For D.C. indie pop band Mystery Friends, playing Comet Ping Pong only feels fitting for their return to in-person performances. The Chevy Chase music venue and pizza spot was where they played their last show in February 2020, and it was a sell-out. But since then, the band has found a tighter, dancier sound. Post-quarantine, they are wasting no time making the music they want to hear.
The band formed in 2016 over casual jam sessions. At the time, the music was more indie rock than pop. Vocalist Abby Sevcik’s lyrics were denser, and songwriter Dave Mohl’s songs were guitar-driven. Since then, they have developed their craft. Mid-pandemic, they focused on a synth-driven pop sound.
Mohl says, “The Covid era makes you say, ‘Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s just do something fun.’”
They chose their name when making their first EP using a band name generator. They were randomly shuffling names when Mystery Friends came out, and it stuck.
“It ended up being prophetic,” Mohl says. “We didn’t all know each other, so we were actual mystery friends. And since then, the band’s had an evolving cast besides Abby and me.”
Despite coming from different musical backgrounds and different tastes, their bond over playing music together has allowed them to enjoy being bandmates for the last five years.
“It ended up being a chance for us to find a style that fits what we’re both good at,” he says, “and not try to force some style because we think it’s the pure way to do it.”
In playing live shows, they found they thrived off of the crowd’s energy, a discovery that pushed Mohl in a new creative direction.
“We’re better at executing the higher energy music. We like the stuff we’ve been doing, [so] why don’t we focus on that direction more?”
In quarantine, they tried outlets other musicians used, streaming a show hosted by Comet and another at Jammin Java in Virginia with a small audience. They didn’t like the experience, though. It reminded them of early poorly-attended shows.
The band also covered “Getting Better” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for a Beatles’ cover album recorded by D.C. bands. They also continued to engage with their fans by asking them to vote on Instagram in a cover bracket and then covering the winner, “Toxic” by Britney Spears.
Quarantine proved the right time to retool their sound and release three singles. The songs pull elements from earlier songs, like synths and Sevcik’s clear melodies, and the writing is sharper.
Their latest single “Someday” is the clearest example of the new direction. The bounce of Sevcik’s lyrics and Mohl’s synths give the song the momentum of a radio single.
Still, they didn’t anticipate how much they would miss live performances.
“There was so much about that experience I didn’t realize brought me so much joy,” says Sevcik, who experiences bad stage fright.
“Music is meant to be shared, and we loved recording, but there’s an element of live music that’s not available in any other form,” she says.
The band looks forward to seeing how live audiences react to the new pop sound. But they don’t plan to quit their day jobs just yet. Although they would welcome that level of success, it’s not their goal.
“You can do music and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” says Mohl. “It’s being around people you enjoy, company you enjoy, making music you enjoy.”
The group’s attitude was also what drew Sevcik to the band.
“I’ve been around egos. I’ve been around personalities, and there was something so warm and genuinely fun about this group that made me want to stick around.”
She adds it’s exciting to play with a rotating group of musicians, who each bring a different approach.
Preserving that group spirit over the years, despite differences, becomes an exercise in not being concerned about how things ‘should be’ and instead working with what’s there, according to Mohl.
“That’s been the coolest thing of all,” he says. “It makes me optimistic that it’s a sustainable exercise because the change can lead to growth.”
While the Comet show is sold out, Mystery Friends have an upcoming show with Nah August 14 at Pie Shop on H Street Northeast.
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