BY CAROLINE SELLE — Adam Ortiz and Lee Cain are environmental professionals by day and musicians by night—well, Tuesday nights.
“Pretty consistently, Adam and I have played every Tuesday evening for three years,” Cain said. “Tuesday is the day we don’t schedule stuff.” No happy hours, no conference calls, no community meetings. It’s quite the scheduling feat; Ortiz is the Director of the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and Cain is the Director of Education for the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS).
The two Hyattsville residents are also the founders and chief songwriters of Blue Plains, a band that often includes Pete Daniels (fiddle), Matt Dosberg (bass), and Arosh Ardalan (drums). Cain plays guitar and cavaquinho, a Portuguese ukulele-like instrument. Cain also often performs as the band’s chief vocalist. Ortiz also sings and plays guitar.
Before forming Blue Plains, Cain and Ortiz were acquaintances. They learned of their mutual musical interests after chatting at an AWS board meeting and have been playing consistently ever since.
Of the two, Cain has more performance experience: he played in the local band Modern Man, which once opened up the Sweetlife Festival. But Ortiz can claim a performance in the most prestigious venue: In high school, “…I got to sing in Carnegie Hall,” he said.
Both began playing guitar in their teens.
“I was captivated by music from a very young age,” Ortiz said. In his early school years, “someone came in with a saxophone and played the theme to ‘The Muppets.’” He was hooked. As a teenager, he said, he found that music was a great form of expression.
Their music “spans a couple boxes,” as Cain puts it. They write their own songs, and there are elements of indie rock, folk, American roots music, blues, and the Washington D.C. punk movement.
“It’s very much an organic process,” Ortiz said of the duo’s collaboration. “We’re not trying to fit into any style or genre. We didn’t want to make a cover band, and we wanted to explore the art.”
“What we try to do is avoid cliches, musical and artistic, but still be catchy and accessible,” he said.
They’ve just started to record, which will mean access to the world of sound engineering. In mixing sounds, “Do we add other colors, do we add other textures?” Ortiz said. There are new choices to make: record each track separately, or have the band play live? Their interest in exploring different styles means that the band has “a lot of weird effect pedals,” Ortiz said, including one that makes the guitar sound like an organ.
Ultimately, Blue Plains is interested in playing the music that flows from natural creativity.
“One of the things I like about playing with Adam is the music just happens,” Cain said. “I feel like the way we play, it naturally comes fairly easy … it definitely doesn’t come out like a pop song.”
“Sometimes we’ll jam and we just kind of let that happen and it turns into a song,” Cain said.
Blue Plains has performed at a variety of local venues, including DC9, a community festival and house concerts. Most recently, they performed for a packed house at Vigilante Coffee’s Second Saturdays Hyattsville Music Showcase.
Blue Plains’ music can be heard at www.facebook.com/blueplains