“It’s a human thing to think we invented music,” says Yianni Kourmadas. “But other animals practice it as well. The hermit thrush, for instance, has a sophisticated grasp on music, and uses complicated melodies, improvisation, dramatic pauses—-things we as humans thought we made up.”
Kourmadas acknowledges that notion, and that songbird, with his musical project, Hermit Thrushes. The band is on its way back to Philadelphia following a three-week tour, and it stops in D.C. tonight for a show at Paper Sun in Columbia Heights.
It’ll be a quick stop in Philadephia. “We plan on getting home and having dinner with our grandmas, but then we’re off to a few more shows!” Kourmadas says.
The group is currently touring in a van it calls Alan Krauss. A tribute to the New York Times correspondent? Who knows: The band said the origin of the name is top secret.
Last summer, Hermit Thrushes toured in a huge retirement-home bus. It was a gas guzzler, so they had to give it up. But they had fun in that beast, picking up plenty of hitchhikers over several tours. They even ended up on NPR after they picked up Wired correspondent Evan Ratliff when he “disappeared” for a sort of human scavenger hunt.
Besides hitchhikers and journalists, the band helped out other bands on the road. “We were in Boise, Idaho, and this other bands’ van broke down,” Kourmadas says. “They didn’t have any money, and they were planning on selling their equipment to scrap their van together. So we just took them and their gear and gave them a ride!”
The band is currently touring behind its recent EP, Wooden Blankets. Again, expect no easy deciphering. “The title itself has a level of personal mythology, and that accompanies the lyrics, too,” Kourmadas says.
While on tour, the band recorded a Daytrotter Session in Rock Island, Ill. (it’s not online yet). Afterward, they made a stop in Fairfield, Iowa. “Iowa was really desolate, for miles, and then all a sudden, there’s a little town!” Kourmadas says. “And it’s like the world capital for transcendental meditation.”
Besides touring, Kourmadas did some independent travel—-a pilgrimage, if you will, to Greece. Raised in a traditional Greek family, Kourmadas felt he needed to venture to the country that he was “incredibly familiar with, but in an impossibly familiar way.” Spending three months there, Kourmadas felt sad and alone, finding it difficult to socialize because he was too afraid to speak Greek. He stayed with an uncle for a bit, but spent nights camping or sleeping in abandoned houses. He wouldn’t call it a spirit quest—-it was less mystical then that. Then he adds: “But maybe it was more mystical in a way?”
During his time in Greece, he made field recordings and collected ideas for Hermit Thrushes’ first album, Benaki, named after an Athens Museum of artifacts. There, Kourmadas felt comfortable yet alienated. “I guess that’s the idea as well with Wooden Blankets…something that’s supposed to be soft, and comforting, yet at the same time, full of contrast.”
Catch Hermit Thrushes tonight at 8 p.m. at Paper Sun, a white building in the alley off of Monroe Street NW between 11th and 13th streets.