Growing Up and Showing Out: Interview with Local Band Flowers for the Dead

Growing Up and Showing Out: Interview with Local Band Flowers for the Dead

By Kylie Arbini

Photos by Cineraat – taken on 2/13/2024 at DC9 Nightclub


DC9 Stage 

For the past 20 years, beloved local venue DC9 has been providing bands with an intimate platform to promote and perfect their craft. To commemorate this magnificent feat, the venue has collected several local artists to showcase and honor the talent that has graced their stage over the last two decades. To no one’s surprise, but everyone’s excitement, Snail Mail was announced as the headlining act to round out this series of special shows and with them local favorites: Birthday Girl and Flowers for the Dead. 

Having witnessed Flowers for the Dead in all their sludgy, grunge-like glory opening for Hello Mary just the year prior, I found myself captivated by the lineup and, more importantly, excited about the band’s rapid rise within the last year. While the band—consisting of vocalist/guitarist Jessie Szego, drummer Ten Bears, and bassist Ella Buskirk—has made quite the splash within the scene here in the DMV, opening for a band who has hit local legend status seemed like a major ripple in a much bigger pond. 

A day before their gig, front woman Jessie Szego confirms this suspicion of mine through a chuckle at the start of our interview: “It’s totally not normal. It’s a pretty big deal for all of us.” 

While this show is a considerable mile-marker in Flowers For The Dead’s career thus far, it isn’t Jessie’s first time gracing the DC9 stage.

“It’s kind of like a full circle moment,” she explains after recalling one of her earliest live performances with her previous band—a show at DC9. It’s this familiarity that seems to soothe her nerves on the eve of such a large show. “It’s always cool to play places you’ve never been before because it’s like you’re gaining a new audience and it’s people you’ve never met before and they’ve never heard you and you’ve never played for them. That’s definitely cool, but there’s something comforting about playing another DC show.”

Now that the band is about to conquer a show with a prolific band in their own scene, I sat down with Jessie to get insight into her musical career.


KA: “Is there a band that you’re such a massive fan of that you’d drop everything just to open for them?”

JS: “There’s so many but the first one that comes to mind is Feeble Little Horse. We’re super big fans of them and Girl With Fish is my album of the year I think. As for bands that are not around, I guess—like couldn’t be able to play with but would—probably like Sonic Youth. The Breeders would be a big one for us.”

KA: “It checks out that you would love The Breeders. Are there any musical inspirations you have that people wouldn’t expect considering the music that you make?”

FFTD Bassist Ella Buskirk 

JS: “I would say one of my favorite bands ever is Big Thief and I know they’re a lot more chill, indie, folk rock stuff which is kind of like the opposite of what we play. I think Big Thief, specifically Adrianne Lenker, really inspires me. She just makes my love for music very passionate. Every time I hear Big Thief or Adrianne Lenker I get excited about music again.

KA: “Would you say it’s the artistry, or maybe even the lyricism, or just the passion they have that inspires you?” 

JS: “I would say it’s mostly the passion that they have, but Adrianne Lenker is an amazing lyricist and songwriter. If I could write a song half as good as her I’d be happy.”

KA: “Speaking of different bands and crossing over, so often bands get stuck and kind of pigeonholed into one genre. Do you find yourself trying to avoid labels?”

JS: “I know when I first started the band I wanted to be like rock. I wanted to be dark and gritty and super super edgy and I think that you can hear it all in Nova. Everything was just super dark and I wanted to be grunge and hard rock and I think a lot of people label us as grunge which is like… fine. You know, I don’t mind the label because obviously a lot of my favorite bands are grunge or whatever but especially with the new stuff that we’re writing I feel like it definitely has moved away from that sound a little bit. I don’t resonate with that sound much anymore. I embrace it a little bit but I want to start getting away from the whole gritty, grungy stuff a little.”

KA: “In the same vein, are you avoidant of comparisons? Do you like to be compared to some of the heavy-weights in these genres like Hole or Belly?”

JS: “I always get super flustered when bands compare us to bands that I love, obviously. Old heads will come up to us all the time and be like oh my god you guys sound like The Smashing Pumpkins and I’m like thanks! We got compared to Coldplay one time which was really weird. I didn’t appreciate that comparison a whole lot, but I enjoy it for the most part.”

KA: “Has there been any go-to media—books, movies, albums, whatever—that you’ve been using as a guiding light for your new projects?”

JS: “I’ve been listening to a lot of PJ Harvey. It’s probably pretty obvious once people hear the new stuff. I’m always listening to The Breeders, always listening to Sonic Youth. I’m trying to get a little bit more noisy with our stuff, a little bit more, you know, experimental I guess.”

KA: “Is there a specific record of Harvey’s that you find yourself returning to?”

JS: “Probably Rid of Me. It’s been on repeat. Her guitar playing is so inspirational to me.”

FFTD Guitarist Jessie Szego and Drummer Ten Bears

KA: “Speaking of, I see a lot about time signatures and how you guys do a lot of cool stuff there. It’s so out of my depth, but I know that it’s something that’s made you guys stand out in the scene here. Do you plan on continuing to add those cool little technical things in your new music?”

JS: “Yeah I think it’s always fun to add different time signatures and weird stuff, but I haven’t been trying to force it. It has become like a thing, like oh Flowers for the Dead does the weird time signatures and I think it’s cool, people like it, but with our new stuff it didn’t come as naturally for me to write in weird time signatures. If something is in like 4/4 I’m not like ah that’s too boring let me re-write that and change it. I’ve just been kind of going with the flow and trying to let whatever music comes out, come out.”

KA: “In an interview with fellow college radio station, WMUC, you said that you felt that your old music hadn’t really represented you. Do you feel like you’re getting closer to that with this new record?”

JS: “Yeah for sure. It’s weird, like I was saying when I first started out I used to be in an indie band, like a beachy indie band, and when I started this project I was like I’m not doing catchy things, I’m not doing melodies, I just want to be rock, but I feel like I’m kind of embracing where the music is going a little bit more now. I’m just letting it come out of me however it comes out. I think our newer stuff is inching closer to what I want to sound like. With every song I write I’m like I want to go in this direction or this one… there’s a million ways it could go but I think our newest album—the one that is going to be out this year—is definitely more representative of us.”

KA: “Would you attribute that growth, or ability, to feel like you have a more honest sound to being deeper into the scene or just getting older or…”

FFTD Guitarist Jessie Szego

JS: “I would say getting older is definitely a huge part of it. I mean I was 16 when I wrote Nova, so I think just growing up and realizing that you don’t have to sound like this person, or you don’t have to sound like your favorite artist, or your favorite whatever, and kind of just like letting it flow.”


Going with the flow, even now with an EP, a debut album, and a new album on the way, can’t keep the nostalgic nerves from creeping up for Jessie as the start to this series of shows rears its head. 

“Right now, I’m a little anxious because we’ve got the show tomorrow,” she admits with a nervous laugh, “But in general, I would say I’m more so just excited.”

Excitement, both from the band and their fans, is very much well-deserved. Catch Flowers for the Dead on tour this spring with dates in Maryland, DC, New York, and Philadelphia! 

Follow Flowers for the Dead at @fftdmusic on Instagram, and listen to them anywhere you stream music.

Follow @cineraat on Instagram to see more photos from the DC9 Snail Mail/Flowers for the Dead show.

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