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STANDOUT TRACK:No. 1, “Fog Rolling In,” which begins with singer-guitarist Josh Read channeling Richard Thompson as he laments, “Where did you go my friend/My baby darling/My house has burned down to the ground again.” But if charred digs and an absent lover aren’t enough, the second verse piles on a nautical disaster: “Bone smashing iron/Swirled voice of the sea/A fearful siren,” Read sings, cresting a wave of Crazy Horsenstyle guitar.

MUSICAL MOTIVATION: Read wanted to capture something more universal than just a boat going down: He says “Fog Rolling In” is about the tragedy in people’s lives. After all, few have actually stood on a sinking ship, but many feel like they are sinking during hard times. “I try to write songs that speak to many people on different levels—like a painting,” says the 30-year-old frontman of the D.C. trio. (The band plays the 9:30 Club on Feb. 8.) “On that song there’s a direct narrative about drowning in a ship.…But one guy wrote to me and told me that it was the best breakup song he had ever heard.”

Pulling His Weight: Read doesn’t dream of rock stardom—instead he aspires to heaviness. “People love and stay with music that means more than just a party band,” says Read. “The Rolling Stones wrote more than ‘Brown Sugar.’ They also wrote ‘Wild Horses.’ People respect musicians who can do that—the heavy. I search for that.…I would rather be Nick Cave than Britney Spears—though I’ll probably be neither.