The Districts are going from strength to strength, but like in all good stories, the highs are offset by some significant lows. Having carved out a formidable name for themselves with early self-produced releases, the Pennsylvania rockers had signed with Fat Possum and were enjoying a tour stop in St. Louis when their van was stolen, along with cash and all their equipment.
It was a devastating setback for the guys, and though it would not be long before their most successful release to date, A Flourish And A Spoil, would take them to even greater heights, their self-esteem inevitably suffered a significant hit. Bass player Connor Jacobus reflects on the band’s evolution from a Pennsylvanian high school to playing the international touring circuit.
“We definitely all had a strong connection to our gear. The bass I had stolen was actually my brother’s first bass, and he’d handed it down to me, so it definitely had sentimental value. We all had strong connections to those instruments and amps. But I guess what we really learned from it all,” Jacobus laughs sadly, “is to just be more careful about where you park in the city. We made sure we fit in good new locks and got one of those clubs to lock the steering wheel. It’s sad, but we learned you have to be more careful about how we handle these sort of things.
“Plus, it really did a number on the finances. We were in the middle of touring, so the band we were touring with lent us their instruments, so we had to make do with that. But it actually turned out to be a weirdly fun experience, in a way. Having to make do on our own, catching this Greyhound bus from Ohio to Pittsburgh, which is a terrible drive but was still an interesting time. You think of it as a learning experience, I guess. But it is a bit of a blow to your self-esteem. It makes you think about your safety in the city, things like that.”
Stealing can indeed be a crippling act of scumbaggery, and is sadly a legitimate concern for touring musicians; Australian acts King Of The North and Maia Jelavic have also suffered van thefts, and the financial blow notwithstanding, it makes the anonymity of cities that much less appealing than the open country between gigs. The Districts now reside in Philadelphia, but growing up in Lititz – a small town in Lancaster County – ensured a sense of suburban appreciation and a fondness for open air that translates into their music.
“Growing up there definitely affected our sound,” says Jacobus. “Not many bands are from the Lancaster area, but just growing up in that environment definitely influenced a lot of the music that we play. Being close to Philly, a lot of bands that we respect came from there, so that’s part of the reason why we wanted to move there. Kurt Vile, stuff like that. Even I guess subconsciously it affects you, you don’t even really realise it. It just happens because you can’t really help it – all these experiences get into your music somehow without even noticing it sometimes. It definitely influences our sound.”
A further advantage to this is the sense of history the band members share. With the exception of Pat Cassidy, guitarist since founding member Mark Larson left in 2014, they’ve all been friends since their school days. After the release of two EPs – Kitchen Sounds and While You Were In Honesdale – was followed in quick succession by their debut album, Telephone, The Districts found the learning experience of joining a label a refreshing surprise.
“In the beginning, we were just recording with friends in Lancaster, putting whatever songs we had at the time down and then releasing on the internet. And once you get signed, there are a lot more checks and balances you need to go through. We recorded most of the songs for A Flourish And A Spoil in Philadelphia first, and sent them through to the label. But they wanted to see if there would be any difference if we put them through a producer, so we got John Congleton and recorded the same songs all over again. He was able to look at them more objectively and take out some of the unnecessary stuff. We learnt a lot from him. Plus, it’s nice to have a label that’s supportive of what you do, and see what you’re trying to go for as a band.”
On the heels of some rave live reviews from festivals like Governors Ball and Glastonbury, The Districts are flying in for Splendour to demonstrate just what all the fuss has been about. Jacobus is sure that local audiences will be blown away.
“I haven’t really checked anyone on the lineup yet. I’ve been wanting to see Viet Cong for a while, so I’d really like to catch them [Ed. – they aren’t actually playing Splendour]. We usually just check out who’s playing once we get there. But festival sets are usually shorter, so we try to play maybe more upbeat songs. If we play during the day it might be a less intimate setting, so we try to keep upbeat songs to try and catch people’s attention more. But otherwise, it’s pretty much the same. You’ll definitely be seeing exactly who we are.”