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Bands with buzz: Wye Oak, La Sera, Alex Winston, Tabi Bonney
Winston has been grouped with the likes of Florence + the Machine and Marina and the Diamonds - "the quirky girl pop thing," she calls it. But besides the fact that they are all women with distinctive voices, there isn't much to tie those artists together. Winston takes her inspiration from more classic sounds, particularly Chuck Berry and the Motown legends from her hometown. The elegant simplicity of those artists is what appeals to her.
Berry "could take four chords and make five songs," she said. "And they're all interesting and all have great melodies. It's great music, but it's not overcomplicated." Winston also mentions the Supremes as a favorite. "I just love gang vocals, a wall of sound and melodies that carry the song." When she plays live, a trio of backup singers helps bring this vision to life.
Developing a sound that she calls her own is Winston's proudest achievement to date. As a teenager, she worked with many producers and managers who told her what songs to sing and how to sing them.
When it came time to write her own material, she said, that control "stunted me creatively. Singing other people's songs for so long, I was like, 'How do I even do this?'" Nevertheless, those early experiences were valuable.
"I just feel really grounded," she said. "I've been through this to an extent, and I know not to get excited about the [stuff] that isn't real. This is the first time I feel ready to be going constantly," she adds excitedly. Now it's only a matter of time before listeners catch up.
Next local show: Saturday. Doors open at 9 p.m. Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. 202-667-4490. www.blackcatdc.com. $12.
Veteran takes a new approach
More than any of these other artists, D.C. rapper Tabi Bonney knows what it's like to have buzz. Early in his career he had a bona fide hit with his slinky local anthem "The Pocket," which was inescapable on local hip-hop station WPGC in 2006. As is often the case when an up-and-coming artist scores a surprise hit, there were plenty of enticing career opportunities. But Bonney decided not to cash in on his buzz. Labels flew him to Los Angeles and New York, where he met with executives who made him pitches. But they just didn't get it.
"They thought 'The Pocket' was a dance," Bonney said, comparing it to current craze the Dougie. "You come in, you meet them and they just don't understand. All they know is that you're being played on the radio and they're looking at numbers."
So Bonney never signed a deal. But he has no regrets. "Why would you just hand over everything and put it in their hands if you already see what's going on with other artists?" he said, referring to friends and peers who put pen to paper only to see their albums get stuck in seemingly eternal limbo. Bonney chose to stay independent and maintain artistic freedom.
But here's the thing about buzz - it's fleeting. Bonney remains one of the city's best MCs and most charismatic performers, but the spotlight has shifted to other artists. His good friend Wale is now the face of D.C. hip-hop, with a string of well-received mixtapes landing him the major deal that Bonney passed on.