Femme Flag is a local DC rock duo whose recently released EP “Partytime!” can be found here. In this interview, Femme Flag’s guitarist tells us about the band, making music, and how they got to where they are today.
When did you guys first get interested in music and how has your band changed and developed to become Femme Flag today?
I started playing guitar when I was really young, and have always been into music as a hobby – either listening or playing. Claire (my bandmate in Femme Flag) and I started playing in bands together when we were about seven or eight. When we got a bit older we started playing in Nox, that we played in for years and years and really started honing our skills as musicians. Through being in that band I also learned how to book our shows and record our music, skills that were vital if we wanted to play shows or gain any kind of traction or audience. Nox went strong for a couple years, and then our bassist relocated to New York, which obviously makes it harder for us to play shows as frequently as we had for years. With Nox on the back burner, both Claire and I started playing in other bands, and eventually decided to try playing as a duo. At this point we’ve played together in various ways for a decade, so playing as Femme Flag came naturally to us because we know how to work with each other.
You have performed all over DC at Ft. Reno Concerts, Comet Ping Pong, the 9:30 Club, The Black Cat—what are some of your favorite parts of performing and do you have a favorite performance you’ve ever done?
Playing shows is one of my favorite things to do. Through various bands, we’ve played over 60 shows in DC alone, which is crazy to think about sometimes. It was pretty mind-boggling when we started playing bigger venues because I’d seen some of my most influential and memorable shows at some of those places when I was younger. In addition to the bigger venues in DC, there’s also an active DIY music venue circuit, which provides a different vibe but really speaks to how tight the music community in DC can be. I’ve met so many people from playing or attending shows that I continue to see at shows as years go by. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite show we’ve ever played, mostly because we’ve played so many shows with some of my favorite bands ever – Waxahatchee, Downtown Boys, Screaming Females, Priests, and Chain and the Gang, among others. Every once in a while we’ll play a terrible show – the sound guy’ll be sexist and nobody will be in the audience except the other bands, and they’re on their phones – but I’m glad to say that’s a rare occurrence.
What are some of the challenges/rewards when it comes to making music?
Writing music can be especially challenging for me because it can be hard to write songs that sound new and exciting. When we started Femme Flag, I decided that I wanted to write music that sounded different from what I had written in Nox. It’s easy to fall back on old habits and methods that I’ve grown comfortable writing with, but I really wanted us to branch out and explore new sounds. I think now I’ve gotten the hang of writing for this project, and songs come more easily to me now than in the beginnings of the band. Even though that can be a challenging process, it’s especially satisfying when a song I’ve worked on for a long time and that’s had some growing pains finally comes together. After we get some songs down, sharing them is the most rewarding experience for me, be it through recording songs or through playing them live.
You just released an album “Partytime!”. Is there a story behind this album?
“Partytime!” is an EP that we recently released with two songs, “Incantations” and “Beach Bummer”, songs that I wrote in the early stages of Femme Flag’s development. I hadn’t ever written for a band with our kind of instrumentation before, and that presented its own set of challenges. I’m used to playing with a bassist or another guitarist in addition to drums, and a lot of times in other bands I would be playing lead guitar licks and melodies that went over chords or bass lines. In Femme Flag, I am the only melodic instrument other than vocals, which means I have a lot more space to take up sonically. We’re a duo, but we still play loud. Our drum set-up is also pretty different than usual, Claire plays standing up; the kit’s just a floor tom, snare, crash, and hi-hat – no bass drum, different than what either of us were used to. When I wrote “Incantations”, I was thinking specifically about how to write a guitar part that had some sort of simple melody that I could play chords under at the same time, so that there could still be some kind of low end that functioned like a bass part or a rhythm guitar part did. I ended up experimenting with different guitar tunings until I found something that I liked. The vocal parts of that song follow the guitar line pretty closely, and Claire and I sing harmony over most of the entire song, which we had never really done in previous bands but we were excited to try out. Most of our songs follow that same sort of theme, our non-conventional instrumentation for a band that plays loud music forcing us to think outside of the box. “Partytime!”, I think, is two examples of songs we’ve written that display that effectively.
What are some of your favorite artists?
Speaking for both Claire and myself, we both draw so much inspiration musically from bands that we’ve played with and seen in DC over the last few years. There are countless acts that I could list, but a couple that specifically inspired me when writing for Femme Flag are bands like Dove Lady, Governess, The Evens, and Shellshag. We both listen to a lot of pop music too, which I believe instills certain sensibilities in the way we write, because we always gravitate towards obvious, catchy melodies. Filtered through both the way that we play and our other influences, our final songs never sound as poppy as we intend them to, but I think our intentions are still recognizable in the music we produce.
If you’re interested in seeing Femme Flag perform live, they have two upcoming concerts here in DC. They’ll be playing at The Dupont Underground (a super cool venue hidden under Dupont circle) on December 6th and at Comet Ping Pong (an intimate restaurant/concert space on Connecticut avenue with excellent pizza and beer) on January 11th. Come out to support a local band, jam out to good music, and to see some of the coolest venues in DC!