Landmark Music Festival, a two-day event on the National Mall, brought more than 40 artists, a first-ever venue in Washington, D.C. The Trust for the National Mall is leading the coalition to restore the National Mall.
The Landmark Campaign, a key component of the restoration’s plan, seeks to bring awareness and funds to “America’s front yard.”
However, there were a plethora of local and upcoming bands who performed, each presenting an eclectic sound and electric energy.
The Writer’s Bloc had the opportunity to interview several groups, from The Mowgli’s and The London Souls to The Joy Formidable and U.S. Royalty.
For a band based out of Los Angeles, The Mowgli’s are no strangers to the capital.
“We’re big fans of D.C.,” said Matt, who plays bass. “This has been a really good town and market for us since we started six years ago.”
The band recalled one of their trips to D.C. in which they “had a few libations” before roaming around the city and getting yelled at for singing at the Lincoln Memorial.
“We’ve seen a lot of this city,” mused Spencer, a singer and guitarist. “It’s always a good time here.”
“[D.C.] is a great place and it actually makes me feel at home, at some point,” Matt said. “Especially after I’ve had a few beers.”
The Mowgli’s closed their set with “I’m Good,” one of their more popular songs that was written for an anti-bullying campaign. The song is about being nice to those around us and having a positive outlook on life.
Q: I read online – this might be wrong – that when you guys first started out, you didn’t practice together; you were practicing over cell phones.
Chris: That happened. It wasn’t the first time we ever played together, but it happened.
Q: Can you explain to me a little bit how that worked?
Tash: Funny story, I was in D.C. at the time, which is where we are right now, and Chris was in New York. This was before iPhones.
I had a flip phone, so it was easier to hold to your shoulder. So you’d be playing over the phone, you could hear each other, and we went over stuff that way.
Chris: He was living down and here and would come up for the weekend to play shows. So, during the week if there was a new song we wanted to go over to play for the next weekend’s show, we’d have to go over it over the phone because there was no time.
Q: Did you guys write songs separately?
Chris: Yeah. We wrote songs together, too. It was both. We’d bring an idea, and also from playing together we would come up with ideas.
Q: You were living in D.C. at the time?
Tash: Yeah, I was going to school down here for a second.
Q: Where did you go to school?
Tash: George Washington University.
Q: What were you studying?
Tash: Um … business.
Q: How long did that last?
Tash: Not very long. I mean, a year. A year and a half, maybe.
Q: Are you from New York? Both of you?
Q: So how does D.C. compare to New York?
Tash: More government in D.C.
Chris: Yeah, government’s a lot bigger here.
Q: What about culture? Nightlife? Stuff like that.
Chris: I think New York is like, more … It’s hard to say. D.C. feels a lot stricter in a lot of ways. It’s also more, like, centralized. There aren’t as many neighborhoods you can go to and find stuff happening. It’s kind of stuff just happening in this one place or one or two neighborhoods as far as nightlife goes. But there’s a lot of great venues here. There’s more venues in D.C. that I like playing than New York, which is interesting because there are less venues here than in New York.
Tash: Yeah, I agree.
Q: So you guys are familiar with D.C., you’ve been here before. While you’re down here, are you doing sightseeing? Any places you usually go that are familiar to you guys?
Chris: Last night – okay, interesting story.
We played at the Hamilton and the owner showed us up onto the roof where you can pretty much see anything you want to see in D.C. from the roof, including the entire White House from above. That was pretty cool. We’re not big sightseers, and we’ve been here – Tash has family here and my sister is here, as well. So we’ve come down on our own many times. Pretty familiar with all the sights so, you know, we don’t need to do that. But it was cool to see the White House like that.
Q: That was something you’ve never done before?
Chris: No, never done that. Seeing the White House from above, you can see into the windows. Like whoa! So that was interesting.
Q: [To Tash] Anything to add?
Tash: This is a new experience. It’s our first time playing a festival in D.C. so it’s cool to play on the National Mall.
Q: Have you guys played on the Mall before?
Tash: No, never.
Q: Have you done other festivals or is this the first?
Tash: Many festivals.
Chris: Not in D.C.
Q: Is security tighter?
Chris: Yeah! This one’s particularly strict. It’s a national park and it’s in the capital, so there’s six or seven different levels of authority you have to go through before you can get to your stage. We’re not allowed in the VIP tent. We’re looking for water and they wouldn’t let us in. We’re the artists, so it’s like –
Tash: No water for you! You have to walk around.
Chris: Who’s more important than the artists at a music festival? That didn’t make sense to me. They’re just a lot more regulated here than at other festivals.
Q: So tell me about some of your guilty pleasures.
Chris: Guilty pleasures? I mean, all pleasures are guilty, right?
Q: Is there anything you’re embarrassed about?
Tash: She wants to know what you’re embarrassed about in an interview? That’s crazy.
Chris: What’s a guilty pleasure?
Tash: I mean, chocolate, man. I don’t know!
Q: That’s a bad answer.
Tash: I can’t really answer that question.
Q: Okay, what shows are you watching?
Tash: Anything funny, man. South Park is always great.
Q: South Park? Anything new? Anything current?
Chris: South Park is current.
Q: Is that still on? I have no idea.
Tash: What? Am I old? Shit. What’s current? What do you watch?
Q: I don’t have time for TV. I watch Modern Family. That’s about it.
Tash: Are you current? That’s crazy. South Park. Come in with Modern Family. I don’t know. You gotta switch that up.
Q: [To Chris] No TV? No Netflix?
Chris: No, I’m gonna go with your answer. I don’t really have time for TV.
Q: What are you guys most excited about for this festival? Is there anyone you’re really excited to see?
Chris: Well … who’s here? Honestly, we don’t even have time to see anyone. We have to fly right after the show. We’re just kinda in and out. We’re not hangin’ unfortunately.
Q: You’re not gonna get to see any other performances today?
Chris: Unfortunately not.
Tash: We literally … we played last night. But you kinda have to … you show up and then you have to set up. We have a flight right after our show so we don’t really get to stay and see anything. It’s also the first day, so that’s kinda how the cards were dealt.
Q: Those are all my questions unless there’s anything else you guys want to tell me.
Tash: Keep an eye out for The London Souls on the Internet. Google our website for tour dates. That’s it. Look us up.
Q: You guys are primarily based in Maryland?
John: We live downtown.
Q: Do you guys play a lot in D.C.?
Q: So what does this festival mean to you compared to a normal concert?
Paul: There’s more people, I think.
John: It’s great to play with bands that are from all across the country, and some local acts that are just blowing up right now. It’s pretty cool.
Luke: It’s nice to play in your backyard. You don’t have to travel, say, to Merriweather or something where you’re there all day.
Jacob: Less than a mile from my house.
Luke: It’s right in your backyard. It’s really cool.
Q: So have you guys been able to check out any other bands today?
Luke: We’re trying to.
John: We saw Albert Hammond for a second.
Paul: And Vandeveer. Vandaveer’s some cool cats that we’ve known for a while.
Jacob: Twin Shadows was cool.
Q: You know Vandaveer?
Paul: Those guys have been in the scene for a while so we’ve seen them play in different bands and when we were first starting they were playing a lot around the city.
Q: Your band name, U.S. Royalty, where did that come from?
All: [Point to Jacob]
Jacob: Um … I don’t know. I was honestly mowing the lawn one day and it just kind of came to me. I think I heard it in a song. I thought very, very highly of myself as I was mowing the lawn, and I decided … big dreams.
Q: And none of you opposed it? You all just kind of went with it?
Luke: He called me and he was like ‘Hey, I got this show booked.’ We were just writing some songs, we hadn’t really decided if we were gonna play anything yet. So he called me and said he booked a show three months away and told the booker our name was U.S. Royalty. That was better than anything else we came up with so I was like ‘Cool let’s go with it.’
John: Usually when someone makes a decision it’s a lot easier.
Luke: If someone just tells you what’s happening, it’s a lot easier than trying to deliberate over it. It’s funny, actually, how over time … there’s some cool stuff you can do with it. At the time, we were just like yeah okay.
Q: So what is the worst movie you have seen recently?
Luke: Does anyone watch movies anymore?
John: I hated that movie Her.
Paul: I loved it!
Luke: I turn it off if I don’t like it; I don’t make it through it. There a couple movies I want to see, though.
Q: Like what?
Luke: Uh … Black Mass. Actually, on Monday, I’d like to go to the movies and try to see as many as possible. Just buy one ticket and keep going until they kick me out.
Q: Do you guys have any guilty pleasures?
Jacob: Not guilty.
Luke: I don’t guilt myself.
Paul: I think when you hit a certain age you don’t feel guilty about it anymore.
Luke: I’m comfortable with my pleasures. […] Well, I just read all of Harry Potter in August.
Q: For the first time?
Paul: Hold on to the phone, please! Don’t drop the phone!
Luke: It was a total pleasure.
Q: That’s not a guilty pleasure. You’ve never read Harry Potter before?
Luke: No, this was the first time.
Paul: We listen to Lord of the Rings on the bus sometimes.
Q: All right, that’s interesting.
Paul: That’s a guilty pleasure.
John: We bought the books on tape. It’s like 15 cassette tapes.
Luke: It’s a BBC dramatization.
John: It took us, like, three months of touring to get through it.
Luke: We all know the story. We just wanted to hear them recreate it.
Q: I have all the Harry Potter books on tape.
Luke: It’s great! I never thought they were bad, there’s just so much stuff to read. I was a little bit older when that stuff came out, so I was like what’s the point? There’s like seven books. But then I started reading them this summer.
My girlfriend was like here, read the first one; you’re at the beach, just relax. So I read it and I was like boom! The books are amazing. J. K. Rowling? One of the best authors. The movies? Maybe they get better by the fifth one or something. I’m not a fan. I feel like, when I watching Lord of the Rings, I was thinking about how they were done really well. I think, with the subject matter, you can hire actors that have been doing this for a while. Whereas, with Harry Potter, you’re kind of forced to hire kids and maybe they’ll turn into good actors, but maybe not. I feel like, as they got older they got better, but when they were first starting [groan]. But with the books, she really did really well with the written word. The movies caught up slower.
Q: So you’re all Lord of the Rings fans?
Jacob: I love all things that increase children’s imaginations.
John: Jake just has to deal with it.
Q: How did you feel listening to them on tape on the bus?
Jacob: I felt great. It was something different. It was good. I remember laying in the back of the van listening to Lord of the Rings on tape and my imagination is like running wild. It’s very vivid. It made time fly by and I kind of got lost in my own feelings a little bit.
Q: But that wasn’t as inspiring as when you were mowing the lawn and came up with your band name?
John: She’s got you there.
Jacob: No, my imagination really runs when I mow the lawn. You’d be surprised.
Q: Your sound is a little bit different than the other bands here, so what was the audience reaction and how do you think you guys fit in while still standing out?
Javier: It was a great response. We from D.C. so it’s an honor to have the response that we had because we love our crowd. We do have a following, but today we reached out to many audiences. We so happy that we look good. We have fun, we rocked the crowd. We did.
Sonny: From a DJ standpoint, I will tell you that it was so nice to see so many different people together. What we always expected to see, what we always wanted, our vision of why we started this, is to see so many people together. Just because we’re a Latin band, we’re not just Latin. We are a lot of different people. Different cultures coming together, but making a common stand in music. You’re going to hear a lot of beautiful music.
Javier: Our new record came out yesterday.
Sonny: Yes, and our beautiful CD came out yesterday.
Q: Did you guys play any of those songs today?
Sonny: Yes we did. We played several, but I tell you what: even our old music made an impression today.
Javier: Yeah, it doesn’t get old. That’s a good thing.
Sonny: Everything’s different and we had to make our mark, we have to achieve our goals, and we’re going to keep going and that’s what we intend to do.
Q: Did you say you’re based in D.C.? So what does D.C. mean to you?
Sonny: For me, I was born and raised here. Javier got here in ’92.
Javier: It’s where I made it. D.C. see me born as a musician and give me the opportunity to showcase what I do and embrace it and love me and this is my city.
Sonny: I’ll expand on what he says. When I got together with this brilliant man, and we made music together, and we decided we’re gonna make it better. And now we’re here today and we’re more than humble to be standing in front of you, and especially in front of this stage today to showcase our music. That was the most important thing we ever did. To that, we are the most humble people in the world for that.
Q: Do you guys play a lot of festivals?
Javier: Yes, we have. We played festivals in Colorado. We played festivals – we’re gonna play a festival in Puerto Rico. We’re familiar with festivals, but this is special. This is home. I hope this grow to be something that we can keep doing every year for years and years and we can keep making something part of D.C. and then we can call our friends from every city and be like, “Yo, we got our own come through every year.”
Sonny: Great artists like Wale, who’s a local artist.
Javier: He was talking about doing his own thing. He was talking about doing his own festival next summer.
Sonny: You know what? We’re lucky we get to be a part of this and we’re very humbled to be here right now. We’re very lucky for the crowd that even came and adored us today. It feels special. It feels very special to us and we’ll never forget that.
Q: How did you get involved with Landmark?
Javier: C3, they hit us up and we got booked through our boy, through the Hamilton. Shout out. We love the Hamilton.
Sonny: We’re gonna keep doing our music no matter what we do. We believe in our music. We just hope everybody else does. And today we saw a nice crowd, a beautiful crowd, from Washington, D.C. All walks of life. They don’t even understand Spanish – I don’t even understand Spanish. But we make music that everybody can dance –
Javier: Music is a universal language and if the beat is fat, you’re gonna dance. That’s it.
Sonny: Welcome to America.
Q: On a lighter note, what is the worst movie you’ve seen recently?
Sonny: It’s hard for me to rail on somebody!
Q: Okay, then best movie?
Sonny: Okay, you ready?
Javier: That Narco thing? Everybody watches Narco, that’s not a movie. It’s a Netflix thing. Everybody call and ask, “You seen Narco? You seen Narco?” You wake up in the morning, it’s like, “Yo! You seen Narco last night?”
Sonny: I’ll tell you something.
Javier: What? What movie you like?
Sonny: It’s not a movie.
Javier: She asked about movies. You have to say a movie.
Sonny: American X. I like American X because – I’m a big fan of my boy. That was serious and that was crazy and that shows the difference between craziness and reality. That’s what I like to think about this country because that’s where we are.
Javier: You know what? The Amy Winhehouse because I love Amy Winehouse.
Sonny: It’s a documentary.
Javier: It’s called ‘Amy.’ It’s an actual movie. Amazing, amazing documentary.
Sonny: But I will expand –
Javier: What’s the right word for that? Mockumentary?
Sonny: I’m gonna expand on what I’m saying because what I said was very controversial. I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea. The reason why I like that is because the difference in our lifetime. There’s a lot of things going on politically that, today – I’m not talking about being racist or anything like that, I’m talking about the difference showing how people can change. I don’t want to talk about… I don’t want to be political. I don’t want to talk about people being racist. I think people can come together and that’s what Empresarios really brings –
Javier: Let me add something! Maybe that’s what you were trying to say. Through music, we really bring people together. It doesn’t matter what race it is. It’s a universal language and that’s what we do so we can bring people together. So we are really proud to be here doing this through music.
Featured Photo Credit: Paul Thornley, the lead guitarist and vocalist of D.C. band U.S. Royalty, during their performance at Landmark Music Festival on Saturday. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Part two of our interviews will feature bands such as The Joy Formidable and Ace Cosgrove. Stay tuned.
Maya Pottiger is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cassie Osvatics is a junior secondary English education major and may be reached email@example.com.