After touring for two years with Le Loup, guitarist May Tabol returned home to to launch a new project with a close group of friends converging in the DC arts scene.
Pree's upcoming full length, Folly, was written and recorded over the course of several heat waves and snow storms by May and her cohorts in a rotating cast of bedrooms, basements, and attics across the District, bearing witness to two foreclosures, a bit of squatting, a larger bit of eviction, and a subsequent housing shuffle that would rival that of a wind-addled gypsy moth. The patchwork, guerilla style of recording which grew out of necessity ultimately served to instill a sense of tension throughout the record, leaving one hanging on despite the imminence of something so delicate falling apart.
Ben Usie - Percussion & Drums
May Tabol - Guitar/Keys/Vocals
Michael Zepeda - Guitar
Ben Schurr - Bass, synthesizers
Folly (Paper Garden Records/October 18, 2011)
A Chopping Block (The Kora Records/2009)
LIVEDC: PREE @ RED PALACE
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“Now I’m giving only what I’ve found/ I hear you’re living deep inside the ground,” a voice that sou...“Now I’m giving only what I’ve found/ I hear you’re living deep inside the ground,” a voice that sounds an awful like Feist with a dash of Bille Holliday’s rasp, sang. Just moments before a piano (well, keyboard set to piano) drove a melody worthy of pop stardom, followed by the harmonic cooing of two female voices.
Pree’s “Lemon Tree” is the best twee song not to appear on an iPod commercial. It possesses the rare combination of momentum and cookie-sweet parasitism that allows a song to live in your brain for hours, days, weeks after the original listening. If Pree were a band from Williamsburg that played regularly in the Village you would want to murder this song in unspeakable ways, as you probably did with “Pumped Up Kicks” last year. Right now it remains a strangely familiar unknown, one that you can include on party/road trip mixes to impress your friends. Chris DeWitt’s excellent, barely tamed drumming brings an added dimension to “Lemon Tree”, and Pree’s entire catalogue, live. He’s like Animal from the Muppets on Xanax—occasionally he breaks through the hazy comfort and goes berserk, only to calm again under the reins of singer-songwriter-guitarist May Tabol’s saccharine major key hooks. [Full disclosure: as a friendly gesture,
DeWitt bought the reporter a shot after the show. Fuller disclosure: if he had sucked at drums no amount of rail whiskey in the world would have changed what was written about him, or Pree, in this space.]
Pree has a full album of songs though, and another theoretically on the way as well; the band described themselves as in a “writing period” currently, though talented multi-instrumentalist Vanessa DeGrassi soon leaves for Thailand and New Orleans. What comes next will be interesting to see: she and Tobol play off each other particularly well. The men (DeWitt and David Barker at bass), relegated to the rhythm section, manage Pree’s jazzy up and down shifts in tempo quite impressively. Not every song features a cute piano part; live a subtle, aggressive energy appears in several songs, feet churning beneath the placid surface of a duck on a pond. Perhaps without DeGrassi’s mellow handsaw and glockenspiel that tumultuous sound will sneak up more frequently, though her slide guitar skills will be sorely missed if that’s the case.
A lithe, solitary figure, even on stage with her bandmates, Tabol’s the clear center of gravity around which this talented band orbits. Though she sometimes overuses legato (sliding up or down in pitch instead of hitting each note cleanly) and the drums and patchwork of other instruments ate her voice sometimes, Pree proves that she has the creative chops (and partners) to justify breaking off from Le Loup.
In concert: Pree
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The marble-clad Kennedy Center stood in for a back porch Wednesday night, when Pree played a 45-minu...The marble-clad Kennedy Center stood in for a back porch Wednesday night, when Pree played a 45-minute set of psychedelic Americana on the Millennium Stage. The D.C. quartet’s loose yet ambitious music was engaging, if perhaps a bit more rickety than intended.
(Blending the downhome and the cosmic, plus more pictures after the jump.)
The group was founded in 2008 by singer-songwriter May Tabol, who had previously performed with Le Loup, another local outfit that blends the downhome and the cosmic. Switching among piano and electric and acoustic guitars, Tabol sang about ghosts, houses and snow, among other things, in an unconventional soprano that recalled Victoria Williams. Such songs as “Light Fails” had a sea-shanty air that evoked the Decemberists, while the eclectic arrangements smacked of Neutral Milk Hotel (a band whose repertoire just happens to include a song titled “A Baby for Pree’’).
While David Barker stuck to lead guitar, the other three musicians shuffled instruments regularly. The most versatile was Vanessa Degrassi, who alternated on flute, melodica, guitar, bass and various percussion instruments, and sometimes had to hunch over to sing into the microphone as she struck one or more chiming or clanging devices. The effort to get every thump and trill in its proper place was occasionally distracting, and suggested that the band would be wise to save its fussier touches for the recording studio. But when the focus was on Tabol’s melodies, especially as boosted by Degrassi and drummer Chris Dewitt’s vocal harmonies, Pree’s rustic acid-rock sounded altogether urbane.
Three Stars: Pree
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When we reported back in August that Le Loup guitarist May Tabol had left the Unbuckled alums to foc...When we reported back in August that Le Loup guitarist May Tabol had left the Unbuckled alums to focus on her solo work, we figured that it probably wouldn't be long until we started hearing more about her. Sure enough, after the summer had given us a few whispers and early performances and come colder weather, we started hearing a whole lot more about Pree.
Pree doesn't bear any resemblance to Tabol's former band. Her voice, which had previously been relegated to back-up duty, now rings loud, clear and distinctive, like a less irritating Joanna Newsom or a female Isaac Brock. There's a definite folk element and a lusher sound on the drums, as Chris DeWitt (who we love interviewing) adds mardi gras beads onto the crash cymbal or sleigh bells on top of the tom. It's not terribly surprising that The Kora Records picked up on this project almost immediately.
We sat down with Tabol, DeWitt, guitarist David Barker and instrumentalist Vanessa DeGrassi in their practice space (nicknamed the Crab's Claw by former residents for its once distinctive seafood smell) to talk about all things Pree.
Find them online: http://www.myspace.com/musicforpree
See them next: At the Black Cat on March 19th for their CD release show
Buy their album: On March 24th (or at their CD release show)
Questions for Pree
We first heard about Pree last summer. How far back had you started writing the material?
MT: I think I started writing while we were on the road a bit with Le Loup and there was nothing really to do in the van and just took a break from work in December and started writing at home and then went out to San Francisco and wrote a couple songs there. And I guess in between the March and April tour that we had with Le Loup I started working with John Thayer from Exit Clov and then we met back up again in the summer and started recording.
I know that he used a lot of cool effects like shaking a jack-o-lantern for percussion. Chris, had you tried to use the jack-o-lantern or was that a one time only thing?
CD: Well I think I tried to use it once and I didn’t know how to do it. It’s still over there. Still full of plasticware. So one day it might be resurrected.
?MT: Probably closer to Halloween.
CD: Closer to Halloween, yeah.
Did you guys all know each other before playing together?
CD: Not really.
VD: Well, we (signals to May) knew from having gone to college together.
MT: And having lived together for a couple of years. And met Chris when he was playing with Fever. And we got together to just play for fun and ended up working out and decided to play together for Pree. (Looks at David)... and you sold me that guitar amp, right?
DB: I sold you an amp, yes. A long time ago.
So how’d you get involved, David?
DB: My only success story ever of finding people to play with on Craigslist. It’s always been an absolute nightmare. But they had an ad up and I responded.
MT: And the rest is history.
How long ago did you get signed to The Kora Records?
MT: I guess we started talking in, like, August and I emailed Mike at Kora a couple of the songs that John and I were working on and he seemed to like them and said, “Get back to me when the EP is wrapped up.” And so I guess in September I sent him the tracks and he said that they’d be interested and ended up signing us in October. It’s coming out a month from now, the 24th of March.
Was it the four of you recording on that, or was it mostly you and John?
MT: I guess it was mostly the two of us and then we had Tom Hnatow from These United States come in and play bass and dobro and Susan Hsu from Exit Clov played violin. So yeah, it was four or five people working on that but John did most of the engineering and drums of course. But then he moved up to New York so I had to start from scratch as far as forming a band goes. And it ended up working out really well, so, I’m pretty happy with the lineup.
Where’d you record???
MT: Exit Clov had a studio set up in their basement in their house in Arlington.
From what I’ve heard of your music it seems to be a departure from any of the bands I’ve heard you guys in. What would you say influenced the songwriting for Pree???
MT: I would guess more folk elements were involved. Well, working with Le Loup I guess was more electronic and I guess it’s just different because there are fewer people involved so it wasn’t quite as loud and energetic as the experience goes. The bigger influences would probably be Joanna Newsom and Modest Mouse. Regina Spektor, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison. And I guess we’re still evolving as far as the sound that we’re looking for goes. So I think the full length will probably be a little bit different.
How would you say that things have evolved since the newer members have come on board?
CD: Well I think if you listen to the EP a lot of the songs have evolved a lot just from us playing together. We took a lot of the same parts and sort of the same style but it’s a lot louder because there are a lot more drums in the live setting than there are on the record. A lot of the parts are played more energetically, I guess. The record’s real laid back.
MT: I think we sort of make it a different experience than just listening to the album just cause I know I don’t like it when bands play exactly everything that’s on the album live. I think it’s cool to have something new that they weren’t necessarily expecting just to have it be a different experience.
VD: A lot of the songs have evolved. We’ve played different versions, sort of honing in on the version that we like. Which is cool. Even changing instruments on some songs, just moving things around.
Have you gotten feedback from people that have been watching you as well playing different versions of the songs?
VD: I’m not sure if they really notice it. Maybe a little bit.
CD: We played the song “Old Form” in about three or four different versions and I don’t think anyone’s ever commented.
VD: But they haven’t heard the newest version and when they do they’ll be like “Oh! Where did this song come from?” Actually, we’ve been playing it. And then Mike commented on the one song that we switched to melodica.
DB: It just has a lot more of a lusher sound. It’s more dense, a lot more texture.
VD: I feel like we’ve slowly built the songs up instead of just meshing everything together and sorting through it. We’ve started really simple and just sort of added parts.
Are there any venues that have been particularly fun to play in? Through other bands you all have probably exhausted most of the venues in DC.
CD: I really liked playing at Galaxy Hut. That was a fun show for me. That place is rad. It’s just really tiny and I felt like I had my own little corner bordered by a window and a table...at which people were sitting. Where I rested my sleigh bells.
VD: Everyone there really gives you the full attention.
CD: They have no choice.
VD: I know! But in a lot of bars that are small people can talk and be loud and not really pay attention. I feel like they were listening mostly.
CD: It’s such a no pressure venue. I mean, there’s no stage and everyone that works there is super nice. So that’s really fun.
MT: I like Iota a lot. I think the sound there is fantastic and they’re really friendly. And also you get really attentive crowds. Everyone just gets quiet and actually listens as opposed to at a lot of bars. Where else... well, Black Cat Backstage is a lot of fun, too.
CD: They give you a lot of beer there.
Is there a tour in the works???
MT: Yeah I think we’re going just down the East Coast, starting in New York or Philly and going as far south as Athens or Atlanta. As much as we can pack into a week because I think that’s about as much as we can get off from our respective jobs.
Out of curiosity, what are your respective jobs?
MT: I work for a research firm that does work for the American Cancer Society. So I’ve been there a few months now, it’s worked out well.
CD: I teach first grade. So, spring break, summer, free time off!
VD: I do DNA typing at a bone marrow center for transplants.
DB: I just recently left music retail. I sold guitars for years and just now am getting a desk job. Just admin. For Clemens* International. It’s a Good insurance firm downtown.
CD: Working stiff.
DB: Gotta do it.
One thing I’ve noticed about D.C. music is that there seems to be a whole lot of collaboration between bands. I feel like this is a good example of people coming from different places working together. Do you feel like that’s been the case across the board? Are there certain bands that you feel an affinity with?
MT: I’d say so, yeah. It’s definitely one of the perks about it being such a small close-knit city in terms of how the music scene goes is that you are able to become close friends with other bands in the area and have other musicians be involved in your project. So we’ve had people from Exit Clov and These United States come and help out. David Klinger played flugelhorn at our last show at the Black Cat so I don’t know, we just try to get as many people involved as we can. Because, I mean, the resources are there.
VD: I think it’s pretty easy to cross-pollinate. You’ve (motioning at May) done work with a few other bands recently, too.
MT: Right, I recorded with Bellflur over at Inner Ear a couple weeks ago and I played with Olivia Mancini on Friday over at the Black Cat so it’s been a lot of fun to get to know some other musicians in the area.
Is there anything that you’d like to see happen in D.C. music?
CD: I’d like to see more alternative venues. Like, I know the folks at Civilian Art Project put shows on. More places like that that are multi-use spaces that aren’t bars. I’d like to see more of that. Like, La Casa used to do shows but now they’re sort of not as receptive. I think they’re doing some remodeling or something. Like that guy who does The Lighthouse. That place is really cool. I’d like to see more of that.
MT: I hope that more bands will come to surface in the area because I definitely think there is a lot of interest in having a music scene develop here. So, the audience is definitely there. And there are people involved that are putting shows together and working behind the scenes and recording videos or that sort of thing for ed concerts so there’s definitely a lot of potential for it to kind of expand. So I’m looking forward to that in the next few years.
BYT Listening Party: Pree
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"You may remember May Tabol as the girl you developed a desperate crush on the first time you saw Le..."You may remember May Tabol as the girl you developed a desperate crush on the first time you saw Le Loup play.
The kind of crush you develop only on a girl that is so talented and so pretty and so nice that all your teenage crushes can come crashing into one when you see her ( these are actual words I’ve heard them say when describing her, i am just relaying the information-ed).
Well, fast forward year or two later and she is here before you, all alone (with Chris DeWitt) as Pree, and a mini collection of songs that will take your breath away. Comparisons to Modest Mouse, Regina Spektor, Joanna Newsom and the early Cat Power are flying around but what May has is something special, and her own: a little vulnerable, a lot strong, and exciting enough for you to be very proud all this got sired in the middle of DC.."
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Though Pree is a young band, many of its members and guest contributors to the group's debut EP, A C...Though Pree is a young band, many of its members and guest contributors to the group's debut EP, A Chopping Block, have been involved with various music projects, notably Pree's leader, May Tabol. Tabol says "Pree has certainly been colored by Le Loup," her previous musical project, but she emphasizes that "it's difficult to compare the two projects." Though Pree shares a number of Le Loup's animating elements, Tabol's current project seems more intimate, rustic, folk-tinged.
Tabol lent only backing vocals when she was a member of Le Loup, but with Pree, she assumes a more prominent role as lead vocalist, which lets her showcase her talents as a singer. Tabol's vocals are hearty, rich, and comforting. From a small child, to a widow's dead husband, to a maid, Tabol portrays a series of narrators with fractured, but honest stories who are each trying to understand "the events going on around them." Many voices color A Chopping Block, but their stories all seem to contain an otherworldly third party: ghosts. Though the presence of these spirits is somewhat unsettling, oddly enough, they seem to be a normal part of everyday life for these characters. Occasionally, strange sounds—like the creak of a gate door closing in "Light Fails"—turn up on A Chopping Block, as if the ghosts Tabol sings of are present not just in the minds of her narrators but on the EP, itself.
SXSW 2010 Video Clips And Thoughts On The Final Day
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After The Lovely Eggs, I was off to a somewhat seedy bar; I needed the contrast. I wanted to hear Pr...After The Lovely Eggs, I was off to a somewhat seedy bar; I needed the contrast. I wanted to hear Pree, which contains the former singer of Le Loup (May Tabol) and John Thayer from another D.C.-area band, Exit Clov. I liked Pree, which was kind of like seeing Joanna Newsom heading up a rock band. -Bob Boilen
TVD First Date with Pree
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I lugged my drum kit around DC for years. Playing here and there, trying out for this and that--unti...I lugged my drum kit around DC for years. Playing here and there, trying out for this and that--until I was hit with an epiphany: futility. I just wasn’t going to make a career of it despite my blistered hands.
As such, I’ve often wondered how the karmic happenstance takes shape where unique talents gel into a cohesive whole. (Which eluded me, frankly.)
So, enough about vinyl just this once. This week we chat with Pree’s May Tabol about the long road taken — from being ON the road to developing a community of collaborators — that’s lead to the band’s brand new release ‘A Chopping Block’ out now on DC’s very own Kora Records.
"Pree started out as a collaboration between my friend John Thayer (from Exit Clov) and I after I had gotten back from touring with Le Loup last spring. I had written several songs in the back of the van during the long stretches across the states, and, being unemployed when I got back to DC, decided that that summer would be the perfect time to record. Exit Clov had set up a studio in the basement of their house in Arlington, and John and I decided to put together an EP there. We enlisted the help of Susan Hsu (also from Exit Clov) for violin, Tom Hnatow of These United States for bass and dobro, and Vanessa Degrassi of Frau Eva for flute, and by the end of August we had something we were quite happy with.
After John moved up to New York in September, I started playing with Chris Dewitt (Sweet Teeth/Fever/Wild Fictions), and then David Barker (Cobra Collective), and Vanessa joined up shortly thereafter. It's been great to be a part of such a close-knit music scene here in DC. It's certainly an interesting town to be making music in.. the Capitol casts tall shadow, but underneath there are a lot of creative people running around giving this city its own culture, something independent of the political climate everyone recognizes from the outside."
Pree: "A Chopping Block" EP Review
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Pree is the new band from ex-Le Loup member May Tabol. The DC based band are set to release their d...Pree is the new band from ex-Le Loup member May Tabol. The DC based band are set to release their debut EP, A Chopping Block on March 24th.
The first thing that strikes you about Pree are the Regina Spektor-style vocals. Yes, that does mean they sound like someone singing with a mouth full of cotton. Pree add a twist of twang which makes them work even better than Spektor's.
The music itself is noir, with a herky jerky Modest Mouse-esque cadence to them. Subtle yet omnipresent percussion and sounds (like a door creaking on "Light Fails") create a dark but cozy ambiance.
Even after a solitary listen "Lack of Light" will stay with you for days. The lilting piano and unshakable clap/stomp climax are some of the most memorable music I have heard in a long time.
The EP closes with the enchanting "Speak Warmly". Like any good EP it leaves you begging for a full length.
Everything Pree does clicks perfectly on A Chopping Block. It is a tremendous debut.
Best tracks: "Lack of Light", "Light Fails"
Pree – A Chopping Block
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From preliminary plays of this 5-track debut EP/mini-album from Washington DC’s Pree, there are some...From preliminary plays of this 5-track debut EP/mini-album from Washington DC’s Pree, there are some nagging familiarities that initially threaten to thwart affection. In a nutshell, it’s singer-songwriter May Tabol’s vocals that lead to easy comparisons with Joanna Newsom, Regina Spektor and pre-You Are Free Cat Power, which could cruelly label Pree as a derivative enterprise. However, it soon appears that such similarities are more by instinctive accident that calculated design, allowing this quintet of wonderfully-unvarnished songs to reveal a nascent talent worth nurturing. Besides her alluringly angular marbles-in-the-mouth tones, Tabol’s gift for intriguingly arcane language and beatifically brittle musical arrangements confidently establishes Pree’s distinctive life-force across this too-short collection. From the shimmying electro-acoustic “Heaven Is A Drag,” through the rustic back-porch-located “In The Parlor,” via the ornate baroque of “Lack Of Fight,” inside the lovely piano-led “Light Fails” and over to the twinkling glockenspiel-framed “Speak Warmly,” A Chopping Block is laced with delightfully rich details ripe for repeat personal-playlist picking. Where Pree will go from here is hard to foresee, but based on this captivating calling-card it should be more than worthwhile to check back on the band in the near future.
Equations in Music: Pree @ Kennedy Center Millenium Stage
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Shortly after discovering music at age 17, I began to discuss it with close relations. I discussed t...Shortly after discovering music at age 17, I began to discuss it with close relations. I discussed the relative drumming merits of Ringo Starr with my father. I discussed the synth solo of "Roundabout" with the guy in my high school that wore exclusively denim and refused to tame his mustache. I discussed - in depth - the dichotomy of orchestral strings and manic street preaching in Godspeed! You Black Emperor's Lift Yr Skinny Fists... with Carl, the guy at the record store who gave me promo discs in return for coffee. Early in my discussion career, I noticed that one equation surfaced in almost every conversation about music. A Cartesian cogito of rock snobbery. If you're reading this website, you know it too:
Band x + Band y = Band z
Beatles + Radiohead = Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-Era Wilco
Joy Division + Jesus and the Mary Chain = Interpol
Fuel + Eve 6 = Creed / Nickelback x Audioslave = Please make the hurting stop
All of the reviews I have read of Pree so far have been bastardizations of this immutable equation. Here are some that I've heard:
Modest Mouse + Feist
Regina Spector + Neutral Milk Hotel
Joanna Newsom + Smog
Daft Punk + Jandek
Ok, I made that last one up. But you get the point: interesting vocalist + expansive, yet controlled musical arrangement = PREE! It's that simple! Except it's not. Pree offers more than what this overly simplified method has to offer. In regards to Pree, I am ready to dismiss this formula, and substitute it with an equally simplistic, but - I think - more fitting analogy.
Pree is a damn good turkey sandwich.
I'm not talking about a turkey sandwich that you pick up over a Wal-Mart deli counter or a turkey sandwich that your mom constructs for your lunch bag with cold cuts and manufactured cheese. I'm talking about a post-Thanksgiving, fully fixed up - fresh tomatoes, homemade mayo, perhaps a piece of bacon, hall-of-fame caliber turkey sandwich on freshly baked bread. I'm talking about the turkey sandwich that inspires you, after bite one, to hold it out at arm's length, examine it, and proclaim "This is the best damn turkey sandwich I've ever made."
Pree has all of its ingredients firmly in place. May's iron-solid voice anchors the set, and her songwriting strikes you as both effortless and engaging. The rhythm is consistently tight, and the atmospheric guitar, like perfectly selected gourmet dijon mustard, sets the tone for each song. Like any professional-grade sandwich, they even have some tricks up their sleeves - turkey sandwiches taste a little better with a hint of basil, and glockenspiels always sound a little better with a hint of reverse delay.
But Pree also shares the limitations of the turkey sandwich. They are not - like your more exotic cuisines - prone to dazzling you with angular rhythms or explosive sonic dynamics. They lack the peaks and valleys of a tender steak or the excitement of a west African dish. They eschew orchestral swell and release. When you reach for the Sriracha sauce, Pree says "hang on there, buster" and hands you some delicious pesto mayo instead.
But on a mid-January Tuesday night, in the beautifully lit Kennedy Center, surrounded by supporters and close friends, Pree was right. I didn't want the Sriracha. The expertly made turkey sandwich hit the spot.
Set List (45 min): Songs of Promise, In the Parlor, No Fable, Old Form, Te Koop/A Vendre, Fresh Paint, Shelf Life, Lemon Tree, Salt
There are no upcoming dates at this time.