by Kimberly Shires | photos by Soma Chanda
Alchemical Records met up with Sweet Pickles at Inner Ear Recording Studio in Arlington, VA, where the band is currently recording tracks for their debut full-length album targeted for release in Spring 2020. Sweet Pickles is a progressive alternative rock band with a funky sound. The group is hitting the DC scene fast with their first album just one year after forming. The band consists of Derrick Hensley on vocals and guitar, Joaquin Vallejo on drums and backing vocals, and Robert Lee on bass. The trio brings their experience from such diverse musical backgrounds as funk, blues and country.
Sweet Pickles is slated to perform as part of an all-original lineup at Eskimo Bands D.C. Presents the ‘Best of the DMV’ on January 30, 2020 at Jammin Java. https://www.jamminjava.com/e/eskimo-bands-d-c-presents-best-of-the-dmv-84736901353/ At the event, Sweet Pickles will share the stage with Big Like Bear, Red Medicine, Owl Pack, Dad Legs and The House You Grew Up In. The following night, Sweet Pickles will play at a U street favorite, Exiles Bar D.C. LINK
Sweet Pickles recently opened for the popular 90’s bands Sponge and The Nixons on the inaugural show of their current “Blue Collar” tour at the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC.
The band joined Alchemical Records in the lounge at Inner Ear Studios, a mainstay in the DMV for the last 25 years that has recorded most of DC’s punk and alternative bands such as Foo Fighters, Minor Threat, Rites Of Spring, Fugazi, The Dismemberment Plan, Q & Not U, Black Eyes, and many others. The chat started off with some great puns on the band’s name, such as Sweet Pickles is “your bread and butter” and they are “kind of a big dill.” Boom Ching!
Derrick has played music his whole life, but being a musician was not always his full-time gig. A few years ago, he moved to the DC area from the mountains of West Virginia, where he was working as a psychologist. Derrick made the move to accept a job working with developmentally different children as a Behavioral Specialist, primarily specializing on autism-spectral disorders.
Derrick quickly realized that DC had the infrastructure for a thriving music scene that he always missed growing up in Appalachia. Ultimately, he saw the opportunity to make a living as a musician in the DC area. Derrick set his intent to create his reality. He says, “I was trying to put together my dream band,” and he found two incredibly talented and professional musicians, Rob and Joaquin, to join him.
Joaquin reflects on the DC scene and adds, “I think it’s a very welcoming scene to newcomers. I think that reflects the personality of DC being such a transient city…It has organically allowed for [this] scene to emerge. I think a lot has to do with hubs that unite people.” One of these hubs is where all three guys have played with other musicians; 7 Drum City, a.k.a. 7DC.
7DC is making great strides to build a sustainable and vibrant scene for musicians in the DC area by hosting Flash Band events, availing rehearsal spaces, and providing learning opportunities. 7DC also recently opened a new venue, The Pocket, which regularly features local artists. Rob chimes in, “That’s a huge thing that’s new in the city.”
Soma Chanda, the band’s manager, adds, “With so many historical music venues closing down, such as Gypsy Sally’s where Sweet Pickles had the honor of playing the venue’s last Halloween, it’s nice to see that people are still heavily investing in keeping the music scene going.”
Joaquin continues, “They’ve done a great job at bringing people together…Dozens, if not more, of bands have met at 7DC or through that network. I think that’s pretty unique and I have not witnessed that in other cities.”
Rob adds, “It used to be in order to stick around [the DMV scene], you had to be a cover band. That’s what was getting the crowds. But now, there is more of an emphasis on what is the original music scene, and a lot of the clubs are open to that.” He continues, “DC does have a culture that existed before everybody was coming in. It was DC, mumbo sauce and go-go, and the punk scene was here. We are talking about it changing, but there was also a past.”
Derricks says, “There is a bright future to be excited about.” Derrick continues to describe the upcoming album saying it will look into “seeking perspective and raising consciousness to transport the listener to a new plane of understanding – how music brings us to a higher level of reality by overcoming obstacles” which really plays into the band’s name. Derrick grins, “Well life is full of problems, wouldn’t you agree?”
Soma speaks up, “Little pickles.”
Derrick laughs and continues, “I believe we can make them all good problems. We’ll probably name the album that, ‘Sweet Pickles: Good Problems.’”
When asked who writes the songs, Derrick says with a smile, “I’ve got time on my hands and creativity I cannot escape.” He believes that moving from psychology to music and songwriting is a logical progression, stating, “Often the thing that brings musicians to their instrument and to art, is the same thing that takes us to a psychologist – the thing you connect with in order to deliver the therapy is the same thing you connect with to make a song. music therapy.” Derrick continues, “That therapeutic method can’t get any more basic than sound.”
Derrick has not completely left his counseling roots in the past. He continues to advocate for individuals with mental health issues, but through a new platform. Derrick says, “I am happy about the work I have done, and I believe people can use all of the help we can give them as a society. I certainly feel a responsibility to do what I can do to not only bring awareness to the cause but resources to different organizations and to participate academically when the opportunity presents itself.” Derrick continues, “This band is a vehicle to produce art and affect change in the world in a way that’s important.” He concludes, “All of my life has been spent serving, and I still have that attitude as a musician.”
Rob quickly adds with a wink, “I just play the bass.”
These three guys bring everything they have to the stage, the studio, and to life. Rob recently finished his PhD in electrical engineering and dedicates his new-found time to music. Joaquin has a Master’s in International Environmental Policy, which supports his belief in Amazon rainforest conservancy. Outside of their day jobs, most of their time is spent playing, watching or creating music, although Joaquin does enjoy hiking and going to the theater. Derrick helps on a side project with DMV Productions, a local videography company, who just completed a short film called SOMA. The film won best producer and best theatrical poster from 48 Hour Film Festival DC, which ran out of the AFI in Silver Spring, MD.
Derrick continues, “We are the kind of band that leaves Easter eggs while on the journey to tap into the logos of music and contribute to the living tree of rock and roll.” Be on the hunt for these “eggs.” You never know when they will turn up.
Until then, be sure to check these guys out at Jammin Java on January 30th and Exiles on January 31st. There are great things to come!
Kimberly Shires is a native of the DC Metropolitan area. Kimberly is a freelance writer, music degree holder, road bike warrior, songwriter, corporate ladder climber, and a Subaru driving nature enthusiast.