LET’S GET WEIRD WITH THIRTEEN TOWERS

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INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY EDSON HINOSTROZA

While you were sleeping and taking selfies, ska has been back on the rise across the  Commonwealth and District. From Fairfax, Va, THIRTEEN TOWERS has helped to pave the way for this ska revival. Now with a new lineup, a refreshed motivation, and another album on the books, they are looking to help expand ska across the region even more.

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DESPITE BEING SCATTERED ACROSS MULTIPLE COLLEGES THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY, SCOTT’S RUN IS LIVING PROOF THAT SKA IS NOT DEAD, AND NEITHER ARE THEY

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INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS BY JON FLEMING

It’s been a while since boy bands have been part of popular culture, but the boys of SCOTT’S RUN are more than what you might expect from your run of the mill band. One of the few ska bands originating in Virginia, SCOTT’S run combines elements of punk, jazz, funk, pop, and even classical music. Their extensive line-up consists of lead vocalist Cameron Pulley, drummer/vocalist Alex Lichtenstein, guitarist Jeff Small, bassist Jonathan Ledesma, keyboardist Calvin Baxter, saxophonist Aaron Frederick , and trombone player Keith Kunze. Though the majority of the band are currently enrolled in college, they are still remaining active in the local — and international — music scene. We spoke with Lichtenstein, Baxter, and Frederick about their band’s self-titled sophomore EP, the ska scene, or lack thereof, in Virginia, and their new music which is still in the works.

I know that SCOTT’S RUN is a trail in the Great Falls area, but why did you decide to name your band that?

Alex: I guess the reason was that we kind of wanted to represent the area where we were influenced as musicians, and where we are from is important to us. We also thought it sounded cool (laughs).

Is it true that your band often participates in poetry slams?

Calvin: I will say no to that one, but we do like to engage our online following on Facebook a lot. They are so good to us, so we try to entertain them with sarcastic quips. But we do not, sadly…

To be honest, I only know of a few ska bands from Virginia, and a few others from the DC area. Why do you think ska is such a rare genre in this area?

Alex: I don’t know. It’s a fun genre to play. Having horns is such a cool thing when songwriting. It’s not something you see a lot in bands these days. It gives you a lot of flexibility to branch out into other styles [of music]. On our record, we do not only do stuff in the ska style, but we also have some dance-influenced jazz and some other weird stuff.

Aaron: I think our local scene is predominantly metal-focused, and I think that has a lot to do with how awesome their [school] band and orchestra program is. People get really into that playing in the orchestra and bands, so they get really proficient in classical music. Then all the guitar junkies that play other instruments realize they can get better at guitar, and metal music is the best outlet for being a well-trained classical guitar player.

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Are any of you classically trained in the instruments that you play?

Calvin: I played piano for 12 years, classically, and then a couple [years] of jazz.

Aaron: I’ve been playing saxophone classically for about 10 years and jazz as well.

Alex: I’m not trained at all (laughs).

Do you guys play mostly with punk bands or more mixed genre shows?

Calvin: I think we play with a huge variety. You can’t even narrow it down. We play Empire a lot, and it’s predominantly metal bands that play there. The stage is designed that way, but we’ve played with funk, other ska bands, electronic bands, spoken word people. Pretty much everything.

Aaron: We’ve also played with some folk players who brought their acoustic guitars and their hot ass girlfriends.

In February, you guys released a self-titled full-length record. How has the response been to the new songs?

Calvin: I think it’s been really good. We did a very good job spamming the Internet, and it’s gotten a lot of downloads. We can track our stats on Bandcamp, and it’s got some international appeal. We found out that some people in Russia were downloading it, which was kinda cool.

Alex: It’s been mostly positive reviews. I think people liked it. We’re still getting a couple downloads here and there based on the information through Bandcamp, but I think it did well.

Aaron: I personally wanted it to do better. This is all relative, but personally I have been dreaming slightly bigger. So I was slightly disappointed that nothing came out of it. Otherwise, I’m really happy with the music we played on it.

CLICK HER TO LISTEN TO SCOTT'S RUN

CLICK HER TO LISTEN TO SCOTT’S RUN

Which song is your favorite to play live off your new album?

Calvin: My favorite is “Don’t Feel Sorry for Me”. It’s got a lot of really interesting parts, and I enjoy listening to it while playing it. Sometimes live, our guitar player doesn’t really want to solo that hard so I kind of solo, but I love it because I’m an attention hog (laughs).

Since then, have you started writing any new music?

Alex: We recorded a couple songs over the summer. They are still in the process of being mixed, and we plan to have those out relatively soon. We recorded the drum track with Ken Barnum at Recording Arts in Fairfax, and a lot of the instrumentation at Palmer Studio. We’re still dealing with the logistics of how we want to release it.

Do you have any upcoming shows or festivals you are playing soon?

Calvin: Currently, no.

Alex: Since we are all at different colleges, it’s kind of hard to perform in the area.

Calvin: We keep getting emails from Indie on the Move and Reverbnation about gigs in our area, and we are currently picking and choosing which ones will work for us when we all get back from school, most of which will be over winter break.

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Where do each of you go to school?

Aaron: I was gonna say we all go to the University of Phoenix, but that’s probably not even funny (laughs). I go to Overland College; Calvin goes to Gettysburg College; Alex goes to NYU; Jonathan goes to University of Virginia; Jeff goes to JMU; Cameron goes to Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.; and Keith is currently on break, right?

Calvin: Yeah, he’s taking a year off.

What do you hope for your band to accomplish by the end of the year?

Calvin: I would like to release the EP. My goal is sometime over the winter, maybe after Christmas or maybe Valentine’s Day, which was around the time we released our last album. I want to release three or four songs there, and I want to record three or four more over winter/summer break. I just want to keep playing and play shows here and there. I’m more concerned about recording new material.

Aaron: I really want someone to find us and offer to pay us to play music like a label, or a booker or agent. I just want someone to be like, “I think you guys are really awesome, and I think people would pay money to see you guys.” That would be really cool.

Alex: I’d like to get some more Internet recognition and play through blogs. In the future, we plan to give it our all in upcoming recordings and whatnot, and perhaps stray from the strictly DIY path like we did with our first album. We want to try to make it a more collaborative effort between us and different parties.

For more updates on SCOTT’S RUN, be sure to “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, Reverbnation, and Soundcloud, subscribe to their YouTube page, and check out their music on Bandcamp.

SWELL DAZE SATISFY MULTIPLE MUSICAL PALATES WITH THEIR UNIQUELY DEFINED SOUND

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INTERVIEW BY SHELBY BAKER

PHOTOS BY MORGAN SCHRADER AND PROVIDED BY SWELL DAZE

Seeing as they consider each other to be one of their greatest influences, it is clear the alternative four-piece SWELL DAZE was destined to come together to create music. The Purcellville natives have a clear, strong chemistry throughout their performances and musical delivery. This chemistry was on high display last year when they were reigned winners of Empire’s Mid-Atlantic Battle of the Bands where 90 bands competed. Considering they started as a wild card, the natural talent of the band is something that isn’t overlooked. The band then worked in the studio with renowned producer Jim Ebert. This led to the creation of their song “Hooked”, which has been featured on MTV and The Discovery Channel. The band, which includes vocalist McCoy Douglasson, guitarist Addison Smith, drummer Greg Barton, and bassist Mitch Weissman, has continued a steady pace of performing at locations in Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland. Their sound truly can’t be pigeonholed, as they draw influences from various artists and strive to make each song its own entity. Even so, in their biography on Facebook, you’ll find that they consider their genre and sound to be uniquely defined as SWELL DAZE. For those looking for a new indulgence that’ll satisfy multiple musical palates, look no further than SWELL DAZE.

What inspired the band name?

McCoy: It came from a t-shirt I had for a while, and it just said, “Swell Day” and my brother suggested it being the band name. But, then I thought of replacing “Day” with “Daze”, and it sort of stuck.

Who or what inspired you to create music?

Mitch: My dad was a major influence. I went to my first concert at five-years-old. Then, I eventually picked up the electric guitar in high school and listened to a lot of classic rock.

Addison: I guess I have to give a similar answer. My dad was who introduced me to in music in the first place. I picked up the guitar in the 9th grade, and I took it from there.

Greg: I’ve always liked all sorts of genres, and it was my next door neighbor who got me into rock. The rest of the band inspires me as well; we all build off each other. The band is my main source of inspiration.

McCoy: I was actually singing as I exited the womb. My mom was a singer, and I used to go on stage and sing with her. Then, I met these guys (the band), and they got me into some really good music.

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You guys worked with producer Jim Ebert on your album. How did that opportunity present itself?

Greg: We actually hired him. We were looking for a good producer, and we took the money from what we won at the Mid-Atlantic Battle of the Bands. We thought he was a good investment. He had a great studio and resume, and we thought he was a really good candidate.

Is there another producer you would like to work with?

Greg: We really did enjoy working with Jim. When we were in the studio, he kind of changed how we wrote, and it gave us another source of inspiration.

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What was your experience like competing in the Mid-Atlantic Battle of the Bands?

Mitch: It let us improve our performance and music and develop choreography It really helped us develop.

Addison: There were a lot of bands, and at first, it was daunting. What drew us to the competition was that we were judged by a panel of judges. You know, it wasn’t about ticket sales, and we were the only ones who were rock. We tried our very hardest every round.

McCoy: We were actually picked as a wild card in the first round. We just wanted to see where it would go and how far we could go in the competition. We at first placed 7th, and then we won the next round, and then the next one, and then the next one. Then we ended up winning! We were really excited to learn new things about the band and develop knowledge about being in the music industry. We didn’t just do it to win. We kept the advice to heart, and it has changing our writing style and made us develop as a band.

What exactly is the “SWELL DAZE” sound?

Addison: I would say the closest to describing the sound of the band is that we have a classic rock core to our sound. We all respect classic rock, and we try to incorporate catchy melodies and forward thinking into our songs. We try to take a normal song and make it something that’s unique, and something that people enjoy and can remember.

Mitch: There are a lot of different elements, like ska and pop.

McCoy: Each song has its own distinct sound. We make it ours throughout, and we try to keep it different and unique.

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Your performance is something that is unique to the band. What is the level of performing to the band itself, and what inspired you guys to create energetic shows?

Greg: Whenever we do have a good performance, we look back and see what went right and what the crowd liked and try to make everyone happy. If the crowd is happy, then we’re happy.

Mitch: Performing takes the music a step up from listening to it on your iPod. Performances are so you can see the band, not just hear the band.

McCoy: Well ever since we played our first show we had this sort of chemistry. We all love music so much, and it all evolved into this passionate performance. I mean, you see some bands that just stand up there and play, but we feel the music. We take everything as a growing experience.

For more updates on SWELL DAZE, be sure to “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, “become a fan” on Reverbnation, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.

THIRTEEN TOWERS REP NOVA WITH THEIR UNIQUE BRAND OF SKA AND PUNK ROCK

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INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS BY BESA PHOTOGRAPHY

Hailing from Fairfax in the heart of Northern Virginia, THIRTEEN TOWERS have been rocking stages since 2007; however, this seven-piece punk/ska band is finally getting the recognition that they deserve. Bringing a positive message about life, love and social equality with a twist of humor and sarcasm, bassist Edson Hinostrroza, who was a huge fan of 90’s punk and third wave ska, had a clear vision of what the band could sound like. Through a Craigslist ad, Edson recruited drummer Mike “Mikey” Yaary. The rest of the band includes vocalist Mike Tolbert, known for making girls swoon, guitarists Jeff Skinner and Xavier Pena, whom Edson also found through Craigslist, and Chis Tolbert on trumpet and Mike Dranove on trombone. We have the chance to talk to Edson about his band’s new record, their influences, as well as their pride in being from Northern Virginia.

One of our other contributors—Mike Schoeffel—recently wrote a review of your album Won’t Forget The Sound, and he said that the songs on your record were “rooted deeply in ‘90s pop-punk”. Is that something that you would agree with?

I would agree that we definitely have a ’90s influence. We are all in our mid-20’s and early 30’s, and we really identify with bands from that time.

Growing up, who were some of your primary influences in ska and punk rock?

For me personally, I was a big NOFX fan. I liked anything on Fat Wreck Chords. I was also really into BAD RELIGION, PENNYWISE, and RANCID back in those days.

This past year you had the chance to open for BIG D AND THE KIDS TABLE. What was that experience like?

It was great because it was our first time playing with major label bands. They were also touring with RED CITY RADIO. It was an overall great experience. I have never met such nice guys.

In an email that you sent me, you said, “We pride ourselves in always representing that we are from NoVA, and not [saying we are from DC like] a lot of local VA bands do.” I think that is really awesome how well you represent your area.

I grew up in Arlington. I have seen a lot of bands from Virginia rep DC, and I don’t know why. KILL LINCOLN and SOJA are based out of Arlington, but they don’t claim it. Roots to me mean a lot. I love DC, but I’m a VA kid and thats how I wanna keep it.

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One song that seems to stand out from the rest on Won’t Forget The Sound is “In Africa”. Tell me about this song and why you chose to include it on this album.

Having seven guys in a band you get a lot of different perspectives, and we all write songs. I wrote “In Africa”. I think I am much more aware of what is going on in the world, and I wanted to write the song because it is a topic that really bothers me. Africa is a continent with most resources, but its people are the poorest. Our songs are all about love and social equality, but I wanted it to be gritty and raw.

Another stand out track on your record is “Twisted”, which was seems to have a vibe similar to that of 311. Was that intentional?

“Twisted” was written by our vocalist Mike Tolbert, and he is a big 311 fan. Now that you mention it, it does sound really similar (laughs). It has a lot of similar elements.

Have you started writing your next record yet?

We are writing songs. We have a good six so far, but we are still ironing them out. We haven’t set a release date yet, but we are hoping for sooner rather than later. Our guitarist Jeff Skinner has a house studio in Silver Spring, and we doo all our recording there. It took us 13 months to record our last record, but hopefully the next one doesn’t take as long. We pride ourselves on being straight DIY from recording to booking. We are big believers in that.

Do you have any big announcements for the upcoming year?

Next week, we are playing at Empire in Springfield on February 8th with KILL LINCOLN, and February 21st, we are playing with THE TOASTERS at Blue Fox Billiards in Winchester.

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For more updates on THIRTEEN TOWERS, be sure to like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and visit their website and Bandcamp page to hear their first full-length album Won’t Forget The Sound.