Luce Unplugged: Five Questions for Pree

Photo by Garrett Coyte.

On Friday, January 31, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Luce Foundation Center hosts another installment of the Luce Unplugged Community Showcase from 6-8 p.m. Presented with the Washington City Paper, the free show features performances by local artists with free tastings provided by Anxo Cider. Jessica McFadden, the Luce Foundation Center's Program Specialist, reached out to this season’s Showcase performers, Pree and Carly Harvey, to gain some insights to their creative processes. The second installment of this two-part blog post features May Tabol, the frontwoman of dark-pop trio, Pree.

How did you choose the name “Pree” for the band?

Pree is a reference to songs on Neutral Milk Hotel’s On Avery Island, as well to an old English word meaning “to try” or “to taste.” I chose it for its sound, both bitter and sweet. If Pree were a person, she would likely be the character of Pearl in The Scarlet Letter… a sort of otherworldly being whose presence is at times discomforting, but who is able to cut to truths others won’t speak of. 

What’s your experience in the DC music community been like? How has it changed over the years? 

I consider DC my adult home in a lot of ways, but chiefly because it’s where I really learned to play music and realized life could be a thing of joy.  I spent my college years in DC playing electric guitar and haunting places like the Black Cat and 9:30 Club.  A couple of years later I was lucky enough to be able to start playing in touring bands. That home base in DC for those ten years thereafter is what really taught me to be a part of a DIY community.  

In what ways would you like to see change in DC moving forward?

Just like what’s happening in a lot of major cities around the country, as people get priced out you have a harder time hanging onto DIY spaces.  Carving out a space for artists either through offering more affordable housing or providing places for shows that aren’t threatened every time a lease is up for renewal is a great way to keep a city thriving.

Are there any spaces or organizations today that do a particularly great job supporting local artists?

Well in addition to Luce (of course!) you have Rhizome, Dwell, Comet, Slash Run, Jackie Lee’s, The Pie Shop, Songbyrd, Black Cat, and the list goes on and on. But more than just show spaces and venues, there are people behind these places that are truly dedicated to making something lasting. Shout out to them all.

Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? From start to finish, how do you make music?

Lyrics first, almost always. When I feel out of control, it gives me an outlet where I can decide exactly how things are going to play out in a way that just doesn’t exist in day-to-day life.  I then merge them with chord structures and melodies and often flesh them out together with people I trust who add some magic of their own.  

Bonus round! Earlier in 2019, in a Washington City Paper feature about your most recent album, Status/Post, you describe the record as, “documenting the destruction of something,” and you’re quoted saying: “There’s so much negative stuff that’s happened since 2016…just being able to say that we stood through that and created this piece of art. I think it’s a testament to what you can accomplish in spite of everything that’s stacked against you…To hell with it, create.”

White lines on a black background with "Pree" and "Status/ Post" in bold letters. It is the album cover artwork for the record "Status/Post."

Status/ Post album cover by Pree. Image courtesy of the artist.

What inspires you to create? And how do you tap into that creative energy when faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of negativity?

It’s not easy. There are days when I wonder whether I should get out there at all because I’m always imagining the comments section. But the truth is if I don’t do it, I get sick. Things come out in other ways. It’s not really an option at all to ignore it. The best thing to do is get offline and deal with what is coming out of your head before it makes a mess of you.  

With your most recent album marking a sort-of departure from your other projects, what’s next from here, moving forward? What comes after that “record of destruction”?

The last album took its toll.  Now I’m having fun working on something that is arguably more glam than gloom, but still emotionally vicious.

Can you give us any details?

It’s a new punk album titled Bathwater.

Want to hear more? Listen to the artist’s music on Pree’s Bandcamp page and on Spotify. Luce Unplugged is a free, monthly concert series held in the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. The series is organized in partnership with Hometown Sounds, and the Washington City Paper. Be sure to check out upcoming performances and don't miss this season’s Luce Unplugged Community Showcase on Friday, January 31. Carly Harvey to open at 6 p.m. followed by Pree at 7 p.m.

Don't miss the first interview in this two-part blog post, Luce Unplugged: Five Questions for Carly Harvey.