been making a lot of music. I just try to keep in mind that reality is really stressful right now– for everybody — and do whatever I can to not add to it for myself or anybody else. Let’s go easy on ourselves. And try to have fun when it’s possible.

2) Even though Priests is on indefinite hiatus, you still run Sister Polygon with some of the members. What has that experience been like, especially with you now living on the other coast?

KAG: It’s mostly the same, really. Daniele and I complement each other well. Daniele’s brain works in ways mine never can.  We’ve slowed down our release schedule for the time being. I’ll have some news soon about a new imprint I’ve been working on.

KAG – “Play With Fire” (Rolling Stones cover)

3) I’m curious to learn more about your creative process as a solo artist versus being in a band. You released an inspired cover of the Rolling Stones “Play With Fire” in February and two EPs in March. How do you see the way you make your own music evolving now that you don’t have a full-time band as well?

KAG: Limitation and restriction are essential for how I make stuff. I love making music by myself as much as I love making it with other people. By myself, the limitations are very technical. I’m not a great musician. I’m not being self-deprecating, it isn’t my strong suit. I don’t care that much. Not that I don’t respect musicianship, if anything I deeply respect it and just know it’s not ‘my role,’ I write songs. I know my way around the instruments I need, and can usually have more proficient friends play parts I write, if need be. I usually incorporate the recording process into the songwriting, instead of writing the song first, and then recording. Recording, for me, is like an instrument, and definitely the one I’m most proficient in. But I mostly consider myself a songwriter and maybe a producer, depending on the project, and a performer. With others, the restrictions are determined by the group. What fits in the center of the Venn diagram of the different interests of those involved? I really love that as well. I’ve been writing with a few friends during quarantine, sending tracks back and forth. I love that whatever we come up with sounds unique to the collaboration, and not necessarily like something either party would write solo.

I’d like to finish the record I’m writing and release it. I was hoping to put a live band together out here in Los Angeles before covid-19 struck! Maybe someday we’ll be able to perform for live audiences again and play music with others. I would definitely want to be playing live shows with a band for most of the new material I’m writing.

WFTBO kag photo 1

4) What’s your take on livestreams? Has it been difficult to adjust to performing for a virtual audience?

KAG: This will be my first where I’m playing music, so I don’t know yet. We hosted an SPR variety show a couple times at the beginning of the pandemic so I have a little experience as a livestream host. I thought it was really fun and started getting the hang of it, like compiling news analysis to read between guests and stuff, but it was super time-consuming and I’ve often had a hard time prioritizing my own work and realized this was continuing that pattern. I like the idea of connecting with people from the comfort of my home. I’m interested to see how it changes my performance. It seems hard to feel stage fright staring at myself in a phone, but I imagine I’ll feel a little silly which is fine.

5) These are dark and scary times we are living in for a multitude of reasons. When you look at the state of our world, is there anything that gives you hope for the future?

KAG: I have a hard time with this one. Some days I read the news and just feel really, really bad. I’ve been reading a lot of political theorists from the past and in different parts of the world, seeing how their thoughts and experiences navigated them through tough times. I have a feeling I go to demonstrations for the same reason people go to their house of worship if religious. I feel so deeply moved by people coming together. I’ve seen so much thoughtfulness and concern for others when I’m out marching. People keeping enough distance, wearing masks, handing out masks to others, hand sanitizer, snacks. Feeling my own sense of personal politics evolve is always exciting to me, and I really love seeing it in my friends too. It’s certainly strengthened my resolve in my own political beliefs. I am deeply moved by the number of people who have surveyed the toxicity of our reality and instead of giving up, spitting in the face of evil and cruelty and saying, “hell no.” We’re in a renaissance of social movement— labor resistance, human rights and environmental protection. It is truly profound to see people organizing to create a reality they actually want to be a part of. I’m not usually a person who puts much stock in electoral politics, but we have to consider how completely eroded our houses of government have become by decades of electing lawmakers to look out for corporate interest instead of people. So I am also right now inspired by the work of organizations like Justice Democrats, and the kinds of candidates they’ve so far successfully gotten into office. I want to see more Cori Bushes in Congress in the next few years, and I’ll do whatever I can to help make that happen.

Listen to and purchase Katie’s music on her Bandcamp page, follow her on Twitter and Instagram. And catch her WFTBO livestream show Friday, Aug. 7th at 10pm EST via: www.twitch.tv/WFTBO

august2020

5 Questions: Luke Stewart

Luke Stewart_hut-x_039

Luke Stewart is one busy musician.

The multi-instrumentalist splits his time between a dizzying number of bands. So many, in fact, that trying to keep up with them all would prove challenging for even the most ardent Discogs contributor.

From free jazz and “punk jazz” to drone and ambient and even electronic music and indie rock, Luke’s vast discography reveals the interconnectivity between genres and sub-genres that are viewed all too often through silos.

How is it that one musician can have such a prodigious output – both from a recording and live performance standpoint — and cover so many different styles?

The answer may lie in the one thread that runs through all of Luke’s work: a creative restlessness and desire to connect through pushing sonic boundaries.

As if his music projects don’t keep him busy enough, Luke is also an events organizer, radio DJ and writer. In recent months, Luke has been the driving force behind a number of livestream performances, most recently at Rhizome.

With Luke set to play a special livestream show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, June 5th, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions via e-mail. As you can see below, our interview covers everything from what drives him creatively to his thoughts on the DC music scene’s role in fighting institutional racism and white privilege. Read on!

Luke_16804148

1) You are a multi-instrumentalist, a radio producer, a writer and an events organizer, most recently with Rhizome. You also play in a TON of different bands. Clearly, you are someone who lives and breathes creativity. I’m curious to know – what drives you?

Luke: The motivation to explore and be in tuned with myself, my family, and those around me. The journey of exploring the history and legacies of the Music, and creating with that in mind.

2) Luke, one of the things I admire most about you is how engaged and supportive you are with the different communities that make up the larger DC music scene. As someone who is not only a person of color, but a prolific musician who is connected to so many different black and brown artists, what has this scary and uncertain time been like for you?

Luke: Yes I have been lucky to be able to interact with and support scenes all over the place. For what I do, the community is not DC confined. Its worldwide.

Luke_Works_cover_0012992149_10

3) DC’s music scene has a long history of protest, fighting for equality and combating injustice. What role do you see our local music scene having today in fighting back against institutionalized racism and Trumpism, while raising awareness about white privilege? Or maybe I should instead ask – what role would you like it to have?

Luke: Its a difficult thing for me to explain because it might be complex. DC has continuously changed since I’ve been active in music. Virtually none of the people I started out with are living in DC anymore, even playing music anymore. Very few of the people I saw on the scene even 5 or 6 years ago still live in DC or even play music.
When you ask about institutionalized racism, in the context of music, we have to think about the racism that has been institutionalized in DC’s long history of protest, fighting for equality, and combating justice. Its a microcosm in many ways of the contradictory nature of the non-profit industrial complex. THIS IS DC. Everywhere is affected by the mentality of government.  It establishes the social dynamic and how people even interact. That’s why sometimes I honestly feel discouraged at how distracted the scene can be. But I am proud of a lot of the work that has been done and hope that one day DC can be the truly radical city it needs to be.

4) It’s not just the sheer number of bands you play in that makes you an impressive musician, it’s the scope of styles. Six Six, your project with Anthony Pirog, is on the abstract ambient side, while Blacks’ Myths could be characterized as “punk jazz” for lack of a better description, then there’s your bass and saxophone work in indie rock collective Laughing Man, your electronic music with bands like Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind, and your own solo work. And I’m just scratching the surface. How did you get so good at flitting back and forth between such disparate styles and modes of music?

Luke: Just being open. Not limiting yourself.

Luke_16835892

5) One of the few bright spots during this frightening time are the livestream shows being hosted by musicians such as yourself. What has it been like for you to make the leap to playing virtually – and how important have these shows become to you as a source of connection?

Luke: Firstly, a Livestream is NOT a concert. I think it is useful to think of the platform as a singular thing, completely separate from the experience of going to a venue and seeing a concert. With that being said, I think there are numerous creative possibilities with livestreaming, and I feel encouraged and inspired to incorporate it into the things I do.

Listen to and purchase Luke’s music on bandcamp. Check out his solo record “Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier” here, Blacks’ Myths (his bass and drums duo with percussionist Warren Crudup) I and II, and Six Six, his ambient collaboration with Anthony Pirog, here

While you’re at it, spend some time visiting the excellent Atlantic Rhythms bandcamp page. And check out Luke’s personal website and his CapitalBop page.

And don’t miss Luke’s livestream set for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, which can be viewed online at: https://www.facebook.com/wftboDC/

june2020 - Copy

5 Questions: Insect Factory

Jeff Barsky selfie

In many ways, the spectral drones and ambient textures that guitarist and sound guru Jeff Barsky conjures up as Insect Factory are tailor-made for these times.

The music of Insect Factory forces us to slow down, reflect and focus our attention in a different way — much like the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Insect Factory invites listeners to push the pause button on their hurried existence so they can lose themselves in an immersive sonic world that is both meditative and atmospheric.

In March, Insect Factory released a three track EP, “Distancing,” that perfectly encapsulates why Jeff’s compositions are so well suited for this strange experiment of social isolation we are all participating in.

The fact that Jeff has continued to make music as Insect Factory while taking an active role in some of DC’s most potent bands, speaks volumes (no pun intended – really!) about his commitment to his art.

With WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE continuing to hold monthly music listening events in a livestreaming format, we have invited Insect Factory to perform a special set for our Friday, May 1st show. We couldn’t be more excited!

I got in touch with Jeff to learn more about what it’s like to make and perform his music in this strange new era. Check out our interview below…

You’ve been making music as Insect Factory for over 10 years, even as you’ve played an active role in other noteworthy bands like Mock Identity (RIP), Time Is Fire, and most recently Bed Maker. Would it be fair to say that Insect Factory scratches a creative itch that your other projects do not?

Jeff: Yes – it does, but maybe not in the obvious ways that might be the easiest to grab onto. While I do have collaborators, Insect Factory is driven by me. I’m not interested in new pedals, new far out sounds – not interested in being the loudest, the noisiest, the quietest – those extremes aren’t interesting to me. I just really approach this as being a guitar player and trying to express or share some type of meditation that hopefully reaches a hypnotic level for people so that we can reflect. Sometimes I am an audience member to myself and allow myself to see where it will go.

Playing songs with other projects, because of my style of music making – with a lot of improvisation and freedom and looseness – aren’t incredibly different. But from a more general standpoint, it’s nice that this project can start and stop whenever I feel like it. It exists during performances and then disappears. When my bands are in busier or more demanding times, I tend to do Insect Factory less.

JeffB_noisefloorphotographyIF(photo by noise floor photography)

My favorite description of Insect Factory’s sound comes from an interview you did with Washington City Paper several years ago. You said, “I think that Insect Factory is like taking a pop song and slowing it way down so that a second lasts for 20 minutes.” It’s this idea of slowing things down to reveal hidden sounds and the spaces in between — something Insect Factory does so well. But it also touches on the fact that you’re a musician who plays experimental music who isn’t trying to willfully distance himself from the elements of pop music, even though Insect Factory is pretty far removed from it. How do you see it?

Jeff: I remember that interview. I still see it this way. Pop music isn’t something to run from. It’s not far from what I’m doing at all. As far as “influence” goes, I don’t really think we control what influences us as much as we may sometimes think we do. I think our brains are probably conditioned greatly to this western idea of resolution in art – with books and movies and music – and even listening to some far out experimental music, we probably seek out chords or melodies or notes that resolve or ideas or motifs that resolve in some fashion. Textures can resolve. As can dissonance or ways that we use timing or rhythm or volume. And I think this is related to pop music, which frequently wears “resolution” on its sleeve in a way that other forms do not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still unconsciously seek out that feeling where we can find it or grasp onto it.

Jeff_a1703811121_10

Insect Factory released a three track EP in March called “Distancing.” Even though the tracks were recorded in 2019, they strike me as perfectly suited for these strange and scary times we’re in. The three tracks on offer – “Warm Clouds,” “Slow Motion Bloom,” and “Politics of Distance” are all very different from each other, with “Politics of Distance” sounding especially alien and foreboding. What can you tell us about recording these pieces last year and having them recontextualized for these COVID-19 times?

Jeff: The sounds of the tracks weren’t really meant particularly for these times. I tend to just record hours and hours of music, and then go back to see what fits well together. I don’t really hit “record” with the intention of making something releasable. I don’t really know why I picked those three, or what seemed to flow to my ears with them all. It probably just represented a need or feeling I had, and the context of later March was different from now – there was more “newness” to this situation in my mind. Even though there is still obviously a lot of uncertainty. Which is maybe why I picked tracks that felt disconnected in some way. I’m not sure.

PSI_95371913_2784642671756951_1150734739187957760_n

You recently participated in a compilation of alternative music being made by musicians all over the world under quarantine. What can you tell us about that?

Jeff: Campbell Kneale wrote to me and asked me to contribute to this comp. He lives in New Zealand and is responsible for decades of beautiful sonic explorations. One of his many projects, Birchville Cat Motel, released probably over 30 or 40 records of gorgeous droney music: https://campbellkneale.bandcamp.com/album/chi-vampires

The artists are of the noisier variety and the comp includes many friends and people I’ve shared bills with in the past: Howard Stelzer, Brendan Murray, Rambutan, RST (who shared a split 7″ with Insect Factory 8 or 9 years ago). Howie Stelzer is also contributing some really, really cool sounds to the new Insect Factory LP.

JeffB_picbypeteduvall(photo by Pete Duvall)

For my last question, I wanted to touch on a recent Facebook post of yours that I especially appreciated. You said that you enjoy seeing all the social media sharing of images of favorite records and films, but did not like the instruction to just show the image and not share comments about them. You said what we need now is more connection, not less. I could not agree more. What’s it been like for you to connect with others at a bizarre and uncertain time of shared isolation? Do you see any positives coming from this weird experiment we’re all in together?

Jeff: Thanks for appreciating that. Online connection isn’t really connection without the people there being able to really, truly connect. Which happens in person. One of the first things I did after this presidential abomination several years ago was to delete Emoji off of my phone. I just felt like that could be one small personal contribution to help people hear each other. Not sending a picture of a sad face or happy face, but to actually do the work to express more. What’s more salient – sending a picture of a confused Emoji face, or saying, “This thing happening in the world or in that article is confusing to me. Let’s talk.” I have a lot to say as a school teacher about positives right now. And I use “positives” as a way to talk about how we can move forward after the virus, but not as something synonymous with bringing joy or good. It has ripped the band-aid off of our understanding of pervasive inequity. Specifically economic and racial disparity during the virus, the inequity of access to food, technology for school, personal space, employment opportunities, and it goes on and on and on. Kids of color or lower economic status worry far more frequently about their parent still going into work, yet this worry and risk is not shared by all. I think that more people are waking up to this. Corona did not create these conditions; these conditions were always present and right now we are shining a flashlight on it. Donate to organizations like http://www.Mannafood.orghttp://marylandcasa.org/, or whatever you can find. There are people and organizations doing the work.

Could not agree more Jeff. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful interview.

Catch Insect Factory’s set at the WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE livestream show on Friday, May 1st at 10pm EST. You can view the show on the official WFTBO Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wftboDC/

Listen to and purchase Insect Factory recordings on Bandcamp, follow Jeff on Twitter and don’t forget to “Like” Insect Factory on Facebook.

 

5 Questions: Pen Palindrome

Pen Palindrome1

Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. The coronavirus has transformed our world with all three.

It’s vital, of course, that all of us play our part — practice social distancing, donate to nonprofits helping to respond, look for ways to volunteer and offer support to loved ones, friends and strangers alike. But just as vital is keeping ourselves psychologically and emotionally healthy. One of the best ways to do this is listen to more music — specifically, the music of DC singer-songwriter Pen Palindrome.

Pen Palindrome has become something of a crutch for me these past few weeks. The talented singer-songwriter, aka Ava Mirzadegan, specializes in crafting delicate songs of introspection, wistfulness and longing. There is a sadness that pervades her music, and yet I find her songs to be strangely uplifting.

In these scary and strange times, Pen Palindrome has helped me find my center.

When I was faced with the dilemma of how to move forward with WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE’s 16-year anniversary celebration, I knew exactly the right artist to play for us. Thankfully, Ava was up for it. She will be our first livestream performer via our now monthly Zoom music showcases.

The Marx Cafe, like most bars and restaurants, has lost its main source of income and is struggling to pay its bills. A GoFundMe campaign has been launched, and a big focus of the 16-year anniversary showcase — and the next few — will be supporting the Marx Cafe to keep it running.

I had an opportunity to speak with Ava about her journey as a songwriter, and how this new phase of social distancing has affected her and her ability to make art (and a living). Read on…

1) Can you tell us a little about your journey as a music maker? When did you start writing songs?

Ava: My musical journey began when I was a kid, starting piano around age 6 and constantly singing with my older sister in the house and then eventually in school choirs. We used to write songs halfheartedly, and throughout my youth I wrote to process emotions. In high school I started to take writing a bit more seriously, writing songs on both guitar and piano. But it wasn’t until college that I actually felt good enough about my writing to share it with anyone. I spent a long time wishing I could write better or trying to figure out my style.

2) I love that you once described your music as “ambient rock that you can take home to meet you family.” How important is it to you to make music that connects with listeners outside the DIY underground music community?

Ava: I love that description too! Honestly it’s extremely important to me because although I’m deeply invested in the DIY community now, I was a little late to it. I have loved non-commercial music for a long time but the first time I attended a house show was in college. It just goes to show that it can be a little scary to engage with even the things you love if you’re not feeling like you fit into that space.

3) This might sound strange, but as melancholic and introspective as your songs are, I find them to be very comforting, especially during the scary and uncertain times we’re in. Listening to “Anna I’m Sorry” is like wrapping myself in a warm sonic blanket. Do you find comfort in your own music?

Ava: Sometimes! I generally find the most comfort in the process of making them, but I’d be lying or a bad musician if I said my own music wasn’t comforting to me. The whole point for me is to create the thing I’ve been searching for sonically, so I always try to write what would feel good to listen back to. (Also, thanks for saying you find comfort in it! That’s so sweet and I’m so glad to provide even a sliver of solace.)

4) Can you share with us how the COVID-19 crisis has affected you? And importantly, how people can support you?

Ava: I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family, and while I’ve been working more on music-related things, I’ve been able to work part-time and live at home while writing, recording, playing, and hosting shows. However, all of my music gigs, including a tour that I booked myself, have been cancelled. And my supplementary gigs have also been cancelled due to the virus.

I was planning to move back out on my own this summer, but now that I am without any income, I’ll be looking at an even longer time getting back on my feet. Supporting me could be through listening/buying my music on bandcamp, supporting the record label I just started with a friend called Oof Records (we have our first comp tape out now!), telling your friends about my music, or booking me to play virtual shows. The more I am able to keep myself involved in music while I’m holed up in my house, the better I will personally fare through all of this.

Pen Pallindrome_84086509_1215395455490973_905809624928616448_n

5) Lastly, it looks like we may be in this livestreaming phase for several months if not longer. How do you feel that our connections with others are now taking place in the virtual world? Do you see any upside?

Ava: I’ve spent quite a bit of time having long-distance friendships with all of my dearest friends in NY and also with my family abroad. But while I’m used to the digital correspondences, what I’m not used to is the additional emotional weight hanging over all of us. Everyone I know is having a hard time, and it shows.

While it’s lovely to spend time with friends, and even to watch my favorite musicians live-stream, I think it’s also important to prioritize time spent outside. I try to go on a walk every day and spend even a short amount of time away from my electronics, because I tend to feel dissociative when i live through a screen.

The upside is definitely that I’m finally talking with people I’ve always wanted to spend time or collaborate with and we may actually have room in our schedules now to do it. But I’m doing my best to not put too much on my plate just because I’m unable to socialize. It’s important that we recognize and honor that this is a heavy time. It’s not vacation or an artist retreat… people are dying and losing their jobs constantly.

There is hope, however, and joy to found in all of it. So I’m grateful for everyone still making art and choosing the light.

Thank you very much Ava!

Support Ava by purchasing her music through the Pen Palindrome Bandcamp page, and don’t forget to “Like” her on Facebook and follow her and her label on Instagram.

Don’t forget to check out Pen Palindrome’s live set tonight via the WFTBO Sweet 16 livestream party. For more details, including the Zoom code, visit the FB event page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

YouTube Mix: March 2020

YellowMagicOrchestra

Japanese electronic pop weirdness? Check. Parisian pop pleasures? Yup. Dark and moody RnB electro dripping with thick analogue synths? We got you covered. And then there’s the more avant-garde stuff like Henry Cow and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Plus, we’ve got rampaging lo-fi punk rock in the form of Erase Errata. Something for everyone then. Or nothing for someone.

We proudly present this month’s WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE 10-track YouTube Playlist with commentary courtesy of Rick Taylor and guest dj Richard P. Happy listening!

5 tracks from WFTBO DJ Rick Taylor…

Yellow Magic Orchestra — “Behind the Mask” (1979, Alfa)

Rick: “Japan’s answer to Kraftwerk!” is usually how Yellow Magic Orchestra is described. And to be fair, there’s more than an smidgen of everyone’s favorite German robots in the YMO sound. Regardless, this is hugely compelling stuff.

Miharu Koshi — “L’amour Toujours” (1983, Yen Records)

Rick: A rare example of a cover that’s better than the original. French synth pop iconoclasts Telex may have written “L’amour Toujours” but Japan’s Miharu Koshi perfected it.  The more I hear Miharu Koshi’s work in the 80s, the more I want to keep listening.

Clio — “T’as vu” (2019, Un Plan Simple)

Rick: A delectable slice of French indie pop that glides with an effortless cool that only the French can do. Addictive and wonderful.

Psychic Mirrors — “Midnight Special” (2013, Peoples Potential Unlimited)

Rick: Haunting and moody RnB for late-night listening. Psychic Mirrors is a fantastic 10 piece band from Miami that somehow ended up making a record for a boutique DC-based label called Peoples Potential Unlimited.

Nite Jewel — “What Did He Say” (2008, Gloriette Records)

Rick: It’s hard to believe this record is already 12 years old! Rather than offer my own comment, I will simply point to something one YouTube user said: “this sounds like something you’d hear on some forgotten radio station driving through the middle of nowhere at 3am.”

5 Tracks from WFTBO Guest DJ Richard P…

As our favorite British comedians once said, “and now for something completely different…”

Henry Cow_A-282968-1448317222-8848

Henry Cow — “War” (1975, Virgin)

Richard: Henry Cow was one of the first bands that worked towards eradicating my conception of musical genres, combining modern classical, free jazz and rock into anti-capitalist prog noise. This song includes some of my favorite vocals by periodic collaborator Dagmar Krause.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 — “A Lamb’s Lullaby” (1996, Communion Label)

Richard: This poppy and hypnotic song is good choice for adding noise to one’s next Christmas mix.

Wild Billy Childish And The Musicians Of The British Empire – “Snack Crack” (2007, Damaged Goods)

Richard: Astonishingly prolific multidisciplinary artist Billy Childish has produced similar lo-fi garage punk in a wide array of projects, but this anti-consumer culture pop song is continually relevant.

Cerberus Shoal – “Rain” (1995, Stella White)

Richard: Melodic and driving post-punk from before this band became folkified, teamed up with Alan Bishop, or evolved into the Gira-produced Fire on Fire.

Erase Errata – “Giant Hans” (2006, Kill Rock Stars)

Like what you’re listening to and want more? Check out WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE every first Friday at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC 20009)

March2020