Discussing DIY with Taciturn
From left to right: Kevin Ralph, Natasha Janfaza, and Nyle Hamidi.
Taciturn has turned many heads with their loud sets that toe the line between jam and drone. However, the loudness isn’t mindless; each tone feels as curated as the songs themselves. With one EP out and an LP on the way, Taciturn has already escaped the trappings of genre. Their noisy rock is tinged with shoegazing tendencies and the hardcore punk that indulged D.C. only a few decades ago. Since their conception in January, Taciturn has carved out a path of their own, but the fans and supporters they have accumulated cheer them on. In their still young career, they have opened for seasoned veterans like Messthetics, proving that even without a well-defined niche, Taciturn is not alone as they navigate D.C.’s music scene.
Washington, D.C. was once a national hub for DIY music. In a city where political and social structures remain almost inescapable and often oppressive, autonomy and separation from these structures through artistic expression was more than just an aesthetic – it was a necessity to prevent suffocation. Over thirty years have passed since bands like Bad Brains and Fugazi helped to build this DIY culture from the ground and give it an international voice, and Taciturn is painfully aware of the things that have and haven’t changed. As they prepare to record their first full-length LP, they actively witness the missing pieces and remnants of the old D.C. DIY. Just as interesting, however, is their conception of the D.C. college arts bubble, guitarist Nyle Hamidi and bassist Natasha Janfaza both being recent Georgetown alumnae and drummer Kevin Ralph an American University alumnus. They met with The Indy in September to discuss their music and the communities they have encountered so far. This conversation, condensed and edited for clarity, can be read below.
So you all have been preparing your new album? How is that process?
Janfaza: We’re just trying to perfect everything to our liking before we begin recording.
Is there a specific flow that you’re going for? Is it a concept?
Janfaza: Every song has a different shape. We try really hard to not have a song that sounds like something we’ve already done. Every song tells a different story, but not literally through lyrics, because lyrics are such an afterthought.
Are there any new techniques that you are employing for this new album?
Hamidi: I have like seven pages in my notebook of different things I want to do with different panning, EQ-ing, and recording techniques.. In terms of songwriting, I don’t feel like I’m the main songwriter anymore, which is nice. Before Natasha joined the band, we had a song called “So Stupid,” and it sounded way different than when we had Natasha for a week. She’s written some stuff and we “Taciturn” it up.
Janfaza: I think our songwriting is so constructive. It doesn’t matter who comes up with what – that just feels so irrelevant. I think that simplicity and honing minimalism is a big thing for us. My approach to everything is, “Do we really need it?” We all feel that less is more.
Hamidi: A good way to describe our songwriting is just us arguing for hours at a time.
Ralph: Through our arguments and discussions come these songs that themselves are very cohesive. We have noise sections in some songs that involve some jamming, but it’s not like Axl Rose-esque: this is what the song demands, and this is what’s going to benefit the song.
So Taciturn is less than a year old, and when you all started, the members were you [Nyle], Kevin, and your ex-bassist, Brandon. How did you go from the idea of Taciturn to where you all are now?
Hamidi: I moved to D.C. for school in August, and I figured when I settled in that I wanted to play music, so I started looking at other bands. I really misjudged how long it would take to get into the music scene as a band rather than as a person. It took forever to get shows. I ended up meeting Kevin online, and we practiced at Seven Drum City, not really knowing what we were doing or what kind of music we were making. We ended up with two really crappy iPhone recordings. We posted them on the D.C. DIY page on Facebook to find a bassist, and one guy [Brandon] liked us to the point of buying his own bass and amp to join us. He’d never picked up the bass before. We recorded our EP, and almost immediately he had to leave for school. We had already lined up a bunch of shows, so we were really stressed, but then Natasha came and joined us and learned very, very quickly how everything was working.
Janfaza: I was actually going to leave D.C. So I thought, “Yeah, I’ll play in Taciturn for, like, a month, and then I’m going back home to L.A.” But I ended up really liking the band. After one of our four-hour rehearsals, I just decided that I’m staying. The way that we do things is by arguing, and I really love that. Because it’s really constructive.
Here’s a two-part question: first, what kind of home did you all find at Georgetown? Second, do you find greater belonging with the community in D.C.?
Hamidi: I was in a very serious master’s program where everyone dressed really well and spoke really well, so I felt like our music just never matched up with them. I never really brought my music to Georgetown until Battle of the Bands.
One good thing I learned from that is that we don’t really fit in. We purposefully played the most aggressive song we had, and immediately, 60% of the people left and 20% were in the back, but there were a good chunk of people who were really liking it. I had never seen anybody mosh at our shows until that day. I don’t know if we had a place at Georgetown, but Georgetown showed me that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s totally not a bad thing, because you still have those thirteen buddies who are still really crazy about your music. I think that’s very different from having a mass appeal and having everyone not love you, but just like you.
We’ve had a lot of discussions about the D.C. community in general. It’s very tough to have culture in a city where you need to have almost a six figure salary to live in the city. There’s little room for art. There are some outliers, but I really had my hopes up because I love so much of D.C.’s old music. You don’t really know what’s going on with D.C. until you come here.
Ralph: Yeah, that’s definitely impacted music here a bunch. I went to a talk hosted by the D.C. Punk Library, and Mark Anderson [zealous DC punk activist] was the speaker. He said that back in the day, bands could rent rooms to practice in for a dollar an hour. Now, something like that is insane.
It seems like a big problem in the D.C. music scene is the pricing on everything.
Ralph: At the very least that’s an undercurrent of pressure in the D.C. arts community in general. You literally have to pay to play and pay to create.
Hamidi: That disappoints me a lot. I come from Arizona, which I know is very different, but there they didn’t care about how our music sounded, and we had a practice space for three days a week at a monthly rate of like $200, which is really nothing. Also, if you lived in the suburbs, then you could just practice in the suburbs. It’s such a shame. I think New York in the ‘70s and D.C in the ‘80s were the only places were things weren’t like this in an urban center.
Do you think this struggle is pervasive to everyone involved in D.C.’s music scene?
Hamidi: Don’t get me wrong; we’re super committed to our music. But I see that if you want to have a stable band life, you have to give up everything and have a house with your bandmates. That’s a lot of commitment for someone who’s just starting out. This solution is kind of unattainable to a lot of people here.
Ralph: I think we’ve had a lot of different experiences with different genres. We’re lucky with our sound in that it almost transcends pigeon holes. We could play with all different crowds.
Hamidi: The three of us have very different tastes in music. There is overlap, but the funny thing is that we don’t build on that overlap. I don’t necessarily want to write music that I like. There are so many different preferences out there, so I just try to do things that’s not like any one band, and people might appreciate that.
Ralph: And that’s what contributes to our sound and the positive reception that we get. We played at an Art Gallery with Delarkos, and they have members that were in Government issue, Teen Idles, and D.C. Youth Brigade. People came up to us after that show and told us that our sound reminded them of what they were listening to in the ‘80s in the D.C. hardcore punk scene. I think within the D.C. community, we are welcome and moving around. But we are also welcomed by the fact that we embrace the roots of music in D.C. punk.
Janfaza: When I started Panini Girlfriend I took my own stab at booking shows and got immersed in the scene that way. It’s a small scene, and I do feel that it is limited. The advice that I’ve gotten from other people is to also play outside of D.C. and remember that I’m on the coast with all these great nearby cities with other scenes, like Philly and New York. Granted, people from those other cities say that it’s so hard to get noticed there because there are so many shows, so it can get hyper-competitive. We definitely have a cushion here of feeling like it’s easier to get noticed. One thing that I really like about D.C. is that it has its history. Even though right now it feels a little lukewarm compared to those days, I think it’s really nice to have the general DIY scene support. We’ve had numerous interactions with members of bigger bands like Minor Threat, Fugazi, Messthetics – who even today are still so humble. They really want to be a support system for these “baby bands,” like us. You don’t really get that in a bigger scene like L.A. and NY.
Hamidi: D.C. still definitely has the mentality of “just play music, shut up, and don’t worry about the other stuff.”
Janfaza: In the same way that bands like Minor Threat had to make their own voices as a reaction to hyper-professionalism and the oppressive structures that they were surrounded by, that’s also what fueled a lot of the arts community at Georgetown. That community is how I met Nyle. There is this interaction of people here who are finding their vice as a reaction to being frustrated with Georgetown.
Ralph: I went to American University, and it was hyper-professionalism to the teeth. American didn’t really support the arts itself, so you really had to go digging. That’s what made me so jaded there. There was no student movement for D.C. music. That is what I’ve seen here for as long as I can remember; everyone says that they love music, but nobody is going to the local shows. I didn’t see much else until I met y’all [to Natasha and Nyle]. The Georgetown DIY support culture is awesome. Seeing this support at Georgetown gave me a better viewpoint of D.C. music culture and my expectations have been surpassed. It’s been completely revitalizing to see such support for local music in D.C., even though you do have to go looking for it.
Damerau is a Physics Junior and Editor-in-Chief.
PC: Mahnoor Mukarram