The Distillers weave rich vocal melodies over a high-energy foundation of standup bass, hot fiddle and banjo, and driving guitar in a unique and creative style. The band mixes it up with roots-influenced arrangements of old school blues, foot-stomping Irish jigs and reels, rock 'n' roll standards, and the occasional torchy jazz number. The result is a fun, upbeat performance that feels acoustic but electrifies audiences.

The Distillers are:

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Kay Soto, Lead Vocals, Guitar, Bodran

Born and raised in Fairfax, VA, Kay displayed a passion for music from a very young age. She began playing keyboard and piano by ear at age 4. Around age 10 she took a brief hiatus from music to pursue her other great childhood love, tae kwon do. After achieving all she would in the realm of martial arts, she found her way back to music through the guitar. She began playing  and singing at age of 15, gaining valuable experience performing at local venues and open mics. In that time music has led her many wonderful people, places and turns of fate—including recording an original song with award-winning recording artist, songwriter and producer Robert Jason in his Nashville home.

With an eclectic body of musical interests, some of her most notable influences include Conor Oberst, Damien Rice, Ray Lamontagne, Simon & Garfunkel, and Queen.

Most days she can be found teaching music to an adorable abundance of preschool students; practicing yoga and meditation; drinking tea; staying in bed; or wandering in the woods.  

"I am so grateful for the gift of music in my life and excited for new adventures with the Distillers!”

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Bob Freeman, Fiddle, Banjo, Harmonica, Vocals
As a budding teenage blues harmonica player, Bob had the good fortune to cross paths and jam with a bluegrass banjo player. This lucky incident showed him the way to his musical future. Upon relocating to southwestern Virginia, he met some traditional Appalachian-style musicians and formed the June Apple Band, his first performing group. He struggled to play fiddle breaks on his harmonica, until in frustration he bought a beat up old fiddle. He taught himself how to scratch out a few fiddle tunes, and has been scratching away ever since. Later, a friend gave Bob an open-backed, coonskin head banjo he’d discovered in a derelict mountain cabin, and Bob immersed himself in clawhammer style banjo technique. His musical interests have ranged over the years from bluegrass to ragtime, swing jazz and Cajun music, but his primary focus has been traditional Irish and Scottish music. During 24 years in the Navy, Bob played in places as diverse as Ireland, Israel, Japan and China. He has a history of playing in bands with whiskey-associated names, including the Irish Whiskey Band, Whiskey Business, and Paddy’s Cure.  

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Jim Gormley, Guitar, Vocals

Jim has been playing and teaching guitar in the DC area for over 40 years, and occasionally takes on percussion gigs with special musicians and groups. He’s had the honor of playing with such notable musicians as Sol Roots, Jamie Potter, Jack Poster, David Condon, John Cropp and many others.  One of a few native Washingtonians, he makes his home in Arlington, Virginia. He comes to the Distillers as a stand-in for their original guitarist, but has been playing with the group now since June 2011. Having grown up in the acoustic explosion in the 60s and 70s, the Distiller’s music hits a comfortable spot in his heart, instrument, and voice.  Jim’s musical odyssey began with his first roommate in college—a cool guy who couldn’t tune his expensive guitar.  Jim got it playable in a few seconds, and went on to discover the chord patterns above the song sheets in his roommate’s collection, and the rest is history.  He has played solo gigs most of his life, but relishes playing with other instruments and harmonizing melodies. Pushed into piano lessons in his early youth, the piano scales and arpeggios gave him the developed ear that makes playing with others easy and enjoyable.

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Ken Hess, Acoustic Bass, Bodran, Vocals
At age 11, Ken demonstrated a superb ear for picking out melodies on the family piano. He learned chords from his father Steve and briefly took piano lessons, but didn't truly discover music until a visit to his uncle's closet in 
West Virginia. He'd seen a Stratocaster during a previous visit and inquired about borrowing it, but it had departed with an older cousin. His uncle asked if a bass would be of interest, to which young Kenny replied, "what's a bass?" He borrowed the 3/4 electric bass and played along with records to develop his ear and chops before co-founding a hard rock band that self-released two albums of original material and performed at festivals, clubs and private parties. Ken later studied jazz at McDaniel College in addition to his academic coursework. Later he was recruited by the Desert Cave Dogs, a Frederick, MD-based fusion group that performed throughout Maryland and Virginia for over five years. He co-wrote several tracks on the band's critically acclaimed CD, Barking Up the Wrong Cactus. Ken has also performed live with several groups in the DC area including Sol Roots, Vic Cook, David Condon, Alex Vans, and Ken Wenzel, and has done studio recording work with indie rock group Sherpa Underground and country/jazz singer Jana Leigh.

Blues, Irish, American Roots