Baltimore’s Scroll Downers Turn Psychedelic Jams Into Apocalyptic Rock

In Music Stories by Matthew Everettleave a COMMENT

Last fall, Lexie Macchi joined Zachary Utz and Dave Jacober for a series of informal jam sessions. For each of them, it was one of several ongoing creative projects: Macchi, who performs mostly as Lexie Mountain, is a conceptual artist, singer, painter, and stand-up comic; Utz and Jacober were two-thirds of the underappreciated (and now defunct) Baltimore noise-rock band Dope Body and filled their schedules with side gigs.

Just eight months later, those informal jam sessions have become the trio’s main priority. Under the name Scroll Downers, they released their debut album, Hot Winter, in late May, with advance hype from Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Brooklyn Vegan, and they have just set out on an East Coast tour. (Plus, Dope Body played its final shows just a few weeks ago.) None of them are giving up their other pursuits, but, at least for the foreseeable future, Scroll Downers will be the main thing for all three of them.

“I’ll be on tour, so I physically can’t do anything else except be in a car with my bros,” Macchi says. “I love going on tour—I really hope to be able to play with Dave and Zac as much as possible.”

In December, after just a couple of months of playing together, the trio decamped from Baltimore to Utz’s grandmother’s house on Hooper’s Island, an isolated rural outpost on Maryland’s Eastern Shore near the Chesapeake Bay. Just three hours away from the city, they found themselves in a watery wilderness with nothing to draw their focus away from music.

“There’s barely any cellphone reception, there’s no night life, no distractions,” Macchi says. “It feels like a giant marsh almost. It’s really swampy—it’s a delta region and a watershed. Where we were, you could see the Chesapeake Bay, the Hongo River, a lake, a pond, and a marsh.”

They set up their gear and converted the living room into a makeshift studio, then spent a week shaping 20-minute psychedelic-punk jams into 4-minute rock songs and then turning those songs into an album.

“We really wanted something to take on the moment,” Macchi says. “There’s nothing wrong with people taking a super-long time on their records, but there was something that we wanted to capture that was really immediate and raw and fucked up—for the first couple of months that we were playing together, we’d just make some stuff up and play these 20- or 25-minute songs. We wanted something that spoke to that, but at the same time we found ourselves drawn to crafting songs, like picking out things in those improvised performances that we liked and then revisiting them and crafting them into a song.”

It was an unseasonably warm December in Maryland—that gave Hot Winter its title—and the album reflects the weird wildlands in which it was made. “A lot of the inspiration for the songs comes directly from there—those were the moments when we were writing them and finishing them,” Macchi says. “We didn’t want something that was too polished but could still be raw and live and living.”

Its improvisational origins give the album a hazy, spaced-out vibe, but there are hooks, too, some immediate (like on the first single, “Shake Off the Rays”) and some hidden under a cloud of heavy psychedelic guitar riffs. There are obvious antecedents and influences—Sonic Youth, Jefferson Airplane, Blue Cheer, the Doors. It’s completely unlike the streamlined synth pop produced by the Scroll Downers’ better-known Baltimore peers, like Dan Deacon, Future Islands, and Lower Dens. There’s a dark undercurrent to Hot Winter, a sense of a backcountry Americana apocalypse—it could be the soundtrack for a Mad Max installment directed by Terrence Malick.

It took some adjustment for Macchi—whose previous music projects included abstract collages, avant-garde vocal groups, and the long-form experimental improv group the Crazy Dreams Band—to make the transition from the music underground to the relatively straightforward rock-band approach of her new group.

“The thing that I learned in the Crazy Dreams Band was that I enjoyed doing that—it was something that was in me, to sing in a rock band,” she says. “Dave and Zac are straight-up professional musicians. They do gigs in their off time, different types of jazz gigs—they play constantly and they’re incredibly good. I’m not a musician on that level, but I bring the animal.”

Scroll Downers play at Pilot Light on Wednesday, June 8, at 10 p.m. 18 and up. $5. 

Senior Editor Matthew Everett manages the Knoxville Mercury's arts & entertainment section, including the comprehensive calendar section—Knoxville’s go-to guide for everything worth doing in the area. You can reach Matthew at

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