Eight years and three different band names later, Brian Leatherman, Ed Barnabas, Fico Lazzaro, and Luke Mangels continue to power through and are together again under the name Ms. Director. The Washington DC band have released their latest music baby back in January called Santo Domingo, a spot in the Dominican Republic that brings happy memories for each member of the band. Fortunately enough, the foursome hasn’t lost that same indie-electro sound they established back in their earlier Cartel/Cedars days on their latest EP, having received great reception so far. We spoke to bassist, Fico Lazzaro about Santo Domingo, their latest band name, the DC music scene, and much more.
Their next show is at Black Cat on August 23rd. Tickets still available. Don’t miss out!
You can listen to Santo Domingo below, via bandcamp.
First off, could you introduce yourselves and what each of you contribute to the band?
Hello, we are Ms. Director from Washington, DC. The band is made up of Ed Barnabas on drums, Brian Leatherman on vocals, guitar and studio trickery, Fico Lazzaro on bass, Luke Mangels on guitars and keyboards. Last but not least, Rob Muller is our manager and oracle.
First it was Cartel, then it was Cedars, and now it’s Ms. Director – what’s the mindset or story behind picking each of these names for your band?
Like most new bands, you finally reach the point of having to decide on a moniker in order to line up a gig or what not. The Cartel name was one that brought many arguments (a trend) and some of us just had to live with it. We were a 5-piece at the time of Cartel, and as we turned to a 4-piece and sort of started doing things a bit differently we decided to start anew and Cedars was a name we all gravitated to. I think we were tossing names around and the Midlake record “Cedars” was on the table and someone said the name and we all agreed on it. I think we also thought of the song “the Cedar Room” by Doves who we were all really into. After Cedars broke-up, Brian went on to do some solo electronic stuff, I took a 2-year detour to Buenos Aires, and Luke & Ed continued getting together and playing new ideas. They chose to work under Ms. Director in reference to Ed’s daughter.
What musicians still continue to inspire or influence you all and your music today?
It’s not fashionable to say so, but U2 is still a band we go back to. I actually listened to the Unforgettable Fire this morning and was floored by it, great record children. During our formative years we all separately loved the Cure, New Order, Depeche Mode, the Stone Roses, Oasis, the whole Brit-pop movement. When we started playing together more current bands like Doves, Elbow, Explosions in the Sky, Interpol, Broken Social Scene, Sigur Ros, etc, somehow shaped what we were looking to do. We all listen to similar things, but we all also listen to very disparate artists as well.
What prompted you all to get back together to record your latest EP, Santo Domingo and why under a different name? Why not stick with Cedars?
As it goes, Ed & Luke had a bunch of demos lying around from the post-Cedars days. We’ve never really been part of the “scene” in a way that we collaborated or really hung out with other bands. So when they were looking into rounding up the demos they asked me to play bass and Brian to play guitar. At some point it was realized by all that a bunch of good ideas were going around with the 4 of us having played on them separate from each other. Obviously when a band breaks up some relationships break down with it. I guess somehow we all still thought of each other a lot and kept in contact but we had sort of locked that Cedars part away. At some point our manager got hold of the demos and pointed out how we were a bunch of idiots for not sitting down for a beer and a chat, which is what we finally did. It felt good being around each other as friends once again without revisiting the nonsense of the past. After that I guess we felt we should put the band back together. I always wanted to stick with Cedars because we worked really hard on establishing ourselves and it didn’t seem wise to throw all that away and start from zero, but, the consensus was on Ms. Director since Luke & Ed had worked on the bulk of ideas floating around under the name.
You released the EP, back in January – how has the reception been to it so far?
The reception has been good, most people who liked Cedars seem to like it, and people who never knew of Cedars have really liked it. I think old Cedars fans might’ve been taken a bit aback because it is a less polished/professional sounding record, but I think once they get past that they find things to like about the songs. As far as the outside world, who knows, we just wanted to bunch these songs together and put them out there somehow. But it’s different now, we are not trying to “make it” as we did before, we don’t really tour anymore or work the business side of things as we used to so there is less exposure.
It’s good to see your sound hasn’t changed too much since your last few EPs - where did you all cut this record and who helped produce it?
The reason why we are together is because something unique happens when we all get together. It’s an impossibly clichéd thing to say, but given the way we approach playing and songwriting we’ve come to find we aren’t quite as capable of replicating what we’ve done in Cedars/Ms. Director in other Projects or musical adventures. We all know each others strengths and weaknesses as musicians, and we play to that. This record was self-produced, self-recorded and self-mixed. We went to a cabin in West Virginia called Sierra Mia, we took 3 microphones, whatever gear we had around and locked ourselves in for 3 days to lay any ideas we had down. During our break Brian got into the whole recording side of things so he is responsible for the mixing, recording and most of the blips and blops you hear on the record (listen closely). We are immensely proud of the self-made effort, yes, it doesn’t sound as some of the older stuff, but fuck it, it was financially liberating and there’s no outside hand in it but ours…not that we wouldn’t welcome Brian Eno with open arms mind you. Anyways, we still have some really great songs from those sessions we didn’t finish in time, plus other ideas we hope to start working on so this might not be the last group of songs you hear from us.
Speaking of Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic is very important to all the members of the band – could you go into detail about how and why you all chose this as your EP title?
Well, Santo Domingo is certainly important to me because I was born and raised there. We were lucky enough to have some of my friends set up a couple of shows there and the response we got was phenomenal, I’d argue the best we’ve ever had. Some of our songs were being played on the radio and they had charted so going there was very special. Sadly those were the last shows we did, when we got back we parted ways but definitely every time we got together or spoke to each other on the side to reminisce about the band, those days in Santo Domingo always came up as the highest of times for the band. As for the name, I think Ed read an interview with the Walkmen and they talked about how they felt about Lisbon, Portugal and I think he really identified with the sentiment and threw the name out. It somehow felt very natural and right to the rest of the band. It’s a small homage to happy times if you will.
Having formed as a DC band back in 2004 and still going at it today, has the DC following changed at all? Are you still seeing or hearing from some of your old fans?
Oi, 8 years eh? Hadn’t thought about that. DC is a very transient city as anyone who has lived here knows, so people who were part of the early gigs might not be in town anymore. We still keep in touch with some fans from around the country that liked us and have egged us on for years to keep at it. Although in the end we make music for ourselves, it’s a great form of validation to know some people care about our art and will choose to listen to us instead of the thousands of songs they have laying around. Most of the old people we’ll see at shows are guys who were in other bands years ago and who we’ve shared shows and tours with. While we miss the old faces, there’s a certain charm to getting new people into the songs and proving we can still do it.
How has the DC music scene, influenced or pushed you in anyway to continue making music you make?
The DC music scene really plays no part in what we do. We don’t have the time to wax nostalgic about Fugazi and Dischord, and the punk days. Those days are of immense importance to the cultural institutional memory of the city, but they say nothing to us about our lives or our music. No disrespect, I just think it’s boring people don’t get over it. Years ago it was great to share bills with bands we were peers with like Monopoli, Washington Social Club, Soft Complex, Army of Me, MDR, Vita Ruins, etc. Good geezers in all those bands. I saw Jukebox the Ghost and Ra Ra Rasputin, I liked what they’re about. But otherwise I’m not sure, nothing local has really gotten us excited for a bit. Seems to be more about naff haircuts and looking like models for GANT or some Americana apparel store nowadays, they can Royally go fuck themselves with their pretentiousness as far as we’re concerned.
We love supporting the local music scene and are glad you guys are still making some music. Here’s to hoping the third time around is a charm! Any last words for the readers out there?
Thanks to everyone for the support!! If you haven’t found a reason to support us, get some headphones, go to bandcamp and crank up the record, there’s stuff to like, we promise. Once you love us, come to the shows and bring your friends, you might have fun. Hugs and Besos, Ms. Director.