The New Waltz Brigade EP Proves D.C.’s Indie-Folk Scene Is Alive And Well

By Morgan Fecto

D.C. chamber-folk ensemble Waltz Brigade just released its debut EP, "Slow Mountain."
D.C. chamber-folk ensemble Waltz Brigade just released its debut EP, "Slow Mountain." Rob Byers

When recording its debut EP, Slow Mountain, Mount Pleasant chamber-folk band Waltz Brigade achieved its sound by default as much as it did by design.

“We had an oboe, so we wrote a part for the oboe,” says Mark Betancourt, the group’s guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter. “For us, the sounds really came out of the instruments we happened to play.”

waltz-brigade-slow-mountainThe serendipity didn’t end there. When Waltz Brigade recorded the EP’s title track at Asparagus Media in Takoma Park, Maryland, it got an unexpected assist from a guest percussionist.

“At some point there was a Kenyan band playing next door, and the drummer saw the congas and asked, ‘Do you need someone to play those?’” Betancourt says. “He sat down and listened to a few seconds of the track then went to town. At the end of ‘Slow Mountain’ you can hear him wailing away on the congas.”

“Slow Mountain” (listen to it below) went on to become a highlight on the band’s EP, with its sprawling bass and subdued vocals standing out among more straightforward ditties. Betancourt says that’s what made it a tough but gratifying song to finish.

“It’s the intricacy. It’s much grander than the other songs, and I just love the interplay of all the different parts and how they create a single feeling,” Betancourt says.

Waltz Brigade started when Betancourt and collaborators Jocelyn Frank (oboe) and Emily Weidner (violin) realized they needed a full band to flesh out Betancourt’s songs. They began to recruit friends, like bassist Art von Lehe, who wound up helping write “Slow Mountain.”

“I started playing guitar and [von Lehe] started playing crazy, sliding bass and we laughed about it,” Betancourt says. “I came back to it and wrote a whole arrangement around that with this Beatles-y mouth trumpet sound as the horn effect.”

Then there’s the slightly askew piano accompaniment, an intriguing touch that comes courtesy of pianist and accordionist Nancy Ku.

“It was entirely hers, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the song,” Betancourt says.

When the band formally premiered the Slow Mountain EP March 14 at von Lehe’s house — also known as the Apiary — it felt like the community effort the band has been from the beginning.

“We filled it with as many people as we could fill it with,” Betancourt says of the show. “It was a really wonderful celebration of the bands, but also of our friendships.”

Now, Waltz Brigade might end as quietly as the EP does. Betancourt says the band was more interested in crafting a quality EP than racking up critical acclaim. Its members plan to return to their own musical projects, which for Betancourt includes a solo album.

“We never came at this thinking, ‘Let’s be a band,’” Betancourt says. “It was just a project for fun.”