Author Archives: Tony Porreco

Tony’s “Best Of 2014 From DC”: A Year End List

I don’t read a lot of year-end music lists. I simply don’t care that much about a bunch of other people’s opinions on what was good, bad and how so. (They do help me catch up on the awesome music I missed, so thanks for that, list-makers!) So why am I making one? Because DC music artists accomplished some seriously cool stuff in 2014, and while it would be nearly impossible to encapsulate all the great things that came out of a music scene that only gets better, I figured I could at least highlight some of the output that I regard as “exceptionally exceptional”. So I’ve identified a small handful of categories, identified a standout, and brought you some discussion of the awesomeness of each entry.

So do a deep read or just use it as a quick guide to point you towards some of the really excellent work done by DC musicians this year.

And without further ado, here are my picks for the best from DC music this year in the following 5 categories:

– Best New Artist

– Best Album

– Best Song

– Best Music Video

– Best Live Performance

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Q&A and Song Premiere with Fellow Creatures

by Tony Porreco

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In September of 2013, Ugly Purple Sweater decided it was time to call it a day. Over the course of the group’s 4 years of activity and 3 releases, Ugly Purple Sweater consistently impressed listeners with their appealing blend of bouncy indie folk and commanding vocal performances from songwriter Sam McCormally.

Following the band’s conclusion, McCormally spurred curiosity by signing up to do a stint on bass for Paperhaus, performed solo frequently and above all, said nothing of when or if he’d begin a new full band project. Fast forward to this past August when a new group called Fellow Creatures made their presence known with a single Bandcamp demo and an 8 bit image of McCormally and Ugly Purple Sweater guitarist Will McKindley-Ward. Reminiscent of mid-career Talking Heads and the David Byrne/Brian Eno album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the track (“Shuka Shuka”) features a funkier vibe than most anything in UPS’ catalog.

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With only two public performances and a single available recording, we were eager for the opportunity to sit down with McCormally and McKindley-Ward to learn more about the new band before their headlining show this Saturday 11/22 at DC9. In keeping with everything that’s “new” about the band, Hometown Sounds is proud to premiere the very first finished & polished track by Fellow Creatures.

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LIVE PICKS! with Tony Porreco: Louis Weeks at Rock n’ Roll Hotel, Thurs Sept. 11


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Who: Louis Weeks with Mutual Benefit, Soft Cat and Stranger in the Alps
Where: Rock n’ Roll Hotel
When: Thursday, September 11, 2014
Song You Must Hear Today: “naïve_melody” (cover)

I can’t stay away from Louis Weeks. He’s all around me, playing shows, making blogs – a couple months ago he even showed up in my mail. His performance at the Strathmore this January appeared in their mailer for the upcoming performance season.

Another reason he’s all around me is that I can’t stay away from his Bandcamp page. The weird way I’ve come to describe it is (metaphorically) an android fumbling for mysticism by way of technology. The tracks are replete with mysterious keyboards and healthy sprinklings of glitch that are a most chic inducement of hypnotization.

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Yesterday, he released a slo-mo cover of Talking Heads’ classic “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. I don’t generally like hearing covers of this song. I’ve heard too many of them that are just too close to the original to be of any interest, but this one’s a pretty great re-imagining of the song. Electronic percussion lumbers along, and Weeks’ effects-laden vocals sound bellowed out of the deepest canyon.

His stated motives behind the cover resonate with the frequently spiritual feel of his music. “I’ve always related to the particularly meditative aspects of this song. To me, it’s a song about living ‘in the moment’ – learning to make your home in constant change and the passing of time. My version takes this interpretation literally and slows everything down and tries to stay in the moment as long as possible.”

He performs tomorrow at Rock & Roll Hotel with the earnestly charming DC folkster Stranger in the Alps, Soft Cat (Baltimore) and Mutual Benefit (NYC), two other fine folk acts. You’re going because (a.) I am and (b.) Louis Weeks’ music compels you to.

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Live Picks! with Tony Porreco: The French Admirals @ Rock n’ Roll Hotel

Live Picks! with Tony Porrreco

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Who: The French Admirals w/ Exit Vehicles, Patrick Frank and Kelly Ann Beavers
Where: Rock n’ Roll Hotel
When: Saturday August 2
Song You Must Hear Today: “Favour”

Okay, I’ll come out and say it: I’ve always thought the stripped down North of Canada spinoff The French Admirals were an odd, misguided band. I questioned the logic of what Rob Kuczynski and Mike Lashinsky were doing, playing a combination of their own songs and covers, a helluva lot, often to empty rooms, as either a guitar/bass duo or with a drummer using a skeleton of a kit. Why do that? NoC was awesome, loud and interesting. Plus, I kinda hate acoustic guitars. I hate playing them, I (mostly) hate listening to them. To me, these guys were just doing everything wrong.

I wouldn’t air my beef for the band unless I also have huge praise for them too. Their new record Closer Than Brothers is pretty much a new North of Canada album, if you ask me. Electrics, keyboards, hand claps(!), all the trappings of a robust pop rock album and all complementing that twisty, breezy North of Canada sound. I had no idea they were making this record, so, an actual surprise = double points, and it cements them as a hard working band doing double duty as both talented and frequent performers and recording artists. Closer Than Brothers is really great album that will rush over you so pleasurably.

So I think you’ll have a really good time seeing them this Saturday 8/2 at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel on H Street. The Admirals have enlisted supporting act Exit Vehicles, who churn out some antsy, anxiety-riddled post-punk that I can personally endorse as a thrill to see.

This show has a couple of extra curve balls to note. Patrick Frank, percussionist of We Were Pirates, performs new songs written for a songwriting collective he founded called the 10-20-30 Club. Members post 3 new songs, on the 10th, 20th and 30th of each month, to keep the creativity flowing. Bells and Hunters’ vocalist Kelly Ann Beavers rounds out the bill with a quirky blend of new original material and an inspired cover or two.

There’s a ton going on this weekend with In It Together Fest augmenting the existing club  lineups, but maybe you’re tired of making all those painful decisions about who to see and running all over town to see them. Here’s a show that’ll let you catch your breath.

 

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ROM – JERRY PRINCESS TASTE VIDEO

By Tony Porreco

ROM (formerly The Dead Women) have caught the bug for making videos. The band put out their new record soda christ not much more than a month ago, and they’re already releasing a second music video.

While their last video for “Nuisance” followed a boxer pushing the boundaries of gender, coordinated movement is the big idea explored here in the new video for the song “Jerry Princess Taste”, which also happens to feature backup vocals from Wye Oak‘s Jenn Wasner.

The juxtaposition of highly stylized dance maneuvers over a punk rock number makes for a fun watch; it’s like watching a ballroom dance class being DJed by Joey Ramone. Also, this is a video oozing with snazzy, high quality production values, so take a break from the low-res cat vids you’re sneaking in at work and enjoy the craft of a well-made video. 

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INTERVIEW WITH DEREK EVRY

By Tony Porreco

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This past Tuesday, Northern Virginia songwriter Derek Evry released his new EP Down to the Wire. By all indications, there’s a lot going through his head from the his chameleonic nature of the new release. The record features an impressive stylistic palate with tracks ranging from classic, straight ahead pop punk, Buddy Holly era protorock, pop metal and even a languid ballad approaching hotel lobby jazz. Combine this with a social media personality that can be characterized as “absolutely bananas”, and you’ve got a character study that would pique the interest of a veteran psychotherapist who’s heard it all before.

We sat down with Evry to discuss a number of different topics, including the making of Down to the Wire, his long lasting bromance with drummer Ben Tufts, and his vision for the DC music scene. Read the full interview after the jump.

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ROM – NUISANCE VIDEO

By Tony Porreco

We’re still on a bit of a break over here at Hometown Sounds, but I’m stepping in to lend a hand to do one of the things that Hometown Sounds does best, and that’s featuring music videos from DC artists.

Today’s video is not only a feature, it’s also a premiere. And it’s from a band you haven’t heard of, but it’s also a band you might know. Here’s the story. There WAS a band called The Dead Women. And they’ve changed their name. Meet ROM. That’s their new band name. You’ll be hearing that a lot over the coming months, because they’re a band that’s on nothing but the up and up.

It’s for a track called “Nuisance” which is on their forthcoming full length release soda christ, which is available Friday May 30th on Bandcamp, iTunes and Spotify.

The video’s a wild ride: There are secrets. There’s intense physical training. There’s transgender exploration. And above all, the sharp visuals are set against the itchy post-punk that ROM does so well.

The piece was conceptualized and shot by William D. Ashton, whose credits include some impressive directorial work on Drop Electric’s videos for their tracks “Brooklyn’s Nightmare” and “Waking Up to the Fire”.

Ashton provided the following insights regarding his inspiration for his inspiration for the video’s concept:

I guess I keyed in on the fact that the song is called “Nuisance.” This made me think that maybe the biggest nuisance is the things we keep hidden inside ourselves; the things we do behind closed doors. We all have attributes or interests or desires that aren’t necessarily accepted by society, yet they are still a strong part of who we are. Often we are afraid to reveal these sides of ourselves because they could be perceived as taboo or weird. The nuisance, then, is these hidden sides trying to push to the surface.

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Back From The Dead: An Interview with Presto Bando

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Without a doubt, the DC music scene became several decibels quieter in the months following Presto Bando’s final performance on January 4th of last year. Their Southern-fried punk rock was hard to ignore, and singer Brandon Ables’ vocals encroached on the terrain of a deranged “future Dylan”. The band’s live shows were always a highly energized spectacle, and set a high watermark for performance art few other bands were able to match. During the band’s final set, Ables (vocals, guitar) cheerily described the “hatred” he and his bandmates had developed for one another to an uncomfortable audience, urging them to take their CDs, “because we’re just going to throw them in the trash anyway.”

Following their “break up”, Corey Shinko (bass, vocals) and Ables told me of plans to do a “posthumous” release, and this was a topic I pestered them about incessantly throughout the spring and early summer of 2013. Finally, there was an oddly timed July 4th “Pre-Release” Party thrown by Emanuel Pires, who Ables and Shinko claimed to be recording with at his home studio in Annandale, Virginia. Several more months passed, and I admittedly began to wonder if the project had been scrapped before I received a text from Shinko in November asking if I’d like to meet with him and Ables to discuss the now-complete 11 song record, entitled Witchtopher Columbus.

Read our full interview with Presto Bando after the jump, where they discuss the reasons behind their “break up”, the recording of Witchtopher Columbus, and Ables experiences working as an ice cream man.

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INTERVIEW WITH HEAVY BREATHING

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By Tony Porreco

As if you weren’t already aware, Hometown Sounds and Showlist DC have come together to host a stacked show this evening at Tropicalia (14th & U), featuring Tereu Tereu, The Jet Age, and Heavy Breathing. In anticipation for the event, Hometown Sounds reporter Tony Porreco sat down with Heavy Breathing’s Amanda Kleinman (Keyboards) and Erick Jackson (Guitar) for a wide ranging discussion including the inspiration behind the creepiness of the band’s live show and the importance of a band’s perceived edginess, the origin story of Kleinman’s signature ski mask look, and their recent reunion to record as their previous musical incarnation, The Apes.

Tell me about the origin of Heavy Breathing’s twisted visual aesthetic.

Erick Jackson: I think that’s what we’re always drawn to in part? We don’t see it as twisted.

Amanda Kleinman: All three of us are very visual people. So color schemes, all of the cinema from our childhood, the teen culture, the weird eras of kidnappings and bomb scares and Vietnam movies. All the imagery we were watching when we were kids, like New York City.

EJ: Yeah, like basement culture.

AK: All of that, it becomes a part of your neural wiring, and weird childhood experiences expose you to darkness.

EJ: Yeah, we grew up in a time where we were influenced by certain aesthetics like comics and then violent movies and then rock n’ roll and then memories of burnouts and siblings, just stories that you experience.

AK: Music should mean danger, music should be something edgy.

EJ: And I always remembered being drawn to music because I was a little scared of things, where I was like, “Is this good, or is this trouble?” Like, especially going to shows, like, “Am I going to get beat up at this show or am I going to get mugged? Where is this show even at? Is it dangerous? Who’s going to go with us?” There was a sense of adventure. And danger was a big part of it.

AK: And I think even now, our imagery has sexuality: Neither one of us are super sexual people, but we feel like there needs to be some kind of edge.

EJ: Well, I think music should be sexual.

AK: A lot of the newer, younger bands –

EJ: You look around, they’re not very sexual.

AK: I don’t get any vibe from people.

EJ: Everything’s neutered, and not visceral.

AK: Neutered and soft and friendly. I have a hard time connecting with it simply because of how we grew up.

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I actually get spooked when I see you perform. In an era when there’s a general devaluation of music on account of its availability and ease of dissemination, do you think that the use of “fear” or “shock value” is one of the few tactics remaining to bands to get attention?

AK: I think we’re just getting off. I don’t care what anyone thinks, and honestly, what everyone’s perception is, I’m not interested.

EJ: That’s true. I don’t even think we think of things as, “Oh, this is shocking.”

So the way you present the band (e.g. costumes, projectors, fog) is less about you trying to stand out from the pack, and more of keeping things interesting for yourselves?

AK: There is no agenda. There’s no reward.

EJ: Well, it keeps you busy.

AK: Yeah, I’m busy. But there’s no big offers, there’s no tour bus. We just have to keep getting excited.

EJ: Well, it’s going to entertain you. And then you worry about entertaining somebody. Half of the things we’ve done, I don’t think it’s shock value. It’s more like, “Well, that’d be fun.” or “That’d be interesting.” or “Have we tried doing this? Let’s see what happens.” Because the process of playing shows a lot of times becomes like a job where you know what’s going to happen: You get there, soundcheck. So you’ve always got to think of things that keep it fresh for yourself and you try to do it through the music, but also if you want to have fun, and you want to get loose, because I mean, I think we all play music in the band because we want to get loose.

So oddly enough, your live act is more about you guys having fun and creating an experience for yourselves rather than for the audience?

AK: But I do want to put on a great show. When we started this band, I’d always felt a deficit with Apes. I felt like the visual things that I could conjure in my head could never happen because I didn’t have the resources and I had so many other things to worry about between the van, the sounds, navigating personality disorders in the band… It’s not just about us. I want that shit to look good. And the only time I ever have a diva temper tantrum is when the fog machines aren’t working, or [the booker] says, “No [to the visuals]”, and then I’m like, “I don’t want to play”, because I need that visual component. Or if someone doesn’t do their laser timing right, like, “I did my job! I practiced 8000 times!”

It sounds like you’re fairly selective about the shows you play.

EJ: Well, I think a big thing is we could just do more shows where it’s just like, “Oh, we’re just going to set up and play.” And that’s cool, but we’ve done that a lot, and there’s so many shows where it’s like a four band bill and I always feel like the music’s an afterthought, like, “Oh shit, we’re running out of time, oh shit, can you get your shit on stage really fast?”, and it’s this whole thing where you’re wondering, “Why are there four bands on this bill?” And it becomes this thing where you’re fighting against the environment. “Oh, we don’t have enough outlets for you.” Or the P.A.’s broken.

And so I think with Heavy Breathing it’s definitely a thing where we want to be able to enjoy playing rather than just be like, “Oh, we got here and then it’s a mess and oh shit, we’ve got to get our stuff on stage. Well that happened, I think that was good, right? Was it good?” And then you’re just like, “Well, people seemed to like it.” But there’s no time to actually think about the music or enjoy the music and playing it.

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Amanda, what’s with the mask?

AK: The mask started because Apes toured constantly, and I loved all of our singers, but we always felt like there was a missing human element. We wanted the singers to have more of a banter, more of an ease. And there were also so many nights where you’re in Epsilon, Michigan on a Tuesday night, and it’s pouring, and the only person in the bar is the barmaid… So it’s like this game with yourself: What am I going to do to make myself laugh and feel comfortable before I get on stage? And that ski mask started because I put it on and I stood at a mirror, and I was making scary faces to crack myself up to chill out.

There were situations in the early years where no one knew that I was a little short girl. I had dudes in Cincinnati respond to that [deep, effect-manipulated] voice saying, “I’ll take you out in the parking lot and kick your ass, fucker.” I love that part of the show, I really do.

Talk to me about your robot vocalist, The Rhythm Machine. What’s the source material for the pre-recorded vocals you use?

EJ: There’s all sorts of weirdos, just people blogging that do a cappella, so they sing a bunch of shit and they post it for people to use. They’ll just cover songs and we just take them. But then we take just words —

AK: Or just one syllable.

EJ: Usually just half a word, like “Uh”, “Ah”, and now because of Autotune you can figure out notes that you want to play and then you just keep looping them. You start hearing things, and you go, “Ohhhhh I think they’re saying this.” And then what’s nice is then we’re jamming, and then we can press a button and that voice keeps happening and then we can build around it, whereas a lot times you keep telling a singer, “Can you do that again? Can you do that again?” And they’d be like, “Uh, no.”

AK: Or they can’t remember what they did.

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Erick, is it you who rocks the overalls on stage?

EJ: Yes it is.

Where’d you get those from?

AK: One of our friends.

EJ: Sometimes people give us stuff. They’re like, “You’d look funny in this.” Or they’ll give it to you. We just trade stuff.

AK: Yeah, we trade things.

Do you think overalls are sexy?

EJ: I think they say something. They’re creepy.

I read in the Washington City Paper about The Apes’ getting back together to record some new tracks. Is it kind of a one off, or are you playing it by ear?

EJ: Just playing it by ear. It was just so random. Travis [Jackson, Windian Records] was just like, “Hey. Would you do an EP for us?” And we were like, “Yeah, if Paul [Weil] wanted to, our first singer.” And then he came down and we just worked on stuff. We hadn’t played together since 2006?

AK: No, 2005!

EJ: Oh my god. And it was good to play again. It was fun.

AK: And everyone’s so much more comfortable with themselves.

EJ: Yeah, we used to just fight and fight and fight. We were just horrible dicks.

AK: All of us though.

EJ: We were all bad. We were all just rats and just like, “Fuck you, fuck you!” But it was nice to hang out again.

AK: We’ve always stayed friends. He always came to all of our shows, we’d go to his shows. There was always genuine affection.

EJ: I mean, it’s just gross being in a van, and everyone starts growing up. He was married and then had a kid and was trying to both at the same time when there was no money in it. There was a lot of stress and especially because he was living in New York, so it was crazy.

We thought, “Should we do a[n Apes] show?”, Yeah, if time permits I’m sure we would. It’s never been like, “We will never, ever do this again.” It’s more like, “What are you doing Wednesday?”

AK: I have a really old romantic love of Apes: Apes music, Apes stories, and if I think back to the whole time, they were dark times. So I don’t know why, but it’s like the first boyfriend… So would we play a show again? Maybe. It’s not going to be some magic “Fifty years after the couple first broke up they finally got married”. It would be an Apes show.

The music never matured. So it’s like, we can still be dumb, and I’ll still get off a little on getting stupid. But no, I’d be open to it. It would take energy; I really like working on Heavy Breathing stuff.

In both Heavy Breathing and Apes, you play big beat electro rock. Could you ever see yourselves getting tired of that and thinking, “We need just do something entirely different now.”

EJ: Sometimes we do more soundtrack-y stuff for ourselves, but when it comes to live, we have more of a sports kind of mentality where, to us, it’s a sport, and we want to get our rocks off. It’s like a game. We want to get sweaty… I feel like for us, at least, if anything, we’ll get energy out, and we’ll be like, “Well, now I’m tired.” And it’ll be our therapy of sorts.

AK: Definitely.

EJ: And volume and noise –

AK: And you feel something.

I enjoy a wide range of live music, and I’ve seen singer-songwriter people, the best of the best, and I’m like, “Wow. That was awesome. Do we want to incorporate things like that?” At one point we maybe had one song that was more chill, and I was embarrassed. I was waiting for the room to be empty.

Where is Heavy Breathing right now? What are you working on for the next few months?

EJ: Probably a new record, because Amanda has a friend in Portland who has a new label.

What’s it’s called?

AK: Eolian Empire.

And it was casual, he asked, “Do you want to do a record?” And we said, “Yeah.” We’ll either do that or make another record and put it out ourselves. We’re at that stage where we have enough to do another record.

Heavy Breathing headlines our show this evening at Tropicalia. Doors @ 7:00, Show @ 8:30. 

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Fresh Tracks! “Gone” by Humble Fire

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It’s time for another round of Fresh Tracks!, where Hometown Sounds brings you the very latest in noteworthy music emerging from the District. “Gone”, the first single from dream rock quartet Humble Fire just went live on the group’s Bandcamp page this afternoon, so I’d be hard pressed to find anything much fresher to close out the work week.

Following a 10 second straight ahead sprint of distorted guitar chords and snare drum rolls, the rhythm section busts down the door with an adrenaline-prodding stomp before ducking back down to make way for vocalist Nefra Faltas’ syncopated warbles. Guitarist Dave Epley’s clean, heavily delayed guitar coils throughout the song’s verses before returning to the hurried dash of the intro riff.

“Gone” embodies a noteworthy release for a couple of reasons. First, the track showcases the band’s ability to establish a strong groove you might even characterize as danceable (an uncommon feat for a rock band). Second, this represents the first publicly available studio recording of Humble Fire, which is interesting given that the band has been performing live for some time. However, their previous lack of recordings actually contributed to their sense of mystery and emphasized the importance of catching the band’s blissed out live show, which I’ve had the pleasure of taking in on several occasions.

Humble Fire performs tomorrow (10/26) at Knoxville, Tennessee’s Preservation Pub, but are currently in between performance dates in the DC area. So enjoy this while they’re…”gone”.

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