News & Politics

How the Edmund Burke Shooting Inspired a New Song by DC Band Light Beams

Justin Moyer's daughter was there that day.

Light Beams, with Justin Moyer at far left. Photograph courtesy of Light Beams.

Justin Moyer is a veteran of two distinct DC scenes: punk and journalism. Since the ’90s, Moyer has done reporting for the Washington Post while releasing music with various DC bands, including his current group, Light Beams. The band’s newest single, “Coming Our Way,” was inspired by Moyer’s experience at the scene of the 2022 Edmund Burke School shooting, where his daughter is a student. We spoke to Moyer about what that day was like for him as a father, reporter, and artist. Listen to the new track here.

You’re in a band and you report for the Washington Post. How’d that happen? 

I’ve been a musician and a journalist since I was a teenager. When I was 18 I lived in Cape Cod for a summer and learned bass playing for a steel drum band at night. In the day I worked at a small newspaper called the Barnstable Patriot. They had this internship that paid like nothing, so I made money at night playing in tourist bars. I’ve basically just been trying to recreate that summer in my adult life. I was connected to the community in two distinctly different ways that also informed each other.

How’d that dynamic develop in DC?

When I moved to DC after college I was in bands all the time, putting out records on Dischord. Then I’d do freelance writing. There was a period where a lot of musicians worked in the Post mailroom, getting mail and answering phones. I got one of those jobs and it all went from there. Light Beams kind of formed about seven years ago, but that’s the latest in a series of bands I’ve been in since I moved here. My Post work and my music inform each other. I’m writing stories about protests and covered the insurrection, but I’m also trying to write songs and play shows. 

What is Light Beams’ sound?

To me it’s like dance punk. We have a punk sensibility and we come from the punk community—but we’re creating songs we think of as bangers. We’re trying to move people, like physically get them to move. A lot of bands say that but hopefully we’re doing it in a different way.

How does Light Beams make music?

I write most of the lyrics and sing, but we don’t really have traditional instruments in our band—we record all our sounds on samplers. So if you hear a guitar or a keyboard, we recorded that and we’re just pressing a button. We have samplers, percussion, and a bass guitar, which is the only traditional harmonic instrument we use. It’s a little odd, but our culture has moved past those kinds of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin type guitar antics and into a different area with R&B and hip-hop that’s relying on sampling and computers. So I want to try as best I can as a 46-year-old man to respond to that kind of energy.

Can you take me through the day of the shooting at Edmund Burke?

I was in my backyard [in Mt. Pleasant] that day and heard what sounded like gunfire. My daughter called me from school very concerned, and I kind of downplayed her concerns. I was like, “We live in a city, sometimes there’s gunfire but it’s not directed at you.” But in this case it definitely was directed at her school, where she was. It put me in a state of confusion, where I was sending back impressions of the scene to my editors, but also as a parent, figuring out what I needed to do for my kid. She was taking shelter in a CVS so I thought, well, it’s not really an emergency, she’s locked down in there, I’m going to do my reportorial job here. After about a half an hour I was like, maybe this is that serious, I should go get my kid. So it was a strange day where all this stuff that we’re constantly covering as journalists—gun violence, mass shootings—hit me in a personal way. I’ve interviewed people who lost children to gun violence. Luckily that’s not me, but it really hit home on that day.       

There are some lyrics in ‘Coming Our Way’ that seem to point to the chaos and violence of the situation [“he’s got a machine that eats people/Leaning out the window with this thing that spits evil”]. What was your writing process?

All the lyrics reflect the scene, but I don’t write super literal lyrics like “we’re in the club, we’re having a party.” I try to write more abstract lyrics like some of my heroes, like Frank Black from the Pixies or the GZA. You’re not always sure what they’re talking about. It’s meant to evoke a feeling.

What feeling is that? 

It’s not a good feeling—it’s almost an apocalyptic one. The day of the shooting kind of felt like the end of the world. It was like everything we’ve gone through as a culture seems to be moving towards a breakdown. Or maybe we’re already at it. But either way I’m witnessing it, and I want to make art and journalism about it.  

Light Beams’ new album, Wild Life, is out November 3rd.

Malcolm Ferguson
Editorial Fellow