Where does the city of Norfolk rank as far as music scenes go? Can one fairly compare it with Philadelphia? Or New York? What about Charleston? Or closer to home, Richmond? Does it even make sense to try and assign a value to a city based on how much music is happening?
What makes a scene a scene, anyways? Is it the number of local bands thriving within a set of boundaries? The financial well-being of its venues? Whether impresarios are actually able to make a living putting shows on? Or how many people are turning out night after night to catch a band?
Our fair city of the cannonball was recently picked up as a number one spot in the country to live by Travelandleisure.com. While this certainly warmed the hearts of local PR firms, hoteliers, real estate agents, and city governance — those of us who have lived here for a good, long while? We raised an eyebrow at a distinct whiff of horseshit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home. Really and truly. But do I believe we compete musically with the Big Apple or Easy?
Of course we don’t. We barely hold a candle to RVA if we’re being real about it.
Let’s get honest: There is great work being done throughout the whole of the 757 in terms of shows being put on. But the turnout just isn’t what it should be. Not for a city of this size. The where and the why of that is varied. Transient population from the Navy that’s not growing up with our bands and therefore has no connections to the local guitar heroes. An internet age wherein more and more folks try not to go out at all. A changing relationship between audiences and music. Shitty jobs for millennials that mean fewer dollars to spend on tickets, beer, and merch? The list goes on. Norfolk has the seeds of a vibrant scene, but it’s still growing. To pretend otherwise is silly — there were far too many shows this year where promoters lost money with spectacular lineups that blew the roof off.
Which is why it was impressive to see a packed house at Toast this past Friday, for a show that was put together with little fanfare — with two of three bands on the bill playing their first live sets, ever.
What the hell is going on here?
Maybe it was because of the holiday weekend. But I doubt even that would have done the trick without a killer headliner. Ladada has spent the past year steadily building buzz around a unique sound that at times envisions Proto-Punk roots crossed with Surf Rock sensibilities. Add a dash of Rockabilly swagger and you’ve got a band that occupies a space somewhere between the Ventures and the Pixies during their weirder moments, with nods to My Bloody Valentine.
Bandleader Josiah Schlater has obviously picked up some wisdom from the leader of another band he’s been known to kick it with — MAS Y MAS. Ladada employs a blue-collar work ethic in how they’ve approached building a fan base, and it’s paid off in spades here. This show debuted new songs showcasing some tasty chops from both Schlater as well as the the rhythm section of James Robert Smith on bass and Bobby Rangel on drums. Jon Reynolds unassumingly rounds out the sound with quiet workmanship from the back of the room on a second guitar.
This crowd came out amped to hear new music from a band whose live show has exponentially improved with every outing.
AltDaily: When did you guys first form up?
Josiah Schlater: I recorded the first EP by myself back in 2012/2013 and then asked Robert and at that time Calum McPherson-Smith to play around town with me. We did that for a while and released the EP in 2014.
We started playing more rock and roll type stuff around that time and as we began writing for Hi-Five in 2015 (released in 2016.) We were invited to play SXSW and got super inspired from that whole trip. A lot of Hi-Five came from seeing bands like Thee Oh Sees, Heaters, and Babes (NOLA). It was just after recording Hi Five that Calum moved away and Bobby joined on drums. He’s been with us ever since. We added Jon Reynolds on 2nd guitar in 2016 — it was his addition that really triggered the shift into some of the more spacey/arty type stuff that we’ve been working on for the new record.
You’re on a record label — Gold Robot. What’s the relationship like there?
Gold Robot has been awesome for us. They don’t front any money for recording or anything like that, but they do get vinyl produced for us and provide digital distribution. Plus, they worked out a deal with a song placement company. The trip to SX and back in 2015 was 100% funded by placement we had at that time on television with the Flash. Since then we’ve had placements in Shameless, some snowboarding movies, and a couple of indie flicks.
Drunken Piano, a PR company my friend Caitlin runs up in NY, gets us reviews and coverage. When the first EP was released there were a lot of blogs and radio shows from Europe, specifically Portugal and the UK that were covering us
How’s the new record coming along?
We have the instruments from side A completely tracked and edited, drums for side B.. All we need to do now is track the rest of side B, vocals for both sides, and then really get a good mix and master. The new album will be one side rock and roll with the other side being more of the new sound we’ve been experimenting with.
All that is happening through Jacki Paolella’s studio?
Yup! All tracking has been/is being done with Jacki – she’s awesome to work with, great ears and knows exactly what we’re looking for sonically. We’re hopeful that Mark Padgett will agree to do mixing and mastering for us, I love everything he’s worked on and it’d be nice to get new fresh set of ears on the whole thing. Jacki is now working out of his studio in Chesapeake — Earthsound. So it’s likely the two of them will team up to finish the record. Fingers crossed!
While there’s no hard date for the new record to release — I’m looking forward to seeing it hit the shelves next year. Without a doubt, Ladada has taken a firm place in the hierarchy of Norfolk’s music avatars. This is a band that easily holds its own with Demons or True Body.
. . .
The hands-down surprise of the evening was in Broken Beaches’ debut live performance that seemingly came out of nowhere. The group is shockingly tight, with a sound that at times recalls early Seattle (think MotherLoveBone) mixed up with something like Hum — recently re-formed Space-Rock Shoegazers from out of Illinois.
No band has a right to be this good on their first outing. Their music is polished and front-man Saejin Choi comes across as a dynamic lead with star power to spare. I took a few moments to speak with him and get a bit of their story — apparently the group is comprised of members who are all great friends who’ve wanted to play with each other for years. The word is they’re working on recording something. That this area is capable of turning out groups like this with little or no warning is a testament to hope.
If you’re a promoter? Book this band now! I can’t wait to hear them again.
Slow Growl also debuted as a live act as well for this show, playing serviceable mid-aughts Hard Rock with what to my ear is a dash of Social D thrown in for good measure. A good time was had by all.
. . .
In the afterglow of this show, I was left feeling thoughtful about Norfolk’s position as a music hotspot. We’re not the biggest, nor are we the best. But as I wandered in and out of the crowd I couldn’t help but be struck by how many musicians from other bands were in attendance. I’d be sitting on the side of the building smoking a cig, and J Flax walks past. Or I’d be in line to get a beer and see Elliot Malvas with Ana Velez from You’re Jovian. James Wagner from Pain in the Yeahs. The list goes on, but you get my drift. There were folks in the crowd who represent the best Norfolk has to offer, all coming together in solidarity. And the fact is, most of the shows I hit in this town are like this.
This kind of intra-band love is the beating heart of any great scene. A flickering ember that could grow into a raging inferno. But these fine musicians desperately need your support. And as to whether Norfolk ever grows into a true sonic juggernaut?
It all depends on you. The ones reading this. Or more importantly, the ones not reading this. Those not in the know. The bands coming out of this city are as good, if not better, than any in our history. They need you to spread the word. Tell a friend about a show. Better yet?
Bring a friend **to** a show.
Help us set it all on fire.
Ladada Artist Site
Broken Beaches Facebook Page
All photography by Jeff Hewitt. Click here to follow him on Instagram.