Photos by Mark Hoelscher for DCMD
My D.C. is a new interview and portrait series on DCMD where some of our favorite D.C. artists take us to their favorite local spots, share more insight into their artistry and connection to the city.
When I met Den-Mate–aka D.C. singer-songwriter Jules Hale–she was sitting on a red bleacher chair outside of Adams Morgan restaurant and live music venue Songbyrd. For Hale, Songbyrd is not only her favorite neighborhood haunt, it’s a space that also shares her DIY ethos when it comes to music.
Four years ago, Den-Mate had released her self-titled album independently via SoundCloud after recording it in her bedroom. The dreamy, cerebral record eventually got the attention of D.C. label Babe City Records, who brought Hale on board to join its talented roster of local–and national–acts.
Now, with the label’s support, she’s set to release not one but two records, in addition to embarking on a three-week tour that kicks off on March 9. Before that happens, Hale is set to headline DCMD’s Sounds of the City Festival Saturday, March 4 at Black Cat Mainstage. At the show, you’ll get to hear the new songs she’s got in the works, so make sure not to miss it!
While hanging out with Hale at Songbyrd, we talked about her new records, how the city has influenced her music, and future plans for the upcoming year.
D.C. Music Download: What are you looking forward to at the music festival?
Jules Hale: Well, I’m really excited for the label expo. I think that’s earlier that day. I’m super excited to go to that and I’m also really excited for the show. I’ve actually never gotten to play a show with any of these other acts and I think it’s going to be really great. It’s going to pull just a lot of different sounds of the city. I think it was a beautifully well-collected group of artists.
I was at your WRGW show with Priests and Wildhoney last fall. It seemed you had a great group of musicians playing in your band, despite the songwriting process being more of a solo project. Who’s in the band now and how did you get that group together?
So, we have Jonah Welt on guitar, Jon Weiss on guitar and samples, Peter Lillis playing bass and Rick Irby playing drums. I couldn’t ask for better bandmates. They’re just so determined and motivated and I think they really believe in it as much as I do. They’re also my best friends, so we’re just having fun.
I’ve known Jonah for a really long time, and I met Jon and Peter through Babe City. It was weird because I kind of met them online because I was living in the forest essentially, two hours away from here. After meeting up with them, we became friends very quickly. They really liked my music and wanted to help me out. It’s been a great collaboration.
So, out of the forest and into D.C. How do you think the city has influenced your music?
I grew up in a really isolated area; it was kind of the opposite of a city. So, when I first started playing music here, I adapted very quickly.
I think I’ve really had to learn how to be a badass boss because I came from a place where I never got to work with other people with music. It was just me doing it in my bedroom. Now that I’m really trying to make something out of it, there are people who will try to, you know, not bring you down [per se]. But you just have to stand your ground and know that this is your thing. It’s super competitive and you just have to own what’s yours so people don’t manipulate you out of something that you love.
When I was listening to your music again recently, it surprised me how different it sounded versus your live show. The memories I have of the show last fall are of you playing more hard rock songs. What is your take on the differences in your tracks, from studio albums to performances?
We definitely for a while got really hard, like we were really rocking out, whereas my studio recordings are very much like electronic and kind of chill. I’m kind of evolving with that and learning how to balance the two. People would be like, “Hey, I really the electronic stuff.” Or, “Hey, I really like the punk.” I’m just trying to find that balance, because I love both aspects. I think we’ve finally hit it. I’m really excited to show it at the show because we’re playing pretty much all new songs.
Yeah, I just finished this EP that’s coming out in April. We’re going on a three-week tour starting on March 9. I finally finished a record I’ve been working on for two or three years now, so it feels really good to have that completed. I feel this new sense of creative freedom now that all of that is finished. I can just start on something new.
Do the upcoming albums have names yet?
The EP is Entropii and LP is Loceke. It’s weird, I know. I’m a weirdo. [Laughs]
Here we are at Songbyrd and we haven’t even started talking about it. So, why is it your favorite place in D.C.?
Probably because it’s the most local spot where I get to see my friends. What’s really interesting is I just kind of jumped into the scene. I didn’t know anything about it; I was a newbie. And when everything started it was all basement shows and house shows. There wasn’t a real place for this DIY scene to play. When Songbyrd started, it was finally a place for DIY bands to play. It’s a real venue to play at and actually get paid. It’s just a safe spot where the cops aren’t going to come and shut it down.
Do you have any standout memories from this spot?
There was this one time where we were on tour and we stopped in D.C. and played here. We were doing an electronic set. It was just a three-piece. Something happened to my mic and it just wasn’t working at all. All of our friends and all of our support were there and they didn’t care. They just started singing with me so I didn’t need my mic. That was a really nice feeling because it could have been horrible but everyone was there to help me.
When I watch you perform, it seems like you are in your own world. Do you feel like you lose yourself in your performances?
I think it was Kim Gordon [of Sonic Youth] that said, “People pay to see others believe in themselves.” I think as a teenager, I really took that to heart. Playing a set is really the only time that I can give no fucks. It’s really the most liberating feeling. I guess I could say I get a little lost in it, but I really don’t know any other way than that.
Anything else to tell the fans that will be at Sounds of the City?
Just come have fun. I love when people drop their defense and come into the crowd and want to interact. Interacting audiences are my favorite thing. I think people at shows sometimes–because I’m guilty of it, everyone’s guilty of it–are being too worried about being cool or are scared of what people are going to think. At shows, it should be the exact opposite of that…and I have a feeling that at this show people will do that, let their guard down and really enjoy themselves.