Part Two: Interview with Tony and Jesse, 2/3 of the Blackberry Belles.
And don't forget, Friday, July 29th--see the band at the Black Cat and buy their CD!
DH I am curious of your opinion on this. I have an (ongoing) argument with a friend where he says a live show should have the band featuring new and unique arrangements. That may work for Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, but then I counter with the Ramones or the Stooges where you don't want unique. How do you feel about that with your music, do you like to play with it?
J We will mess around with at practice. You know, jokingly play songs differently and joke around that we will play it that way at a show, but we end up playing it the way we have it. Some of the songs have changed a lot...
DH Since you thought you had them done (laughter)
J Yeah, we've gotten to the point now where we're comfortable with each other and comfortable with the songs we have--definitely the songs on the album, to where it would take a lot of time... Some of this would take so much time since we don't have the time to rehearse often enough. We could spend our time rearranging the songs we have or spend time trying to write new stuff so we don't play the same songs at the show. So we've really been trying to focus on that, but a lot of times we can only get together once a week for a couple of hours.
T But I feel like our material has the ability to change, you know, like on stage if something happens and if like I miss cue... there are times where I change songs, not completely, but I'll stop playing what I would be playing they are carrying the songs. Like they will always react. They are always right there like they know what's going on.
J Or it's a horrible train wreck. It's one or the other. (laughter)
T I don't think we've had any train wrecks on stage.
J Not lately.
DH I can sense that it could go either way. It seems like there is a nice feeling among the three of you that you can play around with it. But also when you are kind of new, unless you are destined to be the new Phish, you don't want to go hog wild improv...
T Yeah, we show some serious restraint.
DH I sense some of your musical influences date back to before you were born.
T Yeah, definitely.
DH How do you discover that era through each of your musical journeys. I am always curious about that with younger people.
T Well you know, I grew up on hip-hop and then I met some friends who were in to death metal. Like I skipped right over Metallica and went to Obituary and Deicide. And then grunge hit and then I don't know how many copies of Jane's Addiction albums I've worn out. Or Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers... and then when I started playing guitar and getting into old blues guys, I was digging back. But I never really got to the garage thing until uh... You know, like the White Stripes hit and the Black Keys hit and I listened to that and thought that was really cool. And then when I joined the Breakups, Ted from the Breakups just started feeding me all this old garage rock and they were listening to same blues stuff I was listening to like Buddy Guy and whatnot. It's like I am right there with those guys. I'm not trying to put myself on their level, but I'm feeling the same things they are feeling, so I'm digging deeper into that. Oh, and then also Prince. Yeah, he's one of the bigger influences on my musical upbringing.
DH And how about you?
J Well, I started in a similar place I guess. I was really into hard rock. My younger childhood friends and older brothers got me into metal. So I grew up on Metallica, Pantera, Guns'n'Roses and all that kind of stuff. I lived in that scene for a number of years until I got towards the end of high school and my taste kind of mellowed out and I started listening to more classic rock kind of stuff ore even jam band stuff. Kind of in and out of that and I've sort of stopped looking for music for a long time and sort of take things that were handed to me. So I can't say that I have a lot of garage rock influence or anything like that. I am kind of a lazy music listener and have listened to a lot of the same stuff for a long time. But it's kind of all over the place.
DH That is interesting because when you are in a band, especially when you write, because if you are kind of scholarly and hearing every chord progression known to man, you can feel like 'this sounds good, where am I stealing it from?'
T I wait for other people to tell me where I'm stealing it from. (laughter) It's like this sounds great, and I hope that person doesn't sue me. But if I play something at home and say I obviously know what that is, I'm not going to do that.
DH But if they sued you, that would be a good sign, then it would show you would have enough money to warrant it. (laughter) So how do you play the bass parts--what do you do with your keyboard?
J The Fender Rhodes that I play, I rewired the insides of it to maintain the internal tremolo and EQ and its like a guitar, it's got pickups and you plug a cable in and out to it, but now it is split so two octaves come out into a bass amp. I struggled for a long time to find the right combination of stuff. I tried different effects and things without rewiring, but I really wanted to isolate the two sections from each other because when you play it in this way, I want the bass to sit way up higher in the mix than the upper register of the piano and have that punch. And that was missing until I finally just cut the pickups into two sections. So now it's like two little pianos. The top half goes to an old Silvertone Sears guitar amp that kind of fell into my lap with the bottom going into a bass amp.
DH Yeah, Ray Manzarek of the Doors had to do the same thing, but he had that separate little bass thing...
J Yeah, I would love to have the Hammond on stage with me, too, but I don't think my arms are long enough to reach over there. The organ I use is just a Roland/Hammond clone which I run into a Leslie cabinet which gives it a nice growl.
DH Ah yes, it has that Leslie swirling thing.
T And you have to carry it....
J Yeah, although in smaller places with a bunch of bands, I'm kind of a pain in the ass to deal with because they have to have four mics to set up and I'm bringing in a mixer and doing the mix myself, the bass and everything else.
DH They think they are getting off light with a trio.
J Well, I take it easy on them.
T We set up a wall of amps and they are all his. (laughter) I've got this one amp and his are like he's Ted Nugent. And I still get told to turn down. The soundman goes turn down and you've got to be kidding me.
J I can't argue if you call me a masochist (laughter)
DH OK, so the Black Cat show is for your CD release which I've reviewed and enjoyed. You've put this out yourself, right? No label?
DH Which is the way it goes these days a lot. How are you trying to make it available? -- after this CD release show of course.
J We are open to suggestions. I've never done it this way before. Some of the online tools now available for bands for cheap or free are pretty incredible. We use Bandcamp which some of the folks we knew were using. So we started investigating different options. And that's a good one. It's a got a good interface and gives you some options of design and how you want to display your stuff and how you want to sell it which is great. You can let people name their own price, you can name a minimum price, they can pay more if they want to, they can download songs individually.
J But they are linked in to several other places. I guess in the end we need to use all the online tools that we can and just try to push the CDs to the people we talk to and at shows. I'm not really sure what labels do for bands anymore. Not that I don't think they do anything, but I haven't talked to anyone in depth about how it works with some of the DC labels that a lot of really great bands are on. Like what actually is happening there. Are they getting money fronted for the recording or?
DH That's a good question and something I want to learn more from talking to more of you guys starting at different levels. I mean it is one thing if Subpop signs you, but it does seem like there is the rise of the publicist now. I have friends who do that and now more bands are skipping labels, doing recording themselves, then the road... Anyway, I am glad Bandcamp is going well. That seems to be good place with what I've seen.
J It's really easy to use and they manage your... the cut they take from your sales is pretty minimal and they are not involved with making you charge if don't want to charge. You can use it for free and give all your stuff away. If you do charge, they handle all of it--you set up your Paypal account or whatever and funnels it to you.
DH So you can give it away for free and they don't charge you?
J Up to a point. I think if you were using up a lot of their bandwidth, you know, they are going to need something I guess. It's cool to because you can use it to search for music. We'll look at our stats there and find that people came across our tunes within Bandcamp, looking at something else. They categorize it, so it's a little community...
--(we continued on this theme for a bit)--
And after discussing clubs, mini-tours and how good there drummer is (she is very good), we called it a day. I am thankful that this band is as enjoyable to hang out with as they are when listened to live or on the new CD. Do check them out at the Black Cat and hopefully many more shows down the road.