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Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

Conversation with Alexandria Local Band Hanoi Ragmen

Conversation+with+Alexandria+Local+Band+Hanoi+Ragmen

Sarah Porter

Staff writer

“Hanoi Ragmen, that’s the name!” yelled Max Powell, peering over the mosh pit at a Queens of the Stone Age concert.

“That’s the name!” the rest of the band members cheered in unison. That defining, spur-of-the-moment inspired the official name we know today – Hanoi Ragmen- a memory fond specifically to its members. 

Hanoi Ragmen is an Alexandria-based, six-member band known for its unique sound and rhythmic qualities. Its members include Gabriel Harr on rhythm guitar and vocals, Beck Moniz on bass and vocals, Max Powell on lead guitar and vocals, Nathan Argust on drums, Kostia Howard on tenor saxophone, and Shaan Shuster on keyboard. They are all 2019 graduates of Alexandria City High School (formerly T.C. Williams) and formed the group in 2018 during their time there. The members first met in middle school and were each associated with different musical groups before forming the final conglomeration of today. Though starting as a cover band, the group felt inclined to create their own original works and thus birthed Hanoi Ragmen. 

“We started as a cover band, actually, at [Rock of Ages Music, or ROAM]. It was originally me, Gabe, our bassist Beck, and Carl Berrett on the drums,” clarified Powell. “Very early on we had this idea to start working on originals and Gabe brought some stuff in, I brought some stuff in, and we began building up some songs.” 

“From the first practice, I think we all knew that we really wanted to [create originals],” added Argust “Hanoi Ragmen is the final byproduct of ROAM… we’ve been at ROAM since we were in middle school and we’ve been playing together in different groups. I think this is just the final accumulation.”

Along for the journey was ROAM, or Rock of Ages Music, a Del-Ray-located musical learning academy that focuses on one-on-one learning with students. While developing their music ability at the academy, Hanoi Ragmen’s members’ appreciation for ROAM grew, and they have stayed connected through the years. Currently, a few of the band’s members give back to their community by teaching ROAM students the skills and knowledge they obtained from their years there. 

“The ROAM program is still super important to us. We get to work and teach the bands…[we] grew up with this program and now we get to give back to it a little bit. The students are becoming the teachers,” said Harr. 

“It’s its own life cycle now,” added Powell. 

Musical programs such as ROAM and its respective teachers have helped grow the music scene throughout Alexandria and allow students to discover their musical talents and interests. 

“I feel like it’s becoming a really musical area…Del Ray, Alexandria has this cool music scene now,” said Harr. 

“I hope it grows. The more, the better, honestly,” added Powell. 

Despite staying closely connected to their roots, the members have graduated and attended colleges or work in jobs all over the country, so their ability to play together has grown increasingly difficult. Despite these obstacles, the band aims to hit the ground running each time they reunite from their scattered locations. 

“[We are] dealing with the challenges of all of us being at different schools right now and [the band’s] separation for a while throws everything off. We aren’t able to give it that full commitment we really could with it,” said Argust. 

 “Most of us will come back and we’ll work at ROAM and help them put on shows. Over the summer we played a show with Homesick Locations, a band from the [Alexandria] area. One of the nice things about [reconnecting again] is, whatever version of the Alexandria music scene there is, whenever we come back we’re immediately connected again by just plain making music,” said Howard. 

“We’re just starting to poke our heads outside of the Alexandria scene and we’re already getting a lot of people out to our shows in DC. I know if we had more time together we can really capitalize on that, but, again, just in the situation that we’re in,” said Powell. 

“We do a really good job as soon as we get back in town together just hitting the road running. We’re practicing, we’re recording with everything, but I can’t help but imagine how tight everything would be and how much momentum we could build up if we just had a year uninterrupted, which hopefully is coming soon,” said Harr. 

“Community events do really well with community musicians and that’s who we are and what Alexandria is about,” added Harr. 

In addition to ROAM, the band keeps its connections with the community by partnering with Alexandrian artists. Specifically, the cover of their July 2021 release of “Hollowfoot,” a single off of their upcoming album, The Oldlight, was created by a local artist and featured a street lamp shining against a dark blue and purple-hued background with blackbirds circling it.

The cover of the single “Hollowfoot” was created by local artist Caroline Mitchell, an ACHS alum.

“The album is called The Oldlight. It is a word that refers to the street lamps of your hometown. We wanted to reach out to multiple Alexandria artists and DC-metro area artists in general and each of them has their own interpretation of that. We have an original photo that we took of this specific [street lamp], actually at the Masonic Temple, that sort of served as the template. We were just like drawing something that revolves around a street lamp, and so everyone did their different interpretations of it and Caroline [Mitchell, now AC alum,] did this very beautiful rendition of one that we wanted to use for Hollowfoot and our good friend Kate Sapp, also from Alexandria City High School, did beautiful artwork of the same concept for Hummingbird,” said Harr.

“What I love about [the art] is I feel like they complement the song… the colors match up with the song,” stated Argust.

Hanoi Ragmen prides themselves on not choosing a specific sound, but rather exploring different genres and beats, creating a sound extremely unique to them. However, some of their musical influences include Bruce Springsteen, M83, Queens of the Stone Age, and Peter Gabriel. 

“I feel we pride ourselves in not looking to make a particular kind of music. We all listen to all different kinds of music, all love different kinds of artists. When we have an idea it doesn’t really matter to us what genre or mood it fits into. When we all like it we make it,” said Powell. 

“I think there is a cohesive Hanoi Ragmen sound. The songs vary in genre, but they all have a quality to them that is very much us. It’s big breakdowns, complicated guitar parts, and weird harmony. It’s kind of over-dramatic vocal parts and big harmonies in the background and crazy drums, but there’s a specific Hanoi Ragmen sound, I think it’s not bound by genre. It’s very drum-driven stuff. There’s a real confluence of different tastes and that makes a very specific genre that I’m not sure is easily defined, which is why we just say alt-rock,” said Harr. 

“With the new stuff, you can tell [there is] a big difference [from older music] and a lot of that has to do with [the fact that] music comes from experience. When you make a song, you’re basing it off life and you change and grow throughout life so the music will change with that as well,” said Argust. 

“I think part of it is [that] you start off making music and you release and record what’s good enough. You know, like, this song is good enough to release so let’s put it out on an EP even though they’re not thematically or conceptually connected, but now when we have a little bit more time and experience we can say ‘Hey, let’s make an album that is tonally and conceptually somewhat cohesive,’” said Howard. 

The band hopes to generate a more unified sound in their upcoming album, which they plan to release this summer of 2022. 

“The new album that’s gonna come out next summer, from which three singles were released this summer, has some more cohesive sound than the stuff we released in 2019. I think the songs Hummingbird and Hollowfoot, you can tell there’s a real continuity between the two of them. I think that’s gonna be present throughout much of the album,” said Harr. 

Though their creative side has flourished during their time in Hanoi Ragmen, juggling the business aspect of creating music has proved time-consuming and expensive. 

“The business side of music is just as time-consuming as the creative side and, frankly, we’re all so tired of it and it’s gonna be nice to have some people in our corner fighting for us,” said Harr. 

To aid in this, the band has signed with Alexandria label Baffin Records through which they plan to release their album The Oldlight in the summer of 2022. 

“We get to delegate a lot of responsibility their way, for example, social media management or merchandising, these are things you gotta do as a band, and having someone do that for you, that just allows you [more room to work creatively],” said Argust. 

“The studio time came directly out of our pockets, it’s an expensive thing to do. We really wanted the album to be treated like it deserved to be treated. We felt the songs merited a pretty professional approach and so we basically went bankrupt. We saved money and worked for a long time and we spent it all on this album, which I believe is worth it,” said Harr. 

Overall, Hanoi Ragmen expects a bright future for themselves as they continue to try out new beats and tones as well as grow in both their cohesivity in sound and unification as a band. 

“As we’re getting older, we’re growing up [and] different things are starting to take significant directions. There are three members at this table who are dead set on making this work, absolutely. We’re gonna make more albums and we’re gonna play more shows,” said Harr. 

“[Music] is pretty much all I’ve cared about since I was thirteen,” said Powell. 

Hanoi Ragmen continues to develop and grow as a band while staying connected to their Alexandria roots. They hope to headline the biggest stadiums and gain support from fans across the nation, but most of all, doing what they love best – creating music.

“There’s nothing really [we] would rather be doing,” said Argust.

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Conversation with Alexandria Local Band Hanoi Ragmen