BY SOPHIA HIGGINS
Yellow light frames the patio outside Comet Pizza in Washington, DC. The porch lamps seem to form a halo in the dense summer air. Inside, the peaceful bop of bass and drums drifts like a gentle breeze through the venue.
Judy Hong, Travis Bozeman and Felix Donate-Perez make up this indie pop outfit Baby Grill. The name is derived from Hong’s affinity for gravity bongs – finding no satisfactory name to abbreviate as GB, they settled for BG.
“I thought it was a funny play on ‘baby girl,’ because I don’t like being called a girl,” Hong said. “So when people are like, ‘Hey girl,’ I’m like, ‘grill?’ I’d rather be a ‘grill’ than a girl.”
The group has only been playing together a few months, but singer-bassist Hong and drummer Bozeman (Donate-Perez was absent) said the show saw their tightest playing yet. Their process is an exercise in experimentation and sonic scrapbooking – they each write individual parts and weave them together after the fact, Bozeman said.
“Judy very much welcomed me into the space of music making,” he said. “During our first practice, one thing [they] said that really stuck with me was, ‘Don’t play along with what I’m playing. Just do your own thing and we’ll make it fit together.’”
A series of happy accidents and collaborative tweaks coalesces into mellow indie pop. The product is a simple bass groove paired with Bozeman’s beats and Hong’s silky vocals.
While this show is only their fourth gig, the members of Baby Grill are well invested in local DIY culture. Bozeman has seen the DC music scene shift away from house venues in the face of gentrification, but he believes the DIY community is “still fighting the good fight.” Hong, who moved to DC just months ago, was initially overwhelmed by the proliferation of shows in the city.
“Finding my little niche – my community – I’m sure will take me more time,” they said. “But I know there’s a lot out there, so I’m excited to keep seeing more shows and keep meeting people.”
Baby Grill has found the community on the whole to be welcoming and supportive of their project. Hong praised the friendly atmosphere of Comet in particular and the booking staff.
“[Walking] in and hearing, ‘Hey, what’s up? How are you?’ – it’s comforting,” they said. “So this has been a really good experience and I’m just really living on this right now.”
After Baby Grill’s set came bedroom pop project Keeper. As their graceful melancholy filled the low-lit room, I could hear hints of emo influence in their sound. Singer-guitarist Marissa Lorusso later confirmed my suspicion – she’s a Brand New fan.
“I was listening to ‘The Devil and God’ the other day and I was like, everything I know about songwriting is from learning how to play those songs,” she said.
Lorusso is responsible for the majority of Keeper’s songwriting, penning lyrics and outlining song structure. Sam Piercy and Matt Lewicki introduce guitar and synths to flesh out the texture.
From this process emerges “Salting,” the band’s latest four-track tape, released August 4. Its lush orchestration stands in contrast to Keeper’s first release, which Lorusso recorded by herself. While still maintaining the lo-fi ethos and fuzz, the new tape is more carefully produced, using microphones and studio equipment.
In addition to Lorusso’s affinity for emo – which dates back to her middle school days – the band draws musical inspiration from female-fronted bands like Sleater-Kinney, of whom Piercy is a particularly big fan.
“Now I almost exclusively listen to music made by women and gender nonconforming people,” Lorusso said. “There are some men that make good music, but for the most part, it’s women doing indie rock – that’s all I want to listen to.”
Before Lorusso began playing electric guitar, she had felt some trepidation due to the meager female representation in rock music. She didn’t know many women who were involved in the scene.
“I didn’t think there was space for women to make this kind of music on their own,” Lorusso said. “But now that I’m doing it, it feels really amazing and wonderful. I wish I had started earlier.”
Keeper has found the DC music scene slow to break into, due to its varied niche genres and communities. Nevertheless, their release show drew an enthusiastic crowd, and they credit the DIY scene for bringing the band together.
“Marissa and Sam met through going to similar shows and having similar interests in music, so when I met Sam it was like, ‘Oh, this makes perfects sense,’” Lewicki said. “A lot of it was resonating about music and what we liked.”
For future releases, the band is looking to become more experimental with song structure and to become even more active in the local community. Piercy and Lorusso cited local acts Priests and Snail Mail as positive examples of where the scene is going, especially in terms of gender inclusivity.
“I’d like to see a future where more young women and gender nonconforming folks feel like they can make any kind of fucking music they want to,” Lorusso said.