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Q&A: The Districts’ Rob Grote

The-Districts

The Philadelphia-born rock band known as The Districts are gearing up to play at Rose Music Hall on Sunday, April 23 and they’ll be bringing some serious talent with them. The four-piece band, which formed in high school, are constantly evolving. Their sound is hard to place but if you like rock-and-roll, and the likes of Houndmouth, Dr. Dog, Twin Peaks or Heartless Bastards, you need to check out The Districts. I interviewed singer and guitarist, Rob Grote, about how the tour has been going, what the band has been up to and the new music they’re working on.

Tickets for the show are $12 in advance and $15 day of show. Doors are at 7 p.m. so get there early and get a beer during Logboat’s tap takeover and get a spot in the front row to see Abi Reimold and Things On TV kick things off. P.S. Beer tastes better in the front row.

How’s the tour going?

We toured a lot for the last album and we’ve been taking some time off for a while to work on new music. It’s been really cool to get back out there and play shows again and we’re feeling good. We’re trying out a bunch of new songs which has been fun and the response to those seems to be going pretty well.

I saw that you guys just released “Ordinary Day.” Where are you in the process of making new music?

We have a whole album recorded. We spent the last year just working really hard. We wrote a ton of new music, only a portion of which is actually on the album. I’d say most of the year was spent recording and writing stuff so it was really fun. I think we twist ourselves and challenge ourselves to make things new and different to us.

How would you describe the new album? How is it different than music the band has put out before?

There’s definitely some differences, like just lyrically and musically, we went at it with a lot of ideas of using restraint. We wanted to approach a lot of the new stuff by trying to use different techniques to accomplish some of the things like cathartic feelings that we’ve done in the past by having like a loud moment, so restraint was a big idea with that.

Also lyrically, trying to do a “less is more” type of thing at times; just challenging ourselves to look at things differently and not necessarily make things the way our first instinct would be to make them. It definitely still sounds like The Districts. It’s just more of a fully realized kind of idea that we had been shooting for in our sound before. I think we’ve hit the mark on it a little more this time.

What’s the songwriting process like for you guys?

The process varies a little bit…I’ll usually come up with a pretty bare bones idea for a song and make a demo in my room, which will be usually acoustic guitar and maybe a keyboard or another guitar track here and there; like a pretty stripped down unfinished version.

Sometimes it’ll only have one verse written and the chorus, or something like that. From that demo we’ll usually try to work on some stuff, and together we kind of flesh it out and make it into a more completed image of it. We usually record another demo then. It’s usually gone through a bunch of ringers, so to speak, to kind of squeeze out everything we want to get out of it so that by the time we’re in the studio, we’ve all kind of had our say; we’ve all contributed collectively a bunch of ideas and turned it into a Districts song.

Who were your influences for the album, and as who has influenced you as a band?

We all listen to a lot of different types of music so it’s hard to say. For the album itself, there wasn’t a particular influence. We could go from something like old music, like I really like old singer songwriters like Lee Hays and Leonard Cohen, and I also really like dancey music from Africa or something. We all listen to a bunch of different kinds of stuff so it kind of just seeps in in it’s own way.

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Clutch guitarist Tim Sult talks spacegrass, guitars and touring

Hunched over his guitar and dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt and tennis shoes, Tim Sult could not look more unassuming for a member of a band that tours the world. Sult is the lead guitarist in Clutch, a rock band that played at The Blue Note this past October.

Clutch‘s sound lies somewhere in between rock, hard rock and alternative and funk metal. I hadn’t seen them live before but after having friends rave about their show last May at The Pageant in St. Louis, I couldn’t wait for them to come to town, and when I came across the chance to interview the band’s guitarist Tim Sult, I couldn’t pass it up.

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Despite the placement on The Blue Note’s chalkboard bathroom wall, the show was not shitty.

The band is on tour for their latest album, Psychic Warfare. The band has been together since 1991 and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

Sult says songwriting is something that is shared among all members of the band. “It keeps everyone so interested in being in the band. That we’re all artistically and creatively involved in every song from the ground up. That’s what makes it Clutch, the fact that there’s four cooks in the pot,” he says. 

“We’ve always tried to remain creative and move forward and just try to write new songs and try to work on a new album… We never really felt like artistically, we were limited. We always felt like we were allowed to do whatever we want,” Sult says.

The show opened with Don’t Mind Dying, a local rock band with a similar sound to Clutch, as well as Kyng. The bands were a perfect match and Clutch lead singer, Neil Fallon, even gave Don’t Mind Dying a shout out during the show.

Clutch took the stage and kept the energy high throughout their performance. I’ve seen my fair share of concerts that start off strong and die down until the encore, but not this one. If anything, I’d say they started off with some of their more mellow music, amped it up throughout the show, and then came back down a little toward the end.

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Clutch guitarist Tim Sult doing what he does best.

Sult strummed in a concentrated focus, rarely looking up from his guitar. Meanwhile, the audience (who sported more leather jackets than I’ve possibly ever seen in a room) kept security on their feet in a constant effort to mosh.

A fan favorite, “Spacegrass,” was the first song of the encore. “I honestly don’t know 100% what the song is about,” Sult says. “I think we had the title and we were just playing it instrumentally. When we were jamming and playing it, we thought it sounded totally trippy. That was like the early days of stoner rock and that kind of music. Niel always says it’s about driving a car through outer space.”

Overall, the show rocked. Their lyrics drew me in and led me to make a playlist of Clutch essentials. At first, I felt a little out of my element, but by the end of the show I had joined everyone in jamming out in pure rock fury.


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Midwest Rhythm & Blues Revue: Show Preview and Interview

Where: The Blue Note

When: Saturday, March 11. Doors 7:30 | Show 8:30

Tickets: $7

Featured local artists: Jenny Teator , Aina Cook, Ben Hinkebein, Danielle Nicole Band (formerly of Trampled Under Foot), and the The Flood Brothers.

The nine-piece soul, rhythm and blues band known as Al Holliday & the East Side Rhythm Band will be bringing funk and soul from their home of the blues by the Mississippi River to The Blue Note’s stage. They’ll be joined by some of the hottest young singers from Mid-Missouri, St. Louis and Kansas City in a revue-style performance.

What is a revue? You may ask. Simply put, it’s a performance consisting of several musical acts that lead up to a headliner, like Al Holliday & the East Side Rhythm Band.

Al Holliday came to Pat Kay, our regional talent buyer at The Blue Note and Rose Music Hall, with this revue concert in mind. In case it wasn’t obvious, we focus on amazing live music, and this concept concert definitely fell into that category. Holliday has never performed in a revue-style concert with his band but he is “So looking forward to working with my fellow artists, my good friends and the band to bring some really special arrangements of their original music.”

“We want it to be unique. From downbeat to encore, we want it to be something special, something that only happens once a year,” Kay says.

Holliday is quite the singer and quite the character. His enthusiasm for his craft makes “soul” a very fitting name for the type of music he creates, which he describes as “Mississippi River soul music.”

Holliday says that in St. Louis, “We all really dig New Orleans R&B and think of them as some kind of sister city.” The New Orleans feel worked its way into their music with a loose, funky feel.

Holliday lives, eats and breathes this Motown, funky, soulful generation of music. He says one of his main inspirations is Tina Turner, but he’s “Not talking about that “What’s Love Got To Do with It” Tina.” Other inspirations include The Band, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Gil Scot-Heron, D’angelo and Allen Toussaint.

Shows like this help connect the last resurgence of this kind of music to the modern version that is played today. This playlist illustrates this concept of connecting then and now.

Holliday is an eccentric personality with a lot of faith in music and even more faith in the people that listen to it. He says his fans are the type of people that keep it real and “go hard ‘af.’”

Although Al Holliday and his “nine-piece soul R&B warrior tribe,” as he refers to them, play all the time, you won’t see them any other time in this format. The same goes for the rest of the talented singers that will be joining him on the stage.

In preparation for the show, Holliday had the East Side Rhythm Band learn the charts for all of the different singers that will be performing. Doing this requires a lot of work on their part, but it allows the show to have a backing band and switch between band leaders on a dime.

In addition to bringing inspiration and passion to their music, Al Holliday & the East Side Rhythm Band send a message. Holliday describes this message as, “Love, baby. Soul f*cking power. Strength. Community. The feeling that life will sometimes kick you in the head but it can’t overpower these things.” I know we all could use a little more love and soul power in our lives these days.

“If you like real music in your community, if you like funky music, if you are alive in the world today, this is a show you do not want to miss,” Holliday says. We couldn’t agree more.

So get your funky, soul-loving, groovin’ booty down to The Note for one of the most creative events this year.

This post was written by Erin Curry, contributing writer for The Blue Note and Rose Blog.