Boys start bands in high school. It’s one of the great American clichés. But — every once in awhile — the guys that truly love music end up making a name for themselves, and it’s all because of their dedication to the game.
DC’s most dedicated award in rock music goes to — The Very Small.
Never heard of ‘em? That’s okay. They’re not big yet. They’re not signed to a label. They practice in a make shift rehearsal space in their basement, all while cracking jokes and keeping it real. And — they’re kicking-off their first tour this Thursday at The Rock & Roll Hotel on H Street.
Remember those guys who decided to make a rock band and played every single “battle of the bands” possible back when the captain of the football team ruled the school while dating the head cheerleader? These are those guys.
The Very Small’s history spans 15 years. Drummer Aaron Mann and guitarist/lead singer Robin Smith were neighbors back in their hometown of Olney, Md. and became buds in the 6th grade. Soon after, bassist Will McHenry befriended Mann after sitting next to each other in math class. What a musical match made in heaven — right?
Mann and Smith had been playing their respective instruments since the 8th grade. The only problem? They didn’t have a bassist. So through some cunning conning ability, they coerced McHenry to pick up a bass and start rocking to the greatest hits of the day — Korn, Metallica, and Nirvana.
It wasn’t until 2007 that The Very Small became what we know today.
“I started writing in college,” Smith said. The guys banded together under a unified front to start playing house parties featuring Smith’s tunes. It was shortly there after that they caught the musical jitter bug and took up a semi-residency playing the Grog N’ Tankard (now known as the Gin & Tonic).
Now — they’re going on their first tour, hitting 3 cities with 6 shows in 6 days, making their debut in New York City and Philadelphia.
“It was just a natural progression for us,” Mann said of the band. “We tried organizing a tour after our CD release last spring. We got 98 people at that show and thought ‘We can do this. Let’s do this!’” Sadly, the trigger happy band jumped the gun and a tour didn’t work out — Mann went off to Argentina for 3 months for personal/education reasons, leaving McHenry and Smith to figure out what to do once he returned.
In the meantime, Smith ventured on tour with another local band, Vinny Vegas, as a stand-in keyboardist — which rekindled his deep desire to give touring a chance with The Very Small.
What’s the hardest part of booking? “No one’s heard of you,” Mann said. “Trying to convince people to book you is a Catch-22. We sent maybe 67 e-mails to venues in New York and Philly, only to hear back from 10.” That’s all part of the struggle.
“There’s a standard in playing shows at venues you’ve never played before,” McHenry said about trying to book the tour. “They want you to play as much as you can in order to book you but at the end of the day it’s about business and if you’re not gonna make a venue any money, they won’t give you a slot. It’s as simple as that.”
Lucky for those guys, they’ve already hit the rocker equivalent of rock bottom. While Mann was in Argentina, McHenry and Smith booked an acoustic show at The Velvet Lounge (which they had previously packed for Mann’s “Going Away” show in August). No one showed. They played to the sound guy. But they were right when they said, “You can’t get any worse than zero.”
There’s another woe to mention though — the post-college blues appears to have these 25-year-olds in a transitional phase of life. “Something we’ve noticed amongst our friends and people our age is that people are worried about the smaller social circles. It’s hard to mingle because of work and practicing at night,” McHenry said. “That’s the best part about playing music, we get to meet more people.”
It’s no easy task to spread any musical wings in the DC rock scene. Why? There really isn’t one. With the exception of Minor Threat and Fugazi, the DC rock scene is fairly quiet and quite obscure, according to Mann. “It’s not like New York.”
But that hasn’t conned this trio into calling it quits.
First the tour and then the internet? The Very Small are looking to get those creative juices flowing with a “New Song A Month” feature on their website. Trying to release a new song a month will serve as a base experiment, McHenry said, in order to engage their continually growing fan base.
What’s next on the plate besides the tour? Maintaining their opinionated demeanor in direct opposition of Smith. “Aaron and I are like Mom and Dad fighting over what to do next at the dinner table, in a loving way of course, while Robin wants to be excused from the table to go play Legos.”
Check out The Very Small’s debut music video here:
Catch The Very Small’s tour kick-off show at:
Rock and Roll Hotel
1353 H ST NE
Doors @ 8
12/10@ Rock and Roll Hotel, DC
12/11@ Raven Lounge, Philly
12/12@ Arlene’s Grocery, NYC
12/13@ Goodbye Blue Monday, NYC
12/14@ World Cafe Live!, Philly
12/15@ Tritone, Philly