What would Dupont Circle sound like if it was a song? What would Rosslyn be like if it was an unrequited lover? There are a total of 91 Metro stations in the D.C. area, and one Alexandria-based musician is set on serenading every single one. Jason Mendelson's musical project, MetroSongs, has grown with five musical albums, covering everything from U Street to L'Enfant Plaza. With his 14-man band, Mendelson has performed at venues like Electric Maid, the Kennedy Center, and soon the Iota Club & Café. His latest album, "OUTATRAK," is already complete, but is looking for backers on Kickstarter with a goal of $500. This latest album is a throwback to the 80s with lots of synth sounds, a classic longbox form, and guest performances from local artists that include DJ Sam Snow, Faith Hayden, Ardamus, and the Open Doors. In an interview with Curbed DC, Mendelson shares what inspired him to begin MetroSongs and what his fans should expect from his latest album.
How long have you been working on MetroSongs?
About five years. I started right after my wife and I moved up here from Florida.
What inspired you to start your project?
It wasn't even a project at first. It was just one song. It was "National," the first one, and then I thought, "Every location probably has a similarly interesting story." I just needed to do some research, a little homework. It's been a great way to learn about the region. Lots of history and stuff like that.
What's your writing process like?
Oh, it varies. It really varies. Sometimes, it will be a person's life like somebody that lives near that location, and sometimes it's just the character of the neighborhood like U Street or Clarendon, or maybe there's a specific event like National Airport renaming controversy in 2000 or 2001. They were threatening to hold up funding if they didn't change the signage. It ended up costing the Metro $400,000, and of course we get to pay for that, the riders. So, there are all kinds of interesting stories. A lot of times I'll start with lyrics by themselves and then match it up with a piece of music because I'll work on music separately a lot of times without knowing what station it's going to be assigned to, and then I match it up as I go.
Is it ever challenging to figure out what to write about?
Yes, and thankfully, I've had a lot of help from my band. I put together a band who've lived in D.C. for the last five years, and they've helped with writing some songs, doing some of the research.
There's one that's actually going to be on the next album that I was really kind of going bonkers. I had no idea what I was going to write about. It was Congress Heights, and then I just realized that it was by St. Elizabeth's hospital, which has quite an interesting history. So, I'm kind of relieved to discover that, and lots of stuff like that. Two of them are kind of fictional. Like "Rosslyn" is just a fictional story, but it incorporates a lot of things in the area.
Do you have a personal favorite song that you've recorded?
No, no, I couldn't pick one.
Have any musical influences you try to tap into when writing your songs?
Well, I like a lot of different styles, so that helps. I guess the one problem that I've always had with my music is that I don't have a sound, and that actually is handy for this project because changing musical styles kind of helps reflect the character of the neighborhood and its history. About half of the songs are just straight rock and roll, pop kind of stuff. I've got some others on there that are country. I've got jazz, some R&B. This new album is going to have a rap song on it from local rapper Ardamus. He did it for Shaw, and he grew up in Shaw, so he's seen the neighborhood change throughout his whole life. So, he wrote some really good lyrics to that, and he rapped to that song. And there are all different kinds of stuff. On the new album, there's kind of a synth wave thing running through it. So, there are a couple songs that just sound like they're lifted straight out of the 80s. And there are still lots of different styles and even styles that don't sound like that, but there's some kind of synthesizer thread running through all of them.
How do you hope your music influences others?
Oh, I don't know. If anything, I hope I can increase awareness and appreciation to public transit. You know, with all its problems, it's still the direction I think society should be going in. Maybe not 100 percent, but it's certainly helpful. I'd be more pleased to know that I've helped in that regard than with music because people are going to be influenced by whatever they are influenced by musically. There's nothing I can do about that.
What's your goal for your latest volume, OUTATRAK? Are you doing anything different with it?
Like I said, it's got the theme of synth wave. It's got a whole retro thing. I'm actually going to be issuing this CD in a longbox. You remember longboxes from the 80s?
No, I actually wasn't alive at that point.
Oh, yeah. You're too young for that. Well, in the late 80s, early 90s, when you'd go to the record store and buy a CD, they were in these boxes that were 12 inches tall and six inches wide, and the reason was so that stores could use the same shelving units that they used to display vinyl records, and they also had the added benefit of being good for loss prevention. It was harder to steal this tall, goofy box than just a little CD. I guess it was about the mid 90s they kind of finally disappeared. There was a public outcry saying that they were wasteful, and so I think they disappeared by around '93 or '94. So, it's got a little retro touch. As with all the volumes, I'm only going to do 100 CDs, so it's kind of a limited edition thing.
I guess my last question is do you have any messages you want to give to your fans?
Well, yeah, we've got Kickstarter going, so you can find that online. I've got a Facebook page for MetroSongs, and we have an album release show at Iota Club & Café—that's in Clarendon—on Monday, November 30.
· MetroSongs, Vol. 6: OUTATRAK [Kickstarter]
· MetroSongs [Official Website]
· Curbed Interviews archive [Curbed DC]