David Combs, known to many by his onstage moniker “Spoonboy,” has been involved with D.C.’s DIY scene for the past 14 years. Combs is recognized for his friendliness and common connection between fans on social media, including answering questions about everything from music to self-help on his Tumblr page. He’s also released many works under his pop-punk group, The Max Levine Ensemble as well as a “cross-coastal pop-punk project” under the name SOMNIA. Spoonboy is Combs’ project that translates into a full rock band—very similar to the concept of Evan Weiss’ Into It. Over It. project. I had the chance to speak with Combs before his show tonight at the Rocketship.
DC Music Download: Spoonboy isn’t only you, but you were the founder, correct?
David Combs: Yep. Spoonboy is me. Me is Spoonboy, though Spoonboy is also a band. It’s one of those singer-songwriter to indie rock band and back mighty-morphin’ transformers.
DCMD: How did you get involved with music and how important is it in your life? How long have you been a musician?
DC: My mom was a songwriter and I’ve been around that creative process pretty much my entire life. I started playing guitar when I was 12 and then joined a few bands when I was 17; I’m 31 [now]. It’s my whole life, really.
DCMD: You recently released an LP with Colour Me Wednesday–how did the LP split come about?
DC: I met Colour Me Wednesday on tour in the U.K. two summers ago and we hit it off. I agreed to take them on tour in the U.S. this past summer, and since we both had some recordings we were working on, we decided to join forces for the LP.
DCMD: Out of all the work you’ve written and released, what do you feel is your biggest accomplishment (so far)?
DC: Like anyone, I’m always excited about the newest thing I’m working on. What feels like my biggest accomplishment, though, is that people have written to tell me that my songs have helped them in hard times. Without question, that’s the most important payoff. To know that the things that I write to get through my hard times have a positive impact on others, particularly when I hear from queer and trans* kids who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities, or folks struggling with mental health—to know that I’ve helped in some way. That feels like an accomplishment.
DCMD: Do you have any other occupation(s) or is Spoonboy a full-time project for you?
DC: No. I’d love to be able to do music in a financially sustainable way, but I’m still hustling. For example, you can find me on Thursday nights at Food For Thought Cafe in the Black Cat from 8pm-11pm where I’m making all of your favorite Spoonboy specials, including the internationally renowned GOZANGA FRIES.
DCMD: What are you excited to be working on now?
DC: A lot of stuff! Some friends and I started a song-a-day club where we’re all trying to record something every day in October, or as close to that as possible. My pop-punk band that I’ve been in since high school, The Max Levine Ensemble, is getting very close to finishing our first LP in like seven years. I have a cross coastal pop punk project with some friends in Olympia, Washington called SOMNIA that’s going to finish recording a record in December. I’ve got some new Spoonboy stuff I’m working on, as well as music videos in the works, and I’ve been teaching myself how to use midi software and messing around with that stuff lately. Feeling good.
DCMD: How would you compare and contrast Spoonboy to your other musical projects?
DC: The main difference is that even though I do a lot of songwriting in those bands, to different degrees they are much more about a collaborative musical process with the other members of the bands. Bepstein, Nick and I have been playing music together in the Max Levine Ensemble for over ten years, so there’s something of a particular chemistry there, and SOMNIA was started as a songwriting collaboration between me and my friend Erica Freas, who also plays solo and in RVIVR. Spoonboy songs, on the other hand, are generally going to be songs that I could play by myself, and when I do play with other people the lineup is more fluid. Aesthetically, the songs tend to lean a little quieter and more introspective as well, though not always.
DCMD: Can you tell me more about the forthcoming Max Levine Ensemble album and what people can expect from it?
DC: A lot of the songs we have been working on and playing for years and years, and some of them we’ve never played before. The songs are kind of grouped together around themes of security, surveillance, police repression and paranoia. A lot of it comes out of experiences I’ve had being involved with protest organizing, but not strictly that. Those themes are pretty broadly applicable. We’ve taken a long time recording it, mostly just because of big gaps in peoples’ schedules, but I think it’s going to sound pretty good.
DCMD: There seems to be an interesting focus on punk right now (the library’s announcement of the D.C. Punk Archive, Salad Days, Punk the Capital documentaries). In what ways do you think the genre will evolve or grow in D.C.?
DC: I think the way that punk will evolve and grow in D.C. will have more to do with bigger shifts that are happening in the city and in music than with any of the more backward-focused punk documentation that’s happening. Don’t get me wrong, I think all of those projects are really great and I have supported and helped with a couple of them, but there has always been a good bit of documentation about the D.C. punk scene from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
I started going to shows in the late ‘90s and even then I was inspired by and did a good deal of reading about things I hadn’t been old enough to have been a part of, like the Riot grrrl scene or early D.C. hardcore. I’m glad for there to be new resources, but I think the music scene here will be much more affected by the way housing prices have been skyrocketing for many years, who can afford to live here, where people are spending their money, what kind of housing and businesses are being opened to accommodate D.C.’s current population and what kind of spaces are being closed off to make room.
It’s not an easy city to live in if your primary occupation is making art. And I mean, the way people consume and relate to music has been changing rapidly too as new technologies have made making music more accessible. Also, new technologies have mediated the availability of music in different ways that we see affecting the way people relate to live music as well. What that will look like, I’m not really sure—but it’s interesting to observe.
DCMD: What’s going down at The Rocketship tonight?
DC: There will be a rockin’ house show. I’m playing with at least a little bit of accompaniment. Radiator Hospital from Philadelphia is playing and they’re just so terrific. Joyride from California is playing and they just put out this killer new record! And offbeat indie locals BRNDA will be kicking things off. It should be really fun.