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Local Listens: East Coast Caravan

Twisting and shouting with a band that came together at George Washington University

Photography by Sierra Suris.

The members of East Coast Caravan, who play DC9 tonight (doors open at 8:30, the band goes on at 10, tickets are $8), have come a long way from their days as classmates in George Washington University jazz courses. The four musicians—only two are actually from the East Coast—offer a combination of mellow jams and progressive rock infused with funk. Eric Walker, lead vocalist for the group, chatted with us about the joys of Madam’s Organ, Green Day, and the ups and downs of the band.

Nick Blanton, 22; vocals and lead guitar; Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Quentin Cantu, 22; drums; Houston, Texas.
Greg McWhir, 23; bass; New York City.
Eric Walker, 23; guitar and lead vocals; East Brunswick, New Jersey.

How did you find each other at GW?

“In the jazz department, there were jam sessions on Friday afternoons, so that’s how we all met. Also, Greg and I were roommates freshman year, and we found Nick in the jazz department. He introduced us to Quentin.”

How old is your band?
“Almost two years old. We used to be a jazz/funk band with trumpets and a saxophonist, but we became a four-piece band about 10 months ago. That’s when things really started to come together.”

Is there a story behind the band’s name?

“I actually think we have an awful name. We grappled with it for a couple of months, and Greg just came up with it. At the time, five out of the six members of the band were from the East Coast, and we just had visions of us touring up and down it, but it’s kind of ironic—because now two of our bandmates are from the West.”

Speaking of the East Coast, what do you think of the Washington music scene?

“One of the stumbling blocks is that Washington isn’t a very artsy city, but this is certainly debatable. It has a more corporate, official feel than other cities that have a bohemian vibe. There’s less of an appetite for local indie music here. But Washington is getting younger, hipper, more diverse, and more of an ‘it’ place every year, so I think a more robust music scene will be a positive byproduct of that growth. It’s also different viewing the Washington music scene as a fan than it is as a musician. As a fan, it’s win-win: lots of music venues and lots of acts to see. For bands, you have to balance the fact that you have such a large population to draw from—a good thing—but so many other acts to contend with, a challenging thing. It’s tough to stand out and break through the clutter.”

First instrument:

Favorite local spots to seek inspiration or write music:

“Meridian Hill Park. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in DC. It comes out of nowhere, and it’s beautiful, with lots of really cool architecture.”

Best local venue:
“I really like the Black Cat and the Rock & Roll Hotel.”

Best bar to hear music:
“Madam’s Organ. That’s a place you can just roll into any night of the week, and they’ll have a really great act. And the Eighteenth Street Lounge on Wednesday nights.”

Favorite local bands, other than your own:
“Little Bigheart, Lucky Dub, and TNTrio.”

Favorite Washington hangout:
“At the band house—we all have a house together in Columbia Heights. Oh, and Wonderland Ballroom. It’s a great local place you can just go to any night of the week.”

Biggest influences:
“The biggest is Umphrey’s McGee. Then Lettuce, Jaco Pastorius, and the Grateful Dead.”

When introducing your music to someone for the first time, what song do you play?
“Maybe our song ‘Squirrel Fishing.’ It sets the tone with a really nice opening groove and a catchy hook. But that’s something we recorded awhile ago, and I feel like we’ve already developed so much musically since that point. So I’d tell someone to come see our show.”

What’s the best thing about being in a band?

“You know, there was one moment when we were playing at GW at about 3 AM. The place was still raging, but we were getting tired, so we played ‘Twist and Shout,’ and it really brought the house down. It was like something out of a movie, with everyone getting into it. It was one of our defining moments. I love helping other people have a good time.”

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