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Le Loup’s backstory is already renowned among D.C. music-scene insiders: This time last summer, Alexandria resident Sam Simkoff was just another part-time musician with a bedroom side project, tinkering with his banjo, keyboards, and computer while hoping to capture a few good ideas. One year later, Simkoff has a full band, an album due for release by a reputable indie label, and a tour planned for the fall.
There had to be a master plan, right? Wrong.
“I hadn’t intended to make any sort of publicly recognized album,” Simkoff says, adding that he originally decided to share the songs online “on a whim.” The 2006 graduate of Ohio’s Kenyon College says that even his decision to move to the D.C. area last year was “pretty arbitrary.” Simkoff, who grew up in Portland, Ore., had only been in a few small-time bands with friends prior to moving to the area. He started recording music after graduation and slowly began posting the tracks on MySpace while settling in Alexandria.
“I tend to write songs rather compulsively, almost more as a coping mechanism than anything else,” says Simkoff, who has a day job as a paralegal. “If I don’t get to eventually record and listen to whatever’s bumping around in my head, I get really frustrated. So the initial songs were more or less for personal enjoyment.”
Benjamin Weikel, drummer for Portland’s the Helio Sequence, noticed the tunes—which recall Sufjan Stevens, Destroyer, the Shins, and all of those everybody-grab-an-instrument Canadian bands—and alerted friend Tony Kiewel, head of A&R at Sub Pop Records. Kiewel contacted Simkoff in the fall of 2006 and asked him for more music, and Simkoff eventually sent an album’s worth of songs over the course of a few months. Kiewel later took the music to Sub Pop founder Jonathan Poneman, who was looking for acts to sign to Hardly Art—a new label that will handle less-established bands than the Seattle indie usually does. In the meantime, Simkoff, emboldened by the attention, assembled a full band through Craigslist.
“To be perfectly honest, I never allowed myself to believe we’d pull a deal….You spend that much time daydreaming about it, and when the opportunity comes, you’re gonna approach it cautiously,” Simkoff says. “So, up until the phone call we got from Hardly Art offering a deal…we all remained pretty skeptical.”
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly, named after the folk-art altar by James Hampton that rests in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is scheduled for release on Sept. 11. Throne, Simkoff says, is basically the same set of recordings he originally sent Kiewel, with a few tweaks here and there. However, the band’s sound has changed “tremendously” in recent months, Simkoff says.
“Now that we know each other a lot better, it’s easier to fall into a groove and work off of everybody else,” he says. “And beyond that, we always try to find new instruments to use or just new ways to use our old instruments.”
Le Loup currently has a show planned for Aug. 10 at the Rock and Roll Hotel; a short East Coast tour is in the works for October, Simkoff says. For most of the band, the touring lifestyle will be new—only drummer Robert Sahm and bassist Dan Ryan (both former members of D.C.’s Analog Jetpack) have played music on the road before. Le Loup is still working out the logistics.
“I think we can in fact fit in a 15-passenger van, so long as we have a trailer to store our gear,” Ryan says. “At least I hope we can.”