Toki Underground General Manager by night, Club Scout drummer and backing vocalist by later-at-night. Joe Ostrosky finds himself at the literal intersection of the district’s food scenes and music scenes– H Street. In addition to just over two years at Toki, Joe is marking even more milestones– Club Scout’s latest album Only Her Heart Like a Rabbit and This Terrible Hurt was just released earlier this week, and an album release party at Velvet Lounge with Golden Looks and Leland Palmer follows on September 28.
Why did you choose DC as the place to build your restaurant and music career?
I grew up outside of Baltimore, and I was good friends with all of the guys in Club Scout and friends with Erik– I met him through playing in bands. Erik needed a manager around the same time Club Scout needed a drummer. Club Scout happened a little sooner, around 2008, and I was commuting a lot, so once I started working at Toki I thought, “Alright, I’ve got enough going on in DC to make the move.”
The DC music scene and food scene are both said to be on the rise again, and I’m curious to know how you feel as a member of both communities.
Like you said, a lot of things are happening. Both are on the rise.
Do you think that at a certain point they both intersect?
H Street could be seen as an intersection of the two, are you worried about eventual gentrification? What do you want to see in H Street’s future?
It’s definitely great that all these new H Street businesses are popping up, and hopefully it doesn’t turn into the Adams Morgan party scene, but it’s great to have places to see new music like Rock and Roll Hotel and HR-57 too.
Are you worried about more of the staples disappearing like Red Palace did?
I feel like Rock and Roll [Hotel] isn’t going anywhere. It’s on an upward slope.
Going back to Club Scout, how do you think the songwriting process has changed over the years?
With Club Scout, Ben is the lead singer and the main songwriter. He’ll come out with the basic structure of the songs, and that will be written and we’ll all jam on it. We’ll wait until it’s pretty ready to go and I’ll throw back-up vocals on it.
September 28 is the album release party. Who else are you playing with and what are you looking forward to?
It’s going to be a great party. We’re playing with Golden Looks which is Javier’s twin brother Nestor’s band, and our good friend Julia. Leland Palmer is also playing. The main songwriter of that band also produced our record. I grew up with those guys.
What’s your favorite DC music memory?
Probably seeing the Foo Fighters at 930 Club! And Jimmy Eat World’s 10 year Clarity reunion show was pretty amazing as well.
It’s been about two years since Toki has opened. What’s changed the most and what do you want to see in its future?
I feel like we’ve stayed pretty consistent. We’ve dealt with a little bit of a staff turnover, but we have a lot of new front of house employees and everyone’s doing a great job. When we first started, everyone was a big family. Everyone hung out outside of work. After a while, that started to ebb and flow, but it’s back to that original feeling now. A unified staff where everyone does everything.
So Toki is a family thing, and so is Club Scout. Do you think that ever makes it difficult to go in new directions or develop new ideas?
I don’t think so. I feel like because we have such an open forum, everyone is willing to at least hear everyone out. And we’ve pretty much restructured the way front of house runs. It’s turned out well and it’s fairer. Everyone’s pretty open to at least discussing other options. Same for Club Scout. Sometimes we’ll butt heads on how a certain chorus should sound but we always come to an agreement.
What can we expect to be different about the new album?
It’s definitely a little bit more produced. We spent a lot of time on it. We started in March 2012, so a year and a half. We were really lucky that we are working with Warren who we’re also good friends with. He was really patient with us while we tried out new things and writing vocal parts on the fly. It’s definitely a bit more orchestrated. There are some Beach Boys-esque harmonies in certain parts, while our old stuff was a lot more straight forward. There are some slower tracks as well. It’s definitely a more well-rounded album than anything we’ve done before.
Over the year and a half you spent on it, how many times did you scrap a song entirely and start over?
It was more of fine-tuning everything. The rest of the guys in the band all have 9 to 5 jobs, so trying to match my schedule where I work nights was a big part of the process. We were also working around Warren’s schedule.
Do you feel more ingrained in the local food scene or the music scene?
Definitely the food scene. What Club Scout has become over the last few years since I took the GM job here is an outlet to play music with my friends. We’re not as serious as we were three years ago. It used to be three shows a month, and now it’s about every six months.
What’s the turning point when a group of friends just jamming together decides to take it seriously?
They were a band before I joined. I think they were only playing shows for about six months when I joined. They lost a few members. But that was pretty much the plan when they started, and then Jeremy and I started at the same time. We always wanted to play shows, but not necessarily tour since everyone has a job.
What do you think has made you a stronger member of Toki, of the H Street community, and of Club Scout?
I’d say continuously going to shows, watching musicians who are better than you. Going to restaurants and gawking at their service and food. It’s really about being a nerd and being willing to admit that there are people out there doing awesome stuff and people should be taking note.