Discovery: The Districts

Published November 5, 2013

ABOVE: THE DISTRICTS. PHOTO COURTESY OF DALTON YOUNG

Once Mark Larson strikes a chord, Rob Grote growls soulfully, Connor Jacobus plucks his bass guitar, and Braden Lawrence attacks a cymbal, it’s clear: The Districts’ music doesn’t just waft pleasantly through the air, it cuts through. On stage, they jam freely, intensely, and gracefully; and on their debut, Telephone, songs like “Lyla” [below] and “Wrung Out and Hanging (On West Coast Time)” shuffle between crying downpours and fizzled-out lulls. This dynamism, playing between minimalist impulses and colossal layering, is infectious; just try not to bob your head.

Recently, The Districts left the cute little town of Lititz, PA, to live together in Philadelphia, a city where they’ve accumulated  a following over the past couple years. They went on their first tour at the end of 2012, and since then, they’ve played at XPoNential Fest and CMJ; their HotBox Session for the song “Funeral Beds” has enjoyed a Reddit-boosted surge of Internet popularity. In the midst of recording a follow-up to Telephone and continuing to perform frequently, the band took a moment to tell us a little about themselves.

NAMES: Mark Larson, Rob Grote, Connor Jacobus, Braden Lawrence

AGES: 18 (Lawrence, Grote), 19 (Jacobus), 20 (Larson)

HOMETOWN: Lititz, PA

WHERE THEY STARTED: Mark Larson: It was in a high school math class, and Robby reached out to Connor and was like, “Yo, Connor, I heard you play bass.” And Connor was like, “Yo, you heard correctly. ” And they were like, “Yo, let’s start a band.” And then another day, there we were. Anyway, long story short, Connor and Robby knew each other for a while and wanted to start a band and then Robby and I knew each other and wanted to start a band, so we thought, let’s just make one band together. So we had this thing going for a little while and we needed a drummer and eventually found our way to Braden and then played a small coffeehouse and that sealed the deal.

THE FIRST SHOW: Larson: It was exhilarating, so much classic rock.

Rob Grote: Yeah, our first show had a lot of classic rock songs and one original song, and there were a lot of guitar solos and a couple pairs of sunglasses. It was a very typical high school classic rock cover band type thing. It was super awesome.

INFLUENCES: Grote: Musically, Tom Waits, The Beatles; someone compared us to Television recently, and I like Television a lot. My Morning Jacket, we like them a lot too. Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin…

Larson: Neil Young.

Grote: David Bowie. A lot of old music, but then also a lot of new music too. Non-musical influences would be the people and things around us, I guess; experiences and stuff. Movies and books too. Harry Potter. Jack Kerouac…

Braden Lawrence: On the Road.

Grote: Yeah, I like Allen Ginsberg a lot too, and I like e.e. cummings, even though he’s hard to understand. I think that covers most grounds.

ON BEING CALLED THE “YOUNG BAND”: Grote: When we were still in high school, we hated it. It’s still kind of annoying. It felt like people cared more about our age than the music we were playing. We just thought it was kind of gimmicky and stuff, and that was really irritating because we just wanted to be noticed for the music itself rather than who’s playing it.

TOUR STORIES: Grote: In Memphis, we played to the bartender at the Poplar Lounge. It ended up being one of the most interesting nights ever, hearing this guy tell really weird stories. He was really racist, but he was completely unaware of his racism. It was the most confusing thing to see. He would say the most terrible comments without seeing anything wrong with it, which was really weird. And then he just told a lot of strange and sometimes funny stories, so that was very odd and interesting. And then we explored the woods outside of Nashville and went swimming. We once tried to stay on a beach in Wilmington, Delaware and went swimming at night, which was all good, until we all laid down on towels and sleeping bags to go to sleep and were immediately infested with gnats. They all started biting us. It was the most terrible time; we ended up leaving at four in the morning.

LITTLE LITITZ: Grote: Lititz used to be a classic small town, but now there are a lot of suburban areas surrounding it. But there are tons of farms and fields there, and I’m sure subconsciously it has definitely had an effect on us.

CITY VS. COUNTRY: Grote: There are pros and cons. The city is fun and there’s stuff going on all the time, but there’s nowhere quiet. So sometimes I kind of miss that. There aren’t any wide open spaces with fields and trees and stuff. But I definitely think we all like Philly. They’re both very different and good and bad in their own ways.

MUSIC FOR MUSIC’S SAKE: Grote: I think there are a lot of really good bands here in Philly, but I think since it’s not a very trendy place, there aren’t that many people that are stuck up about their music or anything—well, I’m sure there are some, we just don’t know them. But for the most part, people that make music here are just people that really enjoy making music, which is nice.

HOMETOWN HEROES: Grote: More established bands like Dr. Dog and Man Man are awesome, Kurt Vile—all those great people. The War on Drugs are awesome as well. But then there are a lot of great smaller bands like Toy Soldiers, The Lawsuits, Cheers Elephant, Cold Fronts, and DRGN King. Then there’s Pine Barons, they’re not from Philly, exactly, but they’re amazing too.

LIVE SHOWS VS. JAMMING: Lawrence: I like playing live a lot more, usually. I like them both. But playing live is fun because you get into it and everyone is jamming out and having fun. It’s a good time.

Grote: Jamming in the basement is really fun, but there’s something more exhilarating about when you’re up on stage and you’re sharing the music with people. I always get this weird feeling where it’s kind of like you’re pushing play almost, and then once you get to the end of a show, and it feels like more of an experience. You just kind of start and, like Braden said, you get into it and it’s more special. Not that jamming isn’t but something about being on a stage and knowing you have this allotted time to play, it just makes you feel something.

THE DISTRICTS WILL PLAY ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL TONIGHT, NOVEMBER 5. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.