by Fiona Hanly, Host, "Sweet 'N' Flo," Mondays 12-1 on WGTB
NATIVE NOISE: THE NUTSHELL
Musical Prowess: 9
Recommended Listening: 9
Crush factor: 9 (partly due to this)
DC’s resident “more than your average indie-folk band” Pree has garnered a fair share of attention since sparking into existence in late 2008—from the Washingtonian, to NPR’s Second Stage, to Prettiest Young Things’ blog, the band has received various, albeit quiet nods from local reviewers. Pree consists of DC locals May Tabol on guitar and lead vocals, Chris DeWitt on drums and backing vocals, Vanessa Degrassi on, well, everything (see below), Dave Barker on electric guitar, and Jesse Hinson on bass guitar. The band was charming enough to let me experience their pre-show meal backstage, minutes before performing at the Black Cat on Monday.Tabol gave me a brief chronology of Pree’s life story—Tabol began playing with fellow GW alum John Thayer (of Exit Clov) after her departure from Le Loup in August of 2008, and then came in contact with DC recording label Kora Records. She then met DeWitt only a month later, and they began playing together. Degrassi and Barker joined them shortly afterwards, rounding out Pree in full force. Having released an EP last March, and looking to release a (currently 50-75% complete) this fall; the members of Pree seem to have a host of opportunity on their horizon. They’ve just added their fifth member, Hinson, on bass, are playing at SXSW in Austin, TX come March, and will be touring the country once their album has been completed.
(more on Pree and a video after the jump!)
(more on Pree and a video after the jump!)
While discussing what set them apart from the rest of their genre—DeWitt assured me that they were indeed more than your average indie folk band—they mentioned the variety of influences each member personally brought to the table as being a distinguishing characteristic. Barker mentioned a variety of his own influences—80’s post-punk guitar bands, for instance. This explained the myriad of “Pree sounds just like…” comparisons I had read about the band before meeting them—everything from Joanna Newsom to Modest Mouse to Regina Spektor to early Cat Power; all are most likely attributable to the variety of influences each member brings.
Having brought up other DC musicians while discussing their plans for SXSW, I asked Pree for their thoughts on the DC music scene. Hinson initially termed DC as having more of a “D-I-Y” music presence, where most bands play smaller venues and house shows, but the conversation quickly descended into a discussion paralleling the relationship among DC musicians with that of an incestuous family. Four out of the band’s five members are currently members of other local bands—Barker, for example? “Oh yeah, he’s going on tour, tomorrow, with the sound guy!” (The exception is leading lady Tabol—“I’m monogamous!” she proclaimed.) DeWitt grappled at a more “family-friendly” term for DC music than “incestuous,” choosing “a closed system,” while Tabol and Hinson seemed to agree on “swingers and band sluts.” Terminology aside, the characteristic features of the DC “scene” as a more fluid agglomeration of bands that share members across the board became clearer to me—though the implications may be trickier to understand. Does involvement in several bands add or detract to a musician’s role in each particular band? Perhaps the multiple (potentially competing?) interests detract from the overall sound of each band, perhaps the effect is only positive—all in all, I was curious to finally see Pree perform.
Experiencing their subsequent live set in the smaller, personal Backstage area of the Black Cat, flawlessly illustrated that the dynamics the group had already discussed with me work without a hitch—“incestuous” band members evidently bringing an added musical dimension, rather than detracting in any sense. Pree played a short opening set (leaving some members of the audience, mainly myself, wanting more): a handful of songs off their 2009 EP A Chopping Block (favorite: “In The Parlor”), as well as some new work off the unfinished full-length (favorite: “Made of Straw”). (Enjoy a poorly-recorded excerpt of two songs below, and forgive the ambitious cameraman lurking in the very front for at times blocking everything in view.) The band changed instruments with an almost natural fluidity, guitars especially changing hands from song to song (Tabol called one especially cumbersome trade-off a “coordinated exchange,” to the audience’s amusement). Degrassi in particular has a myriad of instrumental roles; making her likely the most dynamic member of the band—changing from acoustic guitar to melodica to glockenspiel to bass guitar to flute to tambourine to electric guitar, while constantly providing backing vocals, all in a mere six or seven songs. DeWitt, Hinson, and Dave all provide solidly varied undertones to complete Pree’s sound—one personal highlight of the show was a track featuring DeWitt’s vocals in duet with Tabol’s. It’s truly almost too tempting to compare Tabol’s pitched, brassy lead vocals to a Joanna Newsom or Regina Spektor, but such a comparison is only unfair to Tabol as it judges her without letting her stand alone in her own right. There’s something new and intriguing about her rocks-of-cotton-in-the-mouth-
style crooning, something she may be doing better than anyone else before her.
During a portion of the second-to-last song, every member of the band but DeWitt (steady on drums) was holding a guitar, and there came a quiet minute or two where the audience could see the entire group mesh together on one wavelength of music. Pree had explained to me earlier that the various influences each member brings to the band create a diversity sets them apart from most acts, and their performance made it clear that, for the most part, each member is traveling along different spectrums in a (very) cohesive prism of sound. It was, however, refreshing to seem them focus in on just one, for just a moment. Seeing their live performance showed most of all that the now-five-member group has just the deft artistic understanding of their own relationship and potential to continue to succeed as Pree—an understanding much like a, shall we say, family.
Bonus fact for WGTB members—DeWitt and Degrassi both mentioned having been on radio while at a DC university—at AU and GW, respectively. Dream big!
Watch a clip of Pree's performance at the Black Cat:
Pree 2/22/10 from Fiona Hanly on Vimeo.
Listen to Pree on MySpace Music