On Debut Album, Lilac Daze Chooses ’90s Influences Carefully

By Joe Warminsky

Lilac Daze is Evan Braswell, left, Patti Kotrady and Matt Henry.
Lilac Daze is Evan Braswell, left, Patti Kotrady and Matt Henry. Courtesy of the artist

Despite the ubiquity of graybeard reunion tours, not every ’90s indie/punk trope is worth perpetuating. So it’s wise for a canon-embracing band of 20-somethings like Maryland’s Lilac Daze to put a metaphorical filter on every sound. The trio’s approach? Energizing and/or engaging = Aw Yeah. Indulgent and/or pompous = Hell No.

The Frederick band’s eponymous full-length album, out Friday on New Jersey’s Black Numbers label, is the result of four years of shows and self-released EPs. Their woodshedding tends to be purposeful and ongoing, agree drummer/singer Matt Henry and guitarist/singer Evan Braswell. It helps that they’ve known each other for most of their lives and developed the kind of brotherly bond that keeps the sensibility intact.

“We’re all pretty picky — because we’re all such music-history nerds — about what we want out of the sound of the record,” Braswell says.

The 10-song Lilac Daze crackles with life: Songs such as “Shark Bait,” “Glow In The Dark” and “So Confused” have the kind of immediacy associated with Superchunk, Jawbreaker, Velocity Girl and other acts that sprung from edgy punk scenes but had broader sonic ambitions.

Lilac Daze isn’t coy about its primary reference points — Green Day, for example, gets repeated shoutouts on the band’s bio page. Henry says that for him in particular, the ’90s thing was baked-in.

“My mom loved to call into radio contests. She always won all sorts of CDs and videos … and my dad’s a huge music fan as well,” Henry says. “Even though I was like, in third grade, my mom was like, ‘Hey, I won this Weezer CD’ or ‘I won this Smashing Pumpkins CD.’ I kind of had all that stuff embedded in my brain, even at that young age.”

The band’s third member, bassist/singer Patti Kotrady, wasn’t an old friend, but she was a catalyst: Henry and Braswell met her at shows around D.C. and Maryland, and Lilac Daze essentially formed around her in late 2012 as she learned to play bass and write songs.

“At first, it was a little hard to fit into their musical process since they’ve done it together for so long … but Evan and Matt were great about making sure I had equal input when we first started,” Kotrady says.

A lot of Lilac Daze is about relationships, but the storytelling tends to be oblique. Kotrady’s “Lonely Eyes,” for instance, has a sensuous edge (“Thigh to thigh, hand in hand, I passively listened to your plans”), but it’s a collection of scenes more than anything else.

“Ultimately, it’s about being in a tough situation and reaching out for others’ company when that isn’t what’s best for you,” says Kotrady. “So you end up being with people who don’t really care about you, or vice versa.”

“Wrought Iron Fence,” by Braswell, is about wandering around a church alone and drunk — “realizing I still don’t know what I want out of that aspect in my life,” he says, noting that he wasn’t raised with religion. And Henry, the group’s only married member, credits “Jack O’ Lanterns” to finding proper perspective on childhood memories.

“This sounds so cheesy, but when I started dating Nicole, who’s now my wife, it was like, ‘OK, this is actually the time of my life,” Henry says. “Like, right now is the best time.”

And for now, all three members say the band’s interpersonal dynamic is fruitful. If there’s any tension, Braswell says, it’s because he and Henry “kind of act like little kids most of the time.” It’s not unusual for Kotrady to get the last word.

“One time we were in the car on a really long drive, and my feet smelled so bad that she made me pull over to buy new shoes,” Henry says. “We didn’t really get in an argument. I was just like, ‘OK, my feet smell really bad.'”

Lilac Daze plays an album release show Oct. 14 at the East Street Arts Center in Frederick, Md. The band also opens for La Sera on Oct. 20 at Songbyrd in D.C.