The music portion of this year’s Artomatic@Frederick will wrap up Friday night when Time Columns, Drop Electric and Atlas At Last take the stage. We recently caught up with Ramtin Arablouei, who plays drum in Drop Electric, to discuss how the band came together, what it was like to sell out the 9:30 Club in D.C., and what we can expect from their set this Friday at 115 E. Church St. in downtown Frederick.
Take us back to the beginning. How did Drop Electric get together? And then how did it evolve into the project it is today?
Neel and I started playing music together while in school at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. We’ve played in a bunch of different kinds of bands together over the years. But, honestly, nothing we were doing was really fulfilling. We were always experimenting and trying to write music that felt natural and exciting. We always said that if we could just make one album that we could look back and be proud of years later then we’d be satisfied with the time we’ve spent together being creative. So Drop Electric really started with our album “Finding Color In The Ashes” in 2010. Another one of our college classmates David Garber, Neel and I worked on that album for a better part of a year. It was really just something for us to do together since we were really close buddies and hanging out together anyway, David and I lived together. We didn’t even have a band name. The first time we were offered a live show we had to come up with a name and we just threw two words together. At the time we didn’t think anyone beyond our close friends would care about what we were doing. There was very little thought and planning put into anything. We never really consciously made a decision to make a certain kind of music. Most of our songs just came out of the jamming we did in our living room.
“Lost In Decay” came out last year. I know we’re only halfway into 2016, but are there plans for new music at some point this year? If not, when do you think a next full-length or EP might be ready?
“Lost in Decay” was a really emotional album for all of us. It was our last with Kristina. It was our first album that got released internationally, and most notably, it was signed and released by Rallye Label in Japan. The entire process of finishing and releasing the album was draining. We’ve tried to take our time with this latest album. We added two new members during the process of making it so it’s been a slow process. In fact, this is the longest we’ve ever taken to finish an album. It should be done by the end of the summer and after I have no idea exactly when it will be released. I hope it will be out in 2016 but it could end up being early 2017.
You guys are playing the 9:30 Club next month and that must be a huge deal. What led to getting that show? What does it mean to you guys to be playing such a historic venue?
We actually headlined 930 Club once before in 2014. The show sold out so it was a surreal experience. Most of the people in the band are from the DC area so it was a dream scenario. This show was really put together by Norm from the amazing band Tone. There are only a few “post rock” bands in DC and Tone and Drop Electric are some of them. We saw each other at a show and he had an idea of putting together an awesome local lineup at 930 Club. A few months later here we are getting ready to play there again! We’ve been so lucky as a band. We’ve had opportunities to do things that I would have never dreamed of 4-5 years ago. Having the chance to play 930 Club is another one of them.
I also see on your website that Bob Boilen weighed in on Drop Electric. How did that come about? Did you know he had his hands on your music or did that come out of nowhere?
In 2012, we played our second headlining show at Black Cat Mainstage. The next day, after the show, I woke up hung-over and saw an email from a dude named Bob Boilen in my inbox saying he really liked our set the night before and that he’d like to include one of our songs on his podcast. His email was really simple; it didn’t start out with a pitch saying how many listeners tuned into his show. I had listened to All Songs Considered before but I didn’t immediately attach his name with the show. So I went back to sleep. I told a friend that evening at dinner about it in passing and she stopped me and said “Do you know that guy is from All Songs Considered?” I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the connection. I was embarrassed. I sent him our song “Empire Trashed” right when I got home. He included the song on the next episode of All Songs and talked about our set, comparing us to Sigur Ros. I think he was there to see the band that played before us. So we had no idea he was there and we never expected to hear him say so many nice things about our music. It was such a surprise. And, look, we’ve never made accessible music or music that could reliably be called “indie.” Each of our albums is much different than the one before. We don’t create an “aesthetic” of any kind, really. We experiment and fail on our records and our shows. That just isn’t a recipe for success if you want to garner attention from music writers. So we genuinely never expected something like All Songs Considered to happen. But it really kicked things off for us as a band. We started getting calls from managers and labels within days of that episode going up online. Everything good that has happened to us really flowed out of that moment. And, now, four years later, I work at NPR as a producer and write music for podcasts. Things have worked out in such a bizarre way. We’ll always be appreciative to NPR Music for supporting us so early.
What’s your perception of the local music scene in and around the D.C. metropolitan area?
This is a tough question to answer. I’ll ONLY speak for myself answering it because I know there are varying views in the band. I started in the DC music scene as a sound engineer at The Red and The Black back in 2008. That is how I got introduced to DC musicians and bands. The city was so different then. It was still in the early stages of gentrification that is now almost complete. The scene was small and had some real edge to it. There were a lot of weird bands. A lot of people were experimenting. It never felt like anyone really had any ambitions for indie rock stardom. If they did they probably moved to LA or Brooklyn. So I’m a bit nostalgic for that time. Today, there are more bands and more DIY venues than ever in DC. Excitement about the music scene is at a really high level. And that is due to the work a bunch of kids have put into nurturing the scene. But I can’t say that I’ve ever felt a real part of the scene in recent years. It has gotten whiter and more male. Going to a local show at a DIY spot is kind of a harrowing experience for many people of color. This isn’t just something that I’m saying, it is an experience many people of color have shared with me. With that said, there are so many great people trying to make connections across genres of music and bring communities together. I can honestly say there is a serious effort being made and it is already helping a lot. In just the last year or two I’ve become closer to several people in the scene who I’d never even thinking about talking to before. The central issue in my view for DC music right now is cost of living and rising rent prices. For most musicians and artists it is becoming impossible to live in DC proper and even some of the surrounding suburbs. As a result, the only people who can really make a go of music are people who get support from their families. A lot of artists are moving away. This leads to a real lack of diversity in voices. If local governments don’t make an effort to stem the tide of gentrification then DC will continue to lose the cultural flavor that is bringing new residents here in the first place. The problem is bigger than just music. It is the systematic loss of cultural authenticity for the DC metro area.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
We all come from different musical backgrounds so our influences are really varied. We are definitely all huge fans of movies so many of our ideas come from films we’ve watched. Musically our influences vary from Phish to Big Pun to Robert Glasper to Refused to Lauryn Hill. Its kind of insane how unrelated the acts we listen to backstage before shows are.
Can you give us names of some bands we need to check out that we maybe haven’t seen yet? Who are you listening to the most these days?
I’ve been on a jazz kick lately. There are acts like Robert Glasper doing incredible things to move jazz forward. I think it is a genre music where there is genuine innovation happening. Listen to the “jazz” group Dawn of Midi, they are opening for Radiohead at Madison Square Garden, they are achieving things musically right now that no one else in the world is. I’m actually in Barcelona for Primavera Sound right now and I’ve discovered some bands, that are new for me like Floating Points and Evian Christ. You have to see both of those acts when they come your way next time. They are incredible! Some other bands you must check out are Time Columns, Laughing Man, Outputmessage, Brambles, Slow Machete…the list goes on!
Where are some of your favorite places to play and why?
Black Cat and 9:30 Club have been our favorite clubs to play. The staff at each of those places is the best! Seriously, so kind and professional. We’ve also had a chance to play a number of festivals. I really love playing music festivals. The vibes are incredible.
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
Great question! I still think “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead is the perfect song. Everything about the song is just perfect. The chord choices, the arrangement, the combination of tightness and total chaos along with the incredible statement Thom Yorke is making about modern life are perfect. I also think Lauryn Hill’s song “Ex Factor” is a perfect song. It is something everyone should go back and listen to periodically to remember just how amazing she was as a songwriter.
And finally, what can we expect from your set at Artomatic?
Almost all the songs we are going to play are new ones. They will all be on the new album. Hopefully, the audience doesn’t get bored and start yelling “Freebird.”