By Lauren Rosier
The Philadelphia-based indie rock quartet, The Districts, are scheduled to release their third full-length record, Popular Manipulations, on August 10th, and it is going to be one of the biggest records in indie rock this summer.
The band’s sophomore effort, A Flourish And A Spoil, ushered the four-piece into the spotlight of prominent music influencers and outlets, which catapulted them into the indie rock scene.
Things have changed a bit for Robby Grote and The Districts since the release of A Flourish And A Spoil 2015. The record made the band a huge name in the Philadelphia music scene and throughout the rest of the world.
“We put that record out two years ago and then spent a ton of time touring. We toured for pretty much nine months. Then we did like the occasional shorter thing here and there over the last year, but for the most part we’ve spent a lot of time just working on music, writing stuff,” Grote explained in a phone interview. “Now we’re just going to turn back up touring again. Making this record [Popular Manipulations] was the second record we were putting out with a label, third in general.”
This second record with Fat Possum gives the quartet a different opportunity. “We kind of have a little bit of a different perspective since we’ve done a lot of touring and stuff like that before,” Grote noted. After forming the band in 2009 in the quaint town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, the band relocated to Philadelphia four years ago. “Circumstantially, I feel like our lives are pretty similar, but we’re doing a lot more of it,” he explained. “The time between touring, we’re doing a lot of recording and writing, and working on new stuff and pushing ourselves.”
With the success of Flourish, once they were ready to get back into the studio, they had to switch gears. “We were all definitely tired, burnt out a little bit, just from being on the road that much,” he began. “We were looking for something in the new stuff that we definitely wanted to satisfy ourselves in a different way.” They had spent so much time playing the songs on Flourish live, that a lot of times they were thinking about they wanted their music to sound, and how they could improve.
In the beginning of the writing and recording process, Grote explained that they definitely “knew from the start” what they wanted to do differently and what they wanted to focus on. “We talked about using restraint differently, trying to accomplish certain parts of things, doing the ‘less is more’ type of thing, while still having loud parts, but relying not solely on volume and intensity [for the music] and lyrically, kind of like a similar thing; slightly different and a little less directly personal.”
If you take a listen to both records, there is a difference in how the details were approached. Popular Manipulations has a bigger, fuller sound than Flourish and that shows in tracks like “If Before I Wake” and “Ordinary Day.” The bigger sound of Popular Manipulations probably has a lot to do with the band’s attention to detail in its production and the arrangements.
The goal was always to “make better songs”, Grote explained. He explained more that they really wanted to “focus on the arrangements to try and make them interesting. I don’t know if we thought of in terms of making it big, but we just thought about a lot of the details on the arrangement.”
After recording Flourish with producer John Congleton, the original plan was to do the entire second record with him, but with scheduling issues, it didn’t work out. “John’s a great producer,” Grote stated. “We were recording demos with our friend, Keith [of Pine Barons], in Philly, and really liked how they sounded, so we ended up self-producing the record,” Grote explained. “Not for any issues with John, just kind of like we were really happy with how that was going, and we had fun doing it. And John mixed the whole thing.”
For Grote and bandmates, Popular Manipulations was a pretty fun record to make. “The biggest challenge or challenges usually are trying to make sure we make everything sound how we want it to and what it’s supposed to be with a new song,” he admitted.
The Districts’ third full-length is due out on 08/11 on Fat Possum and will be performing at Union Transfer in celebration of Popular Manipulations. Tickets are available now.