My DC: A Conversation with Sam McCormally of Fellow Creatures
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.
What is Sam McCormally of Fellow Creatures’ actual favorite spot in the area? Panda Gourmet on New York Avenue. But, since the restaurant is tough to get to via Metro, we decided to go with a different beloved area: Silver Spring.
Fellow Creatures released their much-anticipated self-titled album in the spring of 2016. The excellent synthpop tracks, mixed with some dark psychedelia, made it a standout release for the group, comprised of D.C. music vets Will McKindley-Ward on vocals and guitar and McCormally on keys and vocals. Since then, they have added David Greer on drums and Rishi Chakrabarty playing bass.
I met McCormally at Quarry House Tavern’s temporary space, which was formerly occupied by Piratz Tavern. We walked across the street, towards the AFI Silver and the neighboring Forum Theatre, where McCormally worked on the score for a play. Caddy corner from the theaters was the spot of some last night taco runs at Fajita & Sub Factory, though the food truck is temporarily closed right now. So, yeah, this is not McCormally’s favorite spot in the DMV area, but it still has some great memories and connection to Fellow Creatures’ music, which we talked about at Quarry House.
Sorry we couldn’t meet at Panda Gourmet. But, now that we are here in Silver Spring, how should we categorize your almost-favorite place in the DMV area?
Sam McCormally: [Laughs] I’m going to make a staunch, contrarian defense for the intersection of Georgia Ave and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. You get the taco truck. You get Quarry House. You get AFI. You get Forum Theatre. And you get a variety of totally trashy eating options if you want trashy eating options.
What’s your favorite taco from the taco truck that is sadly no longer in the gas station parking lot at the intersection?
Oh, man. It was a no-frills taco truck so I would get chicken or I’d get chorizo, and they also had the pickled onions and radishes. And the cilantro and a lime! It was just simple and perfect… in like a silver Airstream trailer. It was really beautiful.
Fellow Creatures released an LP last year. Are we going to hear songs from that release at the Sounds of the City Music Festival or are you working on something new?
Some of both. Half the set will be from that record and then we’re working on the next record. We’re trying to get half of that record ready to play in two weeks.
Is your new release going to be an LP or an EP?
I think it’ll probably be eight songs, and since I don’t think it’ll exist on a physical medium, I don’t know that we even have to decide what “P” it is. It’s just a “P,” a “play.”
You and Will now have a full-fledged band. How has writing and crafting the songs changed?
Will and I, on the record that came out last year, did most of the songwriting. Will and I would demo it out, do a lot of work on the arrangements and then bring in the band and we’d rehearse them and tweak them. With this new batch of songs, we’re bringing more partially finished ideas, so Rishi and David are more involved in the assembly of the arrangements.
The governing structure of the band is that we both [Will and Sam] have veto power over everything. So, that means we’ve collaborated in a whole bunch of different ways. Sometimes, Will would write a song, and that would be it. There are lyrics. There are parts for everybody. It’s a done song. And sometimes Will would write a song and I’d be like ‘I hate it except for I really like the two-measure loop of the guitar and the drums at the very beginning.’ In “Seance (Shuka)” that happened.
How does this area (Georgia Ave and Colesville Road) influence your music or have any impact on your life musically?
I ended up spending a lot of time here when I was working on a show at Forum Theatre around the corner. When you’re working on a play, you spend a lot of time in one room. And it’s like you just need to get out and go for a walk, especially if you are trying to be creative. I would go to Quarry House and get a drink, or wander over and get a taco from the truck. It was sort of a recharge. And then I’ve come to Quarry House a bunch after shows. It was late at night, you’ve finished a show and you’ve loaded out your stuff and looking for a place to decompress and hang out.
That’s how it’s connected to music. Is it a deep wellspring of creative ideas? It is not. But, I’ve found myself spending time here at the periphery of artistic experiences a lot for whatever reason.
In our last My DC interview, Stronger Sex attributed their electronic sound to the music scene’s evolution. Does that sentiment resonate with you and what other impacts of the local scene have seeped into Fellow Creatures’ work?
It does seem like in the last five years, a lot of the musicians that I know have gotten interested in synthesizers and programming and less interested in distorted electric guitar sounds. That, I think, reflects what’s in the zeitgeist more generally. But then you see people mucking around with that stuff at shows and you get interested in the sounds that they’re making. So, that’s definitely true.
Beyond that, I don’t know if this is particular to D.C., but I’ve been playing music in D.C. for a while, so there’s this community of people I know and on the whole the vibe is very encouraging. There’s a big emphasis on people’s artistic visions and it’s all about people making weird stuff that they like and get excited about. It seems really supportive and that’s really nice.
In general, what do you hope listeners get from hearing Fellow Creatures’ music?
In the wake of the election, I don’t know what the job of musicians is the same way as before the election. I feel like there’s an additional urgency. But, I also don’t exactly know how that’s going to manifest itself into our music…it feels irresponsible not to be more political. But there’s a lot of danger in being too preachy.
I hope people find our music fun and accessible. I also hope that it is surprising and that there’s something musically interesting to chew on. I feel like a lot of music that is really popular right now is interesting from the persona of the musician or maybe the statement of the lyrics. But, compositionally, a lot of stuff that is prominent right now does not interest me a whole lot.
Anything else you want to share before your show on Saturday at Black Cat?
Come and stay for the whole time because the bill is awesome. I’m excited to play with the bands on the bill. I am really excited for it! For us personally, we haven’t played in a couple of months. We’ve been trying to put together this new set of materials, so this has been the fire that we lit under our own asses to try to get these new songs ready to go.
Fellow Creatures will perform with Den-Mate, Nag Champa and Stronger Sex at Black Cat on Saturday, March 4. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $12