The Districts | SXSW, Bread Bowls, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

TheDistricts 75There’s a lot of cuddling and a lot of floor time.

TheDistricts 500

Hailing from Lancaster County, Penn., The Districts released its self-titled EP at the start of 2014. The band kicked off its first national tour in February, which included some opening shows for White Denim and a stop at SXSW. Members Robby Grote (vocals), Mark Larson (guitar), Braden Lawrence (drums), and Connor Jacobus (bass) deliver an incredibly honest, energized sound that draws from the best of classic rock, blues, and folk.

I hung out with the band and their tour manager, Collin Smith, before their show at Off Broadway on March 29. There is no cooler energy than that of a young rock band, and these dudes didn’t disappoint. Between planning summer shows in the U.K., sneaking into shitty motels, and cuddling, The Districts are livin’ life on the road right. And honestly, if an album of theirs was to be leaked, I WOULD think it was a big deal. So there.

How’s the tour going?

CJ: It’s been awesome. The first half we got spoiled with White Denim; all the shows were sold out. This half, we are sometimes headlining.

RG: I kind of like [headlining], though, because—like last night—there were only like five people, but other cities like Austin are really good, so it’s cool going back and forth between different crowds.

ML: And we get to see the United States! We’ve never been out west before, but we got to drive through Colorado, Washington, San Francisco, all of those California spots, and—[Collin walks in]—and we have an awesome tour manager, Collin Smith! He does a great job.

Proudest tour moment thus far?

BL: Austin, Texas. There were a lot of people there and it felt like we had fans in a weird place—or a place we didn’t really play much—so that was awesome.

ML: We were there for SXSW, so we played seven shows in four days. We then toured out in California and came back to Austin to do a headlining show. There were 100 people there who had seen us at SXSW, so it was cool.

Let’s dive into background: How did The Districts start? And I want more specifics than just “high school.”

RG: In our town, most of the people who played music ended up being friends, so that was a start. Connor and I were trying to start a band, and through other friends who played music, we met Mark, then Mark knew Braden. It’s a fairly small town, so we all kind of knew each other—I went to preschool with Braden, Connor and Mark played soccer together, stuff like that. If you played music, you knew each other, and it ended up working out that we started a band.

Origin of band name?

ML: We were trying to figure out a name because we had a show in a week at a school coffee house. It was poetry and music in the school cafeteria, so we were getting ready for this “big show.” We wrote down five band names and The Districts was the only one that everyone liked.

What were some of your other options?

CJ: Static Stereo and The Backwoods.

ML: Connor was really, really into The Backwoods. But we settled on The Districts, and I guess it just kind of stuck. Obviously, it kind of stuck.

What influences your sound?

BL: We started playing classic rock and blues and started getting into stuff like Tom Waits and Dr. Dog, Philly bands like that. Kurt Vile…

CJ: Tom Waits isn’t from Philly, though.

BL: No, Tom Waits is not from Philly. But he was a guy where we were like “This guy is awesome,” so he was a big influence.

Your first EP [apparently this is well underground] was much more rock-y. When and why did you start incorporating blues?

RG: Kitchen Songs?

BL: That was a while ago, like three years?

BL: Four years? We were in 9th and 10th grade. We wrote “Funeral Beds” on Telephone pretty much right after that.

CJ: It was pretty gradual, though.

ML: We had stuff before that that we are really glad no one knows about, because it’s our first stuff. But if you did hear that, I guess you could notice the way it progressed more. So, Kitchen Songs is probably where it first started to morph into what we are now.

RG: We initially started playing with just classic rock covers, and I think you can hear a lot of that in our earliest stuff. I think we’ve always had a pretty wide range of influences, so I think that’s the more “us” sound—and it’ll always be changing—but I guess we’ve just started to assimilate those better because in the first stuff, you can hear the Led Zeppelin and those influences a lot more, and now there’s a lot of different things we’ve blended in there.

What was your proudest moment as a high school band?

RG: Señorita Burrito.

CJ: We played at this burrito place in Lancaster; it was really small. We got all of our friends to come out. The floor would sometimes cave in from people moshing and jumping up and down.

[We then took a Pizza break. I introduced them to Imo’s…obviously.]

OK, back to high school. What was the shittiest idea you ever had to kick-start your career?

RG: This is kind of a joke, but we’ve always thought it would be funny to make a big deal about our album getting leaked before it was released, even though no one would care. Like if a band who was really no one leaked an album, and then tried to make a big deal out of it.

Most uncomfortable situation you’ve ever been in on this tour?

RG: Last night.

ML: Last night we stayed in a motel and there were Mickey Mantle posters everywhere—it was a baseball themed room—but the wallpaper was peeling off the walls and the shower was also peeling somehow; I don’t even know how that happens, but it was taped up. It was basically the grossest motel ever. The pillows didn’t even have cases on them.

RG: A lot of drunk people. Right when we got there, we heard this lady wailing. [Rob takes the liberty of demonstrating the wail for me several times, a noise not transcribe-able.] She was wasted and just gets in her car with a cigarette in her mouth and slams into the curb, then goes to the front desk, comes back, starts wailing again [Rob really drives the story home with some more demonstrating.] Then she sped away. It was weird.

ML: It was gross.

CS: There was a truck stop across the road, too, like one you would see in a movie. It was awesome.

ML: Where was this?

CS: Route 66.

ML: We were on Route 66? What was the place?

CS: Route 66 motel. Five stars, 51 dollars.

ML: Ah, that was it. That’s the big time.

It was only $51 for all of you guys?

CS: Well, normally when we get motels we sneak in: Two people check in and the rest will just pile in with sleeping bags. There’s a lot of cuddling and a lot of floor time.

ML: We’ve actually been kicked out of a hotel before.

For cuddling?

ML: For cuddling, yes—for cuddling too hard. No, it was actually the next morning. They served a continental breakfast and we each went at different times to tried and not be obvious, but the manager of the hotel caught someone and she walked up and said—

RG: “Leave the food; this is my food.”

ML: Yeah, so then she followed us to our room and was like, “Leave! Get out.” That was pretty uncomfortable; definitely an uncomfortable moment.

If your band were a food, what kind of food would you be and why?

RG: We should be a soup because we are a taste of everything. No, bread bowls!

BL: Bread bowl, because the foundation is strong: Nothing can get through the bread bowl and the inside is tasty, warm, and soft. And that softens up the foundation. And you eat it.

If a song played anytime you guys entered a room—like an entrance theme song—what would it be?

RG: “Climax” by Usher.

[Everyone in the group agrees, and then proceed to sing Usher’s “Climax” in falsetto.]

Pros and cons of being young musicians?

ML: One of the cons is definitely not being 21. A lot of the venues will be very strict about whether we can stay and watch the other people play because we are not allowed to be in the bar. They will either X-out our hands or stick us in a green room and tell us to stay there until we play. Actually, at one of the venues, someone had to escort us in, watch us until we played, and then escort us out.

RG: A pro would be—as for touring itself—it’s probably much easier to run on very little sleep and things like that, since we are so young. We’re not old and creaky and things like that.

BL: Yeah, and since we haven’t gone to college yet we don’t have debt.

RG: It’s just cool to do this while you’re young.

CS: It’s fun! | Claire Musial

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