Almost famous The Districts sign with major label Fat Possum Records
LUCY RICCOMINI Record Express staff
, Staff Writer
"They’ve got a shot. They needed to go for it. And we’re going to do all we can to make it happen."
Fat Possum Record’s founder Matthew Johnson’s first impression of The Districts was impressive enough that after the boys graduated from Warwick High School, the record label scooped them up as their newest client, seeing potential and dedication in the indie rock quartet.
Fat Possum is an independent record label from Mississippi. It began as a blues label, but more recently opened its doors to artists like The Black Keys and The Felice Brothers. After hearing about The Districts from club owners and sold-out shows at places like New York City’s Mercury Lounge, Fat Possum approached The Districts with a contract and a bundle of tour dates.
"I don’t want to jinx it, but I have a really good feeling about this band," said Johnson.
The foursome – made up of Braden Lawrence on drums, Rob Grote on guitar and vocals, Connor Jacobus on bass and Mark Larson on guitar – formed in 2009 while students at Warwick. Their first gig was at a Warwick High School coffee house in front of their classmates. From there, the teens went on to play at local events like Rock Lititz’s Bike Race. Their song "Funeral Beds" was used in the Zombie Run promotional video and the band performed live at the downtown event this October. Senorita Burrita and The Chameleon Club in downtown Lancaster were also two of their favorite spots to play.
This past summer, the band left their small hometown and moved to Philadelphia, where they were already playing shows at larger venues. On Dec. 28, the band performs with The Felice Brothers at Armore Hall in Philadelphia.
"The Philly music scene is pretty cool," Lawrence said in an earlier interview. "It’s a big city, but it’s still close to home so it’s a good place for us to expand our circle."
At a young age, The Districts were refining their sound of funk, blues and rock with a sound similar to Spoon and My Morning Jacket. Grote’s unique and powerful voice gives the band its strength while catchy and tight melodies solidify the sound.
"As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to play an instrument," Lawrence said after the record deal was announced. "And listening to rock bands makes you just want to start a band. Luckily, I found people that had the same interests."
The band’s influences include classics like The Beatles and Neil Young, and new bands like Cold War Kids and My Morning Jacket. Guitarist Larson describes their sound as "folky garage rock."
In July, the song and video for "Funeral Beds" went viral on reddit.com. Not long after, The Huffington Post caught wind of the video and praised the band, calling the recording "crazy impressive."
"The video was done by our friends at Hot Box Studio in Philadelphia and it somehow took off, and it was really cool and weird and strange," said Lawrence. "It was just another song and somehow that one just got popular."
Johnson heard chatter of the high school band and approached the boys after they graduated in 2012 and 2013. Fat Possum presented a contract just a couple weeks ago, The Districts signed on the dotted line and the record label started booking show after show – about 200 or so – for the next year. The tour spans from New York City to Europe. Fat Possum will also release the band’s EP worldwide on Jan. 19.
Philadelphia-based and member-supported radio station WXPN has also been an avid supporter of The Districts.
"My first time seeing them was at World Cafe Live’s Beta Hi-Fi competition," said John Vettese, editor of XPN’s The Key. "They easily blew everyone else on the bill away, and it was clear that even though the guys were still teenagers, that they were going places as musicians. I walked away thinking that both their playing and their songwriting was very sophisticated, not just for musicians their age, but for anybody."
The Districts recorded for XPN’s Key Studio Sessions series and performed during last summer’s XPoNential Music Festival, gaining them popularity and radio time.
"I’m continually impressed with how good The Districts are as performers and songwriters, and I’m so happy that Fat Possum took notice too," said Vettese. "It’s a cool, eclectic label with a great roster, and if the guys keep working as hard as they have been, I could see them reaching Dr. Dog or My Morning Jacket levels a couple years down the line. They’ve got the songs, they’ve got a winning live show – now they need to get out there and win over the rest of the country."
You can catch The Districts at their next local show on Dec. 21 at The Chameleon Club in Lancaster.
More THE DISTRICTS, page A20