Double Wammie: Hanoi Ragmen wins awards for best rock album and song5 min read
At the 35th annual Wammie Awards on Saturday, April 1, the UMW-linked band Hanoi Ragmen received two awards. The band, whose drummer is Mary Washington’s own Nathan Argust, took home 2023 Best Rock Song for their song “Foolhearted” and 2023 Best Rock Album for “The Oldlight.”
“For me, these awards exemplify the hard work, energy and creativity that every member of the band provides, and I can’t overstate how proud I am of everyone,” said Hanoi Ragmen keyboardist Shaan Shuster, a senior economics major at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn. “What’s being recognized is something I’ve always known—that my bandmates are special and exemplary musicians. I’m so grateful to be able to play alongside them, and I’m excited to see what the future may bring.”
The Wammie Awards recognize artists and musicians in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, according to the award’s website. Fans were able to vote for their favorite eligible bands and artists, all of which were submitted on the Wammie Awards Awardforce platform, and they were able to vote for as many nominees as they pleased.
Hanoi Ragmen, at the time of publication, has 406 monthly listeners on Spotify and 5,472 streams on their award-winning song, “Foolhearted,” which is on their newest, also award-winning album, “The Oldlight.” Because the Wammie Awards are decided through fan voting, the band’s two awards showcase their impact in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.
The acclaim around the award-winning song and album demonstrates the band’s growth and personal progress throughout their years together. Hanoi Ragmen officially formed around 2018, according to vocalist and guitarist Gabriel Harr-Siebenlist, but the members knew each other long before that.
“We took part in a music school in Alexandria called Rock of Ages Music, and though many of us knew each other and were friends from school, all coming from the Alexandria City Public School system, that familiarity in playing music together helped us to sort of seamlessly form the Ragmen,” said Harr-Siebenlist, a senior Arabic language and Middle Eastern studies major at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
Currently, the band is composed of seven members: Harr-Siebenlist on vocals and rhythm guitar, Argust on drums, Beck Moniz on vocals and bass, Max Powell on vocals and lead guitar, Shuster on keyboard, saxophonist Kostia Howard and guitarist Dillon Miranda.
Although the band is just breaking out, their collaboration firmly roots them in the D.C. music scene. Because they’re surrounded by so many talented musicians in the area, Argust said, it means even more to be recognized by local fans through the Wammies.
For the band, “It is very reassuring to us that we have a special chemistry and that we have the capacity to create award-winning music,” said Argust. “Especially when there is so much great music coming from the D.C. area, it is really awesome to be recognized after all the physical, emotional, and financial hardships we’ve gone through to produce the record. That being said, these awards don’t define us and they’re not the reason why we make music.”
“We’ve always been big believers of recording everything: every idea, no matter how small, record it on the phone, send it to the band chat and save it for later,” said Powell, who now is a full-time instructor at their musical alma mater, Rock of Ages Music School. “It’s crazy how many times we’ve been stuck on writing certain parts of some song or another, which we’ll then solve by scrolling through our hundreds of individual iPhone recordings, and we’ll find a perfect fix.”
But the ever-changing nature of their music can be taxing as well. “Our music is constantly evolving and being reworked,” said Argust, a senior philosophy and music double major. “In a lot of ways it can be arduous but overall, since we are really close friends outside of the band, we are able to work well with each other and overcome the challenges that face us.”
Powell also has a similar philosophy regarding the process of collaboration. “Seeing as so many of us bring in song ideas these days, I think this is one of the more challenging yet most interesting and endearing parts of working in this band,” he said. “I’d describe it as a good mix of both letting whoever brings in a song idea steer the ship so to speak, but also letting individual members create their own ideas.”
But not every song is completely composed before it’s brought to the full band, Argust said. “‘Hollowfoot,’ was a song that I introduced to the band with this idea of a drum pattern and song structure,” he said. “We then grew the song into what it is now, together, which was cool to see it come to fruition.”
Argust explained that the band is a democracy, but they allow the person who proposes an idea to have creative control since they often have a vision for it. Nevertheless, he said, “each member has the right to provide advice and change their parts because they are regarded as the expert with regards to their instrument.”
Because of Hanoi Ragmen’s collaboration on each song, these awards don’t just give notoriety to the band, they also reward them for their work as a team.
Hanoi Ragmen is mainly composed of the musicians themselves, but their label Baffin Records has also been a pinnacle of support since the band signed their record deal for the album “The Oldlight” in June of 2022.
“It was a very exciting moment, probably the first legal contract I’ve ever signed, and the beginning of a really powerful partnership,” said Howard, a junior computer science major at Princeton University. “Quite simply, our now Wammie-winning album would not have sounded the way it does without Baffin’s mixing.”
The connection with Baffin came through John Patrick, the owner of Rock of Ages Music School, Harr-Siebenlist said. Patrick knew Dave Klein, the co-founder and manager at Baffin Records who was looking to sign more artists. “He was looking for clients, and Hanoi had a local following and most importantly was taking our music career pretty seriously,” said Harr-Siebenlist.
Before this, however, they found other ways to record, including at Bias Studios in Springfield, Va., where UMW’s guitar instructor Bruce Middle has recorded. The band also recorded some demos at home and in UMW’s music studio, Argust said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that UMW has a recording studio, so it was awesome to be able to get some demos there,” he said.
To Klein, it means a lot for Hanoi Ragmen to win two Wammies because the band truly earned this recognition, he said, and he has high hopes for the band’s future.
“My hope is that Hanoi Ragmen’s fanbase continues to grow, not just in the DC area, but beyond,” he said. “We’d love to see them touring the east coast or around the country, but to get there we need to keep the momentum going. The 2023 Wammie awards brought more attention to the band, and we hope to build on that excitement this summer.”
Hanoi Ragmen will play their biggest show ever at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 12.