In the fall of 2020, we at the Luce Foundation Center tried to imagine what the future held for our beloved Luce Unplugged concert series. With no return to in-person programming in sight, we turned to our friends and program partners at Hometown Sounds to find a way to stay connected with DC’s vibrant music community. Hosts Paul Vodra and Tony Porecco agreed to a running a limited series on their pod with us, called the Luce Listening Party. As our series comes to a close, Paul and Tony look back on some of their favorite conversations. To hear the full interview, visit hometownsoundsdc.com.
On genre with Bartees Strange:
Paul Vodra: So getting a start in your solo moniker career covering The National, you've been, I think, pretty outspoken against applying genre labels to some of your music. What's your motivation for escaping or transcending genre? How do you think it affects your place in the music landscape?
Bartees Strange: What is my motivation for transcending genre? I just never thought of it that way. I mean, someone wrote something a while ago that was like, “Bartees Strange is breaking genre barriers.” And [my response] was, “I don't feel like I'm really breaking anything. I feel like my music is like a museum. You can look at a song, and I like to trace the line all the way back."
I hear the Ramones and [I think], “Where did that come from?” And I looked deep and deep and deep, you know? And I realized, “Oh, cool.” A lot of this stuff is blues, a lot of this stuff is country music. Like, especially with emo music and a lot of stuff like that, that I grew up playing. I remember having the realization that , “Oh my God, like a lot of this is just sitting on a C chord. ” It feels very Garth Brooks to me, very Woody Guthrie, even like some of these finger-picking techniques. All this stuff is just so much more connected than we like to admit.
A lot of that is steeped in Black Western art, especially when I think about rock music. Then I always thought it was funny that, rock and roll guitar-based music, loud music, comes from a very Black place in America, you know? And I always thought, “Why don't we have more big Black rock bands?” It feels like that would be pretty normal. Even if you look in the 70s and 80s, like Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Rick James, these guys are big rock stars that were given a funk moniker. to kind of sidestep them. And I think that that has had a huge impact on how we see Black contributions and the guitar-driven rock and roll space if we wanted to get super heady with it.
And so, I feel like when I write songs or when I present these ideas, it's not because I want to supersede genre classification, it’s because I want to be real about where it came from and say, be like, “Yeah, let's talk about why the guitar sounds like that. Where's that from? Let’s follow it all the way back.”
I think it makes music better. Also, most people aren't one genre. I think most people listen to a lot of things and feel a lot of ways and aren't living black and white lives and music should reflect that too.
On the influence of Guitar Hero with Yasmin Williams:
Tony Porecco: Do you remember the specific moment when you were playing the game and thinking, “OK, now I actually want to learn how to play guitar?”
Yasmin Williams: Oh yeah, yeah, as soon as I started playing. Like the same day I first turned the game on, grabbed the controller and yeah. The first time I played the game, it was probably the first thing I remember begging for—the guitar. I never really wanted too much as a kid and I didn’t really care about that much, but I really wanted a guitar. The guitar was the first thing that really stuck out to me, and I said, “I gotta have my own guitar.” Because I have two older brothers and I would follow them around a lot. And that was like the first thing I wanted that was my own thing.
On the perfect DJ set with Rhome Anderson of Astra Via:
Paul Vodra: What makes a truly great DJ set?
Rhome Anderson: Oh, this is something I tell people all the time, because these days, everyone is a DJ. At the most basic level, I tell people if you're listening to a DJ and you can follow a narrative, they're doing a good job because a DJ set should be like any other creative work. It has to have pacing, like a novel or film, where you have character development, and rising and falling action.
As DJs, we're using records to create a narrative and create a story. And the sense of narrative and creating a narrative, and also the ability to program your set in a way to put the records together, make the records play nicely in a way to create a shared emotional experience between yourself and your dance floor.
So you have this feedback loop where you're kind of conducting your dance floor emotionally, but you're also getting a lot of beta from them, a lot of info back from them. Over the course of the night, you just recycle it back and forth between you and your audience. And people feel like they're having a collective experience.
That's when the magic happens. That's when it’s a good night.
Thank you to Paul Vodra and Tony Porecco from Hometown Sounds and all of the artists who participated in the Luce Listening Party series! We look forward to welcoming everyone back to the museum when our Luce Unplugged series returns. In the meantime, visit the Luce Unplugged page for an archive of all of the Luce Listening Party interviews.