It doesn’t usually take much for an artist or band to come along and completely change the way you think about and listen to music. Pennsylvania’s The Districts have done just that with their Fat Possum Records sophomore release, Popular Manipulations, which released on August 11.
The quartet made up of Rob Grote (vocals, guitar), Connor Jacobus (bass), Braden Lawrence (drums), and Pat Cassidy (guitar) have been buds since grade school and have been making music together since 2009. With two full-length releses under their belt, the band make music that is difficult to pin down. From straining guitars to frothy vocals, Grote and crew pour every ounce of emotion in their bodies into each song and performance. The music makes you get up and groove, and honestly what’s better than that? (Not much, really.)
We caught up with the band right after the release of Popular Manipulations to chat about the band’s career so far and everything you need to know about the new record. Check it out below.
You guys are wrapping up a run of shows with My Morning Jacket and have played with The Rolling Stones and countless other top name bands. What’s it like to be at this stage in your career? Did you ever think you’d get to this place?
We definitely hoped to be in this position, even though it was much more of a fantasy. In high school, we were really big My Morning Jacket fans, so going from little teenage boys trying to find weed from old men at their concerts to actually playing with them has been very exciting.
Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, what drew you to music? Was there any kind of local scene where you grew up?
You self released your debut album and have now released two others on Fat Possum. How did working with them come about and what’s it like to be on a label with such an eclectic roster of artists, some of whom have done very big things in the industry?
Our lawyer Vlad, who’s been with us for a long time, works with Youth Lagoon who was on Fat Possum at the time, so he pitched us to them and they liked it and that’s pretty much that. They are a very personal and small bunch so their big catalog doesn’t really overwhelm us; it’s more just very cool. They’ve really helped push us with the making of the album, and [we] definitely owe a lot to them.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a band/personally since your last release? Do you think Popular Manipulations accurately reflects this growth?
After A Flourish and a Spoil came out in 2015, we basically toured nonstop, which, as you can imagine, fundamentally will change a young person. Before touring, I’ve never really traveled whatsoever, so being able to experience all these new places and meeting great weirdos really expanded my worldview. After touring so much, we basically had 8 months or something that we demoed about 40-50 songs that in a way sum up a lot of what has happened the last 2 years of our lives.
Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi makes a few appearances on the album. What was it about her voice and artistry that sparked the collaboration?
We’ve known Zoe since one of our first gigs in Philadelphia years ago. We played with her old band and really hit it off, she had a bonfire that night and invited us and have been pals ever since! She has a great voice, and it was very much a quick process. She came by the studio and knocked out the parts with a one to punch. Badda bing badda boom, she’s a super talented human.
You guys recorded the album with John Congleton (Manchester Orchestra, Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent) and self-produced it as well. Having worked with him on 2015’s ‘A Flourish and a Spoil,’ what kind of elements did Congleton bring to the table that maybe changed the way you approached this album specifically?
For Flourish, we sent John a lot of demos before we recorded, and he sent back thoughts on the arrangements. He really helped make the songs move upwards by shortening parts or stripping parts back to keep them exciting, which taught us a lot. Also sonically, he is just kind of a wizard. Loads of respect for that daddy.
When writing the album, was there a specific song that you wanted to resonate with fans more than others? Any that really stick out from the recording process?
“If Before I Wake” really stuck out. Rob came in with this really simple idea, and we kept it really simple and droney and didn’t overthink anything and just felt really fun and good to play off the bat, which is always a special moment when something kind of just clicks on.
What’s in store for the rest of the year?
Going to be touring a lot and recording stuff in between. Definitely staying busy!