5 Questions: Replicant Eyes

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DC musicians Dan Gonzalez and Alejandro Castano are under no illusions about the world we live in. It’s a frightening, harrowing place. And things are only getting worse.

Replicant Eyes, the duo’s post-industrial dark wave project, seems almost tailor-made to reflect today’s increasingly bleak times.

As the band’s self-titled debut album on Exte Records demonstrates, Replicant Eyes weave horrifying soundscapes from Alejandro’s spidery guitar lines and brooding synth pulses, capped by Dan’s vampiric croon. It’s a devastating collage of sounds that reminds me what I love so much about bands like Fields of the Nephilim, Sisters of Mercy and obscure 12 inches from Wax Trax Records — this is music that drips with atmosphere and nervy energy. It gives you a feeling of dread and yet, seems strangely cathartic.

Goth is often dismissed as faux fashion — a contrived subculture of despair and decay to make angst-ridden teens feel better about themselves. But given that the leader of the free world tears immigrant children from parents and locks them in cages and abuses power on a daily basis, the question becomes who is really contrived? The “goths” or the so-called “normals” who continue to pretend all is well?

It’s reassuring to know that Replicant Eyes are not ignoring real world horrors, but reflecting them in its music. With the band set to play a special live show at Friday’s WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW), I took the opportunity to get in touch with Dan and Alejandro to find out more about this shadowy band…

1) How did Replicant Eyes form?

Dan: Alejandro and I met and became friends through our current office job. It was then I was introduced to and became a fan of his project, The Red Fetish. I told him if I ever gathered the courage to be involved in a music project, he was the person I wanted to work with. A few years later, over drinks, my lowered inhibitions led me to finally say ‘fuck it, let’s do this.’ Thankfully, he agreed.

Alejandro: Dan took me out for drink about a year after Non Sequitur, when The Red Fetish quartet was winding down. He let me know that he really loved Temporal Joke, Vol. I and wanted to sing over stuff like it.

A couple of months later we started writing songs together and something immediately became clear to me: Dan is a force of nature. I decided that I need to do everything to get him in front of an audience.

2) How did you arrive at the Replicant Eyes sound?

Dan: Replicant Eyes is unabashedly influenced by a bevy of various artists. Alejandro will certainly have his own to discuss, but mine range from Nine Inch Nails, Suicide, Siouxsie and The Banshees, to Laurie Anderson and all things Mike Patton. Through our mutual love of goth and industrial things, we immediately decided we’d incorporate synths, drum machine, and guitar into our sound.

Alejandro: We decided pretty early on to embrace the synthetic nature of our project: that the computer is a fully fledged member that carries and constrains what we can / should do. The goal is to have the human elements be as human as possible to balance out the computer, which is as inhuman as possible, rather than try to make the human elements robotic or the computer elements humanized.

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3) What is your process like for writing music? Does it vary from track to track?

Dan: Alejandro can talk more about the creation of these musical compositions. He is the brilliant mind that birthed these fantastic electronic soundscapes. We collaborate once he has created original sketches. We then talk about different sounds we want to incorporate or tweaks to make. After which, Alejandro improvises guitar parts, while I vocalize stream of consciousness until something catches. From there the lyric writing process begins for me.

Alejandro: We’ve tried a couple of different approaches. The one that works best for us is the following: we talk about music we like and then improvise the bones of a song together, in a practice room. Songs evolve from this, sometimes arduously and significantly, but sometimes not. We wrote and recorded “The Truth” from the first album in a single sitting, for example.

4) You released a self-titled record last year. What was that experience like for you and are you pleased with how it turned out?

Dan: Album one had a very DIY approach. We got a great boost on the mastering side from Jake Reid (Screen Vinyl Image, Alcian Blue, Secret Wilderness) while the songs were all recorded by us in our practice space and mixed by Alejandro at home. We incorporated the found sounds of opening/closing tape decks, CD disc trays, and dropping a needle on a dusty vinyl record. We wanted those machine-like sounds to create cohesion to the overall mood conveyed from track to track. We were pleasantly surprised how quickly and easily the album fell into place.

Alejandro: It was a pretty effortless album to make. The songs came together quickly. Considering how carelessly we made it, Dan’s found sounds of outdated music machines (like turntables, tape decks, and CD players) make the album feel cohesive and whole.

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5) Let’s talk about your live show. Is there a certain feeling or atmosphere that you seek to capture live that’s different when recording?

Dan: The live show is more of a visceral experience. We can crank up the volume and turn out a barrage of sound. I’m a big fan of David Lynch, and the Black Lodge he created within the Twin Peaks universe. Performance art begins with setting a mood, so the use of accent lighting, strobe, and fog lends itself to that. I have trouble standing still when I perform and like to jump off stage when possible. I enjoy getting right in the crowd and disrupting the otherwise shoegaze sensibility displayed by most in attendance. I derive no pleasure from simply standing still and watching you watch me. I really want to connect with the audience in an emotional and frenetic way.

Alejandro: When I said, earlier, that Dan is a force of nature, I meant that he is a madman. Part of the reason that we decided to lean into the artificial nature of the drum machine is because Dan cannot be contained. When I said that we try to make the human elements of the music as human as possible, it is not to balance out the robotic elements of the computer – we need to make the computer robotic to balance out the madman on the microphone.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Dan jumping through walls, and biting microphones in half. I’ve watched him leap over burning buildings, and glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate.

I have learned, over the years, how to fake these moments on recordings, but they can only be believed in the flesh.

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Check out Replicant Eyes on bandcamp.

And don’t miss the band’s show at WFTBO!

YouTube Playlist: Nov 2019

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Iconoclasts. We love them. No matter what particular time period they come from or new sound they devise, they all start their journey with the same question: “What if?”

For the November 2019 edition of the WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE YouTube playlist, we bring you a striking collection of tracks with some of our favorite iconoclastic music makers. From Joe Meek and Silver Apples to Fela Kuti, Herb Albert and The Monks, these visionary artists ripped it up and started again, chartering new sonic territory and inspiring others to follow suit.

Guest DJ Michael Kentoff from DC’s purveyors of avant-psych pop The Caribbean teamed up with WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE DJs Rick Taylor and Brandon Grover to curate a 15 track mix reminding us that innovation and abstract thinking knows no (genre) boundaries. Happy listening!

5 selections from WFTBO DJ Rick Taylor…

Silver Apples “Seagreen Serenade” (1969)

Rick: Even if you don’t have any context, Silver Apples are mind-blowing. The fact that you had a two man drums n’ oscillation team making such innovative music in the 60s — a time when electronic pop wasn’t even a gleam in the eye of the underground music storm — speaks to how boundless their collective imagination was. “Seagreen Serenade” is a breathtaking example of what this duo could create. By the way, the oscillator-synth contraption that you’re listening to was HOMEMADE.

Joe Meek “The Bub Light” (1959)

Rick: Has an out-of-tune piano ever sounded so glorious? “The Bub Light” was recorded in 1959 (!) for Joe Meek’s legendary “I Hear A New World” album. It pointed the way forward to much of the psychedelic sounds to come, but also pointed the way forward to more abstract ways of thinking about music. This is bold, beautiful and gloriously, wonderfully weird.

Joe Moks “Boys and Girls” (1979)

Rick: Joe Moks was the nom de plume of Nigerian music professor Josephine Mokwunyei. As “Boys and Girls” can attest, Joe had a knack for a wonky and brash Nigerian boogie style that pointed the way forward to bands like ESG. Joe Moks was recently the focus of a re-issue campaign and now her forward-thinking music can be discovered by many more discerning listeners.

Pasteur Lappe “Na Real Sekele Fo Ya” (1979)

Rick: Now this is MY kind of disco! Nicolas “Pasteur” Lappe grew up in Cameroon and became friends with Fela Kuti and other African music stars, then moved to Paris and recorded three dazzling albums with a French backing band. “Na Real Sekele Fo Ya” encapsulates what Lappe did best — this is disco at its tightest and most muscular, while still retaining the sweep that adds some emotive drama to the dance floor.

Harmonia “Watussi” (1974)

Rick: Harmonia were one of Germany’s finest “komische” acts and one of the most innovative. They were also a true super group, with Neu!’s Michael Rother teaming up with avant-electronic pioneers Moebius and Roedilius from Cluster. I have a sweet spot for the kind of rhythmic pulsing, gyrating tones and ping pong abstraction that was Harmonia’s stock in trade. Brian Eno once called them “the world’s most important rock band” and that was BEFORE he joined them as a member.

Five tracks from Guest DJ Michael Kentoff…

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Fela Kuti & Africa 70 “Pansa Pansa” (1978)

Michael: Not only does this song reveal the warped genius of Fela Kuti, the video demonstrates his swagger, sense of humor, and absolute Miles Davis-like control as a bandleader. I love everything about this performance, especially @3:00 where the percussionist fiddles with the guitar controls and Fela looks back like, “You guys got this or what?” Take about Charles In Charge! And Tony Allen is a motherfucker! Wow.

The City “Snow Queen” (1968)

Michael: Anyone who knows me knows I love my Carole King. For The Caribbean, she’s definitely a guiding light. In 1968, right after she split from Gerry Goffin and before she embarked on her solo career, she formed this group with Charles Larkey (soon to be Husband #2) and Danny Kortchmar. They made one album and this sparkly Goffin-King trinket is the airy, seductive opener. A wonderful record that sheds some light on what’s to come.

Letta Mbulu “Pula Yetla” (1967)

Michael: I discovered this from the David Axelrod comp that came out in 2005. Letta’s voice is uncommonly beautiful and the song just drapes over the mind and heart like a silk . . . drape. The marriage of Mbulu’s voice and Axelrod’s production is a delight. The entire record Letta Mbulu Sings (1967) is well worth your time.

Tengger – “Luft” (2019)

Michael: Krautrock via Seoul, South Korea. I don’t know a ton about Tengger except that they are characterized as a “Pan-Asian musical family . . . composed of couple Itta and Marquido” and, sometimes, their 7-year old son Raai. I do know I like pretty much everything I’ve heard by them.

Robert Calvert – “All the Machines Are Quiet” (1985)

Michael: I’ve heard of this guy, who was in Hawkwind for a while, for years. And he did some cool stuff with Hawkwind, but I never researched beyond that. I had no idea he was capable of something like this. This song is from the record Freq (released in 1985) – a great album recorded around the time of the UK miners’ strike (1984-1985). It contains field recordings of miners on the picket line. I don’t really have a reference point for this record I can report that it’s lovely, dark, spare synth-pop and that Calvert’s vocals are little like a cross between Peter Gabriel and Richard Butler. Unique, intimate, and strangely hooky. Where have you been hiding, O lavender-covered album?

Five tracks from WFTBO DJ Brandon Grover…

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Chrisma (Krisma) — “Lola” (Disco Inferno) (1978)

Brandon: This is Chrisma being as overtly offensive to as many traditional Italian Catholics in under 2 minutes as they possibly can. I love it.

Herb Albert — “Rotation” (1979)

Brandon: If you told me this was Tuxedomoon…

The Monks — “I Hate You” (1966)

Brandon: Covered by Mark E Smith and co. As much as I worship The Fall, the original cannot be touched.

Pere Ubu — “Heart of Darkness” (cassette version, 1976)

Brandon: No conversation about U.S. punk iconoclasts is complete without Pere Ubu. This is an early cassette version of the classic track that later appeared on the 1978 EP, “Datapanik in the Year Zero.”

Roxy Music — “The Bogus Man” (1973)

Brandon: Truly groundbreaking stuff from Roxy’s most forward-looking album.

Like what you’re hearing? Be sure to join us at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant every first Friday of the month for DC’s monthly celebration of left-of-center sounds, WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE!

November19

 

 

5 Questions: Jon Camp

Jon Camp band pic

(Photo credit: Andras Fekete)

DC finger-picking guitarist and composer Jon Camp is part of a great lineage of American Primitive Guitar players that specialize in transforming small moments into something grander.

Like his musical hero John Fahey, Camp makes music that is both intricate and subtle, with his finger-playing guitar serving as a springboard to weave in disparate sounds and influences — from drone and psychedelia to country and beyond.

Listening to the repeating circular guitar pattern on “Headwinds and Tailwinds,” the title track of Camp’s new album, I am reminded of a scene from Martin Scorsese’s film “Taxi Driver” where Robert DeNiro’s character Travis Bickle drops an alka-seltzer into a cup of water. While the camera initially “notices” the cup of water, it’s focus becomes more sustained as Bickel’s gaze at the fizzing mixture becomes all consuming. The effect is that the audience refocuses its attention on the cup and sees new things in it. Similarly, Camp uses sustained repetition to refocus the listener’s ear on a motif, adding new textures that gradually alter the original effect, while drawing the listener in closer.

Camp’s music is filled with small moments that gradually reveal a hidden power as you continue to listen.

With Jon Camp and his band set to perform a special live set on Friday, Nov. 1st at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, I took the opportunity to ask him five questions via e-mail. As you can see below, Jon has some interesting things to say about playing solo versus a full band, and the virtues of making music that requires more than passive listening…

1) There is a great tradition of finger picking guitar players in the States from John Fahey to Jack Rose to name just two legendary performers. When did you discover you had an affinity for American Primitive Guitar and wanted to offer your own unique take on it?

Jon: One night, about 25 years ago, in Lindenhurst, IL (near where I grew up), I was hanging out with a couple high school friends, and one of them, Mark Davidson, was selecting the tunes. That evening, he not only introduced me to John Fahey but to Leo Kottke, Nick Drake, and Tortoise as well. A big night for me! Mark is currently the Archives Director at the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa, so the guy knows his stuff.

I was drawn to the depth of feeling I heard in Fahey’s music, the diversity from one composition to the next, and the wide range of influences that he channeled, from Charley Patton to Bartok to Indian classical music.

My guitar teacher at the time, Doug Anderson, was a fan of this style, so he taught me a Kottke song, and I got the basic mechanics of the syncopated fingerstyle guitar approach of Kottke and Fahey and started experimenting with it from there.

I certainly have a lot of influences beyond Fahey, and I don’t explicitly say, “I’m going to play American Primitive Guitar.” But by virtue of being so heavily influenced by Fahey and choosing a fingerstyle approach to guitar, the influence is easily heard. 

Being such a fan of this style of music, it certainly is a joy to feel that I’m adding my small part to this lineage, especially in the region where Fahey grew up.

2) You’ve established yourself both as a solo performer and someone who enjoys the interplay with other musicians in a full band. How do you see these different approaches to making and performing music? Do you gravitate toward one more than the other?

Jon: They both have their merits, and I need both in my life. Most of my songs can be played solo, though not all of them can be played in a band setting. So playing solo allows me to have a wider choice of tunes to play on any given night, and there’s also an uncluttered simplicity and directness that comes through when playing solo.

That said, having others add their unique voices to some of these pieces allows them to bloom far beyond what would have been possible if just left for solo guitar. And it’s also fun playing with others. Logistically, there are pros and cons to each approach.

Headwinds Vinyl Bandcamp

3) One of the things I enjoy most about “Headwinds and Tailwinds” is its unhurried, patient approach. This is music that celebrates the beauty and majesty of small moments, with its full splendor revealed gradually. Is it fair to say you’re a musician who eschews obvious bombast in favor of the slow boil?

Jon: I appreciate you saying that. There’s more than enough bombast and inflated sense of self in the world, and it’s responsible for a lot of our problems. And I don’t find musical chest-beating to be interesting or inspiring.

I like music that reveals something new with each listen, and I hope that my music does that for others. I do care about the hook, but the subtle stuff is also gold I mine for. 

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(Photo credit: Michael Rogers)

4) What can you tell us about making Headwinds & Tailwinds? How long did it take to write, record and mix? Are you pleased with the end result? I think it sounds fantastic.

Thanks for the kind words. I’ve got a decent backlog of songs I’ve written, and for each new album, I select tunes that would fit into some coherent whole. For Headwinds & Tailwinds, I chose pieces that would be a good fit for electric fingerstyle guitar accompanied by a band. I envisioned this album being a bit more country-tinged than normal, too.

We recorded sporadically over the course of a few months with Kevin Bernsten at Developing Nations in Baltimore. All of the pieces were originally recorded live as a trio (Nick Arrivo on bass, Ryan Peterson on drums, and me on guitar). And then others added color to it (Jamie LInder on pedal steel, Kaitlin Grady on cello, Stephen Ruotsi on keys, Harvey Droke on accordion). I also overdubbed a few guitar parts and then went to DC musician Greg Svitil’s studio to overdub some hand percussion, organ, and glockenspiel.

After this, it was sent to Brad Boatright of Audioseige in Portland for mastering. Both Kevin and Brad have produced a lot of metal albums, so it’s been interesting filtering my quite non-metal music through them. It definitely works, though. Both are super-skilled, easy to work with, and have an attention to sonic detail that works well for what I do.

As a whole, I’m proud of this album. The songs have grown live since putting the album out, and there are a few tracks that I’d assemble differently if I were to do this again. But I feel I brought a solid batch of tunes to the studio, and I love what my talented musician friends brought to the sound.

5) Let’s talk about the Jon Camp live show. Do you have a certain philosophy of what you want to achieve as a live performer that’s different than say…recording in the studio?

Jon: Producer David Briggs told Neil Young when recording, “You think, you stink.” I keep that in mind especially for live shows — I do what I can to stay out of my head and to be in the moment, to really feel it. 

After a recent show, Dave Jones (the other guitarist in my band) said that we as a band were both “disciplined and free.” That perfectly summed up what I’m going for with the live stuff. There are clear compositions that we play, but there’s subtle improvisation going on within them so that they feel alive within the context they’re played and evolve from show to show.

For albums, I put a bit more polish on it in an attempt to make a proper studio album. Though for future albums, I want to find more of a happy medium between the immediacy of the live show and the polish of the albums.

Listen to and purchase Jon Camp’s music on Bandcamp, follow him on Twitter and “Like” him on Facebook.

And don’t miss Jon Camp performing with Jamie Linder at the Nov. 1, 2019 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe!

November19

 

 

YouTube Playlist: Oct 2019

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DC’s music scene — past and present — is known for producing some of the most iconoclastic and fiercely independent music makers around. Of course, it’s hard not to mention Dischord or Chuck Brown in any discussion about DC music, but as this 15-track playlist can attest, there is so much more to celebrate.

Lovingly curated by WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE co-host Rick Taylor, and special guests Paul Vodra from Hometown Sounds and JosaFeen Wells from DMV KARS, these 15 tracks cover a wide spectrum of past and present DC music makers.

If you have a sweet tooth for wildly idiosyncratic old-school tunes, Rick has got you covered. For the new school music lovers, Paul and JosaFeen’s selections speak to the breadth of talent and creativity that continues to make our nation’s capitol one of the most exciting cities for music. Happy listening…

5 old-school DC picks from Rick Taylor:

Urban Verbs — “Subways” (1980)

Urban Verbs are one of the best kept secret’s of DC’s late 70s/early 80s post-punk scene. My friend Chris Goett, who runs Etxe Records and writes songs and plays guitar in Silo Halo, gave me one of their records as a gift. The band was fronted by Roddy Frantz, brother of Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz. Supposedly Eno was a fan. One listen to “Subways” and it’s easy to see why.

Tiny Desk Unit — “Couscous” (Live at Hurrah) (1981)

Years before Bob Boilen created All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts for NPR, he played synths in a quirky DC band called Tiny Desk Unit. The band had more in common musically with late 70s/early 80s U.K. avant pop acts like Family Fodder or Flying Lizards than their District punk brethren. “Couscous” shows off just how delightfully oddball this band can be. The fact that live footage exists of them is the most wonderful of small miracles.

Velvet Monkeys — “Everything Is Right” (1982)

Before Don Fleming produced records for Sonic Youth, Screaming Trees, Teenage Fanclub and Hole, he fronted Velvet Monkeys, an arty, minimalist post-punk band from the District that sounded little like else from the District. “Everything Is Right” is the killer title track from the band’s 1982 cassette-only release. It was recorded by the late (and truly great) Skip Groff at the legendary Inner Ear Studios with Don Zientara.

Chalk Circle — “The Slap” (1981)

The raw and rhythmic sounds of Chalk Circle were courtesy of two DC musicians: Anne Bonafede and Sharon Cheslow. Drawing inspiration from bands such as The Raincoats and Liliput, as well as go-go and jazz, the duo broke down gender barriers at a time when DC’s music scene was almost universally male. “The Slap” encapsulates what I love about the band — it has a percussive, angular edge and an energetic “fight the system” attitude that is contagious.

Black Tambourine — “For Ex-Lovers Only” (1992)

Black Tambourine are one of the most influential independent bands to emerge from the DC area, particularly on a whole generation of bands equally obsessed with smart pop hooks, fuzzy guitars and cavernous reverb. The band only recorded a handful of EPs in the early 90s, but the quality of these recordings has stood the test of time. “For Ex-Lovers Only” is simply awesome — a perfect 3 minute distillation of the thunderous power and might of indie vocalist extraordinare Pam Berry and musicians Archie Moore, Brian Nelson and Slumberland Records head honcho Mike Schulman.

5 new school picks from Paul Vodra…

Iza Flo – “Free Fallin’” (2019)

Isabelle De Leon’s expansive lady dance-rock ensemble Iza Flo looks like they are having mountains of fun on this soulful groove “Free Fallin'”.

Lisa Frank & Rez Ekbatan – Whisper (Outputmessage Remix) (2019)

Director Nigel Lyons caught this captivating single take of DJ & producer Outputmessage performing his remix of “Whisper” by Lisa Frank & Rez Ekbatan in a church, with a fabulous reveal at the end.

Wall of Trophies – “Something” (2019)

In “Something” by atmospheric duo Wall of Trophies, the deft, big production by Will Copps leaves singer Brittany Jean’s voice clear in the mix of the slow-groove dance floor killer, while the video evolves into deeper abstractions and filters.

Loi Loi – “Sliver Light” (2019)

Synth diva Loi Loi’s video for “Sliver Light” from director Jen Meller is a tale of four women (Alexys Forrest of (Alexys Forrest of Danger Sluts, Krystal Ashley of “Scenes from Backstage”, Jax Caruso of The Galaxy Electric, and Freddie Heinemann of Fisk) ditching unappreciative partners for a psychedelic dance party.

Honest Haloway – “Atonement” (2019)

Synthrock band Honest Haloway’s video for “Atonement,” shot by frontman Tim Kratzer’s wife Sara Nabizadeh on location in Namibia, is astounding and arresting in its beauty and mystery.

5 new school picks from JosaFeen Wells…

Amerie — “1 Thing” (2005)

This record was produced by Rich Harrison from D.C. grammy winner- wrote beyonce’s crazy in love. Amerie is from DC as well.

Garbagemen – “Crab Legs” (2018)

2 Girl EDM group from D.C. ladies play and sing with beautiful harmony and hypnotizing melody’s fun fact band member Leah Cage plays for local band BRNDA.

April + Vista – “Own2” (2018)

Who doesn’t like a dope male n female duo? April has an amazing voice and a true gift for songwriting. This is just dope flippin’ music!

2DCat — “I Feel You” (2019)

I ran across these guys and super glad I did. 2019. Synth. Wave. Period! Nuff said, but really this group makes me feel good and young again. Wait leave out the young part..I’m not old.

Beau Young Prince — “Let Go” (2019)

This young man is representing for the city for real. His stage presence is energetic and contagious. He has a beautiful way to tell his story and struggle but also delivers the feeling of hope. A true hustler and someone making major strides. Don’t sleep. Funfact…did a show at Songbyrd about a month ago.

Want more? Check out the Oct. 4th edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE featuring guest dj Paul Vodra (HOMETOWN SOUNDS) and JosaFeen’s awesome band DMV KARS!

And check out Paul Vodra’s excellent Hometown Sounds blog and podcast.

October2019

 

 

 

 

5 Questions: DMV KARS

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DC’s vibrant underground music scene is chock full of dazzling examples of true DIY idealism in action, but when it comes to dance music, it’s hard for me to think of a contemporary local act that exemplifies “do-it-yourself” values more than DMV KARS.

They may refer to themselves as two “goofy girls from the DMV,” but Carla Elliot JosaFeen “Jo-Jo” Wells and Kristina “Kbudd” Buddenhagen mean business when it comes to making and recording their own music. The talented duo specialize in the kind of 80s-inspired electro-funk concoctions that’s impossible not to move to — and they do it all using a Macbook, microKORG, Yamaha keyboard and a seemingly endless well of DIY creativity.

DMV KARS formed in 2017, when JosaFeen and Kbudd reconnected after taking some time off from the DC music scene. The two musicians had previously played in the D.C. band E.D. Sedwick with Justin Moyer, with JosaFeen on vocals and Kbudd on bass.

Now, the duo make their own elastic grooves. And rather than following a similar style to E.D. Sedwick, DMV KARS is its own wonderfully idiosyncratic mutant disco machine, with traces of classic 80s bombers like Chakka Khan and Shannon, but also New Order and other synth-friendly stompers, with more than a smattering of pure funk and disco. The band’s self-titled EP is a must listen for anyone who loves a good groove.

With DMV KARS slated to play the Oct. 4th edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, I got in touch with the band to learn more about this most intriguing of dance acts…

1) What can you tell us about how DMV KARS formed? I know you previously played together in Edie Sedgwick with Justin Moyer.

DMV KARS: We were both out of the music scene for some quite some time and hadn’t seen each other for a while. We met up as friends, we were both going through a lot of personal shit, and we reconnected — we both really missed playing music, and decided we wanted to do a really fun project together.

2) DMV KARS is like a delicious ice cream swirl of all the best 80s sounds — there’s funk, electro pop, new wave and more than a bit of RnB. At the same time, DMV KARS has a vibrancy and edge that is unmistakably modern. How did you arrive at the DMV KARS sound?

DMV KARS: We had both been listening to electronic music individually (this was not what we were playing together in our previous project). We thought, hey, maybe we can make our own dance music? The new wave, RnB, funk elements just came out naturally, turning into this hybrid electro pop sound that i don’t really know how to classify. We worked a long time on the album, but I would say that the meat of the songs just poured out easily and took the direction that you hear now. We didn’t really know where it would go – we weren’t purposely trying to make a specific sound, just that we wanted people to dance.

DMV KARS EP cover

3) How do you approach writing songs together? Do you ever just jam out and see where it takes you?

DMV KARS: Yes, we usually start out with a drum idea — then play around on keys and bass. Once a musical structure is sort of in place, JosaFeen will improv over it with her voice. Then we add the little elements later to beef up the jams. It’s a really fun process, and whenever we get a snippet or idea that is really catchy, we praise each other with sheer adulation🤣🤣🤣-even if it’s only a 5 second part of the song, we walk away with a huge surge of positivity that the two of us made something we are really proud of. So in effect, the songwriting process is really, really, really fun.

4) One of my favorite tracks is “Fukumeen.” It has a fantastic driving rhythm, vintage synths, gorgeous singing and unstoppable hooks. It also has some witty things to say about a failed relationship. What can you tell us about it?

DMV KARS: This was the fastest song we ever wrote. KBUD just randomly started playing that melody on the microkorg, and JosaFeen immediately got the vocal idea. It is one of our favorites, and it’s the one that just poured out of us the easiest. I think most people can relate to this song.

DMV KARS making music

5) Let’s talk about the DMV KARS live show. What do you want audience members to feel when they see the band?

DMV KARS: We want them to laugh, smile, and dance. ultimately walk away feeling better than they did before the set started. everyone is going through something difficult in their lives — and if you can escape from that for 25 minutes by watching two silly women prancing around on stage with light-up ties sharing their hearts with the crowd, then i would say we achieved something really special.

Listen to and buy DMV KARS self-titled album on Bandcamp, follow them on Twitter and “Like” them on Facebook.

And don’t miss DMV KARS live show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Oct. 4th, 2019 at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC 20010).

October2019

 

YouTube Playlist: WFTBO Sept 2019

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What’s that you say? You want some new tunes to listen to?

Well, you’re in luck. One of DC’s most interesting music makers and sound gurus — Jake Reid of Secret Wilderness and Screen Vinyl Image — is guest djing the Sept. 6th edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. Jake was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to curate a brilliant 10-track YouTube playlist for Big One blog readers. As you can see, Jake’s picks range from moody post-punk classics to ambient experiments to idiosyncratic pop hits to off-kilter Nigerian music. The one thing a Jake Reid playlist will ALWAYS be: interesting.

Enjoy!

Echo & The Bunnymen – Stars Are Stars

“We lost some time, after things that never matter”

Jake: Echo were operating right out of the gate at a caliber most other bands took a few records to hit, and then they did it for another 4 albums after. There were two releases of Crocodiles, one had this as the second track and one the third. I’m used to the third, for some reason it feels like the right order for the song. It also highlights early on the shrouded mystery of both Ian’s deep environmental lyrics and Will’s guitar genius. 

Cocteau Twins – Persephone

Jake: I always have a CT record nearby. Lately it’s been Treasure. I can’t tell if Liz is trying to conjure or exorcise demons in this song (maybe both), but it’s absolutely all the things I love about early Cocteaus. Also, I’m a drum machine nerd so of course I found a link to Robin Guthrie talking about the machines he used. Highly recommended read.

Fred Schneider – Monster

Jake: When I was a kid I loved The B-52’s lyrics, there’s songs about counterfeiting money, rock lobsters, and strobe lights. How could you not think this was the best band in the world? Fred’s solo project in 84 features an appearance by the NYC drag queen Ethyl Eichelberger, Tina Weymouth, Parliament-Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell (co-producer too), and Keith Haring. Oh and the claymation pays clear homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing that came out 3 years earlier. For such a goofy fun song, it’s incredible how much history sits within the frames. 

Paul Parker & Patrick Cowley – Right On Target

Jake: I’ve been a huge fan of all the releases Dark Entries has been doing of the deeper psychedelic porn soundtrack stuff Patrick Cowley did. He could also crank out a dancefloor burner like this collab with Paul Parker. His style of playing and producing is unique, you can always tell a disco or Hi NRG song that he had his hands in. 

The Time – 777-9311

Jake: All the music here is Prince with Morris Day on vocals. According to some research the drum beat was a stock pattern on the Linn LM-1 and was programmed by the drummer of Tower of Power. This is also one of my favorite Prince guitar solos, I like how the guitar almost sounds like it’s warming up before it takes off.

Geddes Gengras – Ha’akulamanu

Jake: Gengras continually puts out top quality ambient music in a sea of ambient producers (that’s also not a bad thing imo!). The minimal approach here of a Korg Volca FM and a few FX and songs inspired from Hawaii provide an idyllic soundtrack for late summer vibes.

Drexciya – Aqua Worm Hole

Jake: RA did a great short on Drexciya last year touching on the legend and myth that surrounds the two Detroit artists. With obvious traces of funk, techno, and electro, Drexciya soundtrack their Afrofuturist world with aquatic synths and drum machines that breathe and come to life. This is techno and electro in its freest form and no one has been able to come close to the depths these guys went to. 

Max D – Shoutout Seefeel

Jake: DC’s full of super talented people making wonderful music like Future Times head Andrew Field-Pickering. I’ve been zoning to Andrew’s Max D (And Dolo) releases for their vast auditory exploration and jaw-dropping rhythms. This song drifts on gazey waves, pure late-night headphone bliss from the DC label 1432 R.   

Hama – Baoura

Jake: I came across this artist from Niger through Bandcamp Daily who are always curating interesting music with insightful research. The polyrhythms on this song really caught my attention from the rest of the album. There’s also something about the synth sounds that strike up some sort of nostalgic memories for me of Casio’s and Yamaha’s from the 90’s. 

Rachel Goswell – Coastline

Jake: For a long time I only listened to the Ulrich Schnauss remix of this which is brilliant. But, the original is almost pure homage to Everybody Knows This is Nowhere Neil Young (which also happens to be my fave Young record of all time). I also sometimes forget the UK is now an island (my song Doggerland on my latest record is about the area of land lost that turned the UK into an island), but I always enjoy how much Rachel and Neil’s lyrics in Slowdive revolve around their proximity to the sea (see also Mojave 3 and Neil’s solo material). It also just felt like the best damn song to end this WFTBO playlist with. 

Want more? Don’t miss Jake Reid’s guest dj set at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE!

Listen to Jake’s Secret Wilderness project on Bandcamp.

september2019

 

5 Questions: Ice Out

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Frosted landscapes. Ominous winters. Solitary walks in the night. These are some of the visuals that play in my mind’s eye when listening to the compelling soundscapes of DC-instrumental duo Ice Out.

Ice Out are far from the only instrumental band in the DC area making music that drips with atmosphere. But what’s noteworthy about them is HOW they create these sounds. Using mostly two instruments — David Barker’s sparse guitar and Chris Zogby’s drums — with some tasteful synth accents — Ice Out somehow create fully enveloping atmospherics that would be perfect for a moody horror film.

Ice Out’s self-titled 4 track EP, which was released in April 2019, is an excellent showcase of what this band is capable of. The fact that just two individuals are responsible for such widescreen sonic vistas is a reminder that sometimes a minimalist approach can yield maximalist results.

Having experienced Ice Out live, I can attest that this is a band whose power takes on an extra dimension when it performs in front of an audience. With the band set to play WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Sept. 6th, I got in touch with David and Chris to learn more about how they create such chilly sounds…

1) What can you tell us about how Ice Out was formed? Had you known each other long prior to the band coming together?

Chris: We first met around 10 years ago when we played together, briefly.  I believe we reconnected 3 or 4 years later, then stayed in touch over social media ever since.

DB: A: We played in a band together briefly in 2009. I had a vision of doing something musically like Tangerine Dream, Tycho and John Carpenter. I wanted to do something more synthesizer based and have been incorporating that more into the music.

2) For the most part, Ice Out creates music with just one guitar and drums. I think it’s amazing what you can do with just these two instruments. Was the plan all along to impose limits about what instruments you would use? Personally, I think there’s an argument to be made that limiting the number of sounds can actually open up new windows of creativity.

Chris: I think the idea was to see what we could do live with Dave’s guitar set up and acoustic drums. There was a joint interest in keeping the sound uncluttered, but we also wanted to add some simple synthesizer parts to add texture and fill in some low end holes.  We were able to do this in a very low-tech way with results we liked.

DB: I am very interested in negative space in music. I went and saw John Carpenter play his film scores in Philadelphia a few years back. When I delved into the songs, there is an incredible amount of air in the music. A lot of musicians try to do moody horror movie soundtracks but completely miss the point by overplaying.

3) Speaking of creativity, do you have a particular process or approach to “getting into the zone” where you feel more creative? Clearly, it’s not something that can just be turned on or off like a faucet.

Chris: Listening to suggested instrumental music on Pandora, and poking around sites like Mixcloud has helped spark the creative process. Also, tinkering with gear (i.e. drum machines, sequencers & arpeggiators) and old fashion jamming live on new musical ideas also help.

DB: When I’m playing a lot and playing along to records that gets me in the creative space. Timing is something I work on a great deal.

4) Let’s talk about your self-titled EP. Compared to other recordings you’ve done, what was it like to record, mix and have it released? Would it be fair to say technology and things like Bandcamp are making things easier?

Chris: The process of making the EP was similar to other recordings.  Pushing it out for public consumption is probably easier than I remember.

DB: Yes and no. A positive is the ease of getting the music out to streaming services and Bandcamp. The negative is casting a line out into the ocean analogy, just a lot of mediums competing for everyone’s attention.

5) I’d like to ask you both about the Ice Out live show. Was it you want the audience to feel and experience when they come out and see the band live?

Chris: I’d like the music and performance to be engaging enough that the audience stops staring at their phones.  🙂  It’s a tall order, but I think we had some success in that department. We’re working on ways to make the live experience better.

DB: Something that is engaging for the audience. We are working on adding visuals and lighting to enhance the show. We want to show that instrumental music can be very engaging.

Listen to and buy Ice Out’s debut EP on Bandcamp and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. And check out their live show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE with Guest DJ Jake Reid of Secret Wilderness!

september2019

 

 

 

YouTube Playlist: WFTBO Aug 2019

The August 2, 2019 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE is packed with great guests — Detroit’s excellent indie pop trio DEADBEAT BEAT, who are releasing their new album, “How Far,” Baltimore singer-songwriter savant HOTHEAD, and DC’s underground music scene photographic documentarian AHMAD Z. Plus, WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE DJs Rick and Brandon.

Naturally, if you’re going to put on a special event with so many music makers and record collectors, it stands to reason that you ask them all to collaborate on a YouTube Playlist. Presented below is a selection of tracks curated for your listening pleasure. Extra props to Laurie Spector who actually provided commentary for her selections.

Enjoy!

AHMAD Z

DEADBEAT BEAT (Maria, Alex and Zak)

HOTHEAD (Laurie)

Laurie: I checked out Wynonna Judd out of curiosity after hearing this great Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast episode about her insane life. A lot of her songs are really cheesy ballads I can’t get into but a few are upbeat and poppy, and this one sounds to me like it could have easily been one of those late 80s/early 90s classic pop songs if it was just produced differently. People seem to have largely written modern-day country off as irrelevant and bad but country was just as much at the forefront of rock ‘n roll as the blues were… it started well, there’s a cool legacy there and there are some great genre traditions that have carried through the years. Country has treated its women pretty well if you think about all the majorly successful country stars that made a career singing about their independence and strength in the face of adversity. I’m sure there was discrimination going on behind the scenes like all industries, but the archetypes accepted and celebrated in pop culture matter a lot, and country music celebrates its rebellious independent women. Wynonna is definitely one of those.

Laurie: I don’t usually have favorite “songs of the year” or anything like that but I’ve listened to this song so many times since it was released earlier this year. I love it in that way where it’s almost too much to bear, when you think “wow how could something like a song mean so much to me.” Somehow it encapsulates a lot about how I’ve felt lately. It’s bittersweet but more sweet than bitter, with an incredible energy that always makes me feel better about not feeling good. Hard to explain, but it’s my gem.

Laurie: Joe from Don Giovanni told me about this band when we were at SXSW this year. He just put out their album. This song is from their last album and I listened to it on repeat for pretty much the entire ride home to DC from Austin. So good.

Laurie: Alla Pugacheva is a massive Russian pop star I came across while studying Russian in college. She’s glamorous and iconic. For me she’s something like a cross between Kate Bush and Barbra Streisand. A true performer. Very famous and well-loved in Russia, it’s fun to just put her name into YouTube and watch what comes up.

Laurie: I just checked out David Berman’s new album and I really liked it. My vibe is he’s just gotten more vulnerable and less snarky as he’s gotten older, which I like. My favorite Silver Jews album was the last one cause I found it kind of sweet and silly. I guess it’s the only one I really connected to. This one’s pretty down but I love that contrast of the darkness of the content with his lyrical playfulness and bright sounding music. It’s like that amazing thing that happens when you make art or experience art while you’re feeling horrible… you start to like the thing that came from horror and it turns the bad thing into something you can live with.

WFTBO DJs (Rick & Brandon)

Like what you’re hearing? Want more? Check out WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW, Washington DC 20010) every first Friday of the month!

5 Questions: Deadbeat Beat

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There’s a certain strain of pop music that’s impervious to trends.

I’m talking about a particular brand of classicist, hook-laden guitar pop that draws just as much from the 60s as the independent side of the 80s — think The Clean or The Bats from New Zealand. Or the self-titled debut from The House of Love. Or a little more recently — the debut LP from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Or records from Veronica Falls or Crystal Stilts.

Detroit indie pop trio Deadbeat Beat share a spiritual affinity with these bands, and their beautifully constructed pop songs have been weather-proofed to stand the test of time the best possible way — through classic melodies, gorgeous harmonies and sprightly guitar chords that sound just as fresh and vibrant as they do familiar.

The band, which consists of drummer Maria Nuccilli, singer/guitarist Alex Glendening and bassist Zak Frieling, can trace its origins to a high school friendship between Maria and Alex. The two bonded over their shared obsession over music — creating their own sounds was inevitable. After moving through a number of projects and working with various other musicians, Deadbeat Beat really came into its own with the addition of bassist Zak.

Deadbeat Beat released its debut LP, “When I Talk to You” in 2011 via the cassette label Gold Tapes. There’s been a smattering of other releases since then, but it’s only now that the band is ready to unveil its second proper full length, “How Far.”

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The record was recorded in the basement studio of Detroit-based musician and engineer Jeff Else, with significant input from singer-songwriter Fred Thomas of indie pop heroes Saturday Looks Good to Me. Thomas not only worked with the band on the recording, but was involved with the mastering.  Rather than rush through the recording and mixing, the band took its time to ensure the end result was something truly special.

And boy did the band ever hit the mark. Check out lead single “You Lift Me Up” to hear what makes Deadbeat Beat so compelling. This is as classic as classic indie pop gets…

Deadbeat Beat is on tour to promote its new album, and thankfully, a stop in Washington DC became a possibility when our friend Laurie Spector of Hothead suggested them for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe. I got in touch with Maria and Alex to learn more about this very talented group of musicians…

1) Deadbeat Beat’s debut album, “When I Talk to You,” came out in 2011. You’re just now releasing the band’s second record, “How Far.” Why did it take so long? And what have you been doing in the interim? 

Maria: The original band was put on hiatus in early 2013 when one of our members relocated for a job. We spent the next couple years with a few different folks filling in, but nothing stuck long enough for us to squeak out a full length. We did, however, release a tape EP in 2015 called “Only Time Will Tell.” We did a couple other tapes and singles in between now and then too. Between all of that? We were working, finishing up school, playing/touring in other bands and doing records with them too, namely Outrageous Cherry (me) and Tyvek (Alex).

2) Do you feel that being involved in multiple projects is a help or a hindrance in sparking your creative muse?

Maria: As a drummer, the variety is something I need. I learn new things from whoever I’m playing with.

Alex: Playing with other musicians is essential to growth. I’m the kind of person where things are going to happen when they happen, and I’ve learned to accept that instead of freaking out about it. I read on somewhere that Kevin Ayers was also the same way.

3) We can throw around subgenre signifiers like garage, surf or indie jangle, but at the end of the day, Deadbeat Beat play pop music. Do you have a concept in your head of the so-called perfect pop song?

Alex: “Sister Ray” is the perfect pop song. It’s catchy, it washes over you, it sounds cool as hell. It’s also fucked up. There are many other perfect pop songs too.

4) What is Deadbeat Beat geeky about – other than music? Or is it just music?

Alex: A lot of what we are geeky about is music. We got really into making memes about the band Television for a minute, you can still see them on our Instagram. One time Maria and I were having a very serious conversation while driving and she turned to me mid-thought and asked, “Okay wait but is ‘Younger than Yesterday’ your favorite Byrds album, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”

5) Life on the road – can you give us a peak into what it’s like for Deadbeat Beat? Have you stumbled upon any accidental life lessons along the way?

Alex: Every time I go on tour, no matter how long in duration, I always bring a shirt that I never wear once. It is so annoying.

Maria: Alex makes the most friends, Zak goes to the most museums, I’m just over here trying to stick to my skincare routine. We’re all trying to drink as much water as possible. The best thing we did this time was go to Coinstar with an entire totebag full of change Alex found during his move a few months ago – gotta pay those tolls baby!

Listen to and purchase Deadbeat Beat’s music on Bandcamp, “Like” them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram and Twitter, and check out the band’s own website.

And be sure to check out Deadbeat Beat’s live show Friday, Aug. 2 at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW, Washington DC 20010).  Hothead is also performing a live set. Guest DJ Ahmad Z will be spinning records, along with Laurie from Hothead and the WFTBO DJs!

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YouTube Playlist: Celebrating American Independents

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We love you America. But like many loves, it’s complicated — especially in the Trump era.

How does one feel any sense of pride in our country when so much is going wrong? The rise of white nationalism. The increasing incidents of racism and anti-Semitism. The growing acceptance of cruelty. The inhumanity directed at undocumented immigrants. America’s fetish for guns, gun violence and macho culture. A broken health care system that values profit over people.

But as heartbreaking as America is today, there is also a reason for hope. Art speaks truth to power. And American art strikes with a defiant, fearless creativity that gives us hope in dark times.

Take, for example, the below 17-track YouTube playlist curated by yours truly and Teen Beat Records insider Chris Callahan (Sexual Milkshake). These slices of “American Independents” represents just a smattering of our favorites from the U.S. underground music scene. Most of them were recorded during another dark time — the Reagan years.

While these tracks aren’t overtly political, the bands’ artistic defiance of pop music norms can be read as a metaphor for rejecting the worst instincts of Gordon Gecko-capitalism and the Reagan regime. And we could all use a little more defiance right about now.

Our current political era has been referred to as “Reagan on steroids,” only worse. That’s a charitable way of putting it. But where’s there is art, there is hope. Even art made more than 35 years ago.

Feast your ears, then, on a soundtrack that rejects Trumpism and the worst parts of America. This is the soundtrack to our battle. A battle we will win.

Happy Birthday America!  cropped-buddies-leipzig-l.jpg

Devo – Modern Life (1981, Warner Bros.)

Suburban Lawns – Baby (1983, I.R.S. Records)

Get Smart – Eat, Sleep A G-Go (1981, Syntax Music)

The Method Actors – Do the Method (1982, Press)

B52’s – Dance This Mess Around (1979, Island)

Crash Course in Science – Cardboard Lamb (1981, Press)

ESG – U.F.O. (1981, 99 Records)

Abecedarians – Ghosts (1986, Southwest Audio Reproductions)

Suicide – Speed Queen (1981, ROIR – but recorded in mid-70s)

Ike Yard – NCR (1982, Factory America)

Implog – Holland Tunnel Dive (1980, Infidelity)

Human Switchboard – I Can Walk Alone (1980, Square Two)

Pylon – Volume (1980, DB Recs)

BBQ Killers – His and Hearse (1986, clip from “Athens, GA–Inside/Out”)

Black Randy & the Metrosquad – I Slept in an Arcade (1979, Dangerhouse)

Wall of Voodoo – Ring of Fire (1980, Index)

The Residents – Stars & Stripes Forever (1986, Ralph Records)

Want more? Join us Friday, July 5th 2019 at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW Washington DC 20010) for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE with Spirit Plots and guest dj Chris Calla-sham!