On October 1, The Blow released their first album since 2006′s “Paper Television.” Over the years, frontwoman Khaela Maricich‘s lyrics have been equal parts heartbreaking and tender, caustic and clever, and the new self-titled album is no exception. Although these songs are certainly compelling on their own, they’re made even more so by their captivating backstory. In 2009 or so, rumors started to fly that The Blow were working on a new record, comprised mostly of songs that Khaela had ghost-written for a certain troubled Hollywood starlet who had entered into a very public lesbian romance with a certain fedora-clad DJ. In 2010, I saw her perform these songs in Brooklyn, and she explained very matter-of-factly that since the anonymous celebrity wouldn’t be recording these songs, she’d be performing them herself. Each track had its own emotional context within this particular celebrity romance, and they were certainly a progression from past Blow albums – slicker and slightly more danceable, but with the same lyrical vulnerability. When Khaela sang that “a kiss was just something to do with my tongue until you kissed me,” the Lindsay/Samantha romance tugged at my heartstrings in a very real and unexpected way. It didn’t matter if the story was true; it appealed to anyone who’d ever been surprised by love, and it was altogether fascinating.
Years later, when industry blogs began buzzing about The Blow’s new album, no mention was made of the curious legend behind it. It was very clear that these were the same songs I’d seen performed, but now the record was described as simply new material, devoid of context. Khaela’s website explains that from 2009-2012, she was involved in a performance art piece called “Songs For Other People,” explaining that,
“…the songs and the performance traced the vicissitudes of the very public love story as translated through my own projections and distortions, and meditated on the range of sensations related to the experience of feeling exposed. Under the excuse of songwriting research, I took the liberty of trying on elements of the starlet’s identity, adopting foreign postures and mannerisms, exploring the delicate and sometimes blurry line surrounding the sense of self.”
The band itself had changed quite a bit since the last record; collaborator Jona Bechtolt had left to pursue YACHT full-time, and Khaela’s girlfriend Melissa Dyne officially joined the band as a full-time member. With all of these changes in mind, we were overjoyed when Khaela agreed to speak with us about the process that led her to abandon Lindsay Lohan and bring “The Blow” to life. She was also incredibly gracious when I couldn’t help geeking out just a little bit.
So! You guys are putting out a new record, and you haven’t put out a new record in a long time.
This is true.
..And the dynamics of the band have changed a lot, even the lineup of the band! I was curious about how that affected the process, as well as the passage of time.
Well I mean… it just basically made it like 100% different. The passage of time is a strange thing, one notices. Like it didn’t actually seem like that long of a time to me. “Paper Television” came out in 2006, and I kinda toured by myself. After a while Melissa toured with me; we’d been close friends for a long time and then we started seeing each other, and after a while she started doing the tech for it. It was kind of a slow process of us starting to collaborate more and more on the live show. We started that tour in 2006 and we toured till 2008, then moved to New York. We actually started working on this material in the very end of 2009, so in my mind it was like one year off. After a ton of touring, you just have a ton of feeling very exposed in the world. I personally wanted privacy to come up with new things again. You have to learn to just be a watcher and not a maker for a minute. Through those years we were actually touring and developing a performance and a lot of those songs. It was a slow process but it wasn’t like, a massive breakoff, you know? It was something that developed slowly.
I guess that’s something different, including Melissa. Collaborating with Jona [Bechtolt], I would write the songs and he had the main hand in the production. We’d both write bass parts, and I’d write drums and how the rhythm should go they should go, and he’d make it exist and make it awesome, but.. really with this new generation of people who’ve always had computers, they’re like, “FAST FAST FAST.” They just throw it out and then it’s out there. Melissa and I – she was born in the 70s, we wrote with typewriters and had shoes that actually had soles, you know? We’d take our time and move slowly, so I guess that’s the main difference.
Over the years your sound has changed a lot and become a lot more electronic-based. Now you’re doing that all yourself?
Yeah, Melissa and I produced it all ourselves. So you know how it’s gone through incarnations, but it’s really just been what materials and tools have been at hand, whatever way it happens to be there in order to put the idea out. This time, Melissa had never made a record before, but she actually studied music classically as a kid. I certainly didn’t; my introduction to music was like, the indie DIY scene in Olympia, where people would just like, mumble or holler into microphones and that was it – you didn’t have to have any expertise in any way. The record was sort of coming from these two very different places, which was exciting for us. We weren’t experts at putting together an electronic album, and that was exciting. We almost had like, a no wave approach to it, the same sort of punk thing where you just pick up an instrument without knowing a ton about it, just using the technology and finding our way through it.
So… we have actually met before; I work the door at [redacted place].
I don’t know if you remember, I let you bring some friends in once.
No I totally remember, you were a brunette and you were really really nice and made me feel like a million bucks. It was in the middle of not putting a lot of stuff out and it was so nice.
I don’t get to do very nice things for people in that job. It’s a lot of conveying unpopular information, like “you’re not on the list.” But I definitely saw you guys play a lot of these new songs there in 2010. I understand now that it was an art piece, that it was “Songs For Other People,” but I was curious about why you stopped doing that for this record?
Like stopped telling that particular narrative?
Oh. Well… so that whole story started in 2008, right when we first came to New York. We were in this weird sublet in Prospect Heights with this really uptight lesbian who wouldn’t even give us two keys to the house. We were naive so we didn’t even know that we were already paying all of her rent and more for one crappy bedroom. So we were there and I started having these ideas of writing songs for this one particular celebrity… In 2008, there was a lot of freshness to that idea for me. I mean, I guess it has been (laughs) five years since that happened. On my end it was really interesting to come back into writing songs – I really started with this idea like, “I’m going to write all these songs for this celebrity, and I’m going to sell them to her, and I’m not gonna have to go out and sing them myself.” I had this very Olympia view – it was very naive, and I hadn’t thought about how it would actually be this very long process, getting a song onto a celebrity’s album. It’s not like you write six songs and then they just… put them all on their album.
Then I realized after not very much thinking about it that it was actually much more interesting to pretend I’d sold the songs, to not have to go through all that bother. I’m a performance artist. I get to do that; I get to lie. I can invent whatever reality I want to exist and live inside of it, particularly on stage. Once I realized that, that seemed really fun. I guess it just sort of felt like the lifespan of that performance, where Melissa and I were really started to get to know each of our skills in the performance and see what it was like for us to collaborate, it was like a testing ground. We performed that from late 2009 to 2011. I guess it was just a two-year cycle. That story was really interesting in that span of time.
After a while, the actual cultural landscape I was doing my narrative in had shifted a lot; that celebrity had been through her whole thing that made it now a different juxtaposition. It sounded and felt different; it kind of played out. I guess in that process of trying out somebody else’s voice, it was slowly leeching off of the host and getting more into my own voice. I was kind of freaking myself out by realizing like, whoa, I’m actually even singing like somebody else now. If you know my albums, I didn’t even start out really singing. I realized after recording some of them and it was done, I was like, whoa – the way I was singing, I was even acting like this other person in the recording a little bit, but that’s also me because I wrote that song and I’m singing it, so it got even more real – wow, what are you? The things that make up what you are, this delicate collage of elements, you can start taking it apart or putting new ones in. From my part of it and Melissa’s too, we played up that narrative and now we’re just trying to take it to new places, to deconstruct everything even more than we had with that particular story.
When you perform, there’s always a big backstory that goes along with whatever song, which is an integral part of the performance. How do you conceive that?
It’s different all the time. I happen to think on the fly, I come up with stuff when i’m in front of people. A lot of times I’m just making stuff up. With the new performance that we’re going out with now, we’ve been trying to set up a framework where Melissa and I can both be freestyling off of each other. In the past, in my own work, it’s been like I would slowly make stuff up from show to show and get a bunch of material and then take some time off between tours to refine it and bring it back out. That’s been the most successful method for me. I made a performance piece called Blue Sky vs Night Sky which to date is one of my favourite things I’ve made. The actual creative space for me and Melissa, we both find that the surprise of what can happen when you’re in conversation with the audience and also in conversation with each other is really an exciting place. In the past I’ve tried a lot of different approaches for getting material out, and I guess always it’s kind of – with Melissa too – how many things do you plan, and how many hinges do you leave, where things can just kind of spring into existence? That’s the experiment of this next tour, having some general realms where we know what will happen, and then having questions that we set for ourselves to answer in front of the audience. In the empty space of the show… there’s songs. Songs are great. Then there’s the part that’s not songs, and that is just sort of this… constant question, like, what could happen there? There’s so much untapped potential, I feel, for making a performance in a music space. So Melissa is getting in on that same thing, cos she’s an installation artist and a conceptual artist and we both felt like it was this really rich place that we could play with. The actual setup now is that she’s at the back of the theatre, in a separate stage in the back, and I’m in the front. It’s sort of a call and response between us over the audience, but also through the audience. She’s working with electronic instruments back there, manipulating our samples and recombining them in new configurations and messing with them. To answer your question for the material, it’s really just setting some guidelines and then try to be as present as possible, to do what comes out… my mouth. That’s a really long answer.
I hope you can see I’m doing that right here, trying to come up with the things I want to say, and you sort of rummage around and pull whatever’s in the back of your head.
Who did you listen to making this record, and is there anyone new you’re excited about in general?
We listened to so much David Bowie and Brian Eno, particularly Brian Eno’s “Another Green World,” and like 70′s David Bowie, “Hunky Dory” and “Spiders from Mars.” They were really the candles that we lit, cos they were poppy and also weird and cos they’ve held up so much over time.
Anything new, I guess I should just have an answer for this whenever someone asks (laughs). I’m actually really excited about the band we’re bringing on tour, Love Inks. They’re from Austin, they’re a duo. It’s really fairly minimal and also poppy, and we ended up on tour with them two years ago and just loved them so much. It seemed natural to bring them out on tour with us again. She has kind of a Stevie Nicks voice. I know people try to sing like Stevie Nicks, but I think she’s not actually trying so much to sound like her. They’re just the best. I love them.
Which track off the new record are you excited for people to hear?
I feel like our album is a strange piece. It totally changes. I don’t feel like it’s like, “THAT’S THE SONG!” I mean, it’s a pretty weird record in a lot of ways. I guess because I come from a lo-fi background, the way to be weird for me has always been to be outside of mainstream culture, but this album is actually referencing mainstream culture in a lot of ways. It’s truly poppy, but also pretty fuckin’ weird, cos we didn’t actually know what we were doing or how to really construct songs, so we were just kind of taking stabs at it. At different times we’ll be like, “This is the one!” and then later we’ll be like “No, this is the one!” Not meaning that they’re all spectacular, but meaning that they’re all such weird siblings that none of them is really the star child. If you want people to give a specific answer… I guess right now I’ve been really pumped about “Invisible” because… it’s… dark? I guess? and kinda goth? in a way? Like, the sentiment is kinda goth. Maybe that’s the first time I’ve had a song like that, a little creature of the night.
The Blow’s new album “The Blow” is out now on Kanine Records.