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Traveling with The North Country

D.C.’s experimental pop band has two late-October local gigs

Give a listen to the new single “The Invisible Hand” from D.C.’s own The North Country, and see what comes to mind.  Its influences are many, including—to my ears—1980s New Wave and Radiohead.  But Andrew Grossman, the band’s frontman, would rather its DNA be apparent to the ear of the listener rather than strictly defined by its songwriter. 

“It’s funny the stuff that people said they hear in that song,” Grossman said.  “And it’s all been stuff that I’ve listened to and liked, but maybe wasn’t explicitly thinking about when I was writing it and when we were recording the whole thing.   

“It wasn’t deliberate, but I’m sure it filtered down and came out somehow.” 

The North Country band sits together outside in front of a red photo backdrop. A wooden table in front of the band displays yellow and white flowers.
The North Country - Photo courtesy of Mike Kimchi.

Indeed, The North Country is making a name for itself in the capital area with its experimental soundscape.  The group, which will be playing DC9 on Oct. 26, entails Grossman and five other musicians.  Grossman met drummer Kirk Kubicek when they both studied at the University of Maryland’s arts scholar program.  Many of the rest of the group met at our city’s dearly departed Bathtub Republic—where Grossman also lived for a time.   

“Bathtub was kind of like a hub,” he said.  “I met [The North Country members] Jon Harmon and Laurel [Halsey] at shows that we put on at Bathtub Republic, and we just started hanging out and playing music together.” 

The North Country’s most recent album was 2022’s “Born at the Right Time (Exquisite Corpse)” for Misra Records.  During covid lockdowns, the band members tossed ideas and audio files back and forth over the internet, with the six musicians collectively refining those early sparks until they felt the songs were ready.  This could at least partly explain the eclectic nature of the final product. 

“Everyone sent it to one other person in the band, who added to it,” Grossman said.  “So we had six ideas developing.  No one knew what the whole thing was until the very end.  That was a really fun and exciting process.” 

When The North Country was finally able to be in the same room again, this distance-writing approach made the band better collective writers.  Grossman said that “The Invisible Hand” came about in a similar way, with him starting out the melody and Kubicek adding drums in the studio.   

“Then we started going around to everyone in the band, and everyone [took] some time coming up with a part to layer on to the recording,” he said.  “So a little more in-person but [still] similar process.” 

Among Grossman’s first musical experiences of his own was taking up the alto saxophone in 4th grade.  He chose that instrument, he added with a laugh, “because Lisa Simpson played the saxophone.”  Then at 13 he received a guitar as a bar mitzvah present.  There was no looking back. 

The North Country performing on stage together at Songbyrd in 2023.
The North Country - Photo courtesy of Mike Kimchi.

In addition to fronting The North Country, Grossman maintains his day job as a private music instructor.    

“I feel like everyone I know who is doing music in some capacity is juggling a handful of hustles,” he said of the pursuit of his passion—and the pursuit of bills chasing him in turn.  “Every collection of hustles is a little bit different.”   

As evidence, he shares that Caroline Polachek recently posted on Instagram that her own touring guitarist was seeking to take on new students as well for those non-road times.   

“That kind of sums up right there what the state of being a professional musician is like,” Grossman said.  “You know, we all kind of make it work.” 

Grossman says he truly enjoys teaching and helping young musicians find both their voice and their fingering on the fretboards.  In addition, if a student asks for Grossman’s help learning a song that he himself doesn’t know, this forces the musician to learn it himself before he can teach it in turn.  Ironically, this teacher-as-student model keeps up Grossman’s own chops.   

“I’m a better musician because I’m constantly doing it,” he said.  “Whereas if I wasn’t, I don’t know that I’d be practicing scales or teaching the way that I am now.”   

Of the D.C.-area music scene, Grossman is nothing but enthusiastic.  Not only is it incredibly rich in terms of talent and diversity of sound, but it is evidence of the “go-get-em attitude” that is baked into the DNA of the nation’s capital city.    

“D.C. I think, generally speaking, is a place that people come to do something,” Grossman said—as true for musicians as those working on the Hill. “It’s a lot of very ambitious people, and I think that kind of shows up in the music scene.  There’s a lot of really great musical traditions based in D.C. of punk and go-go and hip-hop.  And it’s home. 

“North Country doesn’t typically fall in any of those categories, but I definitely feel like my songwriting has been influenced by a lot of the music that is around here—if not aesthetically then in the ethos.” 

The North Country wow the crowd at Songbyrd in 2023.
The North Country - Photo courtesy of Mike Kimchi.

Running in musical circles occasionally has benefits beyond the paid gig and some exposure.  Grossman relates meeting Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz from Counting Crows when Grossman’s friend Seán Barna was on the same bill.   

“You build up this thing in your mind and [then] you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just a dude,’” Grossman said of meeting Duritz, of whose work he was a longtime fan.  

In addition to the joy of music, there is no question it also has the power to ask some difficult questions and hopefully aid in the healing process.  Accordingly, Grossman sends his thoughts of peace and love to the people of Palestine and Israel amid the horrific fighting there that is ongoing.  He hopes a peaceful resolution might somehow still be possible.     

“I take a lot of pride in writing about things that I really care about and making music about things that are important to me,” he said.  “So I just want to make a statement on behalf of the band of radical empathy and peace and love.   

“Playing music is a lot of fun, but it’s also a catharsis—and it’s healing.” 

In addition to playing DC9 on Oct. 26, North Country will follow that up with a gig in Philadelphia the following night before heading back south to the Camel in Richmond Oct. 29.  It’s only a mini-tour, but Grossman looks forward to the rewards that the road has to offer.   

“One of the cool things I like about playing with everyone in The North Country is we all get along well,” he said.  “We all enjoy spending time with each other, so touring is like you’re in a van with all your good friends—and then you go play music,” he said.  “What could be better?” 

The North Country will be playing DC9 on Oct. 26 and the Camel in Richmond Oct. 29. For tickets, and to learn more about the band, visit https://www.thenorthcountrymusic.com/ 

Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.

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