A hometown favorite, for better or worse
If Deleted Scenes isn't the best rock band in Washington, it's certainly on the very short list.
The quartet's new album, "Young People's Church of the Air," builds on an excellent 2009 debut, landing on an indie-rock style that is decidedly rhythmic and full of dynamic twists and turns. The band also has a way of finding catharsis in the ordinary, both lyrically and musically. Songs slowly simmer as various sound effects lurk in the background, before bursting forth with a surprising sonic clarity.
But here's the existential question that Deleted Scenes stares down: What good is it being Washington's best band when nobody outside the city is noticing D.C. bands? That question can be both daunting and depressing to confront but one the band is ready to tackle head-on.
Washington's favorite underdog spends plenty of time on the road - most of July and September was spent crisscrossing the country, playing in such places as Fairfield, Iowa, and Ypsilanti, Mich. And no matter the city, the band often faces the same question.
"People ask, 'What's going on in D.C.?'," says singer-guitarist Daniel Scheuerman, 29. "And the tone of their question is, 'What's wrong with you guys in D.C.?' "
The answer could open up a Pandora's box of responses - from "there's an inescapable shadow that has been cast by iconic (and now largely inactive) punk label Dischord" to there's nothing wrong at all. But as always, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Scheuerman is inspired by Sockets, the hometown label behind "Young People's Church of the Air" that has quietly amassed an impressive stable of diverse acts, including the precise, proggy rock of Hume, the eclectic electronic duo Bluebrain and the political rap group Cornel West Theory.
"Every year some tiny label that's been quietly building a roster of really great stuff gets discovered on a national scale," Scheuerman says. "And I think that's inevitable with Sockets. It's only a matter of time before something drags the whole roster up."
Deleted Scenes seems like the obvious candidate, but if the band finds itself somewhat isolated thanks to its home town, it also finds itself in a similar spot in the overall musical landscape. Indie rock is a vast place these days, but most bands are able to find a corner - be it chillwave, lo-fi, experimental, garage, etc. - to call their own.
"We're too poppy for the weirdos and too weird for the straight-ahead kids," Scheuerman says. "We flow through a lot of different pockets of ideas. There are bands that do only this or only that. And we embrace it all. It is kind of a lonely place."
But it's a very exciting place. "Young People's Church of the Air" can't be described with a quick, catchy microgenre, but that's a large part of its charm. The album reveals new layers and intricacies with each spin and is worth the extra listens it demands. "Bedbedbedbedbed" is a moody, bleary-eyed march; "A Bunch of People Who Love You Like Crazy" has a dissociative rumble reminiscent of recent Flaming Lips; and "Baltika 9" sounds like a feistier Vampire Weekend. Scheuerman and bandmates Matt Dowling, Dominic Campanaro and Brian Hospital also made a conscious effort to make sure the final product reflected the recording process.
"If we wanted something to sound a certain way we didn't want to fix it [in post-production]," Scheuerman says. "It required us to look at each track holistically and dive into the experimental process during the recording process instead of afterwards."
Now that the album is out after months of recording and mixing, the band can just hope that people take notice. It has gotten plenty of good press, including a positive review from uber-influencer Pitchfork. And the band recently acquired a booking agent, a small victory that will allow Scheuerman, who has self-booked every tour, time to decompress.
"It takes a month or more to book a tour, and that's all your free time outside of work," he says. "It's hard to write songs and get really anything else in your life done."
For Scheuerman, that life includes a tutoring job (its flexible schedule allows him to take a month off to ride in a van) and a new marriage. But his commitment to the band is absolute, and he isn't looking to a change of sound or scenery as the answer.
"I moved to Brooklyn," he says of a northward venture a few years ago that many other musical hopefuls have made. "But after doing it I almost felt inauthentic. If you can't do it where you're at . . . "
For Deleted Scenes, shortcuts simply aren't in its repertoire.
--David Malitz, Oct. 7, 2011