Rose Blanshei’s powerful lyricism and storytelling is a clean-cutting weapon in rock project Prima. She has been kicking around concepts for the last couple of years in collaboration with drummer Butch Merigoni and guitarist Jessica Ackerley, and their raw and vulnerable work is finally available for the world to hear. Prima’s debut EP, Performance, was recorded in the summer of 2015 at The Black Strap in Borough Park, Brooklyn with Torey Cates and finally released June 1 of this year via Time Castle Records. This album is full of left turns and surprises as she harnesses a sinister guitar tone with noisy washes of delay and modulation. When they take to the stage, their presence is strong with a delivery that creates a lasting impact.
I delved into the mind of Rose about the birth of Performance, her cathartic songwriting process, and how playing live makes her feel like she’s got a secret that only she knows.
AudioFemme: What was it like writing with Jessica Ackerley and Butch Merigoni? What aspects did they bring to the record? How did they help you grow as a musician?
Rose Blanshei: I can safely say that every single person that I’ve had the honor of playing with has taught me something and helped me grow as a musician. Prima, as a concept, effectively began when I met Butch Merigoni. An immensely physical, kinetic player, joining forces with Butch is what showed me that I could rock. In the span of a few months, I went from plodding away in my bedroom to making mountains of sound with another human. Butch taught me about rhythm, but more so about energy and commitment. Watching Butch play, low to the floor, mouth agape, limbs flailing, no one would ever question his investment in the moment, and in the music.
The process in the first couple of years of Prima you could say was almost anti-intellectual. The writing was all about the feel. In this period, many of my lyrics began as improvisations. There are literally days worth of Voice Memo recordings of Butch and I hammering at our instruments in unison, me babbling away. Often times I would go back, listen to these recordings, find the one discernible lyric, and then write the rest of the song from there.
Jessica coming along introduced an element of musical theory that was totally foreign to me at the time. With her influence, I think I learned how not to simply pour and call it a song, but to think about layers and arrangements. By introducing a second guitar voice into the project, I began to see my driving root notes and chords as substantive blocks to build other parts from. Her command of her instrument and her chops were not only inspirational, but educational for me, and exploded my awareness of the choices that I could make, even just in terms of the chords I chose to play.
Performance is very much the product of the time the three of us spent playing and writing together.
AF: What is your current live lineup? Have you written new material together?
RB: The current lineup of Prima consists of Frank Rathbone (Sic Tic) on guitar, Jeff Widner (Russian Baths, TELAH) on drums, and Nico Hedley (Chimneys, Journalism) on bass. I have the most bizarre sensation when I look out at these guys during rehearsals and at shows— a combination of awe, disbelief, and gratitude: I’m literally surrounded by some of the most talented and intuitive musicians I’ve ever met in my life.
There are a handful of new songs which we’ve already incorporated into our live set, which I plan on recording this summer. I’m learning how to play drums and bass so that I can be more hands-on in the demoing and writing process.
AF: Is there a recurring theme in this record? Can you share some lyrics from a favorite of yours if you can choose one?
RB: The themes of Performance weren’t apparent to me until I looked back at it, in retrospect. There were incredible amounts of pain I was experiencing at the time of writing this record; pain that I was very much entangled with. When I was finally able to step back and look at the record as a whole, with some separation, I was able to identify many of the themes and the sources of a lot of that suffering. Listening to this record now is like flipping through an old photo album, or notebook.
In a sentence, Performance is dealing with a certain kind of violence — sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes coming from the environment — the kind that is asking, suggesting, or demanding that you ought to be something other than what you are.
I have broadcasted some of the lyrics that have the most meaning to me via my Instagram leading up to the release of the record.
AF: What inspires your guitar sound? Where did you learn about the element of noise and dissonance?
RB: Lightning. Dirt. Metals. Debt.
I learn about guitar like I learn about a lot of things: by accident. I find that I naturally tend towards sounds that feel a little “off”. In a photograph, I’m always drawn to the detail that feels out of place. I’m drawn to blemishes and flaws. Once contextualized, there’s no such thing as a mistake.
AF: How do you feel on stage?
RB: The honest truth is that it varies nightly. On a good night, my ego evaporates, taking with it self-consciousness, and I am able to be a pure conduit of sound and story.
I have felt like many different things on stage: a Joan of Arc, a Barbie, a Renegade, a Soothsayer. I’ve felt like a liar and a cheat and I’ve felt more honest than I’ll ever feel. Sometimes I feel sexy, courageous, sometimes I feel like a coward.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like I have a secret that only I know about. It makes me feel beautiful, and terribly strong.
AF: What’s your next move?
I’m practicing a new rule, which is to not talk about things, especially new concepts until they are tactile and tangible. With that said, it won’t be long at all until you hear from—and see—Prima again.
Prima plays a release party for Performance at Union Pool with Russian Baths and Kate Von Schleicher. Tickets are available here.