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Q&A: The Districts’ Rob Grote

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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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STRFKR’s performance was out of this world

Portland band STRFKR brought the weird to Columbia last Wednesday. Equipped with inflatable swans, astronaut suits and enough gear to make any music-lover geek out, STRFKR threw a psychedelic dance party unlike anything the Note has seen all semester.  Frontman Josh Hodges strutted out dressed as a woman — a timely political statement that probably went over the heads of less informed crowd members. His choice of attire served an important purpose and informed us of STRFKR’s ideals that the dance floor is a place of love and inclusion.

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STRFKR eased the crowd into the celebration with the sublimely melodic “Atlantis” before transitioning into the jittery synth bliss of “Malmo.” Watching the end of a STRFKR song live is like watching some child savant playing with Legos. Each song is carefully constructed, but the tension they create by threatening to tear it down is absolutely thrilling. If you couldn’t figure it out from the crowd surfing astronauts, this willingness to toss out convention and improvise directly reflects the bands ethos — they’re just here to have a good time. Nothing embodies their lack of fucks given better than their gleeful cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” The bass line triggered a roar from the crowd and sent the place into a frenzy.

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Other highlights of the night were the euphoric “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” and fan favorite “While I’m Alive.” Considering all of the improvised jams, STRFKR cruised through over twenty songs in a set that went for two hours. It was a fantastic show. As I  left The Blue Note, I heard rave reviews from excited, newly converted fans as well as from a guy I shared a cigarette with who has been following them on tour for the last month. This may sound like typical post-show enthusiasm but it’s a testament to a band that has been near the top of the indie-pop pyramid for a long time and still brings it every night.

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