By Martin Bonica
The Duskwhales, an indie pop trio that has played throughout the DC area for the past nine years, released their newest EP, “Take It Back”, on Aug. 10.
The band is playing a series of dates in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, and last played in Leesburg at Tally Ho in June, sharing a bill with locals Kid Brother and Maggie Miles.
The band, composed of Seth Flynn (lead guitar, vocals), Chris Baker (drums, vocals), and Brian Majewski (keyboard, vocals) went to high school together before forming the band in Manassas in 2010. Their sound is rich in vocal harmonies and keyboards, counting glam-rock bands like T. Rex and “Ziggy Stardust”-era David Bowie among their influences, in addition to the Beatles. Seth also cites Shuggie Otis and Prince as influences on his distinct, staccato rhythm guitar playing.
The first thing that strikes one seeing them live is Flynn’s uncanny resemblance to Marc Bolan, in voice and in form (“I think it’s the hair,” he says). The second is the fact that there is no bass guitarist. The band writes collaboratively, and Majewski tends to cover the bassline with his left hand, although on some studio recordings he does pick up a bass guitar as well. However, there is certainly no lack of a low end to their live sound, which demands attention and fills a room without trouble.
As far as their lyrics, Majewski relates a comment made by one of their friends; “you sound like the Monkees, if they were clinically depressed.” Indeed, the chorus to the first song on their EP is “today will be the death of me,” over a bouncy harpsichord and handclaps. (Baker compares the song to “Daydream Believer,” in a minor key.)
Flynn explains that their songs layer bleak lyrics (lately, with some “hope for redemption”) with bouncy pop beats, drawing parallels with The Cure and The Smiths. “If you write happy sad lyrics, there’s a humanity to that.” Baker clarifies, “We’ve always approached it as music first and lyrics second, so it’s more about how the songs feel rather than trying to make some sort of prophetic lyrical statement. At the same time, you don’t want to make throw-away lyrics.”
In addition to playing original material, the band also plays events, performing covers. This helps them pay the bills, but it also helps them refine their skills. Flynn acknowledges that his songwriting was greatly improved by learning other songs in and out, and Baker cites the Beatles specifically as the source of the rich three-part harmonies heard on “Take It Back.”
Sometimes this can pose an obstacle to their ultimate goal of writing new music. “Time management is such an important thing,” Majewski said. “It seems that when we’re spending time together, we’re prepping for a specific show. It’s our job, and we have to learn these songs.”
“You definitely need to have a good balance where you’re not stagnating. It can be easy to load up on these cover shows, and it can get really exhausting, and then you don’t have the energy to creatively work on our original stuff. You need to have a good balance while you’re still being an artist, while you’re going out and doing the business side of things,” Baker said.
In addition to their professional work ethic, their strong interpersonal relationship has been critical to their endurance.
“It’s always been The Duskwhales,” Flynn says. “I think we’ve all kind of pretended we were in bands, until we started one for real because it’s something we’d always wanted to do. A lot of people go through different cycles with bands, but we never really figured out how to do that; we’ve just stuck with the one.”
Majewski reflects on the band’s longevity. “We’ve got a unique thing going on, where we started so early, and we all went to a small private Catholic school, so we had some of the same ideals and the same morals. We had this interesting situation where we were all our own best friends at this small school, and we were all holding each other accountable so we were all being good people. We weren’t getting into anything nefarious, like drugs, so there was nothing like that that was going to get in the way of the music or the friendship.”
“You have to realize that what you’re doing is an adult job, even if it’s not viewed that way by people. You’ve got to band together when you start feeling like that,” he said.
The Duskwhales’ dedication to their craft shows no sign of wavering. Hot on the heels of their new EP, the band is playing numerous dates around the DC area across the next few months. They plan to record an entirely new full-length album this year; in fact, they have such a large backlog of new songs that they’re considering presenting it as a three-part project with each band member as principal songwriter.
The Duskwhales’ website, including their tour schedule, can be found at theduskwhales.com/. Their complete discography can be found on their Bandcamp page at theduskwhales.bandcamp.com, as well as on Spotify. Their music videos, often surreal and eclectic, can be found at youtube.com/user/TheDuskwhales.
Photo byGood Foot Media