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Honest Emotions 

The Districts bring rock ’n’ roll grit out of the basement and into Congress

The Districts combine the rawness and enthusiasm of their youth with a rock 'n' roll savvy far beyond their years.

The band began when its members were in high school, in the small Pennsylvania town of Lititz, 75 miles west of Philadelphia. After graduating, The Districts set off for Philly to start college. But the band hit the big city with a flurry of attention that came from both a rapidly growing fan base and early critical acclaim, so as it turns out, college will have to wait.

After a self-released debut while still in high school, The Districts signed to venerable Mississippi-based blues and rock label Fat Possum and released "A Flourish and a Spoil" last month. It's unsurprisingly an album about transition, growth and change, delivered with a thoroughly compelling in-the-moment frankness.

"The whole theme of the album is kind of a loss of innocence thing, about how things grow and eventually waste away," says bassist Connor Jacobus.

In 2009, Jacobus, singer-guitarist Rob Grote and drummer Braden Lawrence formed the band with guitarist Mark Larson (since replaced by Pat Cassidy) in Lititz. Still just 19 and 20, the like-minded friends had all been playing music for years even by then. (Jacobus jokes about Lawrence's fifth-grade Metallica cover band.)

"There weren't too many people who played music, so anybody who did knew each other," he says. "That's pretty much the reason we got together."

Unfocused at first, and drawing from an ever-swelling set of often-contradictory influences, the band just played whatever struck the mood and the moment.

"When we first started out, we didn't really set out for a certain sound, we just played what we liked," Jacobus says. "We just set out to play rock music and the sound developed over time."

As far as direct influences, Jacobus cites Philadelphia indie-rock stalwarts Dr. Dog and Man Man, but just becoming part of the Philly scene had a greater influence than any particular band.

"When we were in high school, we'd drive down to Philly to play basement shows on the weekends. There are just a bunch of bands that we really like there," Jacobus says. "A bunch of our friends' bands, like Tangiers and The Retinas are really great."

Those basement-show roots led to an explosive and visceral quality that's at the core of "A Flourish and a Spoil." Some Americana and blues elements add color to The Districts' gritty rock 'n' roll. And the chemistry the band has developed is evident from the start.

The band's first break came with a live recording of a performance of "Funeral Beds." Recorded at Philadelphia's HotBox Studios, the May 2012 video has nearly reached a half million plays on YouTube, amazing for what HotBox at the time called "a promising young group of teenagers who are slowly taking the Pennsylvania music scene by storm."

With their self-released album in regular rotation on Philadelphia's influential WXPN, the band found their way to Fat Possum in November 2013, after searching for a good label fit.

"We got a lawyer and he worked with Fat Possum before and he sent our music to the guys there. They liked it and we started talking to them," Jacobus says. "They're super cool guys and one of the reasons we picked them is they seemed to get what we were going for in our music and our sound. They've done an awesome job."

The Districts' first release for Fat Possum was a self-titled EP in January 2014, with two new songs, "Rocking Chair" and "Lyla," joining with three tracks from their self-releases.

"It's definitely been a crazy couple years. Things have been changing a lot for us and happening a lot faster than we thought," Jacobus says.

For the band's first full-length on Fat Possum, they hooked up with Grammy-winning producer John Congleton, whose recent credits include St. Vincent, The Walkmen, Cloud Nothings, Swans and Angel Olson.

"He's done some really awesome work and that's why we wanted to work with him," Jacobus says. "It was a lot more fun recording with John. We hit it off right off the bat. He's a super nice dude and knows exactly what he's doing."

Congleton guided the band to Seedy Underbelly in Minneapolis, a studio with a reputation for delivering great live sound.

"Capturing the live sound and the energy of our live show was the biggest thing," Jacobus says.

"A Flourish and a Spoil" does just that, a rambunctious and infectious record with an eclectic song sequence that feels like a 45-minute live show. First single "4th And Roebling" opens the album with a rollicking attitude. "Peaches" turns up the distortion, a throwback to the 1990s alternative sound when guitar fuzz and catchy melodies fit perfectly together. "Suburban Smell" is a folky acoustic tune, its spare sound cradling the desperation in Grote's lyrics. "Young Blood" is a nine-minute jam, the type of killer song that holds a live audience captive to the band's creative energy.

The Districts have packed 2015 with touring—a six-week nationwide tour that brings them to Club Congress on March 11 will be followed by a month in­—Europe – and dates at festivals like Bonnaroo and Governors Ball. The band made their network television debut on "Late Night With Seth Myers" the week the album came out.

"Our whole vibe is playing our music honestly and emotionally. Recently there have been lots of ironic bands and lots of shitty indie music," Jacobus says. "We just feel like playing music that's honest and emotional is a lot more fun and a lot more meaningful. We love playing music to play music."

More by Eric Swedlund

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