When Drop Electric played the Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie fundraiser at the Black Cat last month, they filled the venue with their signature experimental sound, playing songs carefully arranged with epic builds and ambient-heavy synths. NPR music host Bob Boilen, who’d seen the video for their stunning single “Empire Trashed” earlier, was in the audience that night. Impressed, he featured the track on his radio show All Songs Considered, which prompted a flood of e-mails to the Bethesda-based group’s inbox. A manager, a licensing company, and tons of new fans later, Drop Electric has gone from a local crew of under-the-radar musicians to a band on the rise.
For good reason, too: They have an undeniable flair for evocative mixes that range from dark and powerful to ethereal and upbeat. The rich sound can be attributed to a hefty six-member roster, made up of percussionist Ramtin Arablouei, guitarist Neel Singh, vocalist and guitarist Kristina Reznikov, guitarist and bassist Kevin Marrimow, keyboardist and guitarist Sho Fujiwara, and video artist Patrick Ryan Morris. We checked in with Arablouei before Drop Electric’s 9:30 Club show this Saturday to talk about the band’s newfound attention, living together, and, of course, Bob Boilen.
What’s the band up to this week? Are your next few days full of rehearsals?
We’re opening for a band called Papadosio Saturday, and we’re also playing on Friday night at a festival called Phasefest at Phase 1, which is a GLBTQ-friendly club in Southeast and Dupont Circle. It’s our second time playing the 9:30 Club. The other time we played there was at a DC Week showcase, which happens every year in the fall, and we were one of seven bands that played. This’ll be a little different—it’s a Saturday late-night show, so it’ll be a different crowd and a different vibe.
Which members of the band live together?
Kristina, Sho, and I live together in Bethesda. We’ve been living together for about a year. Before, there were a couple of other people who lived here, but now everyone who’s here is also in the band, so it’s become kind of a de facto studio space. Because of where it’s located, we don’t have any neighbor-noise issues, so we can rehearse whenever we want and play anytime we want to record; we don’t need studio time. We recorded our last album here, we recorded our EP here—it makes it a lot easier to work and experiment and play with sounds.
What’s living together done from the band dynamic? Is it ever hard being roommates with your bandmates?
Like many people in their twenties and thirties in DC, you end up living in group houses to make ends meet. I’ve done that a couple of times, and this is the best situation I’ve been in in terms of no drama. It’s just very easy to get along with people. Our personalities combine well that way. So it’s actually been remarkably easy.
You guys are also all originally from the area, right?
For the most part. Sho is from Chicago originally, but he’s been living here for several years. But the rest of us are basically Montgomery County kids. I went to Northwest High School, Neel went to Whitman, and Kristina went to Richard Montgomery, so we all grew up 10 or 15 minutes away from each other, but none of us knew each other in high school. All of these things have combined to make it easy—this is the easiest band situation any of us have been in.
How did you guys meet?
Neel and I went to college together at St. Mary’s in Southern Maryland, and we’ve been in different bands together. About three years ago, we started this band with a couple other friends from college. Each of them, for different reasons, left over the last couple years, so we just met people as we went along through Craigslist or other means, and just kept building the band.
Why have you guys chosen to stick around Washington? Did you ever consider trying to get the band started in another city?
Our families are around here, and we’re all really close to our families, so I think that’s kept us here. At one point, we decided, “If we can’t make it here—if we can’t be a premier band in DC—then we don’t deserve to go to New York or somewhere else.” We know people who go and get lost in the city, and we made a conscious decision not to do that. Because we’ve signed with a licensing firm in LA and we’re getting opportunities, maybe down the line we’ll consider moving somewhere different. But I guess we just viewed it as, “We can make a name for ourselves here and do really well here.” And it’s turned out that way. A month ago, Bob Boilen put us on his show, which wouldn’t have happened if we lived in New York. That sparked a bunch of opportunities for us, so I think ultimately it was the right decision.
Despite growing up in the same area, you all have diverse heritage—you have members with Iranian, Indian, Japanese, Irish, and Mexican roots. Have these different backgrounds and experiences played a role in the music you make?
I think our unique experiences and backgrounds have allowed us to develop really interesting friendships. The process, and the entire thrust of the band, has been pushed by our experiences in the sense that we came from different places—our parents were immigrants, and that’s fueled some of our work ethic. We take music seriously, like our jobs—we come in here and focus, and we really view it as trying to build something.
In terms of music, some of the songwriting we’ve done has been influenced by Middle Eastern and South Asian beats and scales. It’s not like we consciously decide to do that; I think we just listen to that kind of music because of our parents.
Speaking of the creation process, I just saw your video for the song “Empire Trashed,” made by one of the band members, Patrick. Does he make all your videos?
We have a weird band setup—we have essentially one member of the band who doesn’t play any instruments and does all our videos. Sometimes we’ll come up with concepts together. But in this case, Patrick came up with the idea, and to be honest, when he first showed it to us, we were like, “What the hell is this about?” [laughs]. But after a few views, we totally got the concept, which is capturing the life of everyday people in New York. He moved to New York about a year ago and is really interested in what people’s lives are like, whether you’re an artist or have another job. And he’s just really a good cinematographer. People would never guess that he shot that whole thing on a Cannon T2i, which is like a $500 camera. He’s really a genius. He captured scenes in Brooklyn and Washington Heights and the Village—and I lived in the city for a while, and I thought it was true to what it’s like to live in there.
Is Empire Trashed also still the title of your new album—out in November?
Yeah, as of right now, that’s what it is. We have a manager now, and we’re pitching the album to labels—someone from Capitol Records contacted us after the All Songs Considered piece came out. So it might be different when it’s released, but as of right now, that’s the name.
It sounds like everything is starting to happen. What does that feel like?
It’s really weird. We’ve been playing music for a long time, and quite honestly, all we wanted was to make good music and have a great time playing it and to be intentional about making good stuff—not just songs that people would dance to. We wanted to take it to another level, and we feel like this time around, it’s something really special. We always believed this had potential to reach folks, but it’s crazy that all it takes is Bob Boilen saying it’s good.
You owe that guy a beer.
I know! We’ve been saying that. He might come to our show again, so if I see him, I’ll definitely do that. He really didn’t need to do that—we have no connection with him. He just came and enjoyed our music. After [ All Songs Considered], we’ve been getting tons of requests—people proposing to do PR for us, a manager. We finally decided on a manager who’s the manager for Youth Lagoon and managed Neon Indian. It’s weird and different and not what we expected. We just thought if we could make music some people out there would like, then we could be old people who look back and say, “Hey, we made a really awesome album.” I listen to All Songs Considered every week, and I never expected Bob Boilen to say something nice about something we did.
Did he contact you before the episode?
Our show was on a Friday night, and he e-mailed us on a Monday and said, “I was at your show. I loved it. Can you send me a high-quality file of your song ‘Empire Trashed’?” And I sent it to him and he said, “We’re gonna go on air—I never know what I’m gonna do when I’m on air, who I’m gonna mention, or how I’m gonna talk about them. So we’ll see afterward.” He didn’t promise anything. Then he e-mailed me later in the day, just a two-word e-mail that said, “You’re in.” So then we were like, “What if he says something that’s not nice?” But then when we finally heard it, it was mostly all nice things, and we were really surprised.
He compared your sound to Sigur Rós a little. You’ve also been likened to post-rock bands like Explosions in the Sky—are those comparisons you all agree with?
To be honest, we’re not all lovers of Sigur Rós—I am, but not everyone is. And I love Explosions in the Sky, but I think at this point, if you listen to the all the music we’re doing, there’s hints of those bands—but in total, not really. We’ve gotten compared to bands as diverse as Dismemberment Plan and Florence and the Machine. Also, we’re not really a post-rock band—I love post-rock, but I don’t think we qualify, because we have vocals and a lot of our stuff is kinda poppy—even sometimes poppy to a fault. I want to be honest and say if we get compared to any of those bands, we’ll take it, because those are all successful bands. Eventually, we’d like to be at a point where someone compares another band to us.
What should people expect from your show Saturday—will it have the usual set up with lots of video?
Yeah—there’s gonna be a big stage and a big screen, and it’ll be really loud. If anything, we want people to walk away and say, “Hmm, that was different. I haven’t seen anything like that.” Some people will think we’re too loud and aggressive; some people will think we’re quiet and boring—or someone might think it was mind-blowingly good. All of those are valid views in my opinion. But one thing we just want is for people to say, “That was more of an experience.”
Drop Electric opens for Papadosio at the 9:30 Club this Saturday, September 22. Tickets ($15) are available via the 9:30 Club’s website.