The Districts

The Grey Eagle and Worthwhile Sounds Present

The Districts

Sun Seeker, MJ Lenderman

Fri, October 20, 2017

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm


This event is all ages


The Districts
The Districts
It's not uncommon for musicians to grow and evolve between releases -- but even by those standards, the Districts' Popular Manipulations is stunning. The Pennsylvania-borne band's third full-length represents an exponential leap in sound and cohesion, an impressive and impassioned burn with a wide scope that threatens to swallow everything else surrounding it. Perhaps it's a cliché to say so, but while listening, you might find yourself wondering why people don't make indie rock like this anymore.

The total electric charge of Popular Manipulations is just the latest evolution for the impressively young quartet, whose founding members -- vocalist/guitarist Rob Grote, bassist Connor Jacobus, and drummer Braden Lawrence -- have known each other since attending grade school together in the Pennsylvania town of Lititz. After deciding to form a band in high school, the Districts gigged hard in the tri-state area, releasing a slew of promising material (including the rootsy 2012 debut Telephone) before catching the eye of venerable indie Fat Possum. 2015's A Flourish and a Spoil found the band refining their embryonic sound with veteran producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Kurt Vile) -- and looking back on that release, there are glimmers of Popular Manipulations in chrysalis form to be found on it, hints of the fence-swinging anthemic sound they'd soon make wholly their own.

After touring behind A Flourish and a Spoil, Grote began "playing with different ideas" in his own songwriting by making demos at a prolific pace. "We knew that we wanted to change some things musically, so we were trying to come up with as many songs as possible to narrow the direction we wanted to take the material," he states. In total, they ended up with 50 song ideas, and so they were off to LA in May of 2016 with new guitarist Pat Cassidy in tow to log more recording time with Congleton, with four of Popular Manipulations' songs coming out of the sessions.

"We have a lot of overlapping tastes and preferences for how things are made," Grote gushes about working with the notably reliable studio wizard -- but acceding all credit to Congleton (who also handled the record's mixdown) would be shortchanging the Districts themselves, who went on to self-produce the remainder of the record in Philadelphia with engineer Keith Abrams. "Something we took from working with Congleton was ideas on arranging songs," Grote explains, and they certainly learned a lot: Popular Manipulations is a raucous and impressively thick-sounding album, overflowing with toothy melodies that pack a serious punch.

The distinctly intense sound of Popular Manipulations -- charging guitars, thunderous drumming, and Grote's searing vocals -- was brought on by a few cited influences, from shoegaze's aggressive swirl to the Velvet Underground's impeccable drone-rock sound. There's a distinctly Canadian flavor to this brand of indie rock, too; Spencer Krug's anthemic, lushly inscrutable work in Wolf Parade and his defunct Sunset Rubdown side project comes to mind, as does 2000s Toronto barnburners the Diableros' overlooked 2006 gem You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts.

But don't mistake easy comparisons for a lack of originality: on Popular Manipulations, the District are in a lane entirely their own, exploring lyrical themes of isolation and abandonment in a way that ups the music's already highly charged emotional quotient. "Capable" finds Grote turning his focus to the ruinous aftermath of divorce, and "Before I Wake" is, in his words, "About coming to terms with being isolated or alone -- even though we have a whole group of voices singing the whole time." Grote explains that even the title of the record touches on these universal concerns: "It hints at how people use each other, for good or bad, and the personal ways you manipulate yourself and other people in day-to-day interactions."

For such weighty thematic material, though, Popular Manipulations is purely life-affirming rock music, bursting with energy that cuts through the darkness of the world that surrounds us. "We're a much better distillation of who we wish to be as a band," Grote reflects on the journey that has led the Districts to this point. "We've figured out how to distill the things we've been trying to accomplish as a band, musically and lyrically. We've always viewed making music as something we're trying to do better the whole time." Mission accomplished.
Sun Seeker
Sun Seeker
Sun Seeker has already drawn attention and acclaim for their unhurried breed of Cosmic American Music and with BIDDEFORD (Third Man Records), their long awaited debut EP, the Nashville-based band more than affirm their protracted promise. Songs like “With Nothing (But Our Last Words)” and the yearning “Won’t Keep Me Up At Night” see the gifted young trio exploring nostalgia, melancholy, and emotional turmoil via laidback psychedelia pollinated with tight harmonies, classic folk songcraft, and country rock spirit, an ageless approach that is simultaneously archetypal and now utterly their own.

The “bunch of musical friends” at the core of Sun Seeker have been collaborating in some sense since eighth grade, united at the outset by a shared passion for live rock ‘n’ roll. Alex Benick (guitar, vocals) together with Nashville School of Arts besties Asher Horton (bass guitar) and Ben Parks (drums) were all enthralled by the then-burgeoning Nashville indie scene, hanging out at DIY house venues like Glenn Danzig’s House and The Other Basement and digging local combos like PUJOL and Lylas.

“We had an immediate connection,” Benick says. “I’d go to shows and see these two kids that were also 14 or 15. Early on we bonded over bands like The Band and Wilco and Buzzcocks. Even now my favorite music tends to circulate through the three of us.”

The teenaged trio made music together the very first time they met up outside of a gig, hitting the streets of Nashville to busk a setlist highlighted by approximately thirty renditions of Camper Van Beethoven’s college rock classic, “Take The Skinheads Bowling.” An aspiring songwriter with a taste for Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst, Benick soon showed his new friends one of his original tunes and a band was born.

“I had been listening to a lot of sad acoustic guitar music,” Benick says. "All of a sudden I had talented musicians interpreting my songs through their experience. The songs became a product of a group and less derivative of songwriters I grew up listening to."

The trio fashioned a loose collective of combos, playing together in each other’s bands, but Sun Seeker “quickly shot up to being the priority” for all. The band officially convened in January 2013 and then spent the rest of the year honing their material before finally playing their first live show in December. Sun Seeker played regularly around Nashville for the next two years, operating under the vanishing paradigm where a band earns word of mouth and a fervent fan following by simply gigging non-stop.

“It turned us into a really tight live band,” Benick says, “which at the time was definitely our focus. There was no record for people to listen to so they had to be impressed live.”

Sun Seeker in due course began recording with Nashville guitarist/producer Buddy Hughen, learning to fuse their electric live presence with sophisticated studio arrangements. Their confidence and craft were growing by leaps and bounds when Third Man Records invited them to join their prestigious roster.

“Third Man only wanted a single but we hit the studio pretty intensely and recorded a whole album’s worth of songs,” Benick says. “We basically gave them the first two that we finished and then kept going.”

Released in early 2016, “Georgia Dust” b/w “No One Knows” (TMR322) received national applause, instantly transforming Sun Seeker from local heroes to potential world-beaters. Though ready with go with close to twenty album-ready songs, the band ultimately decided to rein back and release an EP as their next offering.

“Your debut album is like the Holy Grail,” Benick says. “People are always going to look back at it as this grand introduction to the band and we wanted a little more time to build a foundation to support it when it does come out.”

Never ones to rush, Sun Seeker reunited with Hughen in October 2016 and re-recorded the six songs that make up BIDDEFORD. The EP sees Benick’s deeply reflective songwriting coming into full focus, unveiling intimate and introspective angles on his own upbringing. Written as Benick attended Nashville’s Hume-Fogg and then performed at his own graduation awards ceremony, “Won’t Keep Me Up At Night” expertly captures a teenager’s longing to leave town after high school, while “Biddeford,” the EP’s poignant title track, takes its name from the small industrial town where the young tunesmith spent his time after opting to work on a farm in southern Maine in lieu of college.

“They’re transitional songs,” Benick says. “Going from high school to working on a farm to being in a band. For example, ‘Churchill’ is about my mom getting us a dog so it’s like a window into my own childhood and into the mind of my mom. But at the same time, they’re not literal. I find it much more interesting to write through the eyes of another character.”

Though intricately constructed, songs like “Georgia Dust” and “Biddeford” were born as unaccompanied acoustic tracks, with Benick’s candid lyricism carried by equally stark and straightforward melodies. Like any great band, Sun Seeker takes their lead writer’s bare boned songs and put musical flesh on them, building out a sonic world to match their interior emotional scope.

“I go in thinking they’re these solo songs,” Benick says, “but then we work them out as a band and they just make so much more sense.”

Indeed, Sun Seeker’s musical capacity is growing more unique and adventurous with each passing day. Though the band is undeniably rooted in eternal rock sonics, Benick admits a personal fondness for Arianna Grande and that profoundly contemporaneous influence is surprisingly present in Sun Seeker’s brand of 21st century folk-pop.

“The songs are getting bigger,” he says. “We’re much more open to using technology now. At first we were determined to be very traditional and not use synthesizers or drum pads, things like that. But as we’ve grown, we’ve learned to appreciate how you can use those things for the greater good. That’s been huge for us.”

Sun Seeker will follow BIDDEFORD with intense national touring, not dissimilar to the approach they took in building a hometown following. The band plan to use the time between runs to record their now eagerly anticipated debut album, still determined to catch the on-stage energy of what Benick simply describes as “the sound of four people playing music together.” One thing is certain: Sun Seeker is going to keep venturing forward, developing and expanding the distinctive parameters of their own intrepid sound and vision.

“We don’t want to put out the same sounding record over and over again,” says Benick. “Sun Seeker is going to always grow and change.”
MJ Lenderman
MJ Lenderman
MJ Lenderman is an Asheville born singer songwriter and founding member of the bands Sportfans and SLUGLY. Influenced by the likes of Jason Molina and Neil Young, Lenderman mixes twang and fuzz to create his sound. He released his debut album, Him, in June 2017 on Sub-Fi Recording followed by the single,Grief,​​ shortly after.
Venue Information:
The Grey Eagle
185 Clingman Ave
Asheville, NC, 28801