The Districts' Rob Grote on Making A Flourish and a Spoil

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The Districts' Rob Grote on Making <i>A Flourish and a Spoil</i>

It’s fitting that the only thing that can stop The Districts is their instruments.

Twice in St. Louis, the band has had their van stolen and all their gear lost. The second time, the band finished their dates with equipment borrowed from fellow Pennsylvanians, Dr. Dog. When they flew to make their new album, A Flourish and a Spoil, released Tuesday on Fat Possum Records, the airline lost all their guitars, and the band lost a day of recording before they could be found.

When singer and guitarist Rob Grote answers his phone, he sounds amicable, relaxed, not at all worried about the band making its national television debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers in a few short hours. He’s more concerned with having me hear him clearly, his speaking voice much quieter and reserved than his scathing gravel growl of a singing voice. His only competition over the line is wailing, passing New York City ambulances, and when they pass, he says, “Shit. I’m sorry.”

The Pennsylvania quartet are embarking on a national tour following the performance, beginning with a few sold-out shows in Lancaster and Philadelphia. The former is the band’s hometown, and the latter is their current home. In many ways, A Spoil and a Flourish is the sonic representation of the distance between the two, and the things found and lost along the way. At times a straightforward brand of folk blues and other times pure garage punk, the ten-song set captures the band on the cusp of something profound, an honest secret lingering in the repeated line of “Young Blood”:

“It’s a long way down from the top to the bottom
It’s a long way back to a high from where I am”

From the Late Night studio yesterday, Grote talked about the new album, about capturing their live energy on tape, their national television debut, and about what he’s reading while on the road.

A Flourish and A Spoil was released Tuesday by Fat Possum Records. Where did you guys record it, and how long were you in the studio?

We recorded at Seedy Underbelly. There was a swimming pool and shit. It was nice—it was a pretty small town in the middle of Minnesota and it was secluded in the woods. It was definitely a really good environment for making a record because there weren’t any distractions. We had pretty limited time to record the album. We were supposed to have 10 days but the airline lost all of our guitars, so we ended up having nine days. It limited us to recording until we got them. But it was a blast. [Producer] John Congleton was an awesome dude. We had a lot of similar tastes creatively, and it definitely was a good match working with him.

How did you ensure that this album would maintain your frenetic live energy?
We record at least the basic track live, at least one guitar, bass, and drums. We try to capture dynamics in the band as it is, so trying to accentuate those, make the quiet parts quieter and make the loud parts louder. Because when you’re listening to a record you don’t actually get to see people moving more in the loud parts, so just trying to simulate that feeling is the goal.

How does the songwriting process generally work: music first and then words? Collectively working out a tune?

I’ll usually come to the guys with a basically formed thing, where it will have most of the lyrics written and the basic structure or idea on acoustic guitar. It kind of changes: Sometimes lyrics come first, sometimes the music. That’s not always predictable—that changes a lot. But we take this most basic form of the song, the acoustic version, and together turn it into a real song. We figure out how the dynamics will be, and add the different parts that make it more than just a scrap idea.

What bands or musicians inspired your sound on this album?

Energy wise, we’ve always really liked punk-rock bands. From the energy aspect, we are definitely influenced by that, trying to capture something raw and energetic.

What was happening with the band at that time that these songs were written?

A year before we recorded the album, when we first moved to Philly, we started writing a lot of the songs. We also lost our original guitar player—he moved back home and went back to school. Stuff like that was pretty important in helping to create the themes on it. There are a lot of ideas about change. Dealing with those changes in general, trying to find something that’s beautiful. Even though it’s kind of a sad album overall, it’s more about trying to overcome those things.

Tell me about the origins of the album’s title. Were there other options for a title?
As we started making the record we started calling out the themes throughout the songs were. The biggest ones were kind of the ideas of things changing and losing innocence. From that, for some reason during the recording sessions, I was reminded of “A Bushel and A Peck,” a Doris Day song that my mom sang as a lullaby. “A Flourish and A Spoil” is kind of a play on that, more relating to the themes on the album.

Where does that opening line of “Peaches” come from? “I don’t want to hear about the peaches in the Vatican.”

[Drummer] Braden [Lawrence] said something one time, and I tend to mishear people all the time, and I misheard him and thought he said that. I thought it was a very weird, kind of powerful-sounding line. That one kind of came out of a surreal misinterpretation, and inspired most of the song from that.