Who Are…Blank Realm

Robert Ham

By Robert Ham

on 01.15.14 in Who Is...?s

File under: Sun-baked psych-pop with a sticky-sweet core
For fans of: The Clean, Gap Dream, Apache Dropout
From: Brisbane, Australia
Personae: Daniel Spencer (vocals, drums), Luke Spencer (bass), Sarah Spencer (keyboards, vocals), Luke Walsh (guitars)

When Blank Realm started making music together around 2005, their sound was much knottier and noisier than the comparatively clean garage rock in which the quartet trucks nowadays. According to guitarist/vocalist Daniel Spencer, those early efforts were influenced more by naiveté than the experimental music they were listening to at the time. “We really didn’t know how to play our instruments,” he says with a laugh. “We gradually learned how to do that so that’s definitely helped with the songwriting.”

As evidenced by the band’s sparkling new album Grassed Inn, the transition has been a smooth one. But even the most straightforward sounding tracks are still loaded with twists and turns: the Krautrock-inspired pulse of “Violet Delivery” is repeatedly interrupted by particularly manic-sounding keyboard parts throughout.

Robert Ham caught up with Daniel Spencer to discuss his close ties with his sibling bandmates, Blank Realm’s hometown, and their love/hate relationship with touring the US.

On his relationship with younger siblings Luke and Sarah:

I know it sounds kind of lame, but we were all pretty much best friends growing up. There are only a couple of instances in which I ever fought with either of them. Most of them happened when we were on tour after being in the van for 17 hours straight. It is kind of odd. People are always surprised that we do all this stuff together and don’t get sick of each other. A lot of people are quite different from their siblings but we’re all pretty much the same.

On Brisbane:

It’s a pretty quiet town compared to some of the other cities in Australia. Our upbringing was very suburban, but we had a big yard and were surrounded by bush and a lot of kangaroos. It was the Australian dream that doesn’t really exist in many cities. It’s not like that now. It’s not as well known as Melbourne or Sydney as a musical city, but it definitely punches above its weight. The Go-Betweens and the Saints are from Brisbane. And before we started playing, the thing that had been going for a long time was a lot of improvisation and experimental music. We kind of grew out of that and started playing in pubs around the city.

On touring the United States:

We’ve been to the States twice and both times were really good…fun but grueling. In Australia there’s only maybe three to five cities to play, whereas in America there’s…a lot more than that [laughs]. We weren’t really prepared for that. We decided to play as many shows as we could but we weren’t prepared for night after night of drinking and then being in the van and then drinking again. The beer’s really good there, and your microbrew scene is pretty amazing compared to home. Even the beers you can get at 7-11 are really good. We were really excited about the burgers and American food but we got over that on the road. One too many trips to Jack in the Box.

On the influence of literature on his lyrics:

I think each song may be a different character, but they’re not really based on things that have happened to me. It’s usually me putting on a role, the idea of playing a character or doing a bit of ventriloquism. Especially Grassed Inn because that one is mostly about an obsessive kind of love, really crazy behavior. I’m not like that. I’m quite boring, actually. I guess I hesitate to call it literary or anything like that because some of them are pretty dumb.