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Say hello to Bartees Strange, indie rock’s rising star

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Over the past year, Bartees Cox Jr., better known as Bartees Strange, has become the latest rising indie star, and was recently announced as the latest signee to 4AD Records. From collaborations with artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Samia, Dave Hause and Hit Like a Girl, to his own work that can’t be limited to just one singular genre, he’s been making a name for himself.

In 2020, he released “Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy,” his renditions of songs by The National; many of his favorite bands got their start opening for it. To date, “About Today” remains one of his favorite covers that he’s done, and recording that EP remains one of his favorite things. If you managed to catch Bartees in early 2021, you might’ve caught his “Live At Studio 4” livestream, where he ended his full band set with “Lemonworld.”

As the newest signee to 4AD Records, he’s excited for the journey ahead of him.

“I always knew deep down that 4AD was the one I really wanted [to be on]. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the label. My favorite bands are from that label, and I’m still in shock when I realize again and again that I’m also on that label.”

In just a few months, he’ll be opening for The National in Utah, which to him, is “the craziest thing in the world,” and it’s left him speechless. It means the world to him, and he’s excited to have the chance to play alongside Matt Berninger and Aaron and Bryce Dessner.

Until then, he’s been enjoying his time as the opener for Car Seat Headrest. When he makes his stop in Charlottesville on Monday, it’ll mark the first time he’s played in the city, which he calls “cute and fun,” after driving through it multiple times.

He’s no stranger to Virginia, having most recently played at The Camel in Richmond — a tiny, intimate venue that doesn’t quite have the feel of the Jefferson Theater. He’s so used to performing in small venues that he finds it a lot of fun thinking about how to own larger stages, how to arrange his live band, what instruments to bring in and having the creative control to make the stage his.

He said he has come a long way from that “Live at Studio 4” livestream, and even from his NPR Tiny Desk (At Home) performance from February 2021, which was recorded in his basement in Falls Church. His recent performances aren’t to be missed, making it pretty crucial to get to the venue early.

Bartees’ rise to stardom could be compared to the rise of his fellow Virginians Lucy Dacus and McKinley Dixon, or even Baltimore’s Turnstile. The aforementioned artists might be in differing genres, but they’re genres that are near and dear to his heart. During his younger years, he got his start writing and performing with hardcore bands, as well as emo artists, while he’s found his footing in the indie world. He misses writing songs in the vein of those particular genres, but he has had a lot of fun exploring other sounds to mix into his unique sound, including jazz, funk and R&B.

When he was a teenager, he never thought he’d be where he is today, and has been humbled throughout the whole experience. He’s just been doing what he’s always done.

During his teenage years, Bartees read up on bands and artists he really loved, such as Thursday, Circa Survive, At The Drive-In and Dance Gavin Dance, among others. He hopes that he can be a role model for young people today, much like Geoff Rickley, Anthony Green and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were to him, just to name a few. He feels grateful that the artists know who he is, and that he can reach out and learn from them as well, because they’re great people that he’s met over the past few years.

“The way I look at it — none of this stuff is promised to last forever. It’s awesome that I have this little opportunity to have a music career,” he said, “I want to make it run as long and [as] sustainably as possible.”

He’s been asked to work on collaborations with some of the artists he grew up idolizing, but feels bad that he doesn’t have the time to do so at this point in time. However, he’s had a pretty humble experience in his rise to fame, because he knows how hard it was to get where he is today — much like how his favorite artists worked hard over the years to get where they are. To him, the journey’s just been “humbling.”

He’s done a lot of recording over the years, with “Heavy Heart” as his most recent release. He worked with Foxing’s Conor Murphy, who provided horns for that track.

To him, every single work of art he puts out and works on is “everything all of the time.” That’s how he likes to make records.

“I had a lot of things I wanted to try. I’m curious what people will think, but all in all, I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to string together. Shoutout to my little community; we swung for the fences.”

Bartees will be opening for Car Seat Headrest for a sold-out show at the Jefferson on Monday.

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