Laughing Man
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Laughing Man

Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., United States | INDIE

Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Avant-garde

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This band has not uploaded any videos

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"Anything Goes: DC Mini Gallery & the Laughing Man"

MICHAEL HARRIS AND Brandon Moses are nothing if not ambitious.

The pair founded the band The Laughing Man last year (they have since added bassist Luke Stewart), and opened the DC Mini Gallery, a hybrid showroom/venue/practice space/retail store, this month.

The Laughing Man combines so many influences as to be nearly unclassifiable, even by the band's own members. In trying to describe their sound Harris and Moses cited such disparate influences as vintage Motown, No Wave, gospel, ragtime and blues. Not content to leave it at that, each added an additional favorite genre, Moses claiming that "the secret ingredient is metal." Harris cited yacht rock as a recent favorite.

Incorporating Meshuggah and Hall and Oates into a single body of work sounds like a considerable challenge, but Harris and Moses seem to take it in stride. Considering the extremely eclectic sounds The Laughing Man draws from, Harris' assertion that the band's live shows "take you on an emotional rollercoaster" seems not just plausible but inevitable.

In addition to live shows, The Laughing Man is currently in the process of compiling two themed recordings. The first, an EP titled "Jesup Wagon" after George Washington Carver's mobile agricultural school, will draw more from blues and jazz traditions, and features songs Moses wrote in the voices of several different characters. The second, a longer piece called "The Saved Face," focuses on more contemporary influences and themes. The band describes the music as "folky, pop-driven and full of catchy hooks" but the themes are somewhat darker, drawing from different takes on the phrase, "Treat me like I fucking matter." The album title is a reference to the pretenses and secrecy people use as self-protection and Moses intends his lyrics as a "motivating, confrontational" force to challenge listeners to break out from these restraints.

The gallery, located at 4702 14th Street, is intended to fill a number of voids in the Washington landscape. Harris describes their artistic purposes as creating an "anti-academic, people's gallery" to contrast with the area's many curated venues. The initial plan is to host art parties at which attendees can contribute to collaborative canvasses. In a follow up e-mail, Harris added that the collective art projects are intended to "illustrate the unspoken connection between the people in this community, and to inspire creative entrepreneurship and artistic ambition in the community, especially in youth. ...This represents a microcosm of what art will contribute to Washington, D.C., as a whole in the future."

DC Mini Gallery
The non-visual plans for the space are equally bold. The gallery boasts a sizable stage at the back of the room, and Harris plans to book occasional shows, aiming for a "D.I.Y., living room vibe with more organization." Some of the floor space is currently devoted to vintage clothing and records, both of which will be for sale. The currently unfinished basement will function as a studio and practice space for bands. Harris also hopes that the space will eventually be used for classes and club meetings, citing yoga, chess, and an audio/visual club as programs he particularly hopes to host. The gallery space and store are open Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 7 p.m. as of the official opening on June 16, but off days and evenings may end up devoted to such gatherings.

Although none of the members of The Laughing Man are D.C. natives, in the few years they have resided here Harris and Moses have already contributed more to the city's music and art scenes than plenty of people who have resided here for decades. While it is possible not all of their plans for the D.C. Mini Gallery may come to fruition (they have already abandoned the idea of including a coffee bar), whatever is next for the band and the gallery promises to be compelling, and yes, ambitious. - Washington Express Night Out


"Three Stars Laughing Man"

More often than not, one hears about bands who move out of Washington D.C. for greener (or cheaper) pastures in Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York. Laughing Man made the reverse trek. Drummer Michael Harris and singer/guitarist Brandon Moses came from Philadelphia just over a year ago and started making a name for themselves at house parties, in cafes and on college campuses. It was a college campus (American University’s) where they picked up bassist Luke Stewart and became a fuller sounding trio.

That fuller sound picks from a wide variety of genres. Stewart's bass lines have added a funky groove to a group that already has powerfully soulful vocals. The melodies can go from jazzy to hazy, and the lyrics from sweet and low-key to emphatic ("Treat me like I fucking matter.") They've also started to add some keyboards and guest vocalists into their mix, so as their star starts to rise locally, their sound also continues to grow.

They also brought the DIY/house party ethos down with them from Philadelphia and have not only played a lot of independent spaces, but have started to run their own shows at the DC Mini Gallery space. We sat down with the trio to talk about their songwriting process, how other acts inspire them and the uncertainties that come with operating your own venue.

Find them on the web at: http://www.myspace.com/thelaughingmanhahaha

See them next at: The Black Cat tonight, opening for Blk Jks.

I usually hear about musicians who move out of D.C. to go to Philly or Baltimore rather than people coming into D.C. from Philly. What triggered the move?

Michael: In the context of the band, I started the procession because I moved down here ‘cause my ex-girlfriend was going to school down here in College Park. Me and Brandon were friends from Philly. We used to play together but we didn’t really have a band yet. I’d still jam up in Philly a lot and we decided it would be cool to start a band. So, we gave it a shot. And we just met Luke. Luke was going to college here.

Yeah, I heard that you met through the Capitol Punishment show.

Michael: Yeah, Luke was going to AU and we just happened to play a Capitol Punishment show. Almost exactly a year ago. It’s almost our year anniversary as being a band as we are currently constructed.

How has your sound progressed as you’ve added a third member?

Michael: I think Luke made us funkier. He added the nod factor.

Luke: I mean, it sounds like a full band. A power trio kind of construction: guitar, bass drums. I like it. Because it’s made the sound fuller. I know whenever I first saw them, and this is what I think of every band that doesn’t have a bass player, I think, “Where is the bass?”

It sounds like you have a wide range of influences on your sound. How do you put together songs? Do you have any bands that you reference when you’re putting songs together?

Michael: Brandon writes pretty much all the songs. We don’t really know any covers. Some guy asked me if we were playing any bars as a cover band. We wouldn’t even know where to start with that. But Brandon usually comes in with sort of an idea. Sometimes it’s a really big idea. Sometimes it’s kind of a small idea that we made bigger. But usually, Brandon will come in with something and we’ll really get into it and we’ll jam on it for a really long time. Sometimes we’ll record it and listen to it and sort of like the coal, rub it down into a diamond. Luke will throw his bass line on it. I’ll try to come up with a rough kind of beat. Sometimes Brandon will have a drumbeat in mind. He’ll say “I heard this,” and I’ll say, “OK, I’ll try that.” Usually comes together like that.

I don’t really know that we think of other bands when we’re writing songs but I think a lot of our songs maybe get inspired by bands we play with, like The Love Language, Ffever, True Womanhood. I feel like sometimes we’ll see a band, especially like, the local bands, because then you have an emotional connection. I remember around the time we wrote “Abbington,” I had just seen an Imperial China show. It wasn’t something that I got from them, but it was a similar sort of drumbeat I was considering when we were working on the Spring Garden/Abbington sessions. I kinda saw Patrick doing something and was like, “Oh, wow! That’s cool! That’s exactly what I want to do.”

It’s seeing bands, bands that tour here like Abe Vigoda, Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors. I get more, I think from seeing bands than actually listening to them.

Only recently have I started to hear about you playing out of the milieu of house shows. Do you have a strong connection with DIY spaces?

Michael: Yeah, definitely. I know that us, both living in Philadelphia there was a really kind of vibrant house party scene. So, I think, at least when I moved here it seemed like that was kind of lacking but it’s not so much that it’s lacking, it’s just that you have to sort of have to find your way into the places that do that kind of thing and now there’s actually a pretty vibrant scene here, too. It’s just that because it’s D.C., it’s maybe harder to sustain than in like Philly and Baltimore for house shows and things like that. It just feels like the neighborhoods don’t lend themselves as well to that sort of environment.

But, there’s definitely a good scene for that. I personally like playing house shows more than venues. I mean, venue shows are nice too, but house shows, people typically don’t have to pay as much so you have usually a pretty good crowd. They’ll stand closer to you. It just seems like it’s more energetic. I haven’t even done that many house shows. Brandon did the Crab’s Claw one. I think we as a group are going to play Crab’s Claw like, November 1. So, personally I look forward to the more non-traditional venues just cause, it’s just different. Like, the Board of Trade parties. We’ve played those and they’re always really cool.

I’m not familiar with those parties. Who runs them?

Michael: It’s a friend of ours, Lindsey Hart. She curates vintage fashion. She has these seasonal parties in a basement.

What’s been your favorite place to play so far?

Luke: I would say Fort Reno has probably been my favorite so far. Just ‘cause, first of all, the amount of people we got to play in front of and the fact that we were in an outside sort of festival thing. I thought that was real cool. And it was just a nice chill afternoon setting.

Michael: Yeah, it was a pretty night. I was worried all day ‘cause they said it was going to rain and then it was a perfect night. There was sunshine. I didn’t think we would actually get to play ‘cause every forecast said thunderstorms. So, that we even played was awesome. Black Cat, also. I like their shows.

Luke: They treat bands very nicely. Not only do they pay you, which is important, but on top of that, they’ll bring you whatever beer or alcohol that you want. It’s not like you have to get paid that way.

This is a cool practice space, how did you find it?

Michael: The guy who lives next door, Michael Berman, he’s been an artist in DC for awhile. He’s friends with a guy named Stevens J. Carter who used to reside at the place where our last practice space was. Whoever moved out of here put a lot of money into the place and before it went on Craigslist, Michael just happened to say to Stevens, do you know any musicians who are looking for a space? And I kinda took it on as an investment just cause it seemed like a place where I could live and work for awhile and perhaps record bands and have bands practice here. So that’s kind of the plan. I also have a gallery, the DC Mini and I was also going to move some of that stuff, or also do it here, since this is so far away from everyone.

Where is DC Mini Gallery?

Michael: 14th Street Heights. Close to Petworth.

What’s going on with DC Mini Gallery? There were shows scheduled there but then they had to get moved or canceled entirely.

Michael: Yeah, we were having shows. We had a lot of things booked. We sort of had a false complaint called in which triggered a response by a lot of the government agencies. As a result, even though we weren’t guilty of anything that we were accused of, it still forced us to kind of go back and sort of reapply for a few permits and it sort of created a snowball of problems that I only recently found my way out of. So now it’s not really a problem of red tape so much as raising money and keeping money in so we can continue.

It sounds then like you’re still holding the shows. Where are you holding them?

We started holding shows at Jackie’s in Silver Spring. We did a couple there but there just wasn’t enough planning or preparation to just move to Silver Spring. Our crowd didn’t really follow the shows and it seemed like it just wasn’t worth doing so I just basically stopped booking shows 'til I have everything with the Mini Gallery straightened out. But we’ve basically recently found out that we can probably, once we get our stuff together, set up and do shows. Just not as many as I’d done before, but some shows, yes. So now, just trying to generate capital. There’s a few renovations I want to make on the space. It’s definitely a DIY space.
- DCist


"Blacking Out with Laughing Man"

The Laughing Man are a Washington DC based trio comprised of Michael Harris (drums), Luke Stewart (bass, saxophone) and Brandon Moses (vocals, guitar). And during the last year they’ve been quietly garnering attention for their artsy, yet uniquely soulful live performances. As you’ll see, there is some debate as to what these guys sound like. Even they will admit that their sonic origins are a bit convoluted. I recently had the chance to talk to the boys about music, the future of the DC Mini Gallery and the challenges of being young black musicians in the hip-hop era. Oh, and their show tonight @ The Black Cat.


(all live images: Francis Chung)

So how did y’all meet?
Michael: Brandon and I met when I lived in Philly a few years ago. We met Luke almost exactly a year ago at Capitol Punishment. I only started playing drums 3 or 4 years ago, which was around the time I became friends with Brandon in Philly. Before that I grew up in New York and Barbados, I went to college at U-Mass, moved back to New York to pursue an acting or film career, got disillusioned, moved around a lot, had a baby and a girlfriend, didn’t have a girlfriend, wrote some songs about it, met Brandon, learned an instrument.

Luke: Before I joined the band, I was playing with a bunch of random people. I played sax in this band, Bahfongu, which was good, but not exactly my style. I was also knee deep in the beats. I was competing in many a competition and steadily creating a sound. I still do that, but have slowed down a bit. I met Mike and Brandon when they played a show at my school. I talked to them after the show and asked if they were bassless on purpose. We exchanged numbers, and that was that.

OK, well what’s real good with DC Mini Gallery? What’s the situation with the neighbors and the ANC?

Luke: As I understand, the whole thing was taken down by an individual with a bad attitude and poor communication skills. I wish that whoever had the problem would’ve contacted us directly rather than pulling the rug out from under the project.

Michael: There have been some well documented set backs and I personally have made many mistakes along the way for which I wish I’d had the advantage of hindsight. The important thing however thing, however, is that we are still here. In fact, we now have 2 convenient locations: one in 14th street Heights and a smaller location that I’m developing in Eastern Market. We are planning several fundraisers and events for the fall. Many things. I had in mind have been pushed back due to problems getting our permit situation together, but at the end of the day, we really need some more artists to step up and take advantage of this resource.

My goal is still to form a collective of artists who are sharing the space at our locations to create art and showcase it to the community. I want the DC Mini Gallery to produce art that is accessible, affordable, and interesting. We have over 3000 sq ft of space at our locations and you can rent it with 24-hour access for under $200 per month. I think that’s a great deal. And our company has access to workshops, media outlets, and networking possibilities that can really help push forward your career. I realize these are tough financial times, but I think this is still a worthwhile endeavor for the community to be involved in. I am personally stepping my game up this week, seeking new members, finishing our website, sending out my grad school applications, expanding my networks and doing what I have to do I’ve been disappointed by many things that have happened so far, but this is still a project I am very passionate and excited about so I will fight till the end if I have to because I believe DC needs this institution. To answer the other question everyone still asks me, yes we will have shows again. A lot of the problems we had before with neighbors and such have worked themselves out. Like I said we are still here, but like any business the sand continues to trickle through the hourglass so I must act swiftly. Without members, we will not be able to stay open much longer.

Brandon: As far as (most of) the neighbors are concerned, they love the Mini. The locals that used it for shows and art are some of the most respectful kindhearted and creative people I have ever met and I was honored to provide my time and energy into supporting what they had going on. Lighthouse, Girl Cave, Sass Factory etc.

You heard it here first, DC. The Mini Gallery needs your help! Now, on to the music… According to your MySpace, someone here at BYT described you guys as the “electroclash Isley brothers.” Do you agree or disagree with this comparison?
Luke: There were way more than three Isley Bros. It’s cuz we’re black I guess. I hear comparisons like this all the time, people trying to equate us with some other specifically black rock bands. I’d say that is the closest description, but then again, we have a lot of different sounding songs.

Brandon: Mike put that in our description as a joke!!!! One person said that about us that after reading it on our MySpace
I really don’t know if that makes any sense. There is no soul in electroclash!
Michael: I thought maybe Libby came up with it or maybe it was one of us, it was like a year ago. I think it was meant to be ironic. If you think about it, I guess it doesn’t make that much sense, but I remember for a while we used it at the time when people said, “What does your band sound like?” I still never know how to answer that. But “Motown Noiserock” is what we always say.

Luke: Depending on what show you see, you might think we are the black version of the Band, or a spaced out Bar Kays.

Some people find it a bit difficult to describe exactly what y’all sound like. Your music is bit bluesy and soulful. But I sometimes hear hints of Brazilian jazz and shoegaze in there too…
Brandon: Yeah and there’s a message there; a musical integration of culture. Notice how well different cultures get along in melody. And to actually address the Brazil thing, I love Astrud Gilberto and some of the early bossa movement. And while our material doesn’t reflect it, I have been known to jam some straight up Latin grooves.

Luke: Brazilian jazz? I’d like to know what you are talking about specifically. I am influenced by all good music, but in the past few years, I’ve been on a strict jazz/hip hop/experimental diet. I still try to keep my ear to the ground on all cutting edge artists out there as well.

Michael: It’s difficult for me even to describe what we play, because it really depends on the song. We seem to have a unique ability to hear something, be it jazz, ragtime, folk, rock, metal, punk, anything, and spin it through our process and create something original that is a product of all those influences. I’m influenced a lot by 90’s hip-hop, new wave, classic rock, and calypso. I think my style has helped adding that unpolished and tropical vibe that makes the band sound kind of garage or shoegaze sometimes. I was listening to bands like Of Montreal, the Exploding Hearts, Velvet Underground, and the Libertines around the time I started playing drums, so a lot of my techniques have a pop lean to them.
Luke brought a certain aspect to the band when he joined. I can’t really nail it down, except to say if we were chicken before, Luke made us crispy southern fried chicken. His understanding of jazz has helped me develop as a drummer tremendously. We all like a wide variety of music and are versatile with genres we feel comfortable playing in. Recently, bands like Abe Vigoda, and Health are what I find interesting. I’ve also been getting back into the Headphone Masterpiece, which I really underrated when it came out. I don’t really listen to new rap as much but I think that “Day n Nite” song is pretty cool.

You guys are opening for Blk Jks at Black Cat on Tuesday the 29th (tonight!!!). How’d you link up with them in the first place?
Brandon: We were like, “They’re distant relatives.“ And maybe they are, HA! They let us do this show with them. They remembered my name after one introduction; they are good people. Most of all, I look forward to the friendship we will develop with them.

Michael: I heard some of their songs a few years ago and I became a fan. Last time they played in DC I asked if I could cover the show and I saw them play for the first time. Brandon and I hung out with them a lot that night. At the time we all joked it would be fun to play a show together. I’m really excited that the Black Cat made this happen for us. And we’re honored that Blk Jks has allowed us this opportunity. It feels like good timing for Laughing Man because we’ve made some real strides lately as a band.

So who are some of your favorite local bands?
Brandon: Locals? Antlers- though now most of this band is in Richmond, so I don’t know if they count. Child Ballads, Hume, US Royalty, Trophy Wife, Deleted Scenes. I mean I love all of DC’s bands! I could go on and on naming cool bands in DC.

Luke: I’m a big fan of the Cornell West Theory. I met the drummer, Sam Levine, during my first year at American University (we played in the jazz band). I must say that he was the first solid dude I met at that school. He went to school with my wife, too. I also love the Young Lions. Definitely solid dudes, and in my opinion, the best musicians in the city, hands down. I don’t care if you like jazz or not, if you go down to Café Nema or Bohemian Caverns and see these guys, your head will explode.

Michael: We were fortunate to play with many bands this year A lot of my favorite shows have involved True Womanhood, Hume, ffever, noon:30, Imperial China, Buildings, US Royalty, New Rock Church of Fire. I think the best band in DC is Deleted Scenes. I’d like to see the Points. I hear they’re really good. I also have a lot of respect for Wale as an artist and as a music business entrepreneur. We were lucky to play on that inauguration show with him several months ago, and since then, I’ve been hearing his name everywhere. He has a business model that all DC bands should pay attention to.

Chuck D once said, “The guitar has never enjoyed a ‘love at first listen’ ” in hip hop. Do you think that the sound of “rock music” has become so alien to a lot of hip-hop fans?
Luke: I couldn’t disagree more, especially with modern hip-hop. People sample guitars all the time (I know I do). Nevertheless, you rarely see a group of hip hop kids going to a rock show. There are a number of reasons, the main one being exposure. They just don’t get it. The same way most rock people just don’t get jazz. Jazz is a genre that doesn’t apply to most hip-hoppers, unless it’s a sample. I do, however, love the fact that Jay Z and Beyonce have been endorsing bands like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors.

Brandon: As Jay Z once said, “Can’t wear skinny jeans…” I won’t go as far as to say whether or not rock is alien to hip-hop fans, but I will say that rock is alien to the hip hop image. I mean, ask someone on the street what kind of music do they listen to? Even in the black community and they will say “everything” but they sure as hell don’t dress everything. And image dominates many aspects of art.

This plays into the Laughing Man as well. Our music is very experimental in that even you yourself noticed hints of South America. The belief of the Laughing Man is that people are open, diverse, and creative listeners but with social barriers. Some people hear us and they are confused and conflicted but while the music can be a little bit wacky, I imagine what people are really dealing with is. “How does this look on me?” And I mean that in a broad sense. I feel people tend to wear music as oppose to listen to it. So when we play, what I hope is that you stop wondering whether or not we have tattoos. I hope that you stop looking around, stop wondering what your friends think or even what you think. What I hope is that a moment will come where you think, “I’m either going to listen or I’m not.” Hopefully you’ll choose to listen. And when you can let go of how it looks and just listen, you may notice that the music is actually tailor fitted to you.

All of that being said, have y’all had a lot of success playing for audiences who aren’t into rock music?
Michael: Ha ha! Well last week playing the H Street festival was a good litmus test for that question. We had a tough act to follow to begin with, since the DJ played five Michael Jackson songs in a row before we went on, so all these older black people were crowding around the stage doing the electric slide and dancing. I was excited because it was becoming a huge crowd. I thought they would lose it when we started our set. But when we started, they had such a confused look on their faces. They were like, “What do we do to this?” so they mostly walked away or heckled us. It was disheartening because if they stayed for some of our more soulful songs they would have gotten into it. I think they expected we would be a funk or go-go band.
We also have played shows with rappers, and bands/crowds who don’t do indie rock and we get love, so it all depends. I think once you see us play it’s much easier to get beyond the stereotype of it and see the music for what it is.
That being said, I’d love to be on 106th and Park one day.

Luke: They saw three black dudes going on after a funk band. I would be confused as fuck too. It didn’t get me down though, because I know the people who stayed really got something out of the music. I even saw people come out of their bar parties to hear us up close. Bottom line, never put DJs in between bands at a show. Who wants to go on after James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder?

So why do you think that there are so few black people playing live instruments? Granted DC is a bit of an exception, thanks to go-go…
Michael: Some of the confinements of American society for awhile led to more black youths being attracted to rap, but I think as the next decade progresses you’ll see it become commonplace again for black kids to have bands. It won’t be such a weird thing that people gawk at. I love playing with hip-hop acts and usually we get nothing but love. We did a show in Philly once at The Fire. The hip hop artist we played with came up to us after the show talking collaboration…

Brandon: They’re out there, it’s just that different scenes. Go to Twins or Columbia Station and you might ask, “Why are their so few white musicians?” But your point still stands and the answer is simple: opportunity and education. Having done work in community development I can tell you it’s just a lack of resources, as another way to look at it. Why are there so few African hockey players? That’s why I’m so glad there are programs like Girls Rock DC, which make that extra effort and reach out! (To all kinds) even when the extra money isn’t there…

Luke: I also disagree a bit. Yes, DC is an exception, but walk down the street of any city in America and ask people if they play an instrument, and I would bet that you get just as many, if not more, black people who play an instrument. Music for blacks is a different thing than for whites I feel.
I assume that this question is also geared toward the hip-hop issue, as in, more blacks utilize raps and beats than guitars. I think one reason is that hip-hop itself is a folk art rooted in impoverishment. Most of America’s poor are black. Instruments are really fucking expensive. Rapping is free. Making beats is cheap, if you know how to pause tapes. Most famous producers play instruments. Some very well. The RZA plays classical piano. And we’ve talked about this before, but Madlib? Fucking ridiculous.

Well, much respect to organizations that donate time and money to encouraging people to pick up instruments and create! Alright, let’s wrap it up. R. Kelly once said, “After the show, it’s the after party.” What’s the best after party you’ve been to? What’s the worst? The strangest?
Luke: The best after party I’ve been to was the one at my house.

Michael: The best, worst and strangest was that time on that crazy roof when my head was spinning, and I lost it for a girl, and I thought my friends might fall off the side of the roof.

Brandon: Best? Well I don’t know if it qualifies but after a show ended at one of those Bored of Trade parties, the band New Rock Church of Fire shows showed up. Next thing you know you know our gear is plugged back in and I don’t know who threw the first beer. But after that it was like a cage match. There was blood, beer and crowd surfing. The room was maybe 300 sq feet…. proving to be the best and strangest…the worst…was the basement party where I realized James Iha wasn’t cool… - Brightest Young Things


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

the laughing man project came together towards the end of 2007. for michael harris and brandon moses the band is the culmination of 2 years spent writing parts, experimenting with sounds, and contributing to each others musical work. virtuoso luke stewart has recently joined the group on bass and sax providing a new energy and technical layer to an already solid foundation.

the band is currently playing shows intermittently and working on the recording of their first studio ep due out this spring.