Premiere | Two Dragons and a Cheetah, "Give Up"
Countering the inertia pull of surrender during these surreal times; DC's own Two Dragons and a Cheetah set out on a path of perseverance and resistance with the world premiere of the single "Give Up". A duo comprised of prolific local pop stars Maryjo Mattea and Joel Wu—the two combat the culture of confusion with quests that set out in earnest to repair broken dreams with bright audio PA beacons of truths. Amid the deafening silences in the faces and wakes of injustice to battling the toxic dragon energy despots and wannabe dictators; Two Dragons and a Cheetah wage a war for civility, humanity and justice with an revolutionary army of sound (stronger than the scales of the clichés of fighting fire with fire)
"Give Up" is Maryjo and Joel's anthem that takes on the fickle nature of the dating scene in our current age. Mattea's larger than life guitar work roars with an untethered ferocity that is only paralleled by Wu's emotionally charged creative core of percussion. The aspects of unrequited and absent expressions in communication breakdowns between potential romantic pairs are observed with an unflinching honesty by Maryjo in lyrics [i.e. silence is deafening, it's true, desperately waiting for a signal to come through, eventually you'll walk away, and lie to yourself that it's better off this way] that question the things left undone and unsaid (in a maligned coupling that was never made to last). Two Dragons and a Cheetah rage against the technocratic apathy of so-called modern romance where dating app courtship is cast into a cauldron of teeth-gnashing chords and rampaging rhythms. The duo takes the broken fragments of dashed hopes and fires them high into the skies of night in a fierce firework show for the senses to consume.
Read our interview with Maryjo Mattea about the group's beginnings, development, perspectives and the like:
The origin story of Two Dragons and a Cheetah.
Joel Wu and I met at a new employee luncheon in early 2011 at the Institute of Medicine (now the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine). As an ice-breaker, they asked everyone to introduce themselves, talk about the project(s) on which they were working and describe something they liked to do outside of work. When it came around to me, I said I was a musician and that I liked to write, record, and perform original music. When it got around to Joel, he said he was also a musician, a drummer. Being that I was new in town and didn't know anyone, I went up to him after the luncheon and told him we should jam sometime. We became very close friends, but it wasn't until the summer of 2012 that we got something going musically. I saw a Brooklyn-based duo called She Keeps Bees at a house venue in DC. It was a female singer-guitarist and a male drummer. I was so impressed by their ability to create such complex and engaging music with only two people. It was at that point I approached Joel with the idea of us being a two-person band. Our first show was at a punk rock bar in Baltimore in November 2012. My friend, Andy Shankman, asked if I'd want to open for his band Jumpcuts. I told him a solo acoustic set was likely not the best fit for that venue and crowd, but that I'd been working on something with Joel. He was cool with us debuting our stuff there, but needed a band name for promotions, which we didn't yet have. We hastily gave him the name Cecil Says (the name of the intranet at work), knowing full well we didn't want to keep it. At the show, I asked the audience to let us know after our set if they had any good band name ideas. A random guy at the bar shouted out "Two Dragons and a Cheetah." The audience laughed, but I was perplexed, as there were clearly only two members of the band and the name implied three, but Joel (oh, Joel...) stood up behind his kit, flexed his biceps and said, I've got the two dragons right here! The audience laughed again and I thought to myself, Oh great, now we're going to be stuck with this name... Afterward, the more I thought about it, the name was actually perfect. It was organic and completely original—we're the only thing that comes up if you Google Two Dragons and a Cheetah.
Insights into the creative synergy that the two of you share.
Joel and I are both simultaneously very intense people and also goofballs. Our music is really emotionally charged and heavy, but in between songs, we're usually laughing and making a lot of jokes on stage. I'm the songwriter in the band, but Joel gives the songs their "feel." I'm also very inspired by him as a human being---he's the smartest person I know and always has the most brilliant insights about everything. I've written entire songs based on conversations we've had or things I've heard him say. In 2015, Joel quit his job and traveled around the world for a year. I visited him in the summer of 2016 in Scandinavia and it was on that trip that I realized that even if he and I lived in different places, we'd always be Two Dragons and a Cheetah and that the band was about more than just music, it was an inextricable part our friendship too.
Thoughts on the surrender and compromises that informed the single "Give Up".
"Give Up" was written after someone I'd been seeing pretty regularly and intensely for a couple of weeks completely ghosted on me out of the blue. We departed one morning with him telling me he'd see me at my show with Two Dragons and a Cheetah later that night and then he completely disappeared and stopped responding to texts. Anyone who's been on the dating scene for any length of time has become familiar with this phenomenon and my story was just like the hundreds of others I'd heard about from friends. It's REALLY frustrating because you'd like to think that adults can just be honest and tell you if they're not interested in seeing you anymore so that you're not left wondering what happened and why. It's the lack of explanation that's the hardest part, not the fact that the relationship didn't continue. So I channeled all that frustration into the song "Give Up." It's an angry, but cathartic song. I'd even go so far as to call it an anthem for the modern dating scene, that's how endemic the phenomenon has become.
Fellow local DMV artists that you all really adore right now.
Just to name a few, because I really could go on and on:
allthebestkids — socially conscious alternative hip hop that's catchy AF
Loi Loi — electronic dance pop that's fun and full of energy
Derek Evry — one of the best songwriters I know with a beautiful voice and a true penchant for power pop
Important local activism that more people should be aware of.
Living in Washington, DC, we are in the thick of the circus that is the current presidential administration. There is a different protest happening every day here, but on the local scale, DC is in a constant fight to be recognized as the 51st state. More people live here than in Vermont or Wyonming, and yet we don't have a voting member in Congress. DC citizens often vote on initiatives that Congress will overturn simply because they don't agree with our collective choices. It's outrageous and I'm going to assume unconstitutional (though I'm not a political scientist, so I can't really say that last part for sure.) Regardless, it's at the very least unconscionable and it's certainly an important issue of which folks in other part of the country are likely completely unaware.
Things that DC needs more of.
Affordable housing; too many native Washingtonians are being pushed out of their neighborhoods because of rampant unchecked gentrification that is made worse by our mayor being in the pockets of the big real estate developers.
Things that DC needs less of.
Further insights on how art can challenge change for the better.
Two Dragons and a Cheetah created a piece of protest art that we released on the 1-year anniversary of the inauguration, a song and accompanying video entitled "November 8, 2016". It conveys the shock, anger and fear among the people in this city (only 4% of which voted for Trump) in the days and weeks following the election. That's just one small-scale example, but good art makes people think. Childish Gambino's "This is America" was literally the only thing people could talk about when it hit YouTube. Even the late night TV host monologues are their own form of political commentary in the form of comedy.
Future plans for Two and a Cheetah.
Joel Wu is currently living and working in Minnesota and I'm living and working in DC. We make music when we're in the same place and we work on other things when we're not. After "Give Up," we have two additional singles to release this year, the plan being to release one per quarter. In the meantime, I play in multiple bands and will be releasing solo material hopefully sometime this fall, so I'm certainly not idle while 2D&C is on hold. And the truth is, it's never totally on hold because it's a part of us. We'll announce stuff on our social media channels when there's stuff to announce, so just make sure you follow those and you'll be in the loop.
Parting thoughts of hope, action and inspiration.
Stop rationalizing. Stop making excuses. If you see something in the news that's unequivocally wrong, don't sit there and think; that's just the way things are now. That's a bullshit response and you should know better. Be vocal. Be active. Participate. Vote. Make art. Make change. Doing nothing is not an option anymore.