They’re no Sturgis Pretzels, but it wouldn’t be hard for The Districts to compete for the title of “Pride of Lititz, Pa.” The band, now two releases into their relationship with Fat Possum Records and living in Philadelphia, are living the rock star life as well as any group of twentysomethings could: by staying the same down-to-earth guys they were before. We talked with drummer Braden Lawrence about reissues, wolves and classic rock ice sculptures.
Kevin Stairiker: Hello! Are you in Philly currently?
Braden Lawrence: Hey, man. Yeah, we’re in Philly.
KS: This is sort of an inversion of the “best Philly bands” question every single Philly band gets, but what are one or two of your favorite Central PA bands currently?
BL: Medusa’s Disco is pretty cool.
KS: Yeah, they’re actually putting out a video game soon. They’re great.
BL: To be honest, I’ve been out of the loop for a while. I can’t really think of any other ones.
KS: A couple months ago, you guys played a secret show at the dearly departed Single File and it got shut down. What was the scene like in there?
BL: We probably got to play four or five songs. It was pretty packed. And I guess the landlord got wind of it and came by and told him he had to shut it down.
KS: And now it’s closed.
BL: It’s a shame, because it was a really cool place
KS: It’s a really big shame. Outside of that, I can’t think of any non-houses left that are really DIY in the area.
BL: I don’t know. We haven’t really played a DIY Lancaster show since high school. We played the WHYY building and Senorita Burrita was like that, in a sense. Brandon [Gepfer] from Spill is one of the main guys who does DIY shows in the area, but obviously Single File is shut down…I feel like DIY places in Lancaster have a short life span.
KS: You mentioned not having played necessarily a DIY show in Lancaster, but you’ve got Live on Vine and the Nepal benefit that was just announced at Tellus360 coming up. When you come back to play shows in the area, do you feel like a visitor or is it right back to feeling at home?
BL: It’s just like home, for sure. I guess the last show we played in the area was at F&M, but that was a college thing. It was fine, but it didn’t feel like home. But the Single File thing was great because we got to see a lot of people we knew. Damn, it really sucks that [Single File] got shut down cause that was one of the most fun shows right off the bat and we were really in our element, surrounded by people we knew. That sort of thing, for sure, feels just like home.
KS: What was the impetus for re-issuing (self-released first album) “Telephone?” Some bands like to sort of hide away their early stuff, but you seem to want to bring it back to the forefront.
BL: We’ve just been wanting to put that on vinyl for a long time, but we wanted to wait for a good time so we could promote it a little better. And I guess money-wise, like, it wasn’t always the best time, but the timing worked out. We were super happy to get it on vinyl, and people were asking about it for a long time. I think most of the e-mails we got were “when are you going to put ‘Telephone’ on vinyl?” and we’re like “I don’t know, maybe someday!” It’s a super-long album, so we had to cut four songs. We couldn’t afford to make it a double album, so that was another thing. It’s still basically the album. [Laughs.]
KS: How did you decide which songs to cut? Like, “Well, these ones just aren’t as good…”
BL: Pretty much. Those songs we don’t really relate to that much anymore. They’re still on the digital download, just not on the vinyl.
KS: We’re deep into music festival season now. Do your set lists change at all in terms of a regular show versus a festival set?
BL: It depends on how long we have, but we usually play, for lack of a better term, the bangers [laughs].
KS: I guess festivals are made for bangers; that’s what they’re for. People come for the bangers.
BL: Yeah, if it’s a club set, we like to slow it down and there’s more room for-I don’t know, incidents? But at a festival, you sort of have to keep ‘em coming just so you can’t hear bands on other stages and people don’t get bored.
KS: Because you’re sort of between albums now, do you keep a regimented set list or do you shake it up occasionally?
BL: We could shake it up, we have a lot of new songs we could play, but we want to save them. We usually just play mostly songs from “A Flourish and a Spoil” and “Telephone.” We did put out the song “Fat Kiddo” online acoustically. We might play that.
KS: I heard you’re in the studio working on the next album…
BL: Yeah, we did two sessions. We did the first session like a month ago and we cut ten songs. We’ll be doing another batch in October, and then we’ll pick the best ones and put it out.
KS: How far into the process are you, do you think?
BL: I’d say about halfway, maybe farther. It gets complicated when you think about album art-
KS: And multi-tracking, all the ancillary stuff, right?
BL: Yeah, like the first session, we more or less have 10 songs that are completely done, so maybe I’d say it’s more like 60 percent done. It’s hard to tell.
KS: I saw you were just in the area with Rob as [Districts side-project] Straw Hats. What’s the status of that project?
BL: We have an EP and a split release with this band Tangiers from Philly, but we’re also working on a full-length.
KS: Since you have two side projects where you’re playing guitar as opposed to drums, are they just a way to spend time in the Districts off-season or is it a way to get your own material into the ether, sort of?
BL: Kind of. I don’t even think of it as an escape, it’s just fun. We did two or three Straw Hats shows when we were in like, 10th or 11th grade, and then just stopped it for four years. So, it’s just been kind of a joke for a while and then we started doing it again.
KS: A joke that became realer and realer.
BL: Yeah, so that’s been in the back of our heads since Districts was just getting together. As for the Haggert McTaggert stuff, I’ve had that name since I was 16, so that’s not a new thing. Just in the back of our heads.
KS: Have you ever had Straw Hats open for the Districts?
BL: No. [Laughs.] That would be pretty funny, though.
KS: And then you could have Haggert McTaggert open for both and go for a full marathon set.
BL: We’ll do a side projects tour.
KS: This is sort of random, but I read that when you guys tour, you’re usually listening to the podcast Radiolab in the van. Not to put you on the spot, but do you have any episodes to recommend that are good for long travels?
BL: Oh, man. There’s one on autism that’s really good, I can’t remember the name of it, though. It starts with a “J.” That one is amazing. The one on pro wrestling was really good, too (Note: The episodes are called “Juicervose” and “The Montreal Screwjob,” respectively.)
KS: What was the backstage situation like when you opened for The Rolling Stones?
BL: We had a trailer. There was a catering room, and there were ice sculptures of them.
KS: Wait, like an ice sculpture of their name or individual ice sculptures of the band members? Like there was a Mick Jagger ice sculpture?
BL: [laughs] Yeah. There was shrimp cocktails in the ice. There was amazing food.
KS: Automatically the fanciest gig ever.
BL: There was really good food. Then we saw them roll up. Everyone was peeking down the road, trying to catch a glimpse. It was sweet. They had their own little section. Great food, caught a glimpse of the stars.
KS: The stars were out!
BL: We also got to watch the sound check, too. Keith Richards actually soundchecked his own guitar. He was just onstage smoking cigarettes, trying to get a feel for everything.
KS: All right, for the closer, I’m just going to name some Lititz spots and see if there’s any association for you. I’ll start with the big one: Sturgis Pretzels.
BL: Oh man.
KS: Now that I’m saying this, it sounds like I’m asking for a specific memory of you eating a pretzel. [laughs]
BL: [laughs] Yeah, to be honest, I was just there as a kid to roll some pretzels. You can do a tour and they give you the history of the pretzel, and then you roll it. Not too exciting, to be honest [laughs].
KS: I’m sure it was an excellent pretzel! What about Woodridge Swim Club?
BL: I used to go all the time. I remember one year, just drinking Sobes with my friends and breaking them behind the Dumpsters there, being little shitheads.
KS: That’s a specific memory for you, but I feel like I have that exact same memory. [Laughs.] What about the Wolf Sanctuary, ever go on the midnight wolf tour?
BL: Oh my god. I’ve actually never gone on a tour there. There was one time, I remember me and the band were walking in the woods and it was getting late. We kept hearing noises, we thought it was zombies or something. It was a full moon, too, really scary. But then we realized it was just the wolves howling at the moon.
(The Districts will performing at Live on Vine in Lancaster on Saturday, August 13. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.)