There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
“Let’s go to Dunkin’ Donuts,” Crom-Tech guitarist Mick Barr groans, curled up in the fetal position on a couch. “I need doughnuts. Malcolm, just bring your tea with you,” he demands, looking over at his housemate Malcolm McGregor McDuffie, who has just poured himself a cup.
“Eh, I wasn’t too into it anyway,” says McDuffie, the duo’s drummer, looking into his mug, dissatisfied. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Barr pounces toward the door, followed by McDuffie.
“There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts every two blocks in New Haven,” says Barr, who spent the holidays in Connecticut, as he crawls into the back seat of my car. “I got addicted.”
“Wait, how much money do you have?” McDuffie asks.
“Six bucks,” Barr answers proudly.
“I’m going to have to go to the money machine,” says McDuffie, shaking his head.
The quickest route to Woodley Park, where the closest Dunkin’ Donuts awaits, is blocked off; Will Smith is in town filming a movie, forcing us to travel seven minutes out of the way. Seven more minutes without a doughnut.
“I used to work at that Baskin Robbins upstairs from Dunkin’ Donuts,” Barr volunteers as we park the car.
I fish for a free scoop. “Do you want to go in there?”
“Oh, no. I kinda left on bad terms,” he says, declining further comment.
As McDuffie heads across the street to get cash, Barr leads me to down the steps to the Dunkin’ Donuts, which is almost hidden below the sidewalk.
“No!” he cries, staring at the closed sign on the door. “They’re supposed to be open ’til 3!” A manager’s decision to close 15 minutes early has broken a young man’s heart.
“They’re closed!” Barr wails to McDuffie, who stops in the middle of Connecticut Avenue.
“What do you think they are going to do with all those doughnuts?” Barr asks, watching a worker putting away the sticky-sweet treats. “Maybe we should hang out by the trash ’til they throw them out.”
“We’ve been playing music together for a year,” says Barr from his perch in Heller’s Bakery on Mount Pleasant Street, his second choice for doughnuts. “I moved to D.C. with some friends about two years ago, and we lived right there.” He points to a four-story yellow brick building across the street. “We had a practice space, and we just jammed a lot. One day, I was sleeping, and one of my roommates brought Malcolm over and said, ‘This is Malcolm, and he wants to play.’ That’s how we met.”
“I’ve lived in D.C. since 1990,” McDuffie says. “I lived in Virginia my first 10 years, then I moved to Akron, Ohio, then moved here.”
“Wait a minute,” Barr interrupts. “I thought you were born in Akron.”
“No, I lived there for two years,” McDuffie replies.
“I’ve been telling everyone the wrong story then.”
“Yeah, Ohio just sounds so good to say.”
“Isn’t that where Devo’s from?”
“Then you’re from Devo’s hometown.”
“Well, I just lived there two years,” McDuffie smiles.
“Yeah,” Barr nods.
“Akron’s the home of Firestone Tires, too.”
“How do you know that?”
“I fucking lived there,” McDuffie laughs.
The first incarnation of Crom-Tech included one of Barr’s old roommates, Brian DeGraw, who now plays in the Cranium. The lineup lasted a little over a month.
Then there was Beastlure, another pre-Crom-Tech outfit. “It was more of a death-metal band,” Barr says. “Well, it wasn’t really death metal, it was more adventure metal,” he clarifies, lovingly rolling out his coinage.
Both admit to rapid evolution of musical influence. While McDuffie’s fusion phase is waning, Barr’s death-metal obsession still haunts him.
“When I was younger,” the 22-year-old states, “I used to listen to this death-metal show in Connecticut. So this new kick has been reminding me of that, that feeling in my life.”
Barr’s regression into adolescence consists of more than simply listening to Slayer and Voivod albums. “I went out and stole, like, 15 CDs recently,” the klepto confesses. “But I haven’t been stealing as much as I used to.”
On his first trip to a D.C. music store, Barr could barely contain himself, sauntering out of the shop with a six-string bass.
“I used to like Primus,” he explains. “But I got it out to the car, and everyone told me, ‘Hey, they’re cool. Don’t steal from them,’ so I returned it, and they didn’t even see me put it back!”
“But Malcolm’s clean,” protests Barr. He jumps to defend McDuffie against the suspicion of guilt by association. “I’m a shoplifter.”
“Crom-Tech was a party band,” Barr says. “Our first show we played three songsit was all we had.”
But Crom-Tech doesn’t make what most people might consider party music. The band’s two releases, a self-titled 12-inch and a self-titled 7-inch, are overloaded with swift songs; each is a deluge of prog-metalloid guitar noodling and frenetic free-jazz drum bursts, sometimes accompanied by hardcore howling, that pours down, then disappears, often within a matter of seconds.
“Mick writes these long parts, then we kinda just put them together,” McDuffie states.
“I think it’s better to write stuff before practice,” Barr admits. “But whenever we have shows, we don’t write. We really need to write some new songs. Since we got back from tour we haven’t written a fucking song.”
Last August, the duo drove to San Diego in a Toyota Tercel wagon to record Crom-Tech’s 12-inch, playing shows on the return route.
“We’ve lengthened our songs by about 10 seconds since we first started,” McDuffie explains. “Our longest song is about a minute and 30 seconds long.”
“No, a minute-40,” Barr counters.
“Yeah, which one?”
“You knowdurn-ner-ner-ner-deet-ner-na-ner.” Barr breaks into an aural convulsion, mouthing a guitar riff. “We don’t really have names for our songs,” he explains. (Well, the songs have names like “Prux-Norplexoxix,” “MOR:ROM=Q-MOLTRAP,” and “Ex-Prestu:Plod,” so perhaps the guys can be forgiven for forgetting them.) “The only way we know the songs is if we sing them a bit, like, durn-ner-ner-ner-deet-ner-na-ner, and Malcolm knows that.”
“No, I don’t,” McDuffie protests, shaking his head.
“Yeah, you do,” Barr asserts. “Durn-ner-ner-ner-deet-ner-na-ner,” he repeats, this time louder.
McDuffie stares at him, bewildered.
“Oh yeah,” McDuffie finally smiles. “That one.”
“Yeah,” Barr continues. “But since we have no names for songs, it makes it hard for set lists.”
“What are you eating?” Barr leans over and examines McDuffie’s pastry.
“I’m eating an apple turnover. It’s not got enough apple, though,” he shrugs, poking at the filling.
“My jelly doughnut was damn jelly-full,” Barr smiles, satisfied. “Aw, I feel better.”
“I got a doughnut in me!” Barr picks up a white paper bag, shaking it in the air. “I got another one, too. I got a cream one waiting for me.”
Barr leans back in his chair and stares at McDuffie’s apple turnover, offering a critique. “These have a natural, good flavor,” he says, pointing at the pastry. “You know it’s fresh. You know love went into making them.”
“Yeah,” McDuffie agrees, sipping his lukewarm coffee.
“The Dunkin’ doughnuts just don’t have it, you know?”
“Have what?” McDuffie wonders.
“The love feeling.” CP