9:30 presents at U Street Music Hall
The Wild Reeds
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009
This event is all ages
The Wild Reeds
The Wild Reeds are a band led by women, and that matters. Not a sister band, not a girl group, but a band fronted by three women, all talented singers, songwriters, and multi-instrumentalists in their own right: Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe, and Sharon Silva, with drummer Nick Jones and bass player Nick Phakpiseth providing the Los Angeles-based band’s rhythmic foundation. Like a harmony at its euphoric best, the leads’ powerful — and powerfully distinct — voices merge to form a sound that can only be The Wild Reeds. On their third LP, Cheers, the band comes together to create an ode to the joys and pains of camaraderie.
The Wild Reeds’ previous LPs, Blind and Brave (2014) and The World We Built (2017), and EPs, Best Wishes (2016) and New Ways To Die (2018), caught press attention from outlets including NPR Music (including a Tiny Desk Concert), Billboard, Rolling Stone Country, Noisey, and Garden & Gun, in addition to radio play from influential stations like KEXP and KCRW. And now arrives Cheers: a career highlight achieved by giving each writer considerable latitude, in the end creating a singular work out of three striking songwriting voices.
On Cheers, Lee, Howe, and Silva leaned into their differences for the first time, giving one another unprecedented amounts of freedom to execute their own songs. Each was allowed room to pursue her vision, while always leaving an open door for the other members to step in and collaborate. “We decided to explore our individuality,” says Howe. “It was a scary thing for us, because when you have three writers, you often have to do your best to tame your differences and come to some sort of agreement writing-wise, sonically, stylistically. It was the first time we said, ‘Screw that, why don’t we just record the songs the way they should be done?’”
For all the exploration on Cheers, the result is still tight and cohesive. The album makes room for infectious sing-along anthems (opening track “Moving Target”), tinges of R&B (“Lose My Mind”), lilting ‘60s pop-rock waltzes that build to resounding finishes (“Cheers,” “Get Better”), haunting balladry (“Run and Hide,” “My Name”), and even a gloriously hook-heavy track Lee sheepishly admits started as a tongue-in-cheek pop punk throwback (“P.S. Nevermind”). Every song sounds fresh, but all of them sound like The Wild Reeds. “For me, it felt no holds barred, limitless, like I could step up to the plate,” Silva says. “The record feels very communal, and that’s part of the reason we called it ‘Cheers.’ It felt like, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together and we’re all focusing on what we’re getting better at.’ We could let go of what we’re supposed to sound like and all reach a higher potential.”
Cheers was born out of a strange and painful time, full of tough break-ups, family deaths, and discord within the band itself. The 13 songs are snapshots from that upheaval, touching on illness, therapy, heartbreak and disconnection from three perspectives. Some of Cheers’ sunniest songs contain the darkest undercurrents, and The Wild Reeds don’t shy away from sadness or open endings. The album creates beauty out of contradictions: It finds community in individuality, tenderness in confrontation, joy in the midst of grief and pain. Threaded throughout is a deep sense of gratitude for the band itself, and the songs became a way for the members to talk to each other — an intimate language that was at times contentious, but in the end, healing. Silva explains, “When Mack first showed us the song ‘Get Better,’ I was just walking back after an argument at practice. I came back in, she played us the song, and I sat on the floor and played the guitar line that’s in the chorus…We just sat there and we played it and it was so soft and gentle, and it was exactly what I needed. I’ve always felt that way about the girls’ songs, and that’s what keeps the wheels rolling for me.”
“We’re really confrontational in our band, in a good way,” Lee says. “A lot of bands have fallen apart without even having a conversation. When you’re ‘married’ to five different people for 10 years, things come up that you need to discuss with each other. I think we’re all really good at challenging each other to grow and keep coming back to a place of love.” Ultimately Cheers is hopeful, celebratory, and communal; life can break your heart, but friends can mend it. The Wild Reeds’ trials have only strengthened their commitment to each other, and resulted in their strongest and most unified record to date.
Natalie Carol (vocals/guitar) – Neil Wogensen (bass/vocals) – Shawn Morones (guitar/vocals) – Mike DeLuccia (drums)
The full-length debut from Los Angeles-based band Valley Queen, Supergiant takes its title from the most massive and luminous yet fastest-burning stars in the universe. “The song ‘Supergiant’ is about how we’re all made up of the same stuff as stars, and I liked the idea of tying the whole album together with that metaphor,” says Carol. “It takes all the drama you hear on the record—the aggressive, chaotic moments, and the more beautiful or quieter moments—and puts it all into a more galactic perspective.”
With the album finished and ready to be released into the world, it’s now easier for Carol to take a step back and be philosophical but there were moments when it almost seemed like Supergiant would never come to light.
The first iteration of Valley Queen formed not long after Carol moved to L.A. and crossed paths with Neil Wogensen through the local music scene. With Shawn Morones and drummer Gerry Doot later joining the lineup, the band named themselves Valley Queen in a nod to the region where ancient Egyptians buried their deceased matriarchs. They released the singles “In My Place” and “High Expectations,” as well as 2017 EP Destroyer to widespread critical acclaim. The band also supported artists including Laura Marling and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down on tour. Musically and creatively, they were in a place they never dreamed of.
As the band’s profile grew, so did days on the road and time spent away from home. Any touring band will testify to the intensity of togetherness, tight finances, being away from significant others, physical exhaustion, unhealthy diets and habits, etc., but they were doing what they loved and it was resonating with people. The band had found their own magical pocket musically but, ultimately, the strain was too much for Morones and Doot who left the band after years on the road. They were replaced with session musicians and the band continued to win fans and play bigger rooms, but the chemistry that Carol had come to depend on was gone.
The growing success earned them a record deal—a dream finally coming to fruition—but Carol was unable to find the creative cohesiveness she knew she needed to make the record. “I wondered how to record the record. I believed in myself but I had also believed in the people around me. I write these songs in solitude but Valley Queen is not my solo project. I thrived in the collaboration. I came back from these new tours feeling creatively depleted, like something important was missing.”
Carol knew ultimately what needed to happen. Like a parent knowing what’s best for their child, she understood that Valley Queen was more than lyrics and sessions musicians. It was about people, chemistry and the relationships that created such a powerful musical force to begin with.
“I knew nobody else could record this record with me but our original line up. They had grown into the arrangements, had a personal understanding of what the songs were about.” Doot couldn’t rejoin—the strain touring had put on his newborn baby and wife was too much for him to reconsider—and Mike DeLuccia came forward, which was a godsend. Then Carol called Morones. The time on the road had strained their relationship significantly and there was healing that needed to happen. After long discussions and sharing, they all decided it would be worth the risk to try to create this album and tell the story of what had happened. Two months later, Valley Queen was in the studio.
Carol reflects, “Recording the album was a transformative experience for the band. It certainly trod the ground of the past, the difficulty and disappointment we had faced. But moving through and completing the project brought with it a sensation that the chapter was over. All of us will always be in process, we will always be learning how to better work with each other and ourselves. But a power was created in actively choosing to meet with that process.”
The result is Supergiant, produced by Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast, Fool’s Gold, Nikki Lane, FIDLAR). Not surprisingly, the album emerges with raw production and relentless intensity. It’s a record that could not have been made any other way, each member bringing their own creative force and energy to every song. It’s about self-exploration, not just as an individual, but also as a collective whole.
“It can be really painful and isolating to go through something that doesn’t really look like anybody else’s experience but your own,” Carol says in reflecting on Supergiant’s intensity. “But ultimately that’s part of the beautiful orchestration of being alive—instead of trying to go around that experience, you need to go fully into it. I think that’s the only way to get a deeper understanding of who we really are.”