The Districts ‘manipulate’ sound onstage and off


Courtesy Pooneh Ghana

The Districts ‘manipulate’ sound onstage and off

By Miranda Manier

The Districts’ Popular Manipulations, released in August, explores isolation and abandonment in mostly self-produced songs that include emotional vocals paired with powerful, weighty guitar riffs. 

Indie rock band The Districts was formed in 2009, when its members were still in high school, and the group has since released an EP and three full-length albums. The Districts’ music is at times heavy and sometimes melodic, with lead singer and guitarist Rob Grote’s voice taking fans with him as he laments, reflects and—most importantly—rocks. The Districts will play at The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Dec. 9. 

The Chronicle spoke to Grote about the production process, themes featured in Popular Manipulations and his musical influences.

THE CHRONICLE: Why did you explore darker emotional themes like isolation in Popular Manipulations

ROB GROTE: Personally, a relationship had ended, and I had a few other forms of loss happening in life around the time, and also, a lot of people I knew were going through a lot of weird things. So it was definitely fresh on the mind. Another thing that drove a lot of the theme, too, was we had all talked about [how] people in this day and age are more aware of gender roles and dynamics of power in the world. We started thinking and talking a lot about popular music [and how] the language in it is very possessive and not what you would want to guide a relationship. 

Why did you combine heavier lyrical themes with a dynamic, energetic musical sound? 

In all of our music, we try and find the little kernel of truth with the emotion of it. Even with some of those ideas, we’re always trying to push things toward a cathartic moment. That was part of it, and then there’s also [that] when we play live, we’re a pretty loud band, and that’s something we didn’t always capture on the recordings. The energy of playing a show [and] putting that on a record has always been a weird thing. More than anything, we weren’t thinking about it this time. We’d thought about it before and grappled with it, and this time, we just wanted to make as interesting recordings as we could. 

Why did you decide to produce most of the songs on Popular Manipulations yourselves? 

The original plan was to do the whole [album] with [producer] John Congleton, who we did the last record with. So we did 10 days with him in [Los Angeles]. We were [also] working on stuff at home a lot.

In the meantime, we were recording a lot of demos at home with one of our best friends, Keith, who’s a really good [sound] engineer, [as well as] on our own. Then, we went into a studio in [Philadelphia] just because we had been working on stuff for a while and wanted to change it up. From that session, we made [the songs] “Ordinary Day,” “Violet” and “If Before I Wake” and started “Salt” and one other that wasn’t on the album. When we finished them, we were like, “We like how these sound with just us doing it.” It was a nice confidence boost.