Photo by Lissy Elle
I’ve seen Baltimore natives Ed Schrader’s Music Beat many times over the years and have always been captivated by their unique brand of euphoric alt-rock. I remember when Ed would play a floor tom with a can light underneath, giving himself a creepy, ghostly look. Ed told AdHoc he “play[s] the drums the way Bowie plays the saxophone: it’s a hobby!”
Ed has since given up playing the floor tom, but Devlin Rice has been solidly plucking the bass the whole time. With their new album, Riddles, Devlin has started writing guitar parts, synth parts, and other arrangements. This is their most theatrical and well-conceived release to date. Yet, it still retains the same pureness and honesty of their earlier work. They’ve shown they are just as willing to experiment and play with their style as they are to crack jokes and have an amusing time. Between Ed’s “Frasier Pic O’ The Day” antics on Instagram, the “Cats on the Lake” shirts and totes, and the band’s passionate stage presence, it’s hard to get bored when you’re keeping tabs on this act.
AdHoc recently called Ed and Devlin for a serious conversation about celebrity look-a-likes, being knighted, and mixing meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Catch them at Baby’s All Right on Sunday, April 15, and pick up a copy of Riddles via Carpark Records.
AdHoc: So you’re currently on a national tour supporting the release of your newest album, Riddles. Where are you right now, and have you seen anything interesting on tour?
Devlin: We’re in LA right now. We saw Lake Tahoe—that was pretty cool.
Ed: We saw a person who we thought was the lead singer of Korn, but was only like 22 years old, so that wouldn’t make any sense.
Devlin: Um… Yeah, it definitely wasn’t that guy. It wasn’t Johnny Korndog.
Ed: Kornman! You heard it here first. They’re now called Kornman.
How long is this tour that you’ve been on? You have a stretch in Europe, correct?
Devlin: We’re like halfway through. It’s a 6-week tour. We’re doing the full European thing, something like 28 shows.
Ed: We’ve never been to Wales. We’re gonna be playing in Cardiff, I believe. It’s funny because my step-dad was Welsh, and he was such a pain in the ass, so I always thought Wales should give me a knighthood. Like, immediately after I come off the plane, I want the sword going over the shoulders.
We have a friend in London who works for the London Historical Society, Chris Tipton. He once took us to this bar. It was amazing. There was this petrified tree in the middle of the bar. So it’s like, “Why the hell did they build this bar? That seems like some bad construction.” And he’s like, “No. Queen Elizabeth the First once danced around that tree right there, and that’s why they built a bar around it.”
And I thought, “That’s so cool.” Cuz you go to a bar in America, and it’s built in 1920. And then you go to a bar in Europe and it’s built in like… 20! Or however old. But you’re just blown away by the history. That for me is the exciting thing: taking the time to be present and to really breathe in the location, to walk around and see things. In the midst of touring there’s a lot of stress and planning and it’s easy to just walk through Paris and not look at the Eiffel Tower, or not go to the Louvre. It’s easy to go to a place and not really be AT that place.
I also love trying different foods. The last time I was in England, I had blood pudding for the first time, and it wasn’t that bad, ya know? It was actually at an American-themed restaurant that had pictures of Frank Sinatra on the wall and stuff. So it was like, you got home fries, eggs, bacon, aaaand blood pudding. I don’t think Frank would’ve eaten that but, ya know what, I’ll try!
When I was in Brighton, I got the fish and chips there. They catch it right off the water there. They wrap it in the newspaper—it’s like 5 pounds—and it’s one of the best meals you’ve ever had. Oh — and the Czech Republic! The beer is the greatest thing you’ve ever tasted. It’s like tasting a really good Carpenter’s song — or like if the Cocteau Twins showed up and got really kind of distorted, gained a bit of a dark tinge.
Your performances are captivating, and I’m sure they take a lot of energy to pull off. Do you two have routines or rituals that you do before a show?
Devlin: Nothing crazy. Just noodle around on the bass before things get going — just to be limber, like [how] Rob Halford had his gum that he used to chew on to keep his vocal chords limber.
Ed: I usually go try to find an espresso or a coffee somewhere, and I usually engage in a game of Scrabble on my phone. It’s kind of my little escape, so I’m not overthinking too much or getting too excited.
Ed: I think for us, the transition was something more organic than anything too coerced. No matter what your craft is or whatever you do, you always wanna be pushing yourself to evolve, and you’re utilizing everything that you possess, and utilizing what you’ve learned from past tours, and crystallizing that and making the best thing you can make. I don’t think we’d be making the best thing we could make if we were just making another Party Jail or Jazz Mind.
Devlin: When we were kind of talking about what we were going to do for the next record, we had 13 [Party Jail or Jazz Mind]-style songs, like a minute and a half to two-minute long songs. We both felt that we couldn’t really just put that out again, because we were just getting sort of antsy to try new things. We never really set out to be a punk band. For this album, we were basically like, “We have these ideas, we can at least start from here, but we’re not tied to these as set-in-stone kind of things.”
Ed: Dan [Deacon] was listening to it and was pretty much like, “Hey this is really good stuff, and if you were setting out to make another Party Jail, I’d be like, ‘Hey! This is great.’ But I know that you are the type of people who want to push the envelope in your own lives and with your art, and I can’t imagine you staying in the same place.” He’d say something like, “Ed I saw you doing karaoke the other night and you were doing Billy Joel’s ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ and you were killing it, and then you were doing a song by The Police. You have this whole vocal range, but when you’re on stage doing the punk stuff, you’re singing through your nose. Start using those vocals more!”
He took the studio and made it a place of play, of fun, of discovery. It was like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s. In the past, going to the studio made me feel like I was going to the orthodontist or the dentist. I think Dan made us feel like it was our little clubhouse, our own treefort, you know what I mean? It was like Pee-wee’s Playhouse. You could be yourself; you didn’t feel judged. You didn’t feel like you were in a studio paying $80 an hour to have someone blankly stare at you and not give you any emotional response.
Devlin: The first song we worked on was “Seagull,” and with just some simple arranging—oh my God—it becomes a four-minute song. And that was before we added the whole dreamy house sequence in the middle of that song. So basically, we wanted to make songs that we weren’t even necessarily thinking about playing live first. We decided we would just write the record and then figure out how to play it afterward.
Ed: I think [Dan] also taught us how to exist in a studio. I’ve always said, for me, being in a studio is like eating a four-course meal, and you eat each course in a separate room with a blindfold on and gloves. Ya know, it doesn’t feel normal. I wanna eat the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes together! I think that Dan taught us how to develop songs and to have them at the point where when you do go into the studio, you know the language of production—how to insert that into a high fidelity piece of work that is acceptable to not just your friends but an audience.
What acts are you excited about in Baltimore these days?
Ed: I was working for Friends Records and while working there, I got to work with this artist named DDm. DDm is a rapper in Baltimore who is just amazing. He’s, like, a comedian slash musician, cracking jokes between songs, but he’s also kind of narrating the whole performance in such a cool theatrical way. DDm is also in the video for “Riddles” that we just shot, so that was really cool. You know when you watch those old roasts with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra? DDm is that funny all the time, and then all of a sudden will get up on the mic and do something that’s like a cross between Biggie Smalls and Dionne Warwick and just nail it every time.
Devlin: There’s Horse Lords — I think they’re gonna be hitting the road soon. They’re always incredible. Insane musicians. Andrew Bernstein played saxophone on Riddles and Owen Gardner did cello. So I’m a little partial, because they were part of the project as well. DDm is super quality as well. :3LON, too—he’s kind of an insane singer with this beautiful new R&B style. He has a lot of stuff like Abdu Ali in terms of his production.
Any other fun challenges you’ve come across?
Ed: It’s been great to keep evolving with the stage show, so that’s been very exciting dancing around stage, doing or at least attempting to do my best Freddy Mercury or my best Bowie wizard hands. I’m trying to keep it lively on stage and interesting while adapting to a new way of performing and listening, and working with more electronic elements. That’s a different challenge each day. It’s almost like a video game.