I’ve spent years honing my skill in self-belittlement; it’s easy to do. Thrust yourself into a society that simultaneously worships the intellect and materialism, where we don the liberty for existential crises, but where a fabric-ridden reality fails to fulfill. Major in creative writing, and set your alarm every morning to Avenue Q’s “What do you do with a B.A. in English/It sucks to be me.” See, self-deprecation works wonders as a drug for our egos.
Lately, I’ve been injecting a daily dose of deprecation through hours spent listening to The Districts, a group of four musicians from Pennsylvania, whose tightness and talent hovers at unprecedented heights for kids just around the age of eighteen. There is little that could summon so much awe, reverence, and questioning into the life of a mid-twenties professional “thinker” as a band whose calling as musicians is distinctly defined by late adolescence. The scope of their tracks pull from the forlorn harmonica solos to bluesy-rock lines, creating a soulful and cohesive sound all their own. (When Braden Lawrence tells me if he could have dinner with one musician it would be Tom Waits, I know I’m dealing with a class of musicians with an already-developed sense of empathy for the seedier sides of our folky American landscape.) Not only do The Districts relay compositions that present poetic wisdom and concise harmonies, their showering of energetic charisma translates in both their studio compilations and their live performances. Lead singer Rob Grote possesses the voice of an old soul; he infuses gravely desperation into the pitch-perfect inflections of every song. Try listening to “Rocking Chair” once, and it will easily become the soundtrack to your next 48 hours. Music is wonderful when it fits into a pre-conditioned mood; when music dictates your emotions, it’s masterful.
In talking to the Districts, I find my quest two-fold; 1) To gain inspiration from their ability to focus intent on musical success, and 2) to figure out where exactly I went wrong. The group met in high school, and “bonded together through the power of rock,” a sentiment that would seem jaded if it were not coming from the mouth of youthful and ever-talented of percussionist Braden Lawrence. “We all started playing in early to late elementary school. We’re all into jazz and have all studied it at least a little. Mark is the only one of us with a classical background, he started playing classical violin in first or second grade.” They’re still young enough to take an unbiased approach to the composition and lyrical structure; vocalist Rob Grote “draws from reflections on experiences and (things) that make him feel a lot emotionally,” an answer that is as untainted in its dismissal of our societally-plugged intellect as it is earnest and necessary in the creation of true blues rock. When asked if they’d ever relocate from their Lancaster County, PA home, Lawrence says, “It’d be hard to make up our mind on where to relocate to…Maine, San Francisco, Montreal, and Nashville.” There would certainly be a home for them here.