Local music scene members sit down for round table discussion

In this video filmed by Stephanie Longueira, assistant style editor for Broadside and VoxPop Rocks! staff writer Ramy Zabarah interviews members of the local music scene. (Stephanie Longueira)

In a round table discussion about the Washington D.C. metropolitan area music scene, members of such local bands as The Independent, The Automatics and former members of other bands as well as regular concertgoers and venue employees talked about their views and experiences.

Round Table Participants:

Dan Goldberger of The Independent and Jukebox Chronicles; Danny Oelkers of the The Automatics; Mike Bernal a concertgoer; Zara Lababedi of the Miss Fits and an aspiring local musician; Drake Eidson a former member of The Tennis System; and Anthony Torriente, a concertgoer and venue employee.

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The Discussion:

Q: Has the D.C. Metropolitan area music scene helped shape your art in any specific way? If so, how?

Eidson: Yeah, the bands that were there in D.C. before have definitely influenced me. [Former D.C. hardcore metal band] Q and Not U’s guitar work, that kind of twin guitar sound, is very unique. Dismemberment Plan’s lyrics, emotion and just their social commentary impacted not just my art, but also how I view the city.

Q: Is there a difference between the D.C. music scene and the Northern Virginia music scene?

Goldberger: I think there’s a big market difference between the Northern Virginia scene and the Washington D.C. scene. There’s not as much cross-pollination as you might see in some other metropolitan areas. A lot of bands that do well in Northern Virginia don’t do as well in D.C. and vice versa, and I think that’s because there’s a big stylistic difference in terms of the people who go to shows that actually live in the city and the kinds of people that go to shows in Northern Virginian venues.

The bands that have cultivated followings in Northern Virginia have almost a high school appeal. They’ve played at places like the Sterling Community Center, Jammin’ Java, etc. In D.C., local bands play at places that are 21 and up.

Oelkers: I almost feel like in Northern Virginia, you have to have your own fan base to have a good show, but in D.C., the venues almost have built in fan bases. In Northern Virginia, there’s smaller venues: coffee shop venues, community center venues as opposed to bars and clubs in D.C.

Q: What are some things about the local music scene that are unique to this area?

Goldberger: Getting back to what I was saying about the difference between the Northern Virginia scene and the D.C. scene, what I saw in the past few years was that we had a few bands from the pop-punk genre getting record deals and stuff like that in Northern Virginia.

Lababedi: I’ve only been here a few weeks, and I don’t think I’ve heard a certain D.C. sound. Everyone just sounds very unique and they each have their own thing going on, which I like.

Q: Are there certain things a band must do in order to succeed in the D.C. area music scene in particular?

Oelkers: I feel like the way they set up those shows, at least the way they used to when I started performing, was flawed. There would be about 13 bands on a single bill, and so if you really didn’t impress or do something to keep the crowd there for you, people wouldn’t come at noon and stay till 8 p.m. just to see another band that they thought was going to sound a lot like the other ones. They’re going to come to see the band they want to see unless they get enticed to go see the rest. We had to come up with a really good live show to make people want to see us and want to be a part of our show.

Goldberger: I just don’t think those bands were that good.

Q: How do you balance your art with school and/or work?

Oelkers: You have to choose where your priorities are. I’ve skipped a lot of classes and called off a lot of work to make sure I made it to a show early. I’m not saying people can’t make it if they have different priorities, but making sacrifices is a big part of succeeding in music. For example, not going out on a Friday night because that’s the only time everyone can practice, or getting your homework done on another night when you could be going out so that you can practice or have a show.

Eidson: It is expensive being in [a] band. It’s not just getting new equipment and repairing old stuff, it’s having to take off of work on a Friday night, promotion, paying for gas when you’re on tour. I bartend, so weekends are where the money is, but that’s also when all the shows are. Most people aren’t going to go out and see you if you’re playing on a Tuesday night.

Goldberger: I dropped out of school, but obviously, I’m getting paid to do something fun, so I can’t complain too much about that. At the same time though, every time I have a show I get texts from my friends that say, “Party at my place! Come over!” and I have to say, “I can’t, I’m working.” That’s what I chose to do, and I still have a blast doing what I do.

Bernal: I don’t get too much sleep since I go to so many late night shows, so that’s probably my biggest problem.

Q: What are some of your favorite venues?

Torriente: Well there are pros and cons for every venue. Rock and Roll Hotel, where I work, they book a lot of bigger acts, whereas the Velvet Lounge gets a lot of local or unknown bands. The smaller venues don’t do a lot of promotion so the downside to that is that not a lot of people show up, but then again those kinds of shows are a lot more intimate. I personally like a good show at Velvet Lounge more than a big show at the 9:30 Club or any other large venue.

To me, the 9:30 club will always be the touchstone of the D.C. music scene. It’s not going to be the most intimate show, but they’ve got a good vibe, great sound system and they know how to do it. They will very successfully sell shows out all the time and they treat bands very well. It’s a sketchy area of town, but people go there because it’s good. If I get the opportunity to play there, that would be a proud day.

When I was starting out, Jammin’ Java was always that cool venue for me. I always looked at it as the next step from Jaxx and smaller clubs like that. Playing Jammin’ Java when it’s packed feels like the 9:30 Club. I actually feel like it’s the 9:30 Club of Northern Virginia.

Eidson: I’m frequently surprised at the acts that come through Jammin’ Java. They definitely get some quality shows. I was also checking out MySpace pages of some of the small unknown acts that were listed there and I was pleasantly surprised. They get a lot of good talent.

Bernal: I always forget to check Jammin’ Java then after I’ve already checked all the local venues for any good shows, I stumble upon their bill, and I’m always surprised at who’s playing. The freakin’ Ataris played there!

Q: (To Zara) What’s it like trying to start an all-girl band in Washington D.C.? Have you been gaining much support?

We’ve all just started but everyone’s being so supportive. We’re using U.S. Royalty’s Studio, and we’ve been working with [local trio] Laughing Man and [local pop band] Ra Ra Rasputin. The community in D.C. seems really tight-knit; everyone’s connected. Everyone’s really supportive, and I’ve never been in a city where it’s like that.

Q: Have you ever had offers to perform with or open for any big acts?

Goldberger: I’m playing at the State Theater tonight with a band that no one’s ever heard of called The Gracious Few, but they’re a collaboration between the band Live and the lead guitarist of Candlebox, which were both huge bands in the 90’s that sold millions of records.

Eidson: My old band played a couple times with Japandroids, and we opened for Waves at Rock and Roll Hotel. They’re not huge bands, but big as opposed to other local bands.

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