Interview: The Blow

Tobi Vail

By Tobi Vail

on 10.03.13 in Interviews

The Blow

The Blow

The Blow’s new self-titled album is Khaela Maricich’s first release in seven years. Most artists who pause that long between records struggle to regain their momentum. Instead, Maricich’s reinvention of the group — this time with girlfriend Melissa Dyne — is the next logical chapter in girl-penned indie-electronic pop, sure to satisfy anyone anxiously awaiting a sequel to 2006′s Paper Television. Their artistic partnership celebrates the camaraderie of commitment through creative work, and sounds like a modern lesbian take on David Bowie and Brian Eno’s 1970s experiments with pop — minus all the glitter, glamour, drugs and high fashion. The record is gleeful and full of ideas and emotion, establishing them in a lineage of feminist pop artists that includes Yoko Ono, Madonna, Le Tigre and M.I.A., artists who also question the Cartesian mind/body split by making you dance and think at the same time.

Tobi Vail caught up with Maricich over the phone to discuss the New York City art mafia, hugging the audience and squeezing her heart into a meat grinder.

What has changed for The Blow since you put out Paper Television in 2006?

[In 2006] I lived in Portland and worked with Jona Bechtolt [of Yacht] and then I moved [to NYC] with Melissa Dyne. Working with Melissa is super different because we’re girlfriends — also because we’re girls, and girls communicate differently on creative projects. We talk about everything. My experience with boys is like, “I’m just gonna do it and it’ll be cool.” At least with us, we like exploring, philosophically and theoretically, all the options of how things could be —we’re as interested in the process as we are in the outcome. [Melissa] hasn’t done albums before. She’s a sound artist and works with physics and sound waves in her installation work, and she used to play cello. We treat it as a total experiment, and sometimes we make one version of a song and go, “Huh, what if we try it completely New Wave this time?” and redo it. So it’s a process of building models. Sometimes we build one model and then we look at it and say, “Let’s completely renovate it and try it in a different way,” as opposed to being like, “OK, we’re gonna make an album and we’re gonna go about it the most direct and businesslike manner.” Our endurance for working with the process and playing around with it is vast.

Can you talk about the technical process of arranging the songs electronically?

We didn’t feel committed to a particular identity as music makers. IYou’re starting with the void. We both really tripped out on that, the fact that you can put any sound from any source anywhere. We knew we didn’t want to take the sounds out of a computer program, so we sampled different live instruments and perfected the samples so they sounded really clean. We would use generic computer sounds to make a beat and then find sounds to replace so that it [sounded] three-dimensional and rich. We inherited a couple of really weird synthesizers and Melissa just played around with them and tried to find the weirdest things she could.

How has your approach to performance changed over the years?

Music audiences can be so unruly, like a mob. We are learning how to sculpt the mob — make connections and take [the audience] to interesting places. During the live show, [Melissa] performs on a riser that’s at the back of the room in front of the sound engineer and I perform on the main stage and we have the crowd in between us. On my stage, there’s generally nothing besides myself and maybe some lights. The live show is us just hugging the audience in between us. We use that as a platform to see what cool stuff we can make happen. Melissa has a really strong role, but doesn’t want to be the one everyone is looking at all the time. We’re both working the room. She is making the room super high-fidelity intimate; she sets it up so it sounds really good. Little modules of sound are penetrating as deep into people’s ears as they can and opening people up a lot — and then she’s playing the electronic instruments — like manipulating samples and fucking with delays.

How would you describe your music to your cool aunt?

I come from a history of being super influenced by Kimya Dawson, but over the years, and in the process of making this record, we’ve both leaned more toward the experimentation of the ’70s — Laurie Anderson, David Bowie and Brian Eno are big influences on this album. Also Bjork — she kind of led the way for talking about emotions in abstract and really intimate ways in her lyrics, not even rhyming sometimes, just straight-up describing. But the impetus from where I started from was definitely Kimya Dawson — the idea that you just pick up your guitar and you don’t have any resources and you don’t need any because your emotional honesty is enough to form a bond with the listener. She’s a really awesome songwriter, she can play guitar and she’s really perceptive.

But the swashbuckling adventure story of what it was like for us to make this record is that we basically just decided to squeeze our hearts into a meat grinder and see what came out. It’s still hard for us to describe the music. We didn’t think of about a genre or a style until after we were done. We were [essentially] jumping out of a plane or, like, taking pictures of ourselves falling and then seeing what they looked like. Style-wise we have no idea what this is, but it is emotionally resonant and honest so we feel like we are on track.

Are you still involved in a DIY or any kind of community in New York?

Community is hard to come by in New York. Everybody doesn’t live in the same neighborhood, so you have to unite along events, and the events we found ourselves uniting around are mostly within the queer art scene — what I call the “lesbian mafia of New York,” or I guess the “lesbian-trans-queer art mafia.” They don’t call themselves that, but that’s how I’ve thought about them. It’s a scene where they were like, “We need to make space for ourselves,” and really went about doing it and were successful and smart. To me, that is DIY: They didn’t see themselves represented in the world they were a part of — the art world — and were like, “OK, we’re gonna make ourselves be the people you wanna know.” That is super inspiring.

So what’s next?

The process of how we’ve been able to make sounds has arched through the sky and we’re watching it morph and change and grow. It’s like we wanted to create a planet but then it took massive time and energy and force just to get the materials and raw elements. And then they develop to a certain point and then you stop it and box it up and send it out to people. But that planet is still developing and growing and new things are evolving, because as we play the samples, looping and combining them with sounds from other songs and putting them all together — it’s all still changing. It’s super fertile. After the album was done, we got way better at it. It’s a growing living thing, it’s not a product. Now that things are all greased up and moving, we’re just gonna keep recording and capture more of it.