Much like other bands from the Washington, D.C. area, Del Cielo — Andrea Lisi (guitar/vocals), Basla Andolsun (bass/vocals) and Katy Otto (drums) — has a strong political bent. Often compared to the Sleater-Kinney (sometimes for more than the obvious reasons), the band, which formed in early 2001, approaches rock music with an eye toward how music affects the community. Or, more specifically, how it can effect social change.
But it doesn’t stop there. Andolsun also plays in Beauty Pill (which is on Dischord’s roster), Otto runs Exotic Fever Records and works at the Empower Program, and Lisi, when she’s not writing lyrics for Del Cielo, has contributed solo songs to benefit projects. The band released its second album, Us Vs. Them, on Virginia-based Lovitt in March (the band’s debut, Wish and Wait, was released on Eyeball in 2003). We caught up with the threesome as they drove through North Carolina’s mountains on the way to their next show and found out about the band’s origins, what they thought about indie rock’s resurgence, and their political leanings.
How did the band first hook up? What were the initial ideas, and how have they changed?
Katy Otto: We met in Richmond, and Basla and Andrea had been playing together for awhile. My old band, Bald Rapunzel, had just ended. We had no plans or whatever — just to write songs and make music we liked. We’ve been together four years.
Andrea Lisi: We want to make millions! [Laughs.]
How do you describe the band members’ demeanor and attitude, and how has that affected Del Cielo?
KO: We all get along very well. We all actively hang out with one another when we’re (not) doing band stuff. We have a lot of fun.
Basla Andolsun: Katy takes charge of the tours and Andrea takes care of the songwriting. I’m just along for the ride. [Laughs.]
You come from a very active area, musically. How has being in the D.C./Richmond area helped or hindered the band?
AL: People in Richmond like to buy beers and not pay for shows.
KO: We have tried playing in venues that are not bars (in Richmond), but it’s tough because people are accustomed to going to shows for free. One awesome thing about living in the D.C. area is having a lot of active bands and supportive friends. When we travel there is a lot of attention paid to the fact that we’re all girls, which is a non-issue when we’re back home.
What was it like working on the new album, Us vs. Them? Was anything different than the first go ’round at putting together an album?
KO: We had another record out so a comparison could be made, plus we had the recording experience already, so we knew what we could do differently. Basla did some singing this time around, too.
BA: Andrea knew exactly what she wanted with her guitars.
KO: Andrea had ideas for vocals parts, which brought Basla into the mix.
There seems to be a big rejuvenation in indie rock right now. Do you agree? What do you attribute it to?
KO: With the Internet, it’s a lot easier to find music.
AL: Labels like Jade Tree and Lovitt have a greater means of mass distribution. Also, a lot of indie bands will get one song on a TV show, and that will expose them to an entire new audience.
How has the tour been going so far? Who’ve you guys played with?
KO: We’ve played with bands like Defiance Ohio, Des_Ark, Bellafea and Pink Razors. Most of the tour has been pretty smooth, but at one point a house show got shut down in Milwaukee. We felt bad because there were a lot of people who had driven to come to it.
AL: One thing that is a little weird is that people stay the same age but we get a little older.
KO: Playing a house show, we’re playing a neighborhood, and (we think about) how it impacts the other people around. Are we playing a positive role in the community, especially if we are playing a show in the middle of the week?
Are the kids that put on these shows proactive?
BA: It depends person to person, but some people are very conscious of their neighbors, and there are some who hang up rude notes from their neighbors as a joke — as if they don’t even care who they affect around them.
Del Cielo seems to have its feet firmly planted in politics. Are your fans receptive to this, and how necessary do you feel this is in a medium that is usually exercised for recreation?
KO: It’s a neat role we can play. There are all different ways people can be active and political and still have songs about personal stuff and relationships. When I was younger I was into bands that were more melodic but were still active politically. Jenny Toomey and Kristen Thompson did this and were able to educate people about the business model of independent music and how to put out records. It’s easy to do things that will (effect) social change. Planned Parenthood, Take Back the Night, Rock for Choice, anti-war events, other women’s issues, as well as other social justice ideas, are all things we’ve been involved with.
Music for America, which is a site that we and some of the other Lovitt bands are involved with, allows the listeners to stay active in the political process even when it’s not an election year. The site talks about issues for debate. It’s little things like this, or Planned Parenthood giving out condoms at shows.