Petticoat Tearoom, a band comprised of Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C., natives, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Smokey Jo's, 1324 W. Fourth St. The Sun-Gazette recently caught up with Tomas Motta, the band's songwriter, to talk about inspirations, cocktails and hitting the East coast on their upcoming tour.
BETHANY WIEGAND: Facebook says you're interested in cocktails. What's your favorite?
TOMAS MOTTA: It'll be whiskey for me. The other guys enjoy it as well, if I remember correctly. I'm not into sweet liquors much, but I will have a rum on occasion. I mean, I'm Puerto Rican, so it's almost mandatory. I think the gents like gin as well.
Petticoat Tearoom, a band comprised of Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C., natives will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Smokey Jo’s, 1324 W. Fourth St.
BW: Do you like dive bars or clubs better? (Not just to play at, but to enjoy a beverage at.)
TM: Dive bars to drink and clubs to play. I say that because venues with great sound systems make our job a lot easier. We don't have to bring entire PAs with us and monitors and the nine. If we're touring, then that sometimes means renting out equipment, which cuts into any profit we might perhaps make. We all have day jobs, so I aim for a 'breaking even' approach, but you know that helps. But there are dives with great sound systems and that is great as well.
Plus, a place with a great sound system is just pleasing to us and the audience if you're a solid band. And places with great sound systems attract good bands and therefore build their own following in whatever particular town. People know that they'll see really quality groups if they go there.
BW: What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you on stage. Anything that included crazy girls throwing their bras at you?
TM: I can't recall anything too crazy. We are very focused on stage getting zapped by that puzzle-spiritual feeling I was mentioning earlier. I'm pretty involved with our sound and energy, so examining the crowd doesn't happen too often. We definitely do that afterwards when we can talk to folks and get them copies of our record.
We definitely hear people scream some wild things here and there, women and men alike. We're a groove band and people dance a lot when we play, so there have been some funny scenes with people taking clothes off and whatnot. And we had one guy come onstage and pass out. He apparently really liked the monitor mix. But venue employees usually head those things off at the pass, so a lot of it we're unaware of.
BW: Who are the current members of the band and what instruments do they play? Are you all from the D.C. area?
TM: At the upcoming Williamsport show, we'll have John Twiford on bass-vocals, Ryan Fisher on electric guitar, myself on acoustic guitar-vocals-harmonica, Steve Fisher on organ-piano-harmonica and Rob Jamieson on drums. We all reside in the DC-Baltimore metropolitan area. Out of the five, only one of us lives in DC. The rest live in Baltimore.
BW: Did all of you have a background in music? What type of music influenced you when you were younger?
TM: Yes, to some degree we've all had some experience with music prior to playing professionally. I studied the trumpet in middle school. I was getting really into Arturo Sandoval at the time. My second year in high school I picked up the guitar because I wanted to sing and play at the same time. I started writing songs pretty quickly and formed a ska band. At the time, I was living in Puerto Rico and we were all into reggae, ska and house music.
Steve studied sound engineering in college for a bit. He has been in tons of bands. The same goes for Rob Jamieson and John Twiford, who was singing in college a capella groups and rock groups. Ryan was also playing guitar in college, taking jazz classes and jamming with people.
BW: Of course, I'm going to ask how did you come up with the name, Petticoat Tearoom?
TM: It was from a tea shop in Baltimore called Southern Harmony Accent & The Petticoat Tea Room. I went out for some drinks in Fells Point one summer evening and saw their sign. I remember there was a fat, full moon and it was outrageously windy, so the sign was blowing about. It looked like it was about to detach from its hinge.
The place looked abandoned. I think they went out of business. I'm not sure. I had never been there before, but I liked the name.
BW: Your music has a very authentic quality to it. What do you think of musicians today using computers and autotune to make music? Is that something you would ever consider doing with your music?
TM: Autotune has been used as an actual instrument in some cases and that's all fine and dandy. But with the stuff I do - folk tunes - I'm of the ethos where if you don't hit the note, then you keep singing until you do. This is, of course, studio-wise. If you can't sing live either, then don't sing until you learn how. And that's all about putting the time in and feeling compelled to do what you're doing.
I also believe the voice is an incredibly unique instrument. No one has the same voice. It's just like fingerprints. And whether you sing joyously or with frustration, there really is nothing like listening to a really interesting voice.
Now, people are using autotune on other instruments too. For me personally, if you aren't recording a 25-piece orchestra, then you should be able to play until you hit the money take. Joanna Newsom used autotune on Ys, but only on some instruments in a couple of occasions and you'd never be able to find it listening to the record. So, it's almost a pointless debate. But we put the time in and nix the computer programs.
For more information about Petticoat Tearoom, find the group on Facebook.