Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, December 15, 2018

NAH. problems, no worries

D.C. psych rock band makes it mark after moving in together

NAH. is making effective headway in the D.C. metro area—in particular, the indie rock scene—carving their own lane and taking control of the psychedelic rock genre.

Brendan Ra Tyler, Stephen Rodriguez, Kristina Westernik, Ian Dandridge and Emma Bleker, all members of the band, come from a musical background, and each of them has put considerable time and energy into their particular instrument.

Tyler and Westernik formed the band initially.

“Originally, it was me and Kristina [Westernik] really,” Tyler said. “And she was like, ‘I want to record you.’ And I said, ‘Kristina you play violin, you should play on the song also.”

In the beginning, the band switched around their lineup a couple times, with different guitarists and keyboardists. Westerink would sometimes leave, or sometimes Brendan would leave.

The group finally started to solidify their first identity with the addition of Dandridge.

“One day we were kind of jamming in Kristina’s house,” Rodriguez said, “Obviously, Ian and Kristina were dating at the time, and Ian was in another band at the time. We didn’t want to seem like we were taking him from the other band. He’s a busy person and we knew he was an amazing guitarist. We were reluctant to ask him, just because he’s so busy and he was with another band.”

However, Dandridge had familiarity with the other group members, so it wasn’t awkward, or uncomfortable to join the band.

“It wasn’t hard because we all knew each other. We weren’t strangers, we were all friends,” Dandridge said.

And then the band added another member, their last member, Bleker, the young lady with the silky, smooth voice.

“It was all just organic,” Westernik said. “It just felt right to ask Emma to be a part of this. We consider it NAH. 3.0. Like we had NAH. 1.0 with the original lineup. Then NAH. 2.0. And with Emma, NAH. 3.0.”

Not only has the band’s line up changed over time, but their style of music has changed as well. Dandridge said NAH. “went from acoustic folk, to blues Rock, to psych Rock,” or, as Rodriguez described it, “very unique psych rock.”

And as their music evolved, the band eventually found a home in the D.C. area. “ I didn’t have a place to play drums,” Rodriguez said. “It took a lot of convincing. And as time went on and I couldn’t practice my instruments, I wanted to look for a place.”

Each of these musicians have played, practiced and performed music since a very early age. And each of them discovered their own unique instrument. For Tyler it’s his bass guitar. When he was in high school, he was a part of a jazz ensemble with his classmates and friends. “Whenever I would play the bass, on those jazz standards or the meters, it just felt comfortable. I felt very comfortable there,” Tyler said.

Tyler’s favorite band is Pink Floyd and he also adores Tame Impala. Tyler’s best friend Stephen Rodriguez is the drummer in NAH. He has a sensitive ear for groovy drum patterns.

Rodriguez is a very friendly and gracious person, which lends to his role in the band as a listener.

“I think listening is the most important thing,” Rodriguez said. “Listening in general, I mean, there’s so many aspects to listening. But it’s the most important thing always.”

As a listener, Rodriguez knows when to add in his drumming skills, because he waits patiently and vibes off his friends and bandmates, and tries to find pockets of space where he can slip in and make his own impression.

“And I try to use dynamics,” he said. “Sometimes I’m silent, and sometimes I’m loud as I can possibly be. I try to add and build and complement to what the band is doing.”

Kristina Westernik plays dual instruments: the violin and the synthesizer. Westernik said with every song, she hopes to “cultivate a sound, and a tone that’s kind of like the base or foundation for the rest of the music, and for the rest of the songwriting.” Westernik has only been playing for a little less than a year.

Westernik’s fiancé Ian Dandridge is probably the most easygoing and kind person in the D.C. music scene. Dandridge is the lead guitarist for NAH. and also the band Pleasure Train. He’s a human with zen-like focus while he’s shredding the guitar, taking only small moments to sip on a beer, before he crafts mysterious, yet poignant melodies via his rifts.

“I like playing some music, drinking some beers, having a good time,” Dandridge said.

And finally, the last, but also one of the most integral pieces to the band, is Emma Bleker. She’s been interested in music since high school, but this is the first time she’s been a lead vocalist. In addition to singing with a voice like butter sliding down a knife, Bleker is a poet who’s been published widely in places like Thought Catalog and Rising Phoenix Press.

“Music is just another avenue for poetry. When they meet in the middle, some pretty cool stuff can happen,” Bleker said.

NAH. has an extensive musical background, but more than that, they have strong potential to make a lasting impression on the psych rock scene, partly because the rare familiarity and love between the bandmates is palpable in any room.

After the band settled their respective roles in the group, they spent months practicing their music together. And then, they found the opportunity to work with Don Zientara, a local record producer.

“That guy is a D.C. legend,” Rodriguez said. “He’s just a good dude. He’s not just good at what he does, he’s good at being a human.”

When the band worked with Zientara, he gave them help and support. Zientara has helped to connect them to different people of influence, giving them avenues which they didn’t have previously. Furthermore, he’s a brilliant person on all levels and their teacher.

“He’s the D.C. music daddy,” Rodriguez said.

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