MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and this week we're saluting the native Washingtonians among us with a show we're calling Homegrown D.C. Earlier in the hour, weirdly enough, we focused a lot on movies. We met a cabbie who doubles as a budding filmmaker. We visited a still thriving, independent video store. And we examined how Hollywood portrays our fair city on the silver screen. But to kick off this part of the show we're going to turn from movies to music.
MR. SAM MCCORMALLY
Let's do the other new one. Maybe we'll do it slightly more proficiently than we already did.
No, this is practice. This is rehearsal. It's not supposed to be perfect.
Usually our practices aren't also on the radio.
We're in a crammed Tacoma Park basement with Ugly Purple Sweater, a band whose five members not only were born in the D.C. area, they also sing about it.
MS. RACHEL LOVE
We've never practiced this song ever, ever anywhere.
This particular number is called "Jumbo Slice," and it's written about, yes, the infamous eatery on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Sam McCormally says "Jumbo Slice" has more or less become Ugly Purple Sweater's unofficial anthem.
I was going to make a really preposterous comparison, which is that it's like our "Creep," by Radiohead, but obviously there's some distance between us and Radiohead.
The ever humble McCormally says he wrote "Jumbo Slice" shortly after moving from the suburbs to D.C. proper, before he really understood the scene or got to know that many people.
It's, in particular, about me being there, the pizza place on 18th street, late at night, not having very much to do, watching people walk by and just sort of feeling very resentful at, sort of, the world.
And yet the song has a playful, upbeat feel to it, as McCormally sings of, as he puts it, all the staffers and hipsters, comparing the size of their big, long resumes and cooking lamb shoulder and greens.
But while "Jumbo Slice" hails back to 2009 and is one of the band's first songs about D.C., the city gets a whole new treatment in a tune from the just-released EP, "DC USA."
So it obviously references the DCUSA-Target complex on 14th Street.
McCormally's wife and band mate, Rachel Lord, is another member of Ugly Purple Sweater.
I play keyboard and banjo and melodica and sometimes sing.
Can you say that again? Melodica?
Melodica, yeah. Yes, it's like the plastic, easy version of an accordion.
Anyway, Lord says DCUSA isn't just about the gigantic shopping center in Columbia Heights. It's about what was on that space prior to the riots in 1968.
When Sam and I first moved to town, we lived a couple blocks away from there, before it was built. And from my understanding, the building that was there previously burned down in the riots. And then it was just sort of an empty field that had a gate up around it until the Target was built. So remembering that space was something else before the Target, I think is sort of an idea we were trying to sort of play with.
Granted, Sam McCormally says, development can also be fantastic for the city. It can bring in revenue, it can create new jobs, but, he says as you develop, you have to be careful about erasing all sense of place and history.
I remember seeing this banner over a construction site and the poster said, when we're done with this place you won't even recognize it.
Which I think they though meant to sound promising, but it also sounds like a threat. Like it sort of sounds like what you say before you beat somebody up.
Now, not all of Ugly Purple Sweater's songs reference D.C. Some tunes are far more far-flung, like "Roatan," a wistful ballad named for an island off the coast of Honduras.
I went there once and then wrote a song about it. And then, after we posted it, the Roatan New Times got in touch with me. And they were like, we're so happy that someone wrote a song about our island. And so we did a short interview with them. We really would like an all-expenses-paid tour to the Caribbean, paid for by the New Roatan Times, but they haven't taken us up on it.
In case you haven't picked up on it yet, Ugly Purple Sweater's music…
Is this like a terrible question to ask musicians? But I'm going to ask it anyway. How would you describe your music?
…pretty much defies genre.
MR. WILL-MCKINDLEY WARD
Will McKindley-Ward sings back-up vocals and plays the guitar. And he admits that, yeah, the band's sound is kind of all over the place.
There's a lot of different stuff going on. It's a pretty wide net for what we're willing to play and what we enjoy to play.
And that, says Sam McCormally, is actually the point of Ugly Purple Sweater. It's also tied, believe it or not, to the band's rather distinctive name.
I had this ugly purple sweater and a bunch of my friends said it was the ugliest thing they had ever seen, but I really liked wearing it. And I think the reason I named the band after it is that the band was sort of my attempt to get out of my head about writing songs. For a long time I was trying to write songs in one genre or another genre. I was trying to write a punk song or a new-wave song and nobody seemed to like it very much, including myself.
And so I was like, I'm going to try to just write songs that I like and not worry about it too much. Sort of like, I'm going to wear this sweater because I like it and not worry about what other people think.
As for what became of that ugly purple sweater, well, McCormally says it eventually fell victim to an experiment gone awry.
I attempted to turn the ugly purple sweater in to an ugly purple sweater vest, but it ended up looking sort of like a Viking basketball jersey. And that was the end of that.
Luckily, though, it wasn't the end of the band. This homegrown assortment of banjos and keyboards and melodicas, with its wide net of genre-defying tributes to the city it's always called home.
Ugly Purple Sweater plays it's next gig on March 16 at D.C.'s Velvet Lounge. For more on the band and to hear a bunch of their tunes, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.