Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interview with The Blackberry Belles

DC's own Blackberry Belles have increasingly put on excellent live shows at many clubs and venues in the past year. They have now released their first record (reviewed favorably here a month back) and celebrate with a CD-release party this Friday night at the Black Cat. I hope the attendance is good and most any rock fan should not be disappointed with this band in any way. But come on out and judge for yourself.  Here is a part one of an interview I had with two of the Belles conducted this past Sunday...

Interview with Tony and Jesse, 2/3 of the Blackberry Belles.

David Hintz:  The Blackberry Belles, have a been around a year is it?

Tony (guitar/vocals):  A little over a year.

DH  OK, and three members all in the DC area?

T  Yeah

DH  And did you all grow up in the DC area or where in the country?

Jesse (keyboards):  I was born in DC but grew up in Northern Virginia. My folks are from Texas, moved up here in the 70s, bounced around for a while, had me in the city then moved out to Burke, in a little log cabin.

DH  That's interesting. I lived on a mountain in Colorado for 18 years, but it was a comfortable house, not a log cabin... 30 miles west of Denver was all.

T  And I grew up in Xenia, Ohio

DH  And me from Kettering (we spoke earlier about the Xenia tornado and other things as these are both cities around Dayton, Ohio).

T  And I've been out here since I want to say 2003.

DH  And your drummer (Alison), where is she from?

T  She is... where is she from?

J  She is from here and California. I think she spent most of her childhood out in Cali... Her family was military, so she bounced around, ended up back here.

DH  Yeah, all us Federals end up back here.

T  They knew each other quite a while...

J   Yeah, Allie and I were in a band shortly after high school. She was the original drummer for a band, The Ordinary Way, which was a band I played in from 1999 to 2006 and so right when I joined up, she had left, so we got another drummer. But she would periodically come back and we would do shows together and sometimes we would have two drummers or she would play percussion. We got to know each other pretty well.

DH  Yes, and you Tony are in another band right now.

T  Yes.

DH  And are you, Jesse, in any other side projects right now?

J  Not really, little things here and there.

DH  But you are in a band now...

T  Yeah, I am in the Courtesans right now.

DH  Yeah, the Courtesans have been around a while...

T  Yeah, actually the Courtesans started... actually, I was in Supercade with the bass player from the Courtesans, and then drummers and singers kind of came and went and then one day, we were like ok, it's time we just sing. It doesn't matter if we can't. We just need to do it. And then at that point, we just became the Courtesans. And I was in another band at that time as well. And when that band broke up, I started to look to put together this band.

DH  Right, so you were active interested and I was kind of curious about this. Because it does seem so different now. You did not hear about this 30 years ago as much--people being in two bands, but now it is so common. So is the goal to do something different? Because your bands are different, although they could play on the same bill.

T  Yeah it was weird because I think when I was in Supercade or right after we became the Courtesans and we were trying to find our way, everybody was in another band except for me. (laughter) Well it was kind of like I have lots of time on my hands. I want to be in another band. So I started answering Craig's List ads and I got into a band that was doing garage rock, you know 60s garage rock, the Break-ups, so once the Break-ups broke up, I wanted to keep doing this kind of music and at that time, it didn't translate to what the Courtesans were trying to do. So I did not want to have this huge hodgepodge of different sounds and I wanted to focus more on this (Blackberry Belles).

DH  That makes sense. I find it interesting as I try to think back. We had "fuck bands" which would be (multi-band) combos that went out and do one show, but now big bands, huge, I mean Jack White or whoever with all kinds of things going on... But how about the writing? How does this band write and who do you choose when you are in two bands what your focus is?

T  A lot of the times I just know when I'm writing. It's like this is definitely a Belles song or a Courtesans song and there have been songs I have demo'ed to one band and they're like 'ehhh' so I play it to the other band. The song writing for the most part is that I'll have the skeleton of a song--sometimes I'll have verse, chorus, bridge, you know all that stuff and lyrics, and then I'll come in and everything will get switched around and parts will change and everybody is influential on the creative process. And on some songs like the end of "Listen baby", we were going to do a third verse and (Jesse) said why don't we do something different and he just started playing something and he came up with the end of "Listen Baby" and I had to find something that would fit lyrically at the end of that and it worked out really well.

DH  Yeah, that's good. I want to point out here that you are a three-piece with no bass. Keyboards, guitar and drums. And I think you guys, especially the two of you do really well with the arranging. It does sound full and uh, if you do work creatively on putting things together, it doesn't matter how simple it is underneath as opposed to lining up like the Marshall Tucker Band with three guitars.

T  Everything I am doing is extremely simple because I've got to play and sing.

DH  Yes!

T My approach is I'm going to play as little as possible. I'm going to get away with smoke and mirrors and it works out.

DH  Right. And how was your Fort Reno show?

T  It was great!

J  We had a really good time. We were worried about the weather. It was hot, but clouds kind of rolled in and threatened with storming but held off. Yeah, it was great. There were a lot of families there which was cool--kids dancing and stuff. I've only been to one show there before and it was so long ago, I don't really remember it--who was playing. But it was a good experience.

DH  Yeah, it looked like it when I wrote the review of the one I attended. It's really not for me, but it's a really cool thing because there are so many young people there exposed to it...

J  Surprisingly the sound is good there. The PA does not look like much. The stage sound is really good.  It's the same guy that's been running it for a while, doing the sound. And someone does the booking. But they have it together.

DH  You guys do pretty well, at least I think, in playing just about every club here--short of the 9:30 Club or have you played there?

T  We have Not played the 9:30 Club.

J  There's a lot of little places that we haven't played...

DH  Smaller clubs...

T  We got really lucky with the Black Cat and the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. They pretty much got behind us right out of the gate. They were just giving us main stage shows and we were bringing nobody since no one knew who we were. And they would turn around and give us another show. I have never understood it. We love (the Black Cat). And the same thing with the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. I hustle to try to get that place filled up, get different bands to play on the bill, different organizations to come in, you know, to try to get some more people in there with us. And they have just believed in us from the start and we are lucky to have both of those clubs.

DH  With most of your shows as headliner, are you arranging the opening bands?

T  A lot of the time we are. I mean, it seems like they trust us to put together a bill.

J  I don't know, maybe it's like half and half. We did a Mondo Topless show...

T  Well that was not ours.

J  And the Billy Woodward and the Senders show.

T  The first one wasn't ours, the second one was.  I put that one together with Billy Woodward. He helped us on that one. He got the Dirty Names in on that one. And then it was us and the Dupont Circles on the bill.

DH  It's important to get bands you like and something sympathetic, too...

T  Yeah.

DH  But also the clubs would want them to bring their own fans, so is that something you would consider? It's hard to know...

J  Well, you learn as you go, I guess. It's hard and I think most bands understand. As we we were when we started, we were not really capable of bringing a crowd that's gonna make the club very happy. You know they need to break even and everyone's kind of aware that there's a line in there where everyone's going to either lose or make money and if you're not going to get them up to the line, then they'll need to look for someone else. Nothing against the bands. So, we've been on some shows where there were some bands that should not have been on for that reason. But there's out of town bands where it's tough. It's really up to the club in the end to allow the show to happen, once they see what's going on. They approve it, see that it's a good idea.

DH How do payouts work? Do bands have to get involved?

T  Some times the bands have to get involved. Some times the clubs depending where you play. I can't name names.

DH  That's fine.

T  Like we'll play shows where there will be an opening band that didn't bring anybody and some of these clubs poll at the door to see how many people you bring and then we'll just say 'whatever, split the money three ways'.

J  If they're from out of town or something, like the Velvet Lounge or something, there's not really a huge take at the end of the night. So if a band drove two hours to get there, at least give them the gas money. It's not like we had to work that hard...

T  I'm pretty sure we've just given up our money, especially like when they come over at the end of the night with like $13. For three bands, I mean like what's going on here? (laughs) I mean you give it to the guy that needs it. I'm going to just drive home.

DH  Yeah, I used to book shows and just give the money to bands and watch them fight... (more discussion) And now to segue into this. You have your CD show coming up this Friday night (at the Black Cat)... and I'm double booked that night, but I will make it by for your set.

Part 2 to come when I can devote time for transcription....


Chris said...

Glad to see they are fairly normal folks, and that they are cool about letting their opening acts get paid. I can think of a bar who always asks who I'm there to see - I say "all of them". I don't want anyone to get stiffed.

The B' Belles are a really fine band - I saw them at Fort Reno and bought their CD. I may or may not catch them Friday, but I hope to seem them around now and then and wish them the best. I thought the FR sound mix was too heavy on the guitar and low on the keyboard & drums, which is unfortunate for a band where the keyboards contribut so much to the overall sound. I hope to see them with the sound mix as balanced as it is on their (excellent) CD.

David Hintz said...

Yeah, it's more than one bar. One time I answered all of them and they said 'well, this band is running low, so I'll put it there.' I've also felt like changing my 'vote' a few times, but haven't had the guts to find out what they would do if I confronted the poor door person with that.

Part Two is posted... and hopefully I'll see you this Friday!