Musicmaker: Local indie-rock group Le Loup

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, November 6, 2009

The stereotype of rock musicians paints them as flaky, unrealistic and even irresponsible. But Sam Simkoff, 25, frontman for indie-rock band Le Loup, comes across as remarkably (and a little disappointingly) not stereotypical.

"For now, music is fantastic and it's what I want to be doing, but we haven't been around long enough to make that sustainable as a full-time career," he says by phone from the band's van on his way to a gig in British Columbia.

Le Loup started in Washington in 2006 and quickly developed a strong blogging fan base. The band played its first gig at the Velvet Lounge, a tiny, bare-bones club on U Street NW, and "packed the place" mostly with friends, Simkoff says. (The Velvet Lounge has since expanded.) A gig at Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington landed the group a record deal with Seattle-based indie-label Hardly Art.

In 2007, Le Loup released its first album, "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly," garnering a review in Pitchfork, the online news source for indie music. The songs, all Simkoff's, are simple -- a little banjo here, a little synthesizer there, a drum machine and Simkoff's doubled or tripled voice in the forefront, often reverberating.

The album name is taken from a bizarre altar made of aluminum foil, cardboard and other random items, created over 14 years by a janitor and now on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Such a long and grandiose album name seems perfect for a cooler-than-thou indie-rock band, but Simkoff seems genuine about his reasons for naming it so.

"I remember seeing ['The Throne'] for the first time, and I was really taken by it." The album, he says, was homespun in the same way the throne was, done as a labor of love.

Le Loup's second album, released in September and more simply named, "Family," is almost too pretty at times to be rock-and-roll. It's the music of the smart, geeky music crowd that sits around deconstructing chords and experimenting with cool sounds.

Simkoff studied political science at Ohio's Kenyon College. He moved to Washington after graduation and worked as a paralegal. Always a musician, he started looking for something to do in his spare time. He turned to Craigslist to piece together a band.

Musicians have cycled in and out of Le Loup. These days, he collaborates heavily with his best friend from high school, Christian Ervin. The two started writing together via e-mail when Ervin was studying architecture at Rice University.

That kind of long-distance musicmaking is standard for the band. Although the group holed up together in a house in the District to make "Family," today band members are strewn across the country. Simkoff lives in Seattle, Ervin is in Portland, Ore., a couple still live in Washington, another is in Princeton, N.J.

And there's no talk of changing that. Simkoff is married now, and the practical side of him won't bank on a long-term career with Le Loup.

Success, he says, is "hard to define. As soon as you get really specific, that's kind of setting yourself up for disappointment, especially with something as vague as music. It's up to public perception, and unless you're super-talented, there's no way to manipulate the outcome."

Plus, Simkoff says, he likes the contrast of life on the road with life at home, working in an office in temporary positions.

"I feel like I have to be a productive member of society," he says. As musicians, "you're contributing to culture, which is great, but I also want to help the community [and] my wife."

The future of Le Loup appears vague. The group sold out the Mercury Lounge in New York but couldn't draw more than 50 people to Boston's T.T. the Bear's Place. For now, that kind of inconsistency is okay with Simkoff, but three years from now, it may be a different story.

"Before I was on this label, I dreamed of being on a label, and that was the end-all be-all." But the bar, he says, is ever-rising. "There's nothing wrong with always wanting to push yourself further. Success is a constantly shifting thing. If [Le Loup] can go a little bit further, that's great."

And practical.

Le Loup Saturday at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. Show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets: $12 at the door starting at 8 p.m. (cash only) or The Download: For a sampling of Le Loup's music, check out: From "Family": "Beach Town" "Morning Song" "Grow" From "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly": "Canto I" "We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!" "I Had a Dream I Died" Sam Simkoff

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