With a name like Super City, you’d have to imagine that this Baltimore indie pop five-piece would be big fans of their hometown, so who better to take us on a guided tour of the music scene of Maryland’s largest city?
The quintet recently released the video to new single ‘Greek’, which floats on a gentle synth wave, with a big 80s guitar sound, lush vocal harmonies and a slow-burn atmospheric build, its dark undertones seeping out from behind the bright retro guitar pop sheen. It’s backed with a video filmed at Baltimore’s Ottobar, which amidst the posing, indoor-sunglasses wearing and fantastic facial hair also reflects the claustrophobia of the recent lockdowns with the band stuck in a small space, watching the world through a screen.
We asked Super City to share their guide to Baltimore, MD.
What makes Baltimore a special place for music and bands?
There’s space to experiment and grow into something truly unique that you won’t experience anywhere else. You can hear pain and joy in the bands that have been around for a long time. Some of the best sets I’ve heard were from Baltimore bands and they sounded like no one else. Also one of the worst sets I’ve ever heard was here — but even then I really can’t begin to place who it sounded like. Thanks to a website called Baltimore Showplace, it’s really easy to find out who is playing and when. There’s even a big list of bands in case you’re touring and looking for someone to set up a gig with.
Is there a scene or a sound that you would describe as being specific or special to the city?
Baltimore has a lot of scenes with a strong identity, similar to the way there are a lot of neighborhoods in town with a strong identity and culture. I wouldn’t say there is one Baltimore sound — but within whatever genre you’re looking at, there’s a strong local identity and culture (for example Baltimore Club, Baltimore Hip Hop, Wham City, and the experimental warehouse scene of the past).
Give us a quick history lesson – who are some of your favorite Baltimore bands of the past?
All Mighty Senators are legendary, and Landis from that band is still very active today both in the music scene and as a local celebrity. Of course Future Islands, Wye Oak, Beach House, and Dan Deacon are well known even outside of Baltimore which has always been really encouraging. Oxes was great, and the Baltimore Afrobeat Society shows were always a massive dance party. Some of the wildest stuff used to happen in DIY venues where people maybe lived as well — like The Bank, Tarantula Hill, and Coward Shoe. Sometimes you wouldn’t know what you were getting into, but there was some pretty amazing music that happened at places like that.
And who should we be looking out for right now?
There are so many great musicians in Baltimore that I’m sure to leave some out! Off the top of my head there’s John Tyler, who we recently saw playing guitar with rising star Peach Face at a gig. Peach Face just played at Firefly Music Festival, which is great. Abdu Ali has been a big part of the hip hop scene in Station North and has gotten a lot of well deserved attention. Manners Manners is a queer noise pop band that has some Pixies and early REM influences, and their recent EP sounds huge. Bobbi Rush and Josh Stokes appear sometimes together but also have their own solo careers (they fall into the creative R&B category as far as I’m concerned), and Josh sounds great on drums as well.
In that vein, I’ve been enjoying listening to Lefty Bey recently — which is kind of downtempo R&B with some surprises. F City is like high energy funky breaks (Landis who I mentioned before in reference to the All Mighty Senators is part of this band along with Paul Joyce and Lauren Anderson on voice and keys). I’m not sure how Leisure Sport describes themselves but they have some cool indie rock and power pop vibes. Their drummer Michael Habif runs Baltimore Showplace, the website I mentioned earlier. Micah E. Wood has a solo project where he sings over tracks he produces and sometimes plays with a live band. He’s really fun to watch. Santa Librada is a queer/trans led aggressive post-punk band that has been a staple for a long time.
Speaking of punks, Truth Cult plays a lot of gigs and has some nice recordings. Pinkwench is another band who has been doing really well (I was just listening to their Helicopter EP which is really beautiful and loud). Ami Dang plays like psyched out Indian influenced music. It’s hard to describe but definitely something to experience. Amy Reid fronts a live EDM band called Chiffon along with a person named Chase. Will Ryerson is currently playing bass with them, and he’s a really great musician and his own projects are always good as well. Soul Cannon has been around for a long time, and they’re kind of like if a Baltimore rapper fronted a band that sounded like a more progressive Rage Against The Machine. Raindeer is led by our good friend Charlie Hughes. Again, I’m not sure how they’d prefer to describe themselves but to me they’re like really dreamy pop rock. Natural Velvet is a doomy post-rock band with two guitars, bass, and drums.
Some rising stars in the local hip-hop scene that I like include Miss Kam and John Wells. $100 Girlfriend is a gloom pop band with bass guitar and drum machine. There’s a new act called Nightlife that is pretty crushing, and they kind of sound like emo disco to me. Not Charles makes some really consistently good tracks and has a nice Instagram presence. There’s also a hip country band called Crisco Dreams. My favorite artist lately goes by Marceigh, who is just an excellent musician. She plays solo and loops a drum machine followed by bass and guitar or vice versa over the top — but in a very rock and roll way.
Where are your favorite places to play/see bands in the city?
A lot of really creative music happens in Station North — where you can find The Ottobar, Metro Gallery, The Crown, and Joe Squared. These places are where you’re likely to find touring acts supported by local talent. Baltimore also has a top notch jazz scene and a lot of those folks can be heard at Bertha’s, while national jazz artists might come through Keystone Korner (which is actually a transplant from San Francisco with the same owner and same name). That neighborhood, Fell’s Point, is known for going out to bars but in addition to jazz you can sometimes find some really great blues and roots music too. I don’t honestly love parking in that neighborhood, but The 8×10 is a really well equipped venue and treats artists kindly. Baltimore Soundstage is great because everyone is really friendly and professional.
Independent music venues in the UK have been under threat, first from rising costs and developers, and more recently as a result of the pandemic and lockdown – how are your local venues coping?
So far, they’re doing whatever they can and making tough decisions about whether to try to make money or keep people safe. We definitely lost a few venues to the pandemic and there’s no telling what will happen moving forward. I think everybody in the music scene really felt the hit that we took and came together to try and do what they could to keep venues afloat. Something we took for granted went away and it seems like a lot of people realized how important it was to them. As we move forward, I’m definitely seeing some people going out to shows again — although I certainly understand if folks would rather be cautious.
Aside from the bands, who are some of the local heroes working to keep music thriving in Baltimore?
Tecla owns the Ottobar and stepped in when it was for sale and things were really up in the air. She’s been involved there for a long time, so it made a lot of sense for her to be in charge and she’s done great things with it. John Tyler is a younger musician who is making waves — organizing his own music festival, starting a label, and playing some great guitar. Dana Murphy, Todd Monozine and Adam Savage do most of the booking that I’m aware of (which is a really important job that almost always goes unseen and deserves a lot more praise than it gets). We’re lucky to be able to work with some really talented live sound engineers pretty regularly as well. Natasha Tylea, Charlie Hughes (who also has a great band called Raindeer), and Adam Cooke can be found behind the board at most of the venues in town.
Check out Super City’s ‘Love Letter to Baltimore, MD’ Playlist, featuring John Tyler, All Mighty Senators, Peach Face, Abdu Ali, Manners Manners, Bobbi Rush, Josh Stokes, F City, Leisure Sport, Micah E. Wood, Santa Librada, Truth Cult, Pinkwatch, Ami Dang, Chiffon, Soul Cannon, Raindeer, Natural Velvet, Miss Cam, John Wells, Hundred Dollar Girlfriend, Nightlife + Crisco Dreams:
Interview by Paul Maps