Julia Peck, NPR
Alan Drogin (left) and Steven Swartz at NPR's studio.
Ned Wharton, NPR
Steven Swartz during a Vibromonk studio recording session for the group's latest CD.
Ukuleles don't always get their fair measure of respect. But that doesn't stop the New York-based band Songs from a Random House from using two ukuleles to create an unconventional pop-music sound.
The band was founded in the mid-1980s by singer/songwriter Steven Swartz and Alan Drogin. Swartz plays the baritone ukulele — deepest in register of all the ukuleles, which Swartz notes "is very much like saying it's the tallest dwarf."
Drogin's specialty is the soprano version of the instrument. Since 1997 they've partnered with violist Gregor Kitzis, string bassist Jason DiMatteo, and drummer John Bollinger since 1997. The group makes eclectic music that departs from the Hawaiian sound typically associated with ukuleles, lending the instrument more gravitas. There's even room for "Taste of Crow," which Swartz describes as an "angry ukulele song."
The band's most recent album, gListen, was released last year. They will perform in the near future at Tonic in NYC (June 8) at Baltimore's 14 Karat Cabaret (June 10) and at The Fire in Philadelphia (July 9). Members of Songs from a Random House recently joined Scott Simon for a chat and live performance.