Near Northeast
Near Northeast performing at Gypsy Sally's, 2018; Credit: Mark Caicedo/PuraVida Photography

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All good things must come to an end, and on July 1, D.C.’s experimental indie folk group Near Northeast will do just that. After a seven-year run, the band will play their farewell show, and several members will say goodbye to the city they’ve called home.

“D.C. has been such a special space where we’ve had so much support,” guitarist Avy M. says.

The outfit’s run has been marked with creative collaborations, such as a warehouse art event that featured sketches representing each song and a church performance at St. Stephen’s with an organ solo. Near Northeast have constantly tested the boundaries of their creativity, including introducing mandolins and theremins to toy with texture. And their album Cabin Sessions was born during a stay at a rented cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains where they recorded music played on only wooden instruments.

The band are a perfect example of the melting pot that is D.C. Near Northeast brings together sounds from diverse backgrounds. Avy adds influences from India, Europe, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. Vocalist and violinist Kelly Servick introduces Southern folk music and classical elements. Austin Blanton livens up his bass and synth with punk and metal, while Antonio Skarica’s Balkan upbringing, combined with his years spent in Santa Fe, flavor his percussion.

How does a band of so many instruments and origins work so well together? “We know when to leave space,” Servick says. “We’ll give up a solo if it leaves room for some other surprises or showcases another instrument.” 

This selfless way of sharing the spotlight allows each instrument to be appreciated and heard to its full potential. It’s remarkable for band members to give away their limelight if it means a better outcome for the whole. But that’s what being in a collaborative group is all about. You might say, they’ve got their (musical) politics in order. 

The band members met at a South Asian music festival at the Kennedy Center and christened themselves after the neighborhood that housed their first practice space. Their debut album, Curious, was released in 2015, while their newest record, Gatherings, was released last November. Their musically adventurous spirit can be found in the group’s whimsical experiments. 

All that is coming to an end this week. Servick and Blanton are moving to Boston for a journalism fellowship, so Near Northeast are going on an indefinite hiatus. But before they disband, the band reflect on their idiosyncratic method of music making during their time together.

“When we wrote our song ‘Ism’ from Gatherings, that embodied our maximal songwriting. We mapped out a narrative journey that we wanted to execute, which shows Avy’s ambition as a songwriter and how we all got there,” Servick says. 

Avy playing the guitar with a hammer in their song “Window” is another example of the group’s novelty. 

“I’m a public interest lawyer, so I guess I traded a gavel for a hammer,” Avy says. “D.C. attracts people who have professions that aren’t related to music, so it’s fascinating to see how their day jobs influence their art. It’s unlike any other place,” he adds. 

Then there’s Blanton’s suitcase of synthesizers, an electric instrument that generates sounds through waveforms. Blanton built the synth keyboard into a portable wooden briefcase. “I’m a programmer, so I like making new sounds and seeing the fingers messing around with it. I call it ‘The Boot Case,’” he says. 

The group’s open-minded attitude leads them to draw inspiration from the most unlikely places, including last year’s 17-year cicada brood, which took over the region for a portion of the summer. “Kelly, inspired by choral music, made a short sequence dedicated to the cicadas,” Blanton recalls fondly.  

D.C. will miss their fanciful and brilliant merging of art and culture. It’s not every day you get a band as artistically intrepid as Near Northeast, so be sure to bid them farewell at their Songbyrd goodbye show.

Near Northeast plays July 1 at Songbyrd; local acts and dear friends Oh He Dead and Rosie Cima will support.