Ugly Purple Sweater is a indie-pop-folk group based in DC. Founded by Sam McCormally (vocals, guitar, & more) and Rachel Lord (vocals, banjo, melodica, & more) in 2008, the band now includes Will McKindley-Ward on electric guitar, Rishi Chakrabarty on bass, and Mike Tasevoli on drums. Ugly Purple Sweater mixes mesmerizing guitar and banjo (and a bunch of other instruments) with beautiful soaring vocal melodies and dulcet harmonies. Their songs often blend darkness with light, minor keys and longing juxtaposed with a bright beat and jubilant vocals. Singer Sam Cormally’s clarion voice has a purity and depth at times reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright. Check out the video for their song “DC USA“, the title track from their brand new EP. Ugly Purple Sweater celebrates the release of said EP, DC USA at Black Cat this Saturday, January 12th, along with Kingsley Flood and Kindlewood!
This week We Love DC’s Alexia Kauffman had a chance to ask Sam McCormally some questions, and here’s what he had to say.
Alexia: How did you first start playing music?
Sam: I personally started playing and writing music when I was really little. I remember when I was about 8 starting to write songs, but having literally no idea how the music I heard on the radio was made. I had a little cassette tape boombox (remember that?) with a microphone, and I would set it up on top of my bureau and record myself singing and strumming guitar. I had a fantasy that I would slip the tape into my friend’s older sister’s tape player so she’d think it was the radio, and that way I could tell what she really thought of it.
Ugly Purple Sweater started 2008, when I surreptitiously intercepted an invitation for one of my other bands to play at a Barack Obama fundraiser. I had been writing some songs and posting them on MySpace (remember that?), and I thought it’d be fun to try them out. Rachel sat in on a couple of songs with me, and those were by far the most popular, so we started playing together all the time.
Alexia: What song or artist or album first made you fall in love with rock music?
Sam: Will (who plays electric guitar in the band) says his first rock and roll love was Jimi Hendrix. I wish I were as cool as that. My first exposure to pop music (and I’m using the “big tent” meaning of the phrase) were my dad’s Simon and Garfunkel tapes. But the first record I ever got excited about all by myself was TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool. I loved that album so much that I actually recited, in front of my entire 4th glad class, the rap in the middle of “Waterfalls.” I still kinda like that song, but needless to say it was not a canonical performance.
Alexia: There’s an eclectic mix of instruments in Ugly Purple Sweater- what can people expect to see onstage instrument-wise, and also what can people expect out of a UPS performance?
Sam: Rachel and I change instruments a fair amount; acoustic guitar, electric guitar, some old-school keyboard sounds (organ and Fender Rhodes and the like). Rachel plays banjo, and occasionally busts out the melodica, which is sort of like the right hand of an accordion, except that instead of squeezing the bellows together, you blow through a little tube. It makes you look like the Cheshire Cat sucking on an opium pipe. Will plays electric guitar, including a fair amount of slide. Mike plays the drums, and Rishi plays the bass guitar. Everything we do on the records we do live, pretty much, except for some hand claps and feet stomping. We’re limited by the total number of appendages we were born with. What should people expect at an Ugly Purple Sweater show? A lot of perspiring, a lot of dynamic changes, and lots of solid song endings.
Alexia: You have a brand new EP, DC USA. Can you tell us a little about making this record- and about the title?
Sam: DC USA is the name of the shopping mall in Columbia Heights. I used to go the gym there on the top floor, and whenever I’d get done working out, I’d be kind of delirious, and as I would walk down the stairs, I’d pass the Target and the Best Buy and I’d always feel this compulsive urge to buy something. As in, “We probably need some cookies, I’ll pick some up.” And at some point it occurred to me how really strange it was to have this feeling in a mall built on what had previously mostly been a rubble field that had stood vacant since the riots after Martin Luther King was assassinated. (I gather that part of the property had been a field where people played soccer, too.) And isn’t it so strange that there’s this bland and corporate shopping mall, a place with absolutely no connection to DC’s history or culture, sitting on this sad and important piece of history? And it’s not like I’m saying that the mall shouldn’t be there. But I wanted to write a song that captured my ambivalence.
We really took our time with these songs, and gave them all a lot of loving attention. We tried to be more relaxed and open to inspiration in the studio. Rishi (who plays bass) came up with a motto for the session, “Lay Back and Vibe,” which Will abbreviated to LB&V and put on a sign in the control room window in the studio. I think it helped, actually, if only because we found it endlessly funny.
Alexia: What’s on the horizon for UPS?
Sam: We’ve got a few out-of-town shows on the calendar coming up, and more coming down the pipe. I think we’re going to try and release another full-length in September or so; there’s a big crop of songs that I’d like to put out. The new songs are all a little dancier and weirder that previous efforts. We’re going to play a couple of them at our release show at the Black Cat on Saturday.
Ugly Purple Sweater (EP release party)
w/ Kingsley Flood (album release party)
Saturday, January 12th