David Combs may be retiring his iconic folk-inflected pop-punk project Spoonboy tonight at the Black Cat, but don’t expect him to get sentimental about it. “I plan to sit down with the acoustic guitar at the end of the night and play whatever songs people want to hear until [they] get bored and leave,” Combs says. In anticipation of the show, which will be opened by Nana Grizol and Art Sorority For Girls, Arts Desk caught up with Combs, who also plays in the Max Levine Ensemble, to chat about the early days of folk punk, the influence of D.C.’s DIY scene on his music, and that giant cannon he’ll be launched out of during “Fireball Or What I Learned From TV.” Kidding on that last one.
You’ve been heavily involved in the local DIY scene for many years. Why do your last show at the Black Cat and not a DIY venue?
I [questioned that] myself. The last show I played in D.C. in January was at Communiverse. It was a super nice environment and exactly my favorite kind of show. I did have a thought that I wanted to do a last show that would feel that way. But more people than who could fit in a house show would want to come, so I had to think about a venue that had a larger capacity. [The Black Cat] is also a place I’ve worked for many years.
Bands love to romanticize last shows or tours, and plan all kinds of surprises. Is this just another gig for you, or are you really trying to emphasize the “ending” aspect of it all?
I really don’t want to make it a hugely emotional, self-aggrandizing type of event. I mostly just wanted to do a show that would be a last chance for people to get to hear the songs they want to. But I definitely have put some sense of ceremony to it. I’ve gotten in touch with a bunch of people who have played in Spoonboy in years past, and I was going to do half the set [full band] and half the set solo, which sort of feels representative of the project.
You’ve recently put out a few new, farewell songs, including “Dr. Irving Kirsch,” which sees you largely abandoning the lo-fi acoustic punk stuff of the early Spoonboy days. Do you think if you continued the project, you’d keep trending away from where you started?
When I started doing Spoonboy, it was actually just me playing Max Levine Ensemble songs on acoustic guitar [while] the other members of the [band] were away at college. I was living in Bloomington, Ind., and there was this budding scene around singer-songwriters playing punk songs on acoustic guitars that eventually became the genre folk-punk. For me, playing acoustic was never as much an aesthetic choice that I wanted to stick with it as much as just a practical [one].
You’ve talked about how hard it is to be the center of a band’s identity, especially when your own vulnerable emotions become the sole focus of a song or live show. Do you think, because of that, you’ll stick to playing in bands for awhile, where there’s a shared sense of sentiment and purpose?
Yeah, I’m definitely not intending to do a solo project in the foreseeable future. But I am playing in Max Levine Ensemble and Somnia, and [I] started a new band in D.C. that doesn’t have a name yet. I do want to be able to express vulnerable emotions and ideas through music, but not in the bare form of playing by yourself.
You recently wrote about the financial pressures of being a DIY act on tour. Was that a factor in your decision to end Spoonboy?
It hasn’t been an explicit thought, but I do think I’m a little less interested in the “be on the road all the time and get music out there” approach to being a band for myself, personally. Not that I think that’s a bad idea. Spoonboy was the easiest of any project I was in to get out on the road. To some extent, me [no longer] seeing touring as a central lifestyle choice may have something to do with deciding to give up [Spoonboy], but I haven’t really thought about it.
If you could do Spoonboy in another city, would the project have evolved as it did? In essence, how important was D.C. to your songwriting?
I don’t think of D.C. as having been super central to the songwriting I’ve done with Spoonboy. It’s been influenced by a lot of musicians and music scenes from outside of D.C. It was a project in Bloomington; it was a project almost based in Philadelphia for a bit. I don’t see it as localized, but I do think my experiences with the D.C. music community for 15 years have certainly informed my own sense of dedication to politicize music, and the power of what can be accomplished with DIY music.
How hard is it to whittle down your catalogue knowing it’s the last time you’ll perform these songs?
I haven’t done too much thinking about it. There’s a setlist I wrote of 12 songs or so that I’m going to do with other people, and I definitely made sure to include the songs I certainly didn’t want to not play. Other than that, I’m going to let the crowd dictate.
If you could pick one song that you’ll miss the most…
There’s a couple of songs from the splits I released last summer like “The Dispossessed” and “Great Mistake Maker” that didn’t have quite as long a life as the older ones. [They’re] songs that only got to be played [with a] full band a few times, but so it goes.
Spoonboy plays the Black Cat tonight, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. $10.