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Local Listens: Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast

These Georgetown alumni rockers channel the Grateful Dead.

Photo by Chris Svetlik, courtesy of Little Bigheart & The Wilderbeast.

They may sing ballads about Julius Caesar, but the boys of Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast are more 9:30 Club than nerd. The four Georgetown alumni offer a mix of heartfelt ballads and intense rock rhythms, with a sound they say is heavily influenced by classic groups such as Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. In the last few months, Little Bigheart gave a series of performances at such venues as the Velvet Lounge and the 9:30 Club. On Thursday, July 15, they’ll be at the Rock & Roll Hotel (doors open at 8). Patrick Mulroy, a guitarist and vocalist for the band, talked to us about H Street, Northeast, fuzzy history, and coming up with a band name.
Bryn Bellomy, vocals, bass, and keyboard, 23, Houston, Texas
Russell Joye, drums, 24, Skillman, New Jersey
Patrick Mulroy, vocals and guitar, 22, Wellesley, Mass.
John Russell, vocals and guitar, 21, Yorktown Heights, New York

How long have you been in Washington, and what brought you here? “All of us went to Georgetown. I’m the class of 2010, John and Bryn are class of 2009, and Russell is class of 2008.”

How’d you guys get together? “John and I were in a song-writing class together, and we started hanging out and playing music. The same thing had been happening with Russell and Bryn—Georgetown doesn’t have many musicians, so when you find someone you like and you play well together, you tend to stick together. Our groups merged through something sort of like a play date set up by a mutual friend.”

Any story behind the name? “We actually didn’t have a name until August, so we went about a month and a half without one. One day, John, Bryn, and I were eating dinner—we had a show coming up and didn’t have a name yet—and I just threw out Little Bigheart. Russell thought that sounded wussy, though, and said, “What about Wilderbeast?” We combined the two. Maybe another name would’ve been better, but we’d gone so long without a name that we decided it wasn’t worth any more heartache. And you grow into your name.”

You have a four-part song called “The Assassination of Julius Caesar and its Barbarous Aftermath.” Are you all history buffs? “It happened by accident. I was reading this poem I’d written for a Chaucer class, and John started strumming along, and we worked it out on the guitar from there, with everyone writing different parts. But my history was sort of fuzzy—we mostly based it on the HBO show Rome.”

What was your first instrument? “The trumpet. Actually, maybe it was the harmonica. But in fifth grade, I played the trumpet for a year, but I was like, this is the dumbest thing ever. So I went to play guitar.”

Best local spot to seek inspiration or write music? “On the corner of 18th and Columbia streets in DC’s Adams Morgan, where everyone waits for the bus. I play for change there sometimes, but I never make any money.”

Best local venue? “The Velvet Lounge. It’s so dirty and nasty.”

Favorite local band other than yours: “City Folk, and a jam band called East Coast Caravan.”

Sum up Washington’s music scene. “It’s growing, but more could be done to improve the situation. Maybe it’s just the culture of DC—people are here so temporarily. There are summer interns and four-year-term politicians and their assistants. I just feel like a lot of young people are just passing through here. And we do have some really nice small clubs here, like on H Street, but it sucks getting there. But I’m hopeful because city officials are improving H Street now.”

What’s your favorite part of the city? “I really like Adams Morgan. I hang out there a lot, and I like my new neighborhood, Park View. Everyone smiles and waves at you, and I’m into that.”

To what extent do you feel like the city influences your work? “A lot, actually. It’s full of different types of people—West and East African, white, black, Chinese. I feel like that shows up in our work because we have an eclectic sound. We all have different ideas of what we like, and we kind of put that together.”

What musicians, bands, or other performers influence your music? “Not necessarily musically—but spiritually, and in terms of band culture—the Grateful Dead. They always came back to the audience. Instead of getting up there half-an-hour late after the second opener and playing for 45 minutes, they’d come on, play for an hour and a half, take a 20-minute break, and then play for another hour and a half. We also have a classic sound. We’re influenced by classical rock, like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd—sometimes we sound a little like them. But everyone listens to different things.”

When introducing someone to your music for the first time, what do you play?
“A live version of ‘Patches the Pirate (How Far).’ ”

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, which would it be? “Workingman’s Dead by the Grateful Dead.”

Best thing about being in a band? “Not doing it alone. If I wasn’t in a band, I’d still be trying to play music, and it’s a whole lot harder on your own.”