Music is, at its very core, a social activity. Sweaty concerts, band practice, collaborative writing – it all happens with closeness, both physical and emotional. So, what happens to creators when being apart mid-pandemic is the new reality for the foreseeable future, adding complications to rehearsals, writing, touring and more? When speaking to three local outfits about the implications for their music, it’s clear that no one is slowing down. Instead, all continue creating and innovating with a renewed sense of resilience and love for music as a medium.
Crystal Casino Welcomes The New
The name Crystal Casino may be unfamiliar to some, but the three people behind the band have four albums under their belt to prove they’re no newcomers to the world of D.C. music, or that of indie rock in general. Recently, the band formerly known as The Colonies has been through a season of positive change: new band member, new post-graduate life, new album and perhaps most notably, a new name.
“We all just thought it was the right time to do it,” says vocalist and guitarist Pete Stevens of the new name. “It’s been really nice seeing the positive support from all of our fans about it. They really appreciated having awareness to even change it in the first place. A lot of people might not even know the implications of the name, so they appreciated that we were aware of that fact and then were active in changing it.”
The updated moniker was announced via a livestream presented by AdMo’s Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House and Spin Magazine, and also celebrated another element of newness: the release of their fourth album, Someone When You Want It. Since graduating from George Washington University last year, the band experienced some changes in lineup, most notably with the addition of guitarist Jarrod Hendricks. Stevens notes that he’s excited this record has Hendricks’ stamp on it, as he brings some new influences to the already diverse table that makes up Crystal Casino’s impeccably catchy sound.
“I come from a different background musically than these guys,” Hendricks explains. “I’m from blues and ’70s rock, but also more modern artists like Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. I’m going with different influences than [Stevens’ and drummer Joey Mamlin’s], which are more alternative rock and indie rock. I really haven’t dabbled too much in that. But I’m integrating more of my influences.”
The merging of Hendricks’ sound with the cool indie rock that Mamlin and Stevens have crafted over the years is not only evident, but incredibly effective. Take the song “Drunk Tex(h)er,” for example: The bluesy guitar, anchoring drums and an earworm of a hook make for an iconic summer song. And while releasing music mid-pandemic is not ideal in the sense that traditional touring is on pause, the band hopes Someone When You Want It provides a slice of happiness to those who listen.
“For me, every new project somebody I’ve been a fan of has released during quarantine has been a very nice, pleasant break in this sort of monotony,” Mamlin says. “I hope we can provide that for people [and] give you something a little extra special – something that breaks up just a day in, day out slog of quarantine.”
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that a lot of change can happen in a short amount of time. But take it from Crystal Casino: Sometimes those changes can be good, and in their case, emblematic of bigger and better things to come.
Den-Mate Returns To Roots
When asked to describe the sound she makes under the name Den-Mate to someone who has never heard her music, Jules Hale describes it as “escapism if your escape was an adventure-packed city night, floating in a bubble in space.”
While abstract at first read, anyone who has spent quality time with her two previous records will know the feeling Den-Mate evokes, and that perhaps such an escape through the city in a dreamy, safe bubble is just what we all need right now. Luckily, Hale has new music on the horizon despite the obvious challenges of our current reality.
“Music campaigns take a lot of time to plan,” Hale says. “We started talking about this release last fall, and around February, everything was set in action. I wanted to still release because when lockdown first started, music is what was getting me through each day.”
So far, Hale has released two excellent songs, “It’ll All Come Back” and “All My Friends,” from her upcoming EP Hypnagogia. As the name implies (hypnagogia refers to the dreamlike state right before drifting off to sleep), the EP’s first two songs are hazy, introspective and beautiful – fitting for the hot D.C. summer nights we all love but might know a bit differently in 2020.
Hypnagogia, out July 24, has also afforded Hale the opportunity to rediscover some of the sounds and influences that are foundational to her overall body of work.
“This EP was getting back to the roots of making this in my own studio, and I wanted to explore more of my electronic sound, whereas [previous album] Loceke was just as much of a rock record as it was electronic.”
Time at home has also been an adjustment for Hale. Still, she’s taking the time to acquiesce to this new state of being in all aspects of her creative life.
“It definitely comes in waves. Sometimes, I’ll be pouring with creative energy and other times, I’ll just want to paint and not work on music. [I’m] definitely keeping creative every day in some aspect, though.”
And as far as lessons learned about herself in quarantine, Hale says she’s realized having nothing to do is a gift to be used wisely.
“I’ve been teaching myself [to play] the cello. I use it a lot in my music and wanted to make my own samples and tracks.”
Should you be so inspired to lean into the creative ebb and flow of quiet summer nights at home, Den-Mate’s music is the perfect soundtrack to exploring new outlets, just as Hale has done herself with this gift of time.
Kokayi Creates Amid Change
As a musician, producer, educator, Halcyon Arts Lab fellow and much more, Kokayi has never been one to shy away from innovation in his work. His time in quarantine has been no exception. Whether he’s using technology to create or recentering himself to allow for space to relax and reconnect with loved ones, this time has been transformative for the musician and audiences who have followed along.
Kokayi’s music spans and defies genre.
“[It’s] just an amalgamation of what it is to be from here,” he says of the overarching influence his hometown of D.C. has on his work. “So, you’re going to get influences of punk, go-go, R&B, hip-hop and jazz. Everything is built from my history of listening, being a fan of music and growing up in this specific environment.”
Though D.C. serves as the thread connecting the themes and sounds permeating Kokayi’s music, he’s able to leverage his skills as an independent artist to work with people around the globe – even while in lockdown.
“Being in a creative space allows you the opportunity to work with creative technology. The pivot from outside to inside as far as work was concerned was easy, but I miss the stage.”
While a European tour he’d planned for this year was canceled, Kokayi is taking this opportunity to pivot in other ways, too.
“That also allowed me an opportunity to concentrate on family and relationships, and catch up with my kids and be like, ‘Okay, this is what I really need to do. I need to mow the lawn.’ Now I go outside and grow plants. I’m a plant dad.”
Kokayi is also taking advantage of and acknowledging not having the pressure of time and production resting on his shoulders.
“I’ve been able to be gentle with myself and give myself the opportunity to just chill out. I don’t have to go so fast. I don’t have to finish everything.”
While he may be moving at a different pace, don’t expect a full stop anytime soon. Kokayi recently released two singles, “Triangles” and “Pressure,” from upcoming album Et Tu Brute.
Connecting with fans via social media can be pivotal to any artist at this time, and Kokayi has taken it a step further by using his platform, notably Instagram, to educate fans and followers on systemic racism and police brutality.
“During the time we are fighting two pandemics at the same time – Covid and racism – I find that I don’t want to promote myself a lot. Not that I feel guilty about doing it, [I] just feel like there is more important stuff to do and more important things to say.”
Kokayi’s work has always dealt with what it means to be Black in America, so the use of his platform to illuminate the reality so many Black people face is a natural fit within his body of work.
“I feel like the best thing I can do with my platform in the meantime, aside from posting a square and going down to a protest, is to push those messages out in a socially engaging way so that [my] fan base also understands that as a human being, you have these other things that are going on as well.”
Be it a new song, multimedia project, garden or Instagram post, Kokayi is still deep in the work of creating – just at his own speed this time.
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