Enter the DRGN KING: a Philly Band on the Rise

Back in Philly, I stumbled upon the good fortune of writing about music for two.one.five. two.one.five was a Philly-centric arts & entertainment website that was the cousin of the elaborately awesome print version that had been kicking around hipster bowling alleys, hipster bars, and any other place hipsters and cool cats frequented in the city for the past couple years before mysteriously vanishing.

During my time writing for two.one.five I was able to hang out and interview a handful of wildly interesting and infinitely promising musicians. I chatted with Nicos Gun frontman Barney Cortez in Washington Square Park one evening where we interrupted by some poor fools on a Philly ghost tour and I interviewed up and coming rapper Khemist over the phone during my lunch break while sitting in my car, which was parked in a Wal Mart parking lot. He was kind enough to explain to me the difference between an album (organized and thought out) and a mix tape (much more spur of the moment.) He didn’t even laugh when I asked him, which I thought was nice of him. So I’m just a dumb white dude from Maine and I can’t help but wonder, what exactly is the difference between an album and a mix tape. I interviewed Philly rapper and Dice Raw-prodigy Rone, got to check out and review a wild Japandroids’ show at Johnny Brenda’s, and challenged Questlove to do right by us with Philly’s Fourth of July concert (to which he accepted the challenge on Twitter.)

But the dudes I enjoyed interviewing the most was Drgn Kingthe duo of Dominic Angelella and Ritz Reynolds. It wasn’t just that they were interesting to talk to, but that the sound of Drgn King was truly something I had never really heard before and I really wanted to know where that sound came from. I spent an hour before the interview listening to their song “Holy Ghost” on repeat, much to the chagrin of Loving Wife.

On a week day night in early March of 2012, I drove the Corollacoaster down to Reynolds’ studio in Pennsport, a shade east of Mummer Town in South Philly, where I spent over an hour with the dudes of Drgn King. I left the studio convinced that they were going somewhere- it was in the air, it was undeniable. I’ve been around a lot of bands, so many that I can almost see their future when I meet them. By that I mean I can see where they are headed and more importantly, what their ceiling is. I didn’t see a ceiling for Drgn King; didn’t even see a stairway leading in that direction. I thought I had seen this before; when I interviewed the now defunct Portland, Maine band Loverless. I was wrong then, although maybe only partially. I didn’t think I was wrong this time, though. Something about Drgn King was different.

Flash forward to the present and Drgn King, now signed Bar None Records, which is the home of Mason Jennings, Of Montreal, DJ Spooky among others, are set to release their debut album for the label, Paragraph Nights on January 22nd. I was already seeing quite a bit about the band on Twitter, but then last night I saw a tweet by their manager, Anthony Farlow:

I couldn’t believe it (but I also totally could)- Esquire had named Drgn King one of their top 15 bands to watch out for in 2013. Good for them I thought; well-deserved. My next thought: I can’t wait to hear the record.

It’s fun to see a band get theirs, especially when you were on or next to the ground floor. It was a honor to meet them, a privilege to write about them and exciting to see them in Esquire. 

In honor of the release of Paragraph Nights, I thought I’d include the article I wrote about them. You can also find the article on line at two.one.five.

Enter the Drgn King
Originally published in two.one.five, March 26, 2012

Dominic Angelella fiddles with a twelve string electric guitar.  Ritz Reynolds puts on a jean jacket. This is happening at their studio- located in an unassuming and gritty building in South Philly, in between Mummer Town and the Delaware River. Outside there are people pushing grocery carts and dudes working on motorcycles. This is the home of Drgn King.

Drgn King- spelled that way for a reason. Maybe a couple reasons depending on how long the conversation lasts. Google “dragon king” and a sugar rush of sites devoted to Dragonball Z and ancient Chinese myths appear. Google “Drgn King” and Angelella and Reynolds appear- one with long hair, one with short and collectively with funky tunes. One is from the suburbs of Philly, one is from down Baltimore way. Old news though, because now it’s all about Pennsport, Google searches, homemade music videos and Drgn King.

The sound of Drgn King: “Brian Eno and the RZA hanging out,” Angelella says. Reynolds nods in agreement.

Drgn King- they recently expanded to four members with the addition of bassist of Julie Slick, who according to Angelella is “the illest bass player in the city” and drummer Joe Baldacci. Angelella plays guitar, keyboards and sings while Reynolds does the producing.            

Drgn King: music videos inspired by the Beastie Boys, live shows inspired by the Flaming Lips, musical upbringing inspired by the Roots.

Ritz Reynolds is a busy man. He is not just one of the dudes behind Drgn King, but also a sought after freelance music producer who has done work with the Roots, Black Thought, Mac Miller and more. Reynolds is the Philly native of Drgn King, having grown up in the lush, tree-lined streets of Ardmore and learning about music from his big brother; everything from Wu Tang Clan to Nine Inch Nails and eventually the Roots. It was all about the Roots for Reynolds and was a dream to work with the Philly legends some day. It was, as time progressed, a pleasure to work with the Philly legends, which he’s been doing since their album Rising Down and has continued to do so up through their most recent release, undun. He bounces back and forth between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He promises to make those Drgn King live shows if he can.

Drgn King- a good drunk conversation helped get things started.

At the Piazza in Northern Liberties a few years back, Angelella told Reynolds he wanted to rap for him. Both had known each other from traveling in similar circles and jamming with similar people- people like Dice Raw and Nickie Jean. But at first glance the pairing was an odd one- the rock n roller Angelella and the hip hopper Reynolds.

Angelella is the one from Baltimore and the one who came to Philadelphia to attend University of the Arts. Upon arrival, he got out there; determined to play as much music as possible- a sideman, a solo act, a member of multiple bands, bands with amazing names like Elevator Fight. In those first couple years, Angelella got around.
“I tried to play with everybody,” he says, “just to figure that (what kind of music he wanted to play) out.”

After that conversation at the Piazza, Drgn King hunkered down in Reynolds’s studio- recording music. There are live shows once or twice a month, but for the most part, Drgn King is a science experiment and Angelella and Reynolds are the mad lab coats behind it. Their debut album is done; it’s in the can. It’s mastered and everything. Drgn King are sitting on it though, currently trying to figure out how to release it. A handful of songs from it are out there, released via the band’s Bandcamp page and one or two, accompanied by music videos. The most popular one so far is “Holy Ghost,” directed by David King, and was released late last summer. The tune Reynolds admits, “is a very likable jam” and the video features Angelella and Reynolds walking the city streets, joined by friends and passer-bys. All that is missing is a fish eye lense, but the Beastie Boys’ influence is clear.

“Those Beastie Boys’ videos,” Angelella says, “were the best thing ever when I was in high school, middle school.” He is the proud owner of the Beastie Boys Criteria Collection, a DVD of all of the band’s music videos.

Also in the Drgn King pipeline is an EP of covers, which may or not include a D’Angelo tune, and a hip hop influenced mix tape. The mix tape raised an initial concern for Angelella, who worried that it might throw fans off; fans who may have been introduced to Drgn King through the “Holy Ghost” video. Reynolds was unfazed though. It was what Drgn King was about- this desire to be unattached to any particular genre and do what they wanted. Drgn King was about making their musical style a musical style all of its own. There would be big drums, but there would be pop. There would be some hip hop, but there would be some rock. At times, it may even sound like a good old fashioned Spaghetti Western.

There would be Drgn King.

There is a live show that may also include a projector or a television; the presence of a visual element. For Drgn King, the live show should be an experience. It should be experienced by the audience in a way that they are involved; be made part of the show, but not through sing-a-longs or clapping in unison.

“Being so fucking on,” Angelella says of the crowd, “so excited about being there.”

There is a Reynolds sighting, carrying a briefcase containing only a tambourine at Johnny Brenda’s.

There is another appearance by the Philly rapper, Asaad, who both members of Drgn King believe is the best young rapper in town.

There is Drgn King, not a Chinese myth, a Chinese restaurant or a Chinese, crazy cartoon.

It is Drgn King, original rock music from down South Philly way.

Photo by Nicky Devine

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