Falls Church City, Virginia, is one of many safe suburban blankets covering the area around Washington D.C. The kind of place where you can still leave your door unlocked, but find more colors in the small size Crayon box than by looking out your window.
New luxury condos and glossy city buildings increasingly replace once quirky local main street establishments, sacrificing a sense of place for the comforts of upper-middle-class complacency. If we had a “Bridge to Terabithia,” our Economic Development Committee would have rerouted the stream, buried the bridge, and built a Whole Foods on top of it long ago.
Creating music became an antidote to this reality. Without music as an ally to access the sensation of deep connection, I may have run away. Had I not been able to generate passion internally by writing a love song, or composing a score that evokes the sound of autumn leaves falling on the brittle November grass, I would have been tempted to leave this place I call home.
Thankfully, I discovered much of the connection I longed for by instead traveling across the keys of a piano and sharing that journey within and beyond my community.
I still remember rounding the corner with my brother in our townhouse basement and nearly crashing into the surprise of a dusty brown Kingsbury piano. Ethereal light from the upper windows cast a halo over the warped wood; this inaugural encounter felt like fate. Raised on John Carney movies, becoming a musician was my version of the astronaut fantasy. At six years old, I saw the piano as my spaceship.
Playing piano transformed the quotidian into something worth examining more closely. Through song, the barrier between reality and my imagination loosened, and I emerged lucid in a fantasy world. I envisioned lost histories and secret passageways hidden beneath my city’s facade, and dramas unfolding behind the curtains of plain brick houses.
But over time, I needed more. Music as an escape eventually made me feel lonelier. I played the piano with the door locked. I would sing only when my parents were out of the house. The spell I cast with my piano and guitar seemed paper-thin, easily broken by a call for “dinner” or a question about homework. I needed to strengthen the world I’d cultivated by opening it up to others.
Start a band.
As a junior, this vision took up residence in my head. I could redefine my world with a small cadre of fellow dreamers.
And boy, did it need redefining. As high school morphed into Pre-College, an ordained life track swallowed my closet friends. Gone- it seemed- were the student film-makers and dancers, replaced by overextended stress automatons who began most interactions with “what did you get on…” But before I could start a band, I needed more dreamers.
Natalie Ingalls, an old stage-mate from my community theater years who also grew up in the Falls Church suburbs, came to mind immediately. Natalie has a breathtaking voice and contagious idealism that is reflected in her lyrics and pairs well with my more cynical tendencies. Just one session together, and we knew we had stories to tell.
I reconfigured my room with borrowed microphones, installed cables to connect my computer to audio interfaces and digital audio workstations. I researched mixing vocal parts on Logic, and even how to start a jam session off on a good note. With the help of Ella Pearlman-Chang, an artist and photographer with an excellent ear for music production, we began crafting an identity as a group.
Expanding the band into an outfit capable of performing live and producing large-scale compositions was next. After hosting a series of jam-session, we brought in Kaia Ellis, who infuses her lyrics and guitar-playing with innocent romance. Kaia’s confident upper range matched perfectly with Natalie’s whiskey-smooth mezzo-soprano.
We named our band “Indigo Boulevard,” to evoke a dream-like sense of escape and got busy releasing our first single. I reached out to producers at the music studio where I intern about streaming sites like Itunes and Spotify and found a distribution site that gave artists the opportunity to make money off of their tracks. We registered as a “verified” band on Spotify and Apple Music and placed our song on all streaming platforms. Soon Spotify’s algorithmic playlists picked up our song and we shot past our listener goals to over 1500 a month.
The next month, we released “In the Moment,” to capitalize on our first single’s popularity. It, too, featured prominently on algorithmic playlists and increased our listener count.
The next step was building a fan base amidst the community we wrote our songs for and about, so we worked on promotional material and began developing our greatest project yet: Cloud Noise.
“Cloud Noise” was conceived as a 16-minute escape from the tethered nature of life in Falls Church. It reflects how bright-eyed romance is an accessible, familiar vehicle for transcending a predictable suburban community. Fan feedback on “Saccharine” and “In the Moment” suggested our music was an antidote to the mapped out day-to-day life in our region. We tried to capitalize on this initial effect for “Cloud Noise.”
Getting the EP’s compositional aspects right was one of the greatest challenges. Recording layered acoustic-analog music using sparse equipment in a bedroom for six songs required patience, innovation, and meticulous editing and mixing.
I employed two mics- a $100 condenser and an old vocal dynamic- and five acoustic instruments to record dozens of tracks per song. This required significant experimentation, as these mics are traditionally used for low-frequency sounds and vocal recordings respectively. The Logic Pro suite of mixing/equalizing tools helped me adapt the mics for guitar, piano, bass, and cymbal recordings.
Following the blood sweat and tears that went into recording and producing our final six-song product, we organized a promotional blitz during the release weekend. We ramped up our social media presence, acquiring nearly three hundred Instagram followers, and designed a professional quality album cover for the EP, courtesy of Ella, our photographer, advisor, and image-maker.
Art is often considered a “repository of a society’s collective memory.” Art can capture what it feels like to exist in one place at one time. When we began the journey of moving from the private creative outlet of music-making to forming a band, we were fueled by a desire to transcend what felt like a limited artistic and cultural environment. The creative process in itself though is unpredictable. Our initially unforgiving commentary gave way to unexpected appreciation for aspects of our community that artistic truth-telling would not permit us to write-off and twist to fit our early judgment.
While “Saccharine” is no “Penny Lane,” I am humbled to think that our songs, and maybe someday our band itself, may contribute to the layers that eventually accumulate to imbue a place with its own unique character. The outpouring of praise and tens of thousands of streams within Falls Church City is undeniably rewarding. Hearing from local fans that my music “made Falls Church feel like home,” or “added a new color to the city,” suggests that Indigo Boulevard’s music resonates.
The best part is, we’ve only just begun. We will be releasing a music video in a month, designed by a group of Falls Church filmmakers who identified with our message and sought to amplify it. This spring we will tour throughout local venues accompanied by our newest addition, drummer Daisy Forbes, culminating in several benefit concerts.
As our music has evolved, I see that authenticity is inescapably derived from creating out of what we know best.
Multi-instrumentalist for Indigo Boulevard