By Dylan Jaffe | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hanoi Ragmen may have emerged from the close-knit community in Alexandria City Public Schools, but this seven-member band has come out of its shell in a most electrifying way – with awards and acclaim streaming in. And the band’s journey is far from over.
The group consists of 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, Dillon Miranda on guitar and Shaan Shuster on keyboard. Influences from Queens of the Stone Age, MGMT and other alternative rock artists can be heard in Hanoi Ragmen’s music.
“Personally I always kind of look for people that really try and strive for originality in defining their own sound. Obviously, I have a bias for rock music,” Powell said.
The group formed in 2018 at T.C. Williams High School, now known as Alexandria City High School, after the various members met during middle school.
The seven played in various bands through their teenage years, and also attended Rock of Ages Music School, a music learning academy in Del Ray that teaches one-on-one lessons. Now, they give back to the academy by teaching students whose spots they were once in and pass on the skills they have obtained from their own lessons.
The band’s name also dates from those years, specifically from an early song called “Hanoi Jack.”
“The band name just kind of came in from that,” Harr said. “People always want the name to mean something, but it just means us. That’s who we are; we define the name by living in it.”
Having released one full album and one EP, the group has a variety of songs – ranging from mellow and alternative to intense and powerful – that has propelled them into being able to perform at many different venues in Virginia, Washington, D.C. and New York City. Fans say that a Hanoi Ragmen show instantly immerses the listener for an unforgettable experience.
Recently, Hanoi Ragmen has sold out multiple venues, including Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan, and Songbyrd Café and the Black Cat in the district – and have enjoyed them all.
“Every venue has its own personality. And that’s what I’ve come to like about playing in all these different places. You draw your energy from the room as well as the audience,” Powell said.
The white and black checkered floors, low ceilings and vibrant lights that the Black Cat has to offer makes it the perfect intimate setting that allows fans to express themselves freely.
“We’re lucky enough to have audiences that really like to get into it and people like to move around and dance and mosh,” Harr said.
Hanoi Ragmen is starting to garner acclaim in the form of music awards. The septet recently won two awards from the 35th Annual D.C. Wammy Music Awards. The group’s first album, “The Oldlight,” won Best Rock Album and the song “Foolhearted” won Best Rock Song. Nominated by its record label, Baffin Records, the band was then voted through to the finalist rounds by fans and selected by the Musicianship and Wammy Judges for its final wins.
“That was a two-part victory … to have a random assortment of musicians who we don’t know listen to the record and listen to the song ‘Foolhearted’ and be like, ‘Oh this is a great song and this is the best song in the category,’ is a whole other thing,” Harr said. “That is something that definitely boosts the self-esteem because it’s like, you feel supported by friends and validated by critics. We were over the moon.
The group’s family, friends and Baffin Records founder Dave Klein have helped Hanoi Ragmen feel supported and recognized throughout their journey to get them where they are today. Baffin Records is an independent record label rooted in their hometown of Alexandria.
They have four artists currently signed, with Hanoi Ragmen being one of two bands. The small and homey feel of Baffin has allowed the band to connect with the surrounding community and make new friends, which allows for more people to publicize events from word of mouth.
This in turn leads to bigger turnouts at shows. With the help of Klein, the band has been able to have its album financed, more shows promoted and book photography shoots.
“We basically make friends with our community and every show is basically a hangout and so a small local new label like Baffin who’s interested in that is like, a perfect match for a band like us,” Harr said.
Now, preparing for an upcoming college tour at institutions such as Emory University, James Madison University and Princeton University – where saxophone player Kostia Howard attends – the group’s dynamic continues to blossom as the band members navigate having some members finishing their master’s degrees.
“I’m very proud of them for continuing to work and go to school and you know, they put the funds that they earn from shows and for merchandise, right back into the band,” Powell’s mom, Jennifer, said.
While they are most collaborative when all members are together, the main benefit of having a big band is there are always enough members to play a show, according to Harr.
“We’re good at displaying a range of complex emotions in one song, I think that’s one of our strengths. We pay a lot of attention to dynamics,” Max Powell said.
Hanoi Ragmen’s groovy and eclectic songs frequently have the audience dancing
out of their seats. With a wide range of musical influences and a strong desire for originality, it is no surprise that the band has many fans continuously attending their shows to enjoy the rock, alternative and indie set the band has to offer.