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Local Listens: Poor But Sexy

Welcome to Local Listens, where we profile some of our favorite Washington musicians. This week, we shine the spotlight on Poor But Sexy.

Photograph by Jonathon L. Kang.

Without Elvis Costello, Ukraine, and six degrees of separation, Poor But Sexy might never have existed.

Singer David Brown and guitarist Jason Caddell met in 2005 when Caddell was part of the Dismemberment Plan and Brown was in the D-Plan offshoot Travis Morrison Hellfighters. But it was an audio-engineering gig overseas that brought them together. The two worked for a political campaign in Ukraine during the winter of 2006.

In their downtime, Caddell and Brown started collaborating. Brown was working on demos, and Caddell offered to help him record.

Another former D-Plan member, bassist Eric Axelson, was also working in Ukraine and invited Brown to play in an Elvis Costello cover band the following summer as part of Run for Cover, an annual Washington charity show. In the Costello band, Brown would play with keyboardist David Durst and drummer Bruce Falconer.

A year later, Brown, Caddell, Durst, Falconer, and Travis Morrison Hellfighters bassist Brandon Kalber recorded their first EP as Poor But Sexy. The following spring, May 2008, Poor But Sexy played its first show at Arlington’s Galaxy Hut.

Now Poor But Sexy is working on its debut full-length album. The group of Washington musicians puts a funky spin on traditional rock—R. Kelly fronting Steely Dan is how the band describes itself.

“Everybody in the band has full-time jobs and other lives,” says Caddell, “so progress is slow, but we’ve managed to accomplish a lot.” The record should be out next spring.

For Caddell, Poor But Sexy is like a part-time job: “This is a very different animal than the band I was in before,” he says. “We all have jobs—getting in a van and going at it for six weeks isn’t an option. We’re content to play a fair number of local shows and regional shows and see where it goes.”

Tonight, the band plays DC9 with the XYZ Affair and Prabir and the Substitutes at 9 PM. Tickets cost $8 to $10. On Saturday, Brown will reunite with his Elvis Costello-cover-band mates—and a few additions—at the seventh annual Run for Cover event at the Black Cat, which benefits the free concert series Fort Reno. This year, Brown, Axelson, Durst, and Falconer take on Bon Jovi as Bad Medicine.

To learn more about Poor But Sexy, check out our full conversation with Brown and Caddell.

Name: Poor But Sexy
David Brown (vocals, guitar)
Jason Caddell (guitar)

Brown: 30.
Caddell: 37.

Brown: Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Caddell: DC.

First song that made you want to play music:
Brown: “ ‘Karma Chameleon’ by Culture Club. I made my parents buy me that record when I was five. That was the point when I became aware of music. I don’t remember the song that well, but I remember desiring to own it and the shock that I felt when I saw the cover of the record—I didn’t really get it. There was a sort of other quality to Boy George and his looks that was confusing.”
Caddell: “The first record I purchased was Queen’s ‘Play the Game.’ It wasn’t until much later, looking at the band photo, that I realized it must have made my parents uncomfortable.”

First instrument:
Brown: “Clarinet in fifth grade. I quickly switched to drums because the clarinet made my mouth itch and that made me cranky.”
Caddell: “My first instrument was also clarinet, but in sixth grade.”

Local spot to seek inspiration or write music:
Brown: “Our front porch in Petworth is where I hash out ideas.”
Caddell: “I have my own home studio that we use quite a bit—that’s where I do most of my own writing.”

Best local venue
Brown: “The answer to that is easy because we just played Fort Reno and it was awesome. I love playing in clubs where there’s a party atmosphere, but they’re exclusive and revolve around alcohol, so young kids can’t come and people don’t bring their dogs. Fort Reno has all those things: dogs, babies, kids. I also think we’d neglected the under-21 crowd before the Fort Reno show. That’s when music was really a huge part of my consciousness—that’s who I want to play for.”

Best bar to hear music:
Caddell: “I’d have to say the Black Cat. An enormous part of my musical career was spent playing in the Black Cat—and it still feels like home for me.”
Brown: “That would have been my answer, too, but I’d also add the Galaxy Hut—that’s where our first show was.”

Favorite local band other than your own:
Caddell: “I’m a pretty huge fan of the work of Chad Clark from Beauty Pill. Of the stuff I’ve heard most recently, that’s been the most inspiring. He has a tremendous gift for sonics and songwriting and blending the two. Full disclosure: He’s been a great friend of mine for years.”
Brown: “Medications—they’re really awesome. I’ve seen them a bunch lately. They do a really good job of the kind of awesome instrumental, which is something that I think our band lacks a little bit. We’re more groove-oriented, and so Medications are like on their knees working their axes—that’s an awesome thing to behold.”

Best thing about Washington’s music scene:
Caddell: “It’s still really community-based. There’s a lot of people who know and talk to each other casually about music. There’s a lot of people who share their love for writing for the sake of playing. This town is lacking in careerism [in music], and I think that’s a good thing. People are more concerned about the artistic side than they are about the commercial side. I think there’s a more wholesome attitude to music making than some other large cities.”
Brown: “Wholesome is a good word. There’s an awful lot of people who do the workaday thing but are also really committed to making music. A place like New York is really exciting because there are people who are committed to making it in music, but when you have someone who isn’t committed to making it—that also has awesome results.”

Worst thing about Washington’s music scene
Brown: “I wish there was more cross-pollination. There’s a lot of great players in town. There’s all the military bands; jazz programs at Howard and UDC with some great players; there’s go-go, soul, and R&B scenes; and the punk-rock thing, which we’re more connected to personally.”
Caddell: “There’s a certain amount of orthodoxy that has been present in the past that I’m thankful to see receding from shows and music making. I remember in the early ’90s, there was a certain amount of homogeneity, and I think that’s been dissolving in the interaction of lots of styles. It’s really refreshing and inspiring to me—the weirder things get, the more excited I get about things going on.”

Finish this sentence: “When not making music, you can find me . . . ”
Brown: “ . . . in my garden, killing squash-vine borers. Last night, I had to perform surgery on my acorn squash. I also work at the German Embassy and write for their Web site.”
Caddell: “I’m going to lie and say, ‘in the kitchen.’ I did just get back from a vacation in Maine where I cooked a lot. I’m a freelance audio engineer for corporate and political events.”

The Rolling Stones or the Beatles?
Brown: “Beatles.”
Caddell: “I appreciate the Beatles. I’m way more a Lennon guy than a McCartney guy. The Stones are spiritually closer to my heart, particularly if we’re taking 1968 to ’78.”

Digital download or hard copy?
Brown: “I’ve only had deep relationships with records that I’ve bought in hard copy.”
Caddell: “Both. I spend a lot of money at iTunes—and I love it. The new Arctic Monkeys single is the best song that’s ever happened to music right now, and that was thoroughly digital. That immediacy is what makes it great.”

Club show or festival?
Caddell: “Club shows without a doubt. I’ve played festivals in the past, and they suck.”
Brown: “Festival—just because I’ve never done it before.”

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