When Kelly Servick moved to D.C. in 2013, she struggled to find a comfortable place for herself.
“I was thinking strategically and maybe a little bit cynically about calling a place home,” says Servick, 27. “I was sort of skeptical about D.C. being a place, ultimately, for me to stay.”
It was this experience that inspired the lyrics for “Under the Pines,” one of the first songs her indie-folk trio wrote together.
Servick met guitarist Avy Mallik when they both answered an ad to back a traditional Indian musician at the Kennedy Center. Less than a year later, they formed the band Near Northeast, with Servick on vocals and violin and Austin Blanton on bass.
The trio released its debut album Curios in 2015, and worked with D.C.-based photographer and animator Kip Radt and graphic artist Ashley Blanton — Austin’s sister — to animate a music video for “Under the Pines.”
“A lot of my art includes very solitary, lonely figures,” Ashley Blanton says. “When Kip animated it, all of these misfit characters came together and found this place where they all fit.”
The music video melds realistic symbols and photographs of Northeast D.C. with a fantasy world constructed from Blanton’s artwork. Radt used Blanton’s work to create paper doll parts that he later animated.
The first lines of the song, “I think I’m gonna find a slow train to ride” jumped out at Radt, and he asked his mother to send him his grandfather’s old toy train set for the project. But the group decided on another protagonist: a lonely cloud.
“The cloud is a symbol for us all, wanting to feel loved and belong to something bigger,” Radt says.
Mallik initially wrote the music for “Under the Pines,” drawing influence from the late Takoma Park fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey, as well as Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and bluesmen such as Lead Belly, Son House and Blind Boy Fuller.
But Near Northeast has more unconventional ideas for its next batch of songs.
“We’ve talked a lot about music and shared a lot about music,” says Austin Blanton, 26. “We’ve found some stranger things that we’re interested in that we’d like to explore now” — including Servick’s new electric violin.