Poppy Patica's Peter Hartmann was born and raised in Washington, D.C. -the capital of the “free” world, home to go-go, Fugazi, Bad Brains, Dischord records, basically the whole of modern hardcore - it’s hard not to be moved (even those of us who consider ourselves too jaded to say it publicly), by the sheer amount of legacy the city’s stewed in. Then - and you should’ve been there - in the late ‘10s, after the boom-and-bust cycle of the city’s home-grown genres, a new post-hardcore indie rock scene burst like a mushroom cloud. For those around for its scores of house venues and five-band show bills, it felt a little bit like mayhem, a little bit like a renaissance. The bands upcoming album is named in honor of legendary DC club Black Cat and the band took the time to shed light on their musical roots in DC:
How did the band form?
I started Poppy Patica in 2014 as a solo project but have had many different friends step in to perform and record with me since then. I would tour solo and sometimes get friends together in New York and Oakland to play with me live. I recorded with Owen Wuerker at his home studio in D.C. and he became an essential part of the studio sound of the band. I then had a live version of the band with Vishal Narang (Airhead DC) on bass and Dan Howard (Swings) on drums. Later when both of them moved to New York, I asked AJ Thawley (Dove Lady) to play drums. I also did many solo tours during this time with just a guitar and a drum machine, riding buses up and down the East coast and once or twice across the country. I left DC to travel and work remotely for most of 2018 and when I got back, I connected with Nikhil Rao (Bottled Up) after we had met at some house shows in DC. He offered to play drums with me. I then asked Jeremy Ray (Dove Lady), who I also met at house shows in D.C., to play bass, and my friend Chloe to play keys and sing. This version of the band performed together for a year, before recording the album Black Cat Back Stage to capture the sound of that lineup, just weeks before the pandemic hit. Right before it did, I moved to California and am still here living in Oakland. I plan to stay out here and get a new lineup for the band together.
What are your previous musical projects? How'd you first get into music?
Growing up, my dad had a large music collection and would sing, play piano and write songs. He would teach me how to sing Beatles harmonies with him when I was a little kid. I took up guitar lessons at a local music shop in D.C. A friend in middle school asked me to join his band playing bass, so I taught myself how to play bass. Then I started a band in high school called The Boom Orangutangs. We played at Fort Reno and at other venues in D.C. who would book all ages shows. I also played in Sinta started by Taylor Mulitz (Flasher). While I was at college at Oberlin, I helped form a band called Peaks. We actually just got back together in 2021 for the first time in 7 years to record some new songs. Also during college, I would play in the band Dinosawh when I was home in DC during summers. I started Poppy Patica as a solo project, playing guitar and drums with my feet, because everyone in Peaks was moving to different cities after graduating. When I got back to D.C. after college, I started recording the first real Poppy Patica release with Owen Wuerker. Then Owen asked me to join the band Bless that he played drums in, so I joined playing guitar (links to press and bandcamp).
First concert that you ever went to?
The first big concert I went to was Prince with my dad at the MCI Center in D.C. in 2004. I also grew up going to the free concerts at Fort Reno in D.C. up the street from where I grew up. The free concert series there has been going on since 1968.
Can you explain what your writing process is like?
It differs from song to song, but usually the song ideas that I like enough to keep come when I kind of zone out. The more I try to force an idea, the less I like what comes out. I need to kind of lose myself enough to let the ideas worth keeping come out. That usually comes in the form of a chord progression and a vocal melody, which I usually write simultaneously. I forget who said this, but I kind of subscribe to the idea that the best way to write a song is to "get out of the way." I'm working it out by ear and almost never write anything down. Usually there are some vague or abstract vocal sounds and I use that as a blueprint to map on real words. For me it's more about the melody and the rhythm than the lyrics, but writing words that mean something and can be understood has become more important to me recently. I like to play with sounds though and have words and meaning be ambiguous and open to interpretation. When I first started trying to learn songs on guitar by ear, I noticed that a lot of songs use the same few chord progressions. I became interested in trying to write songs that differ from these standard progressions but kind of disguise themselves as classic progressions. It's fun to try to change keys and get back to the original key without making a big deal out of it. Most people won't notice but they still feel it and hopefully will like that it's a little bit different. I like to try to do the same thing with rhythm sometimes too. It's kind of like weird music for normal people and normal music for weird people. I think everyone is a little bit of both.
What other artists or songs inspire your music?
It was tough to narrow it down to 10 songs on a playlist, but I decided to leave off some of the big, classic influences that maybe people are already familiar with, and instead include some smaller and more local acts who have inspired me. I could have included Elliott Smith, Animal Collective, Nirvana, Guided By Voices, The Replacements, Bob Dylan, Arthur Russell, etc., but instead decided to include some DC artists and the musical projects of friends who have influenced me. I tried to choose songs that felt like they had specifically influenced the sound on the new album, Black Cat Back Stage.
What's the live experience like and your philosophy on playing live? Do you think the music live should be identical to the recorded version or should it be its own thing?
I think it depends. Sometimes I love to hear a band play a song just like the recording, but I also love when bands change it up and do something different. It's cool to hear faster and louder live versions of quieter, slower recordings, or vice versa. I do that sometimes. Sometimes, the live version sounds pretty similar to the recording. Sometimes the live version changes over time. Sometimes I play songs solo acoustic, sometimes solo electric, sometimes with a drum machine, and sometimes with a small band arrangement and sometimes with a full band. There should be no rules for this as far as I'm concerned. I think as musicians, we should never stop being curious about the possibilities and be open to exploring new ways to perform a song.
What has your touring experience been, best shows? Worst shows?
I used to do solo tours by public bus and I really enjoyed that. I would bring a mixer, a drum machine, and a travel electric guitar, and take the bus south from D.C. to play in Richmond, Durham, Atlanta, and New Orleans. I also did a lot of trips up to Philly and New York. Sometimes, I'd keep going north and play in Boston, Providence, Western Mass, Burlington, and Montreal. For a few years, I would also come out to California and play in LA and Oakland. The solo bus tour days were fun, but the novelty of the solitude and long rides eventually wore off. I did a mid-Atlantic/Northeastern tour with my friends in the band Market one time. Most recently, I did a tour with most of the full band from this upcoming record in the fall of 2019. We did a midwestern route through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. I would really love to put a new live band together in Oakland, but I'm still pretty new out here, and finding the right people who are also available to tour is tough.
I'm going to do another short solo tour for the album release of Black Cat Back Stage this May. I'll be joined by my friend Tom who performs as Broken Every Angle. We'll play in DC at the Cool Ranch on May 12 and in Brooklyn on May 19th at The Owl Music Parlor. The rest of the shows are still in the works, but the plan is to add Philly and Baltimore shows to the route. It will be my first time touring since before the pandemic.
One of my favorite Poppy Patica shows was when we played at the Black Cat Backstage. As far as I know, it was the very last live show ever held in that space before it was converted into retail space. I'm glad that the Black Cat Mainstage is still standing, but it was really sad to see the Backstage space go. It was one of the last spots in the neighborhood I still liked to hang out at, and one of the best small rooms for lesser-known local and touring acts. We played on the Backstage a few days before the space closed for good with Fireroast (members of Palberta) and Cool People. I had played there before with other bands, but had wanted to play there with Poppy Patica before the space was gone. We made it in the nick of time and put a fun bill together. The show fell between Christmas and New Years so lots of friends who were back in town for the holidays came out. A lot of the songs we played that night were about a rapidly changing D.C. so it felt fitting for the final show on that stage.
What's up next for the band?
After this album comes out, I'm going to do a short tour in May on the East coast. After that, I hope to get a live band together in Oakland, California where I live now. I also have a couple other releases in the works. One is kind of an EP called Sea Wrack that I recorded with Paco Cathcart (The Cradle) and the other is a full length album I'm working on with Nate Mendelsohn (Market) and Dan Howard. Both of them were recorded in Brooklyn, NY and are still in the works. I'm excited to get Black Cat Back Stage out! It will be my first vinyl release. Also it was recorded in 2020 and many of the songs were written years before that, so I'm glad it will finally be out in the world.