by Avalon Clare
Local dance-punk trio The Great Aerodrome has a name that’s almost as interesting as their sound. The term “great aerodrome” was coined by aviation pioneer Samuel Langley, who used it to describe his series of manned and unmanned flying contraptions. It’s a term that was applied almost exclusively to failures—nearly every one of Langley’s aerodromes crashed into the Potomac River. They are remembered now only as comical precursors to the Wright brothers’ famous flight at Kitty Hawk.
So where band names go, “The Great Aerodrome” is wrought with meaning. It describes a government-funded project that quite literally crashed and burned before being ousted by the underdogs. It connotes delusions of grandeur and monumental failure.
But that’s just the way Aerodrome frontman Justin Maul likes it. As the band’s primary lyricist, Maul uses symbolism to mask the personal details in his songs, referring to many of them as “autobiographical ghost stories.”
The Great Aerodrome formed in September of 2014, and the three members are as much friends as they are hardworking musicians. Two-thirds of the band played back to back sets at FoCoMX in different bands, and the band’s drummer Michael Ross did it while battling a cold. Philip Shellabarger is primarily the band’s bassist, but he also plays the synthesizer, the trumpet, and sings vocals. Shellabarger performed in The Ugly Architect as well as Serpentfoot on Saturday night before his set with Aerodrome. Maul, formerly of The Ghosts of Verona, writes the songs, plays guitar, and sings. He also does most of the band’s art and graphic design work.
The Great Aerodrome released their first album last summer, though there is some debate among members as to whether the 7 track recording counts as an album.
“It’s kind of like an LP,” says Justin, “or maybe an EP…”
“It’s like brunch!” says Phillip.
“No, no,” says Justin. “More like a continental breakfast.”
No matter how you slice it, those who’ve come hungry for a resurgence of bands the likes of The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The (International) Noise Conspiracy will have their appetites sated by Like Mortar on the Potomac.
The cover artwork for the album features a beautiful black and white illustration that looks like a woodcut or a lithograph. The crow, paper airplanes, and skulls are done with symmetry and strong linework—skills perfected by the band’s own Justin Maul.
The band is busy with plans to release a true full length album this August, and they already have 12 new songs written for it. Both Shellabarger and Maul write songs individually using Reason and Logic to record them in midi. They then bring these recordings to band practice and figure out if it’s possible for them to play.
“The songs are hard to play,” says Shellabarger, who thrashes around like a maniac with a Beatles haircut in between his parts on the trumpet, keyboard, bass, and a vocal companion to Maul.
Their live show is a raucous party, with both band and audience members jumping, dancing, and dripping with sweat by the end of their dancey punk set. Having two vocalists means each singer gets to take breaks to focus on shredding and dancing.
Having a sound that people can dance to is paramount. Both Maul and Shellabarger were quick to insist that the dance element is just as important as the music itself. With DIY ethics, synthesizers, gritty sing-alongs, energetic live shows, and driving drums, it’s hard not to dance at their shows.
“Dancing is all inclusive,” says Shellabarger. “It’s not super elitist, it’s just fun.”
Maul was quick to add that they would willingly drag their songs to the depths of insanity “as long as people can still dance to it. We don’t want to lose the dance element or the punk element.”
“When people dance in the audience it gives us a high.”
Find The Great Aerodrome on Facebook and check out their album, Like Mortar IntoThe Potomac,” at thegreataerodrome.bandcamp.com/releases.