Getting Real: An Interview with Ohbijou

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On July 19, the band Ohbijou announced they were going on indefinite hiatus after three stellar albums and countless other contributions to the local music and arts scene. Fortunately for Ohbijou fans, the hiatus announcement was accompanied by one of those classic Oprah “but wait there’s more!” moments:


Not wanting to leave their fans without a farewell show, Ohbijou and friends will be playing one last time at the Great Hall on September 7. It’ll be a night of celebration and joy.

I had a chance to have a virtual sit down with Casey Mecija of Ohbijou to talk about deep impacting issues such as Syria, singularity, concussions in professional sports and US foreign policies but that got too real, so instead, lets reflect on the music and the band instead.

When a band says they are breaking up or going on indefinite hiatus these days, people tend to take it with a grain of salt. Has Ohbijou given themselves any sort of self imposed embargo in terms of how much time can pass should you decide to reform for a special show or anything?

We won’t be reforming anytime soon. We are all looking forward to different creative pursuits. We are saying goodbye to this musical project, though bittersweet, there are many exciting experiences unfolding for all of us outside of the band.

You mentioned some of the places you visited when you toured. What was the best/most unique place you have played, and what was the worse?

Every place we’ve visited has carried its own unique impacts on us. I wouldn’t say we’ve ever had a bad experience. The most exciting ones have been touring across Europe, going to Japan, Taipei, China and traveling across North America with The Acorn. We have definitely encountered challenges, much like any band. Overall we have many good memories that continue to resonate with us.

In a recent interview, you mentioned that the band was “tired and broke”. Do you regret not taking any of the commercial offers you mentioned in your farewell video, especially since it seems like many bands have no problem with it?

No regrets here. We have been very fortunate as a band. We’ve traveled the world, met many wonderful and kind people, played in front of large and welcoming audiences…I feel like we’ve had a special run at this and there are no regrets. We are proud of our accomplishments.

Reflection time: what were your favorite and/or proudest moments?

One of my favourite moments was playing the Hillside festival last year. The energy of the audience was incredible. I felt lost in many good feelings while singing in that performance.

We were one of first bands to participate in the Banff Indie Music residency. We were given a cabin, access to instruments, a studio, engineer and producer. We were told to spend our time writing music and all around us were mountains and infinite sky. It was a very special experience.

Lastly, participating in the Friends In Bellwoods project and helping to raise almost $40,000 for the Daily Bread Food Bank of Toronto is something we feel proud about.

Finally, what are the odds for a massive “all our friends on stage” singalong at the Great Hall on September 7th?

The odds are pretty high!

Ohbijou plays the Great Hall on September 7th.

Interview: Getting to know the real Father John Misty

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This article was written by special contributor Rob Duffy

When Josh Tillman abruptly quit Fleet Foxes after spending the better part of three years behind the drum kit for one of the world’s most critically-acclaimed biggest bands, most people assumed he would soldier on with his career as a bearded, folkie solo artist. And, possibly, so did he: a brief blog post written by Tillman about the departure contained the memorable phrase,”Back into the gaping maw of obscurity I go.”

But that blog didn’t appear under the familiar name of J. Tillman. It marked the conception of the singer’s curious, possibly religious, eerily cult leader-esque new moniker Father John Misty, and it would take a few months before we would all be privy to his gospel.

To the viewing public, the evening of May 1, 2012 might well have been Father John’s immaculate conception. For Father John Misty’s mesmerizing rendition of “Only Son of a Ladiesman” on David Letterman, Tillman arrived clad in a stylishly minimalistic white button-down, clean-shaven, with his trademark lengthy locks shorn into a sleek, wavy look. More surprising, the breezy, vamping moves Tillman showed off were a revelation. It revealed a cleverly re-tooled frontman, one who’s able to reimagine the current golden-voiced woodsy, indie-folk trend with a touch of good old-fashioned Southern California glamour.

If the Letterman performance was Tillman’s rebirth, his live show is now a celebration of a life that’s never seemed better than it is inside this new skin. From his unhinged dance moves to his dry-witted stage banter, Tillman suddenly appears at home onstage in a way we’ve never seen during his decade of touring. And it’s no surprise that “Only Son of a Ladiesman” marks each evening’s highlight. The song is not just Tillman’s finest new creation, it’s a staggeringly evocative folk-rock anthem.

Tillman’s new persona isn’t the most dramatic alter ego the music world has gotten to know in the last year or two (that belongs to Lana Del Rey), but the undeniable success of his new finds him doing the exact opposite of what Del Rey did—instead of packaging himself up for mass consumption, he’s instead peeling away layers, revealing the humanity, the fallibility, even the humour, of the man once buried within.

J.Tillman is most definitely born again, but he doesn’t seem to have discovered religion. In this interview, Tillman reveals that as Father John Misty, what he’s found is arguably even more valuable: a true sense of himself.

As of 2011, you were touring as the drummer of Fleet Foxes. You were a functioning cog in one of the best bands in the world. What made you decide to leave the band and work as a solo artist once again? 

It was really just the end of that album cycle, and I just [couldn’t] wait around however long for the Bat Phone to ring. I just wanted to be doing this stuff. I believe in my shit, and I want to do it with dignity. Some of the language around this thing kind of makes my skin crawl. The, like, “side project, solo project” whatever. I didn’t want that to be the context for this thing.

Does that language happen as a result of you being in Fleet Foxes? 

It’s just groupthink. That shit is just plug and play. I don’t want to get too hung up on the language around it, that was just an example. Being in a band of Fleet Foxes’ calibre takes a lot of time, and anybody who’s creative can relate to that. Time spent on something is, in our minds, indicative of belief in it. And if you’re just leaving your own thing on the margins, it’s kind of indicative of a lack of belief in it. At least to me, it’s very simple to me.

So the album cycle ends, and you decide to go back to doing your own thing. Why the new name? 

That was a choice I had to make a year ago when I started sending it around. Prior to that, when I’m writing songs, I’m not thinking, “What’s this called?” That is the last item to address. I had all these demos, it might have just been something as civilian as I had them all in my iTunes, and I was like, “This isn’t really the J. Tillman thing.” I had kind of emotionally disconnected from that particular form of expression. If I had just picked up the guitar at age 29 and made this album, I probably would have just called it Josh Tillman. But I had defamed my name. I had attached my name to this alter ego that I couldn’t relate to anymore.

And also it was kind of exciting: I had never gotten to choose a name before, and so I just kind of went with my instincts, which are just kind of absurdist. I was really excited, because I’d always left that aspect of my personality out of my music, because I was young and vain and wanted to be taken seriously, and I didn’t consider that aspect of my personality to be creatively valid, which is just garden-variety self-loathing.

But at some point within the last few years, I realized: There’s this thing you do, a way of thinking, a way of expressing myself, a form of communication. The J. Tillman thing became this really big installation performance piece in my life, that I had built my whole life around, and my identity, and how I regarded myself, and everything. And I wanted to eliminate that filter. I didn’t want there to be any filter. So the name thing, it’s just a bit of a red herring. I like it phonetically, I like it aesthetically, it’s kind of confusing.

Yeah it is. 

It is confusing! Because it smacks of an alter-ego. But I came to this realization, this J Tillman thing, that’s the alter-ego! [I] don’t really relate to this guy. But as time went by, I had a harder and harder time answering for him. I got really exhausted from sitting down to write songs and wanting to say certain things, and having to ask myself, like, is this a J Tillman song? Does this fit?

And a couple times, on my records like “James Blues,” there was this song on this album Bansalanda Territory Blues that I made, which was the first glimmer of my sense of humour and my real sensibilities fighting their way to the surface. That was really gratifying. But it was a few more years before I could really go whole hog with it.

How did you settle on Father John Misty? There seems to be a lot tied up in there. There’s a religious element. Some people have called it a “faux cult leader” thing… 

I could break it down for you, but the words would die in the air in front of me. But the only part I will explain is I thought it was really funny how similar John is to my own name. And also how standard it sounds. Like, John. It’s such a, like, name-y name. That’s kind of what I liked about it. That’s something I’m addressing on the album: What’s the nature of identity? Juxtaposing these songs that are pretty explicitly, obviously about me. You can’t listen to this album and not hear Josh Tillman, or what you have to presume is Josh Tillman. And then you’re left with this very confusing prospect of like, well why is it called [Father John Misty] then? Hopefully, that line of thinking goes out to, “Well, does it matter?” As long as you get to that place, the magic trick is performed.

So yeah, I could have called it a prepositional phrase or something, but is interesting, like, people don’t go around asking St. Vincent if she’s a saint, or if she’s religious. It really is just the branding thing. You used to go by your name, and now you go by this. Why did that happen?

But people seem to freak out a bit when that happens. The idea of reinventing yourself. Look at Lana Del Rey, for example… 

I don’t think that my thing smacks of….I stand by my back catalogue and I know why I made it. I understand me. The creative pursuit, it’s always predicated on destruction. Like, even in the physical world, nothing new gets made without something dying first. I think very symbolically, and very mythologically, and there was something really thrilling about taking this fucking thing that was my whole life, like, 10 years of my life, this thing was I was banging my head against the wall, going on tour, subjecting myself to criticism and ridicule, and apathy, and was just fighting for this thing. There was something really exciting about taking it and putting it on the altar and plunging a knife into its chest and, just like, drinking its blood! You know? It was more exciting than like, “Weekend With Bernie,” this corpse, carrying it around with me, like, “This thing’s still alive, right?!” That’s thrilling. It is really thrilling.

How liberated did you feel when you did that? 

I felt liberated! I had some really formative experiences within the last couple years, one of which was quitting Fleet Foxes. That whole thing was me staring in the face the addiction to this one escapist fantasy I had in my 20s, which was that if I was a working musician, I would be happy. I got to stare that in the face and realize, it’s not circumstance that makes you happy. It’s what you fucking do.

I was really ashamed and embarrassed for a long time about how unhappy I was in a situation that in my mind, any of my contemporaries would have loved to have been there. But my contemporaries are not me. They’re not Josh Tillman. Actually admitting that was really liberating. And just being like, “Well, now it’s simple.”

And even the “happy” thing. The language around this whole thing is pretty problematic and inadequate. There is satisfaction that is self-perpetuating in this line of work for me. Doing this gives me more motivation to do more. Whereas, with Fleet Foxes, I was constantly trying to catch up with the satisfaction. It took energy away from me, as opposed to giving me more energy to do more things.

Was is it the songwriting that you missed? The simple idea of not having the time and energy to make your own music? 

I was still making albums. Any time I wasn’t on tour with those guys, I was on tour by myself. But it really was this thing that was in me, like, “You made a decision to put your own writing on the sidelines.” And that’s not really me. All of my decisions that I’ve made in my life, I’ve made really extreme decisions in my life to facilitate a creative set of circumstances. But just because you’re playing in a band doesn’t mean you’re being creative. I wasn’t being creative. I was very passive. I was just watching this thing happen to me. I didn’t start that band. I didn’t write those songs. I was a hired gun. I really was. In the studio on that second album, I barely did anything. I did a week of drum tracking, I didn’t know any of the songs, we hadn’t really rehearsed or practiced anything. I just came in more or less blindfolded and played along, and was more or less done. That’s just not very satisfying for me.

I feel like there’s kind of this misconception, and it’s actually kind of a good one, because the mythology of the rock band persists. People think, whether they’re really conscious of it or not, what they like about bands is that they’re the Monkees or something. They, like, live together, and hang out, and they all write the songs, and when they’re making the albums, they’re all standing around in a circle recording them together, and writing their own parts, and whatever. It’s just not the case. That is why people are confused. “How could you leave this thing?” There was barely a thing for me to leave!

It really was a symbolic decision. It was just like, okay, I did this thing, I don’t like it, I’m gonna do something else. It would have been really easy for me to sit back and do a year of touring and just kind of go through the motions, but that’s not me.

This is another symbolic thing, but does the haircut come along with that? The idea of rebirth? Shedding your former self? 

See, that has nothing to do with Fleet Foxes. When I first moved to Seattle, I had long hair and a beard. This was the early aughts, and everybody was doing this leather jacket, dyed black hair, everybody wanted to be The Strokes, this sexy rocker thing. I had this totally different… People were freaked out by me. People would call me a hippie with derision.

I’ll get really candid with you: I’m, like, a handsome…person, you know? And for a long time I really didn’t like…I don’t like…the way that good-looking people get treated. And so I masked this thing with this huge beard, and long hair, and dressing like a homeless person. It was all tied up in this self-loathing thing of, “I don’t like what I am. I don’t like my sense of humour. I don’t like my ability to charm people. I don’t like my traditional looks. I don’t like any of it.”

So I set out on this 10-year thing of subverting what I perceived to be the easy assumptions about me. People think I’m a funny person? Cool, I’m gonna go ahead and put out the most miserable fucking music you’ve ever heard. And it was all about me. Ultimately that’s vanity, that’s someone thinking way too hard about themselves. And so, just getting older, getting to a place where it’s like, “Well, fuck man, I’m me. I don’t want to fight it anymore.” I just want to use it to the best of my ability.

And also, with the hair-cutting thing, that girl Emma in the [“Nancy From Now On”] video is my girlfriend. I’m in love with her. I really wanted to explore this idea of the submission of love. Having her take my vanity. Because I was convinced that once that hair came off, I was gonna look like a total dork.

Yeah, a total dork GQ model. 

I was just convinced that once that hair came off, I was really gonna have to fight for…something, I don’t know. I wanted to explore the submission of love, just being like, I’m giving you my vanity. Once I realized that my hair, and the beard and all that shit was ultimately about vanity and contrarianism and protecting myself, and all that, I was like, “This person makes me feel so valued, and I want her to do it.”

She cut it off, and it was amazing. It was super-fun. And in the video, I’m laughing. I was expecting for it to be this cathartic, serious…I was expecting to break down. And I was laughing my ass off! Like, “I’m letting this whole thing go!”

But of course, the easy interpretation is, “He’s not in Fleet Foxes anymore! He’s shedding his Fleet Foxy image!” Dude, I was asked to be in that band 80% because I was a long-haired, bearded, you know what I mean?

It sounds like there was some sort of Samson-esque thing in you. Like you were scared you’d lose your powers or something. 

Oh yeah! I was convinced for a few days afterwards that I had lost my ability to be funny. I felt like that was the first thing to go. But I’m into that stuff—not in a magical way, but it was really strange, just…  Going out, having looked a certain way for 10 years, going out, getting a coffee, and all of sudden people are treating me like if they fuck up my order I’m gonna freak out on them. Like an angry white male. Or women being like, “Aghhhh!!!” as I’m saying the weirdest shit imaginable.

And I was just like, “Fuck, there’s no foil anymore!” I used to really enjoy looking a certain way and then opening my mouth and having people say, “You don’t sound like a hippie! You don’t sound like, ‘Heyyyy maaaaaan…’”

That’s not me at all. But I’m very adaptive. It’s been fun. I had this real negative identity complex for a long time, where it was just like, “I am the aggregation of all the things I’m not.” That was really limiting, and kind of depressing, ultimately.

But now, I’m conducting these shows, and the creative things. It’s really the revenge of the 8 year old me. The me, pre-distortions. I feel really child-like now, I feel really good.

How are you adjusting to life as more of a leading man? 

It’s easy! In my 20s, I was addicted to the mythology of “the songwriter.” When I was 21, I went on tour with Damien Jurado and Richard Buckner, guys who I worshipped. And I’m using that word very deliberately: I worshipped them. I wanted to be that. So I kind of put on this pretense. I thought the best I could be was an archetype. And your success was how close to that archetype as you could get. It was all about developing credibility in terms of the parameters of the archetype. I thought, “People can’t see the real me, it will undermine my credibility as this thing, this tortured songwriter. It was all very romantic.

I have no interest in that now, I don’t relate to it anymore. I don’t want to be that thing. Once I pulled my finger out of that dam, that’s where you see the dancing, joking guy. I don’t have to try to do that!

Getting Real: A talk with Joel Plaskett

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joel plaskett

It seems only fitting that a venue as storied and successful as the Horseshoe Tavern celebrates its 65th anniversary with rock n’ roll from the equally fantastic Joel Plaskett. Wrapping up a successful year with the release of the critically acclaimed and Polaris Prize nominated Scrappy Happiness and heavy touring across Canada, Joel takes some time out to speak with the Panic Manual about the making of Scrappy Happiness, and of course, what the Horseshoe means to him. We chatted for a while and here are some of the highlights:

Panic Manual– I spent a lot of time listening to Scrappy Happiness and I found the album more raw than your other ones—the content and the lyrics. What were your motivations behind this album and the direction you took for it?

Joel Plaskett– For me I knew I wanted it to be a band album, so the material that I was writing, I had a bunch of songs to choose from for the record, I felt like I wanted it to be collaborative. In that sense if I [recorded] it on that weekly basis we’d all be thinking on our toes and I think that’s what kind of brings the urgency to it. On a lyrical and recording level—because of the time frame and the nature of the record, being a weekly deadline and never having recorded any of the songs before, it was more, “let’s see what happens” and so I think that brought an energy to it that was kind of cool. On a more thematical lyrical level, it was just about taking songs that felt good to sing and lyrically can get to where I’m at. Three was a really great record the way it was received and touring it was really, really good but it was kind of a challenge because there was a lot of international touring in the UK which was cool as an experiment, which is not to say I won’t go back; I do intend to go back, but it was hard after the initial blast in Canada, going international solo and duo and the band wasn’t as involved there was a bit of a disconnect there I think sometimes things can feel like a bit of a struggle. I felt like I wanted to make this record fun for everybody and for it to be in the moment. I tend to think a lot about things and so I thought about this album and when it comes to the live shows and recording that I would get to it and not hung up on some preconceived idea of what it should be.

Panic Manual– The transformation to record [the songs]—was that something that was more spur of the moment? Did you feel that the music you were writing needed that kind of spontaneity?

Joel Plaskett– I felt like the lyrics for a lot of these songs… a lot of them were written quite quickly and a lot of the sentiments reflect the struggle to find happiness in things… I felt like there was a connection between the approach to the record and the title of the record. The title came out of a lyric out of Lighting Bolt which to me seemed like the obvious choice as far as the centre piece of the album and the story of the album and I guess I just I was thinking maybe with Three there was a concept from start to finish [for] what the songs were about and they were structured methodically in terms of telling a long story in three acts almost. With this album it was more like there was a lot of variety within the songs but the thing that kind of held it together was the approach.

Panic Manual– Your approach for Scrappy Happiness… is this something you think you’ll do more of in the future?

Joel Plaskett– The thing I guess I sort of learned through having made a lot of records, I don’t think I would do it under the same deadline weekly type thing… I went through that process of going 10 weeks of intense work one song a week—that’s just an approach. I think that was part of the story behind this record, but I do feel like the idea of recording something and putting it out to the public really quickly is something I really like and I will take that with me whether it’s a single or another album done in the similar quick release fashion.

Panic Manual– Well as part of the public I loved it because you’re always on your toes waiting for the next one and for me it was a great experience to hear it in that way and anticipate it in that way, that’s my praise for it!

Joel Plaskett– That to me is an exciting thing to hear because that’s kind of why I brought in the videos and the whole approach—I just thought this’ll have an energy to it and let people in on the process. For me I find that if I just get down to it that’s when stuff starts happening. I can think about things and I really think about the writing and I spend some time with the songs but a lot of the time with the band I don’t even really commit to ideas… I show them things that almost don’t seem finished until I’m [say] “let’s go, I’m ready to sing this now, let’s learn this”. It’s almost like a live show—I don’t commit until I love committing to it on stage. Like in sound check you might be half singing or messing around, not really playing the song but when you get up in front of people then you go and that’s the time… It still might not be perfect but let’s put all of our focus and all of our attention right here right now. That was the same approach with the record and I think that’s why the record [stands] up to live shows and reflects that spontaneity we have live that has always been a hard thing to capture on a record. So I realized the way to recreate the live show is to not try and recreate it. It’s just to let mistakes fly or have the accidents be what they are and that kind of reflects the approach and through years of playing I’ve just become more free.

Panic Manual– Given your run of shows this week it is fitting to ask a few questions about you and the Horseshoe. I find that club and bars like the Horseshoe are a dying breed—there seem to be fewer and fewer of those legacy bars where you can go to see a good show. What does a venue like the Horseshoe mean to you?

Joel Plaskett– It’s a rock n’ roll room with crack in the steps and a smelly washroom, but having said that, the room is really well curated, the people who run it and all the staff, they’re all great and have been there a long time. I have a connection to them. But there’s a history of all these great shows—some of the ones I’ve had, some ones I’ve seen. Just the collective energy that the room has acquired through years of being a place… at the same time it is those marks on the floor, the drinks that have been served, and all the sweat that’s been poured out on stage by a bunch of bands giving it that brings the energy to the room. Just to get the invite to go in there was a no brainer… it’s going to be fun because people know the place, [and] you bring your best to the stage. It’s kind of casual but important and I like being a part of that. It jives with the way I present music.

Panic Manual– What is your favourite memory or story to do with the Horseshoe?

Joel Plaskett– Really my biggest memory if I really think of the place, I just think of Ian McGettigan, the bass player from Thrush Hermit and later the Emergency, but in the Hermit days he had a lot of pension for blowing fire and I remember just he would start the show by wrapping the head stock of his bass guitar in tissue paper and then he’d put grain alcohol in his mouth, light the tissue paper, and blow grain alcohol up onto the head stock of his bass. It’s blow a huge fireball up onto the ceiling. Looking up at the Horseshoe ceiling with this fireball on it and go, “Fuck, tonight’s the night we’re going to burn the club down”. It completely dissipated, we would never do that now… we were young and stupid and no one knew what we were going to do! If I think of the Horseshoe I look up at the ceiling and go, “Yeah right, I remember Ian McGettigan blowing fire”.

Joel Plaskett continues his 5 night run at the Horseshoe Tavern until December 16.

Getting Real: A talk with Lucy Michelle & The Velvet Lapelles

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First, a big thanks to Lucy Michelle of Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles for graciously answering my questions in my first-ever musician-interview. Her band has been gaining renown thanks to both her penetratingly beautiful voice and her band’s great instrumental quality (often including cellos for the win!). I’m super excited to see her in DC on October 27th – and with the band’s extensive tour going on now, I’d highly recommend looking for their stop near you.

1) What question do you wish interviewers would ask you?

Does your band need a place to crash tonight?

2) You’ve mentioned your day-job is teaching. Do you ever perform for your kids? If so, do they make a good audience? If not, do you wish you could perform for younger audiences or do you avoid it on purpose?

Actually starting in June of this year I began doing music full time, but I still occasionally sub and I have played for the students several times. It’s a great experience, they always get very excited and ask lots of questions, which I love. Adults don’t really do that, nor do they have that kind of energy. But I love playing for audiences of all ages, I learn so much when I play for people of all different ages.

3) If you could sum-up your style in three adjectives and one verb, what would they be?

Whimsical, raw, spontaneous, partying

4) What was your favorite part of growing up in Minneapolis?

I actually grew up in St.Paul, which I loved. I got to know St. Paul really well at a young age. My mom wasn’t one to hang out at home when I was little so we would explore the city and she’d take me everywhere: coffee shops, thrift stores, museums, antique stores, parks, friends’ houses. Both my parents are artistic people and they have some really wonderful friends whose houses I spent many of my formative years at, I remember their kids, their gardens and their endless creativity. It’s really hard for me to imagine living in a different place, because the twin cities have been such an inspiring place for me. Not just the location but also the people in it.

5) Does musical talent run in your family?

My great grandmother was a pianist for silent movies and my Grandfather builds and play banjos. My family also has a huge appreciation for music and musicians. I remember many a living room dance party.

6) If you could open for any band, which would it be?

Velvet Underground

7) What is your favorite song on the new album, Heat, and why?

I think Puget Sound is one of my favorites, when we play it live I tend get goosebumps. That song just vividly takes me back to the day my husband asked me to marry him.

Tour Dates:

Oct 17 – Chicago, IL @ Suterranean (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 18 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 19 – Toronto, ON @ Parts & Labour (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 20 – Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 22 – Pawtucket, RI @ The Met (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 23 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 24 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 25 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 26 – Annapolis, MD @ Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge (w/HMBSMS)
Oct 27 – Washington, DC @ DC 9 (w/HMBSMS)