Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: drumfish

About 50 unique listeners logged on last weekend to hear the indie rockers from the Washington D.C.-based band drumfish play through the set list of their upcoming concert this weekend at the State Theatre. While it may seem anticlimactic to invite fans to hear the show before the band takes the stage Saturday, they have a pretty good reason to let listeners know what’s in store.

The group will be both recording and filming the concert for its Five Live CD/DVD, and from emailing out MP3s and lyric sheets for the new material to fans, to inviting listeners to the live stream of the show, their goal is to make sure energy and audience participation are high Saturday night.

“We’re telling them very clearly and explicitly, they are to be as energetic and as crazy as they’ve ever been,” said Larry France, guitarist and vocalist for the group. “We want them all singing along, singing loud, cheering, participating – all that kind of stuff.”

The idea for Five Live – which will, fittingly, be the group’s fifth album – came from the band’s desire to do something new, and to find a way to build on the success that came with its most recent release, 2010’s Memoirs.

“We were trying to think, how do you top that, a record that we love and feels like it’s the best writing we’ve ever done,” France said.

The song “Motion” from the Memoirs album earned the group first place in the rock category at the Indie International Songwriting Contest that year, and the track “No Hesitation” was downloaded more than three million times after it was highlighted on the AOL Radio Blog. All this came, surprisingly, shortly after the group reunited after a years-long break-up.

drumfish formed in 1992 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, bringing together students who would infuse the popular rock tradition with their classical training to form the band’s sound. Drummer Aaron Bertoglio was training in African and Latin American percussion. He and then bassist Neil Richardson – who played tuba as well as upright and electric bass – performed in jazz ensembles. France was studying composition, and brought his choral training to the table. All three were music majors at the school; Alex Petty, though not a music major, was a self-taught vocalist. The product was a genre- and culture-spanning musical creation.

The band played gigs throughout college, earning money playing bars in southern Maryland and performing Jimmy Buffett covers on Solomons Island. They were at one point a six-piece outfit, but only the four founding members who stayed on after their graduation in 1996 – Bertoglio, France, Petty and Richardson – would try to carry on the band as a professional act.

France moved in with his father in Falls Church after graduation – “when I was a starving artist,” he said. He worked at Ledo Pizza, and the group put on a shows there and elsewhere in the Falls Church area.

They released their self-titled debut record in 1997, followed up by Ra’s Zoo in 1998, and toured the Northeast and Midwest, until the group disbanded in 1999 under the pressures of the life of struggling musicians.

“We sort of flamed out, in a stereotypical, traditional way that you hear of bands flaming out,” France said. “One of the guys got married, had a kid. We started getting jobs because we weren’t making any money, and we were tired of starving, etc. etc. There was a little bit of infighting, all that kind of stuff.”

They mounted a few unsuccessful reunion attempts in the interim, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the group was able to come back together and release the material they had been sitting on during the hiatus. They released Under Under Hill in 2009, and Memoirs came soon after in 2010. But things since the reunion aren’t as they were before.

“Now, since our mindset is different, we aren’t doing this as a career now,” France said. “We’re doing this because we love it, and we feel like we write good music.”

The lineup has changed in the past few years – Graham Drew was brought in as new bassist when Neil Richardson moved out of the area, and Margie Lang-Garnhart has been brought in on violin. The way the band plays, too, has changed. The group no longer performs regular bar gigs. They have taken to performing at charity events. Saturday’s State Theatre event, in fact, will benefit A Children’s Brain Tumor Cure Foundation and efforts to promote research of Pediatric Low Grade Astrocytomas, a kind of brain tumor found in children. They also pack audiences into the occasional concert at local venues like Jammin’ Java.

“We’re making sure we’re having fun, and if we’re not having fun, we’re going to stop,” France said. “And it’s been fun.”

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