We caught up with Portland-based Blouse at South by Southwest this year to talk about Debbie Harry, New Zealand, bassist Paul’s alter ego and their changing sound! Enjoy, and then stalk them for tour dates. They’re definitely a band to see live.
Vinyl Mag: How has Austin been? Have you done anything crazy yet for South By?
Charlie Hilton [guitar/vocals]: It’s been good, but we’ve just been here one day. We got here Tuesday night, so we sort of tried to do too much last night and ended up like not really doing anything.
VM: Yeah, that’s the way it always is.
CH: But our show yesterday was fun; we played an important showcase thing. The weather’s beautiful, so we’re happy.
VM: Are you excited to be down here from Portland? It’s pretty cold up there right now isn’t it?
CH: Yeah, so far we’ve been on tour with Dum Dum [Girls] for like a week, and the minute we got to California, it was beautiful and hot and sunny, and it’s been that way pretty much ever since, because we been to New Mexico, Vegas, Arizona…so we’re getting a little spoiled, but we’re eventually going to go back to the cold in the North.
VM: Could you tell me a little bit about the evolution that you took from kind of synth-y, electronic music…I think I read a quote where you said you had wanted an album with nothing plugged in. I think that’s really cool taking that leap.
Arian Gillali [guitar/keyboard]: You know, Patrick has a good way of explaining it.
Patrick Adams [bass]: Do I?
AG: Yeah, What did you say in the last one?
Paul Roper [drums]: You didn’t want there to be any established rules.
PA: Yeah, yeah. I mean it kind of opened us up to not necessarily being a synth-pop band and doing a second record that didn’t have synth pop in it. I guess it was kind of a big statement, but we just saw it as just continuing to make and craft songs that we enjoy.
CH: It started off kind of practical. One of the other guys in the band was like, ‘synths are annoying, and I don’t wanna tour with a synth.’ And then, as we got more serious, it felt really important to try something new on the second record.
VM: It definitely made a statement. People in the blogosphere were going crazy about it.
CH: I mean, people definitely latched onto that aspect of the record – like, what it’s not – which may or may not be a good thing. I’m not really sure at this point, but I’m happy with the record, and we all like really love the songs. I definitely don’t have any regrets.
MF: What would you say were some of your inspirations that lead to your second record?
CH: When we first started the band, we were geeking out over Galaxy 500 and The Dream Syndicate…
VM: And Portland has that alt-rock vibe going on there, too.
CH: I mean, there are so many things in Portland happening right now, it’s hard to keep track.
VM: How do you think [being based in Portland affects your sound?]
CH: Oh, I think it definitely does in a big way. I remember making the last record. I was going out into the forest – there are these beautiful forests in Portland – and I spent a lot of time in the mountains in this cabin. It was winter, and I just was going through a dark period, so some of the songs definitely came from that. But it’s beautiful. I’m from LA, so I feel like the seasons there are really beautiful, even when it’s depressing…like, all the trees are dead, and they almost have this purple-y color to them…[laughs] I don’t know. To me, that’s really fascinating – trees with no leaves – gorgeous…
VM: They’re always giving away so much free stuff here! How do you [work together as a group? What are each of your specific roles?]
CH: I feel like everyone in the band is justa really good musician, and more than not, energetically, we’re really good friends, and so we really enjoy playing together. It doesn’t feel like a business.
VM: It’s key, because a lot of bands out there are strictly business.
PA: Yeah, we never really got that deep into that part. It’s more just like, ‘let’s try to figure out how we can all have fun and make this thing happen.’ And a little bit deeper into that question of how we each [contribute] individually. Arian’s been in a bunch of more synth-y, darker bands, and Paul –
PR: A lot of techno.
PA: A lot of techno. Paul was in a band that he toured with for a long time in New Zealand.
MF: New Zealand? That’s so incredible.
PR: Well, it’s green. It’s down over there somewhere…I wanted to get away! I wanted to move out; I wanted to get off the island, so I moved to America and –
CH: And he almost got kicked out, and we saved him.
PR: They saved me!
CH: That is the one thing that we were able to do…we got him a visa.
VM: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened so far at South By?
PR: Yesterday, we were watching the Dum Dum Girls, and Debbie Harry came out…
CH: Yeah, that was the craziest thing.
VM: What kind of projects are you working on right now?
CH: I’ve been working on this solo record with the label – our label – that I’ve sort of been talking about with them for a couple of years, so I’m hoping to finish that in June. And we just want to get home and start working on more Blouse stuff, too.
VM: Do you find [performing without the synth is very different from with it]?
CH: It’s a lot more fun, actually. The set’s really dynamic, and there’s a lot of energy in the new songsin a different way than the first record, so we can get really loud, and it sounds good. We’re just louder, and I think it’s just more fun. The mood can change a little bit more throughout the set, which is cool…it’s not as dreamy anymore.
VM: Where are you performing again?
CH: At the Hotel Vegas tonight…[and tomorrow at] the Absolut vodka Bed Head thing…it’s kind of in a crazy studio. They’re doing people’s hair, and the updos look incredible.
VM: I have one more question. Who is the craziest member? I feel like you all are really chill right now, but who’s the secret crazy one?
CH: It depends on the day, really.
PR: I have this alter ego that comes out…
CH: Yeah, we don’t need to…it’s a secret, but it’s in him somewhere.