[Originally appeared in Bandwidth, Jan 15, 2015]
About a minute into “Lighter Fluid,” the first song on Makeshift Shelters’ new EP Overflowing, the band’s punk roots reveal themselves. Rumbling bass and rolling drums give way to a head-nodding pace that’s everywhere in modern punk. It feels like a fuse is lit, and the song could explode at any moment.
In February, the songs on Overflowing will also appear on Makeshift Shelters’ debut LP, Something So Personal, a collection of songs that have been under construction since Virginia natives Boissonnault, Andrew Clark and Phil Edfors began playing together in 2013. The EP’s three tunes foretell an LP that could bring much bigger things for the band, which formed with the stated goal of playing genteel music.But by the time frontwoman Ella Boissonnault belts out the song’s anthemic chorus, everything changes again, and it becomes clear: For all its punk leanings, Makeshift Shelters trades exclusively in pop songs. They’re big, bright tunes so jammed with hooks and anthems, they threaten to thrust the band beyond the D.C. indie scene that it — at least for now — calls home.
“I got a call from Phil,” says Clark, who plays guitar. “He said, ‘I hate heavy music. Let’s start a chill band.’”
Both Clark and Edfors cut their teeth in the local punk scene. Their new drummer, Nate Patsfall — who joined in late 2014 after a previous member quit — has a penchant for grindcore. Punk is in their blood. But it felt like time for a change.
Their idea was to start an airy slowcore band like Codeine. They hijacked the name Makeshift Shelters from a droney Gregor Samsa song. But the budding ensemble’s songs weren’t turning out droney. They were louder and faster than what they intended, and Edfors says he couldn’t sing. It dawned on them: “We need someone who is actually good at music to do this with us,” the bassist says.
Boissonnault came from a different musical world: Her parents guided her towards piano lessons, and classical music eventually became the backdrop to her aspiring dance career. By the time Boissonnault was performing in public, she tended to play more coffee shops than DIY spaces.
“From the very beginning, we wanted to do the band correctly with the purpose of being able to get it to as many people as possible and have it be sustainable.” — Makeshift Shelters’ Andrew Clark
But Makeshift Shelters began in a DIY space. Clark and Edfors approached Boissonnault at a basement show after she played a solo set under the moniker Ella Sophia, and after a couple of drinks, Edfors and Clark jovially suggested they all start a band together. When they did, they quickly started to drift from their slowcore aspirations.
Clark says Makeshift Shelters has been called emo before. That almost makes sense; all of its recordings — including its first EP, released last year — have been affiliated with Broken World Media, the label run by Derrick Shanholtzer of emo flagbearersThe World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. Their labelmates and future tourmates — including Soda Bomb, which shares a bill with Makeshift Shelters tonight at The Commune — all hail from that musical neck of the woods.
“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it,” Clark says about the emo label. “I’m not 100 percent apprehensive about it because, whatever, I can see a connection. But that doesn’t seem like the kind of music we’re playing.”
But it hardly matters — not with songs this strong. Clark and his bandmates seem ambitious, too, or at least committed to the idea of not messing up.
“When we started this band, it was based on the idea [of], ‘Let’s make music that we’re really passionate about that feels cathartic, but let’s do this band right,’” Clark says. “From the very beginning, we wanted to do the band correctly with the purpose of being able to get it to as many people as possible and have it be sustainable.”
Doing music full-time would be a boon, too, Clark says. “We all work s****y part-time jobs. I’d rather not if I could one day.”
Yet obstacles emerge on the road to success — and between these band members, there are highways. Both Boissonnault and Patsfall live in Boston now, attending the Berklee School of Music. The band has made it work so far. But with Clark and Edfors traveling regularly to New England for practice and shows, it’s not ideal.
“They’re — not upset, but annoyed with me because I want to finish school. Getting my degree is super important to me,” Boissonnault says. Edfors nudges her about it. “You should drop out. What’s wrong with you?” he says, half joking. But she’s just finished her first semester. “It’s important to me to stay,” she says.
They won’t be separate for long. Edfors says that he and Clark will probably move north this year, to be closer both to their vocalist and the East Haven, Connecticut, scene where Broken World Media and their studio are based.
D.C.’s punk — or pop? — scene would be wise to exploit the band’s proximity while it can.
After its LP drops, the band plans to tour over Berklee’s spring break and book some shows over the summer. After that, who knows?
Northern Virginia still feels like home, says Boissonnault, an Alexandria native. She says the Boston scene feels fake to her, and getting a show there can be a pain — it’s got a million colleges, and everyone’s in a band.
But Makeshift Shelters sounds ready to rise above. Responding to a question about the band’s larger ambitions, Edfors says, “I want to play amphitheaters. I want to play Verizon Center.”
I wasn’t kidding, I reply. “I’m not, either,” Edfors says.