From 2011 to 2020, SAAM hosted Luce Unplugged, a free, monthly concert series that celebrated the work of local musicians in its Luce Foundation Center. Since in-person events have been restricted during the pandemic, we teamed up with a local music podcast, Hometown Sounds, to continue to bring you music and conversations from your favorite DC artists. In our August episode, we talk with Rachel Kline and Dan Abh about the release of their album, Pretty Dark, winner of the 2021 WAMMIE award for best rock album. To hear the full interview visit hometownsoundsdc.com.
How did the two of you start making music together?
Rachel: I met Dan when I was 15. I started doing open mics at The Lab, which is the building we're in right now. This is where we have our practice space, where we're currently recording demos. When I was in high school, I met Dan at the open mics, and he became a mentor to me. I volunteered at The Lab and did shows here throughout high school and my early twenties. I went off to college and then came back for the summer and I had written a bunch of new songs. I was like, “Who wants to be in a band with me for the summer to play these songs?” I was so shocked that Dan said, “I'll play drums for you,” because I looked up to Dan so much. I still do, but we have a different relationship now than we did then. We've been playing together ever since. What was originally just supposed to be something for the summer turned into six years of making music together.
You mentioned The Lab. Can you tell us more about the space and what it’s all about?
Dan: I work at a nonprofit organization called Convergence. In a nutshell, it is a church for artists. It’s about faith and creativity and where they intersect in life. The Lab was started by our director, Lisa Cole Smith, and her husband, Jay Smith. It’s a place where artists, whether of faith or not of faith, cut their teeth and collaborate with other artists. I met Jay Smith in 2009. He was running shows through what was then called Club Tiger, and I wanted to get in on it. I wanted to work with young people and get them a space and an all-ages platform. I wanted to build a close and diverse community and teach people how to run shows, and book shows, and proper show etiquette.
You’ve spoken in the past about how you chose the name Flowerbomb. Why was it important to you to evoke the concept of femininity and to challenge it?
Rachel: Many of the themes in the songs that I write have to do with my life experience. I like to write about gender and sexuality. Specifically, challenge femininity through my writing and describe my experience with womanhood and figuring out what that means for me. Women or feminine people are expected to be delicate. I don't think that being delicate is necessarily a bad thing. I think it's a beautiful thing, but there's this other part of me that wanted to destroy that idea. Flowerbomb is a name that fully encompasses the themes that I choose to write about.
What was it like to release this album and play live streams on the internet during this pandemic time?
Rachel: It's been interesting. We've had to learn how to engage with people in a different way. Dan and I spent a lot of time over the pandemic learning about the music business, which is something that we never really spent time doing before. We got a bank account. It was a process of figuring out what we needed to know. How do we need to protect ourselves? How do we reach people during a time when we can't play shows? Our live shows were really how we engaged with people. I think people felt our energy at our live shows. We struggled, during the pandemic, to figure out how to transfer that energy. That’s when we tried to do the live streams, which was difficult because we were all still trying to stay six feet apart and be safe. We were recording Pretty Dark. It has been a four-year process, so it was like, we have to release this album, it is time, we're going to figure out how to release it during this pandemic. Despite the struggles, there have been some really amazing things. People have been buying vinyl, supporting us through merch sales, because they know they can't come to shows. I feel like we've really felt the support from far away, even when we haven't been able to share that energy in person.
Dan: Accessibility and reaching people farther away was a huge thing. People who could never come to our shows are finally able to see us. I have family in Texas and New York, and they were able to see us for the first time. People aren’t always able to come to venues because they're not accessible, or shows are during work hours, or whatever. This is a way that everyone can join and that felt really cool. We really hope that venues continue to stream shows, and when they open to the public, they can still do that. It's more accessible and it means more ticket sales. You can watch a concert in DC and live in Bozeman, Montana. We’re never going to go back to normal and I hope we do keep some of these things that we were surviving on for the past 17 months, because I think it is very cool.
Tell us about the new music video you're making!
Rachel: We are making a music video for our song, “Sorry.” We just finished shooting it with an awesome guy named Mitchell Worley. We had so much fun making it. We shot it all here at The Lab and there are so many different spaces to work with. It became a huge production that we were not expecting. There are many cool, aesthetic shots that are going on. I got to break an umbrella. That was fun.
Dan: I've known Rachel for so long, and this was her first time acting. I got to see her turn into this different character where she's got some attitude and I was like, oh, you don't want to mess with her. Wow, there's something going on with this person. Rachel at 9:00 AM was a completely different person from Rachel at the end of the day.
Rachel: Dan's absolutely right. I was so nervous. I was like, oh my God, I'm so awkward. I don't know how to do this. Then Mitchell helped me get into character and brought me out of my comfort zone. I was like, I can believe I really am this character right now. It was really cool to see my growth in just a short period of time. I think that's a sign of a really talented director. When I play music, I'm expressing things that I don't normally get to express. It was uncomfortable, but it got more comfortable as it went on, and that was really cool.