Philadelphia based four-piece The Districts released their third LP Popular Manipulations last month and its one of the most delightful records we've heard all summer. Out on Fat Possum, the band are currently touring throughout September in support of the album including a bunch of UK shows finishing at The Garage in London on the 12th.
Singer and guitarist Rob Grote talks us through each of the eleven songs that make up Popular Manipulations.
If Before I Wake
The lyrics were written the morning after actually waking up during a storm that felt like it was right over my room. It was refreshing to work on as a band because we had been talking about ideas of restraint and contrast, removing chord changes and toying with droning notes, and this one felt like we synthesized some of those ideas more by second nature as we had been exploring those ideas for a while at this point.
Lyrically 'Violet' deals with ideas of possessiveness, intimacy, sex, dependency, and how they're used manipulatively. Kind of a look at how these things can be beautiful but are also used as devices, usually unconsciously which is the somewhat terrifying part. There is a pervasive thing throughout a lot of classic and modern popular music where ideas of "needing" and referring to a romantic partner with a tone of ownership are normal and poignant lyrical topics. This song was using those same ideas but observing the strangeness in them, rather than celebrating them. Structurally the song reflects that strangeness by restraining and exploding somewhat irregularly.
This was one of the first songs written for the album. It started with thinking about people pitted against each other from a young age, the bully vs the bullied on a playground, and our human tendency to choose sides, but viewing this next to our grappling with death and desires and how those are universal in spite of this.
This was also an earlier song in the process. The verses are murky and lethargic, and the choruses are tight and anxious, using more ideas of contrasts and a push and pull feeling. Anxiety and fear of flying, but also an accepting of a failed undertaking.
'Capable' is a little more of a departure from songs we've made in the past, musically and lyrically. Lyrically it is much more narrative which is something I had been thinking about frequently. Musically, we tried to make a dark and dreamy world, and to accomplish some cathartic feelings with restraint instead of only heavy moments. There aren't any cymbals in this song and the majority of the instrumentation is pretty delicate.
Why Would I Wanna Be
This one was pretty obvious to put as a centerpiece. It's both the smallest and the biggest song on the album.
'Ordinary Day' was written in late summer/early fall and came together quite naturally. Personal lives were in flux and we were sitting around Philly losing our minds a little bit.
'Salt' had been around as a rough version of a song for most of the album process, and it had just never seemed right for a while. We reworked the chorus after having left it alone for a while and it came together really nicely and became a favorite. The rhythmic bass and floor tom and the general atmosphere are pretty dark and dancey. Come to a show and shake your dang ass.
This one's a fuzzy 50's song and features our friend Zoe from Kississippi who also sang a bit on 'Violet'.
Rattling Of The Heart
This song's pretty rigid and closed up until it really opens at the chorus. We liked the kind of claustrophobic feeling of that and its sense of urgency. It's about the things you use as vices or to manipulate yourself out of a hole.
Will You Please Be Quiet Please?
The last song written for the album, we hadn't planned it but ended up using the last day in the studio before sending stuff out for mixing to record it. Its continuous gradual build seemed like a perfect closer for the album, and it felt like a relatively positive ending despite being about post election anxiety.
Popular Manipulations is out now via Fat Possum Records. For more information on The Districts visit their official website.