For a few short minutes, my interview with local band daMood is cut short when bassist Dan Zboyan — who’s been prepping hot dogs in the kitchen of his home off Rosemont Avenue — runs onto the back patio and beckons us to follow him.
The four of us truck into the kitchen and follow Zboyan’s gaze out the front window. There, nestled under a bush, is a fawn about the size of a fox terrier — so young that white spots are still speckled along its back.
It’s the second deer we’ve seen that evening. Frontman Ricole Barnes already pointed out an older doe walking among the trees out back, shooting us a wary look before running from the house. It’s a common sight at Zboyan’s place, a rustic retreat right on the border of urban and rural Frederick. Since daMood was founded, it’s been something of a sanctuary for its members, the Platonic ideal of a practice space. Removed from the city, but not too far removed. Bucolic, but not too bucolic (you know, you can still get cell signal). There’s a full set of instruments and sound equipment in the basement.
“When I first heard about this, I was like, ‘That is too good to be true,’” Barnes said. “I think why we’re such a tight-knit band is because we have this to come to. A house on the hill. I always say it’s like a safe haven away from all the madness down there.”
Practice at Zboyan’s has been a tradition for the band since they came together about two years ago. Barnes has told the story over and over again, but he’s happy to repeat it: how in February of 2016, he made (local) history by becoming the first hip-hop artist to perform at the Weinberg Center during the Frederick Music Showcase. How the performance was an honor, but also a responsibility, in a way, to forge a path and create the best show possible.
Barnes didn’t want to be a guy on stage with two turntables and a microphone, so he asked some local musicians — artists he’d worked with before — to form a full backing band. Before that first show, they all took a shot of Jim Beam Honey (now a ritual for the band, and the basis for the title of their latest EP), went out, and performed a show that helped define their unique local sound — rock and rap, hip-hop and a little bit of punk, an amalgam of styles and influences borrowed from members of the band.
There are now six, including the original five members — Barnes, Zboyan, guitarist Chris Smith, keyboardist April Reardon, and Ethan Lichtenberger on the horns. In the past few weeks, they’ve also added Thaddeus Achey (or Tad) to replace their original drummer, something that’s required the youngest member of the band to learn 36 original songs from scratch. But that doesn’t bother him. Achey’s been in literally dozens of bands since he first learned to play the hand drums during two childhood years in Venezuela, including a “folk new metal” group after he moved to Maryland. But it was daMood, he said, that helped him realize the type of music he wanted to play.
“It’s like, ‘Let’s hear the Latin drums from Venezuela, let’s hear some new metal,’” Achey said. “I finally feel like I can be appreciated and also give my all to this band.”
The original five members of the band had a similar feeling after their first Weinberg performance. The night after they played, they all went back to Zboyan’s house for a feast, Smith said. He even saved a picture on his phone — fried chicken, coleslaw, cornbread and macaroni and cheese.
“It was like, we have to keep going,” he said. “The camaraderie and the synergy that we had was a real good feeling, real good thing. Like, alright, let’s keep the ball rolling.”
That’s brought the band to their next big venture — the Alive @ 5 show they’re playing tonight at the Carroll Creek amphitheater. In a way, Barnes said, it’s even bigger than the Weinberg. There will be more people there. The set is longer. And while they might not be the first hip-hop act to perform there, “we’re definitely one of the more original acts,” Zboyan said confidently.
That means the band — like they did for the Weinberg show — is thinking big. There will be some covers, Barnes said (“I mean, I know that audience could be 16 to 70. A lot of those folks have never seen a hip-hop show a day in their life.”), but daMood will also play some originals and mashups off their EP. They’ll bring in other local artists, including frequent collaborator Eriq Brown (stage name Bead Gawd), whose pseudonym, he later informed me, stands for “Greatness Achieved With Dreams.”
Later, he and Barnes would practice Brown’s song “Peanut Butter and Jelly and Chopped-Up Strawberries,” a playfully repetitive ode to girls looking like a snack (inspired, Brown said, by a real late-night snack he whipped up one night). The band practiced “Gimme Revolver” and “Make a Wave” and “We’re Up,” all off their EP. But they didn’t play “Frederick Famous,” an earlier song riffing on the band’s local following. In truth, Barnes wants to be bigger than Frederick, and he thinks daMood can make it happen.
“I’d like to take us local, national, international,” he said. “We’re definitely a band of the people.”