Last week, I had the opportunity to see The Blow and Love Inks at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Although I initially had my doubts about what I presumed would be a sickeningly hip experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the relaxed atmosphere of the venue. The beer was cheap, the acoustics were solid, the crowd was laid back, and the main attractions were pretty great as well.
The Blow is an electro pop duo comprised of Khaela Maricich on vocals and Melissa Dyne on synth and lighting. Songs are catchy, poppy and upbeat, and paired with Maricich’s distinct voice, the music is just about as infectious as anything you will ever hear. Lyrics are quirky, sarcastic and lighthearted. Their newest album, The Blow–which came out September 30th– was reportedly written for Lindsay Lohan and is about “someone who is quasi-lesbian and might have gone off the rails.”
Khaela Maricich stepped on the stage barefoot dressed in all black and sang “You’re My Light.” It was a subdued performance, without any accompaniment. Then she came to life. She spent the rest of the show dancing around the stage, crouching, convulsing and crowdsurfing into the audience. She even freestyled at one point. Melissa Dyne was stationed in the middle of the crowd on a raised platform with her synth and lighting equipment, producing sonic and visual elements that Maricich spontaneously reacted to with voice and movement. For instance, at one point Dyne projected Maricich’s silhouette against the back of the stage and Maricich in turn danced to her silhouette.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of their performance was the palpable tension between Maricich and Dyne. It may have been friendly banter, but it seemed to escalate towards the end of the performance. At one point Maricich attempted to get Dyne to interact with the audience, and when Dyne did not comply Maricich chastised her for being “off-putting and terrifying.” By the end of the show Maricich asked the audience if they wanted to hear “Parentheses,” which was probably the last song of the night. Although the crowd was enthusiastic, Maricich unceremoniously walked off the stage after barely finishing “A Kiss.” After a couple of awkward moments where everyone was processing what had just occurred, it became clear that the show was over and the crowd migrated towards the exit. Were we witnessing the culmination of an onstage lover’s quarrel? Perhaps.
My favorite aspect of live music is the element of surprise, and The Blow certainly achieved that last night. Overall, with all the crazy dancing and Maricich’s nonsensical musings (my favorite was her rant about the “blackness” of the music hall), Maricich and Dyne were on point.
Love Inks is an Austin-based, synth-infused dreamy pop trio consisting of Sherry LeBlanc on the vocals and synth, Derek Brown on the guitar and Kevin Dehan on the bass. While they describe themselves as minimalist, the instrumentation in each song is wonderfully crafted, interweaving synth, guitar and bass parts. When it comes to Love Inks, less is definitely more and they know exactly when to pull back. These elements, when combined with LeBlanc’s dreamy vocals and heart wrenching lyrics, yield a weightless effect.
Prior to the concert, I was only familiar with Love Inks’ E.S.P. and had no idea what a live performance would consist of. I couldn’t have been more impressed. While The Blow’s straightforward beats and accessible melodies are more obviously entertaining, Love Inks heralds from a more subdued place. The moment Sherry LeBlanc opened her mouth it felt as if there was a collective sigh and everyone’s baggage was momentarily forgotten. LeBlanc’s ethereal voice melded with Brown and Dehan’s interactive and complementary guitar and bass parts. While Khaela Maricich of The Blow’s banter was nonsensical and lighthearted, LeBlanc took a more intimate approach. She invited the audience into her life by telling stories about the group’s creative process and personal experiences.
They stuck close to the recorded versions of their songs, which made the occasional, sporadic variations all the more special. While Love Inks is minimalist, the most magical parts of the music occurred when all of the composite elements came together. For instance, at one point Brown walked over and played directly into the amplifier. The combination of guitar feedback, bassline and LeBlanc’s vocals created a wall of noise. My personal favorite performances from Love Inks were “Skeleton Key,” “Leather Glove” and “Rock On.” Their newest album, Generation Club was released on September 24th and is available on iTunes.
Last week, Audiofemme’s Editor In Chief, Lindsey Rhoades, was lucky enough to catch up with the oh-so talented Love Inks, while the crew was on the road for their current tour. Here are all the state secrets they divulged to us:
Audiofemme: The new record is great! You wrote these songs a few years ago but didn’t record them until this year. How did that incubation period affect the material?
Love Inks: Thanks! The incubation period gave us a lot of time to develop the songs. We actually recorded the album twice over during these last two years because we realized we were going in the wrong direction at first. The incubation period was really terrible, we just wanted the album to come out and to get on the road again. All of us were frustrated and felt like we were slowly disappearing – we’re relieved to finally have it out and be able to move forward.
AF: Was it a conscious decision to let the songs have a little breathing room before tracking them?
LI: It wasn’t… If we had things our way, the second album would have come out immediately after the first one. If only to keep momentum going. We were worried that after two years people would have forgotten about us. It just happened that we had a lot of different road blocks thrown in our way – our label went under, our band mate Adam left to teach, my father’s passing took a lot out of us as well.
AF: There were quite a few demos and versions of songs that you posted to facebook in the interim between records, including one, “Be Brave”, about the loss of Sherry’s dad, which didn’t make it onto the record. Can we expect an EP or some other release?
LI: We’ve started putting all of our unreleased songs on a bandcamp so people can download them for free. We do a lot of covers for kicks and have started posting those as well. One track that didn’t make it on the album is the title track called Generation Club, which was released on a 7″ through Conditions Records.
AF: A lot of people have noted that there’s a heavier synth presence on Generation Club. Is this new direction in your sound something that happened naturally in the time period between the two records, or was it a deliberate move away from the minimalism of ESP?
LI: Our primary intent with the first album was to focus on the power of silence and space in the songs. It’s a lovely idea but doesn’t always translate when you’re playing in bars night after night. We wanted to stick with our minimal aesthetic but grow the sound in a way that would help us combat the noise in a live club. There was synth on E.S.P., it was just more understated. When you start as minimal as we did with the first album, any minor change can alter the entire soundscape.
AF: On ESP’s “Leather Glove” there’s a line about writing to a lover in a special kind of ink – I always kind of assumed that was where the band name came from. The songs on that record in particular feel like a sort of intimate letter, and while Generation Club has its intimate moments is less personalized. Almost as though ESP is addressed to one specific entity and Generation Club is blown open in terms of its scope. Is there anything in particular that, for you as a band, feels different about the newest record when compared to your debut?
LI: Ah, good ear. We actually had the band name before Leather Glove was written, but that line is a reference to the name Love Inks. As far as the album feeling less personalized, I guess I can see that. There are some songs, like Outta Sight, that were written to a specific person in a more intense way than anything on E.S.P. was. I think the primary difference that I can see is that we spent a lot of time talking about E.S.P. before it was written. There were months of discussion about what we wanted to hear in music and what we felt wasn’t available at the time before we even picked up an instrument. We exchanged mix tapes, it was field by the excitement that comes with starting a new project. With the second album, there was the pressure of sticking to our aesthetic but making something that expanded on that. There are a lot of songs that reference the topic of time because we could feel time ticking away as it took longer and longer for everything to solidify. I will say that I personally like the new album better. I guess if we didn’t like it better, there wouldn’t have been a second album.
AF: The songs on this record draw inspiration from photos, dreams, infamous groupies. Is there a particular feeling you get when you come across a snippet in pop culture and know you have to write a song about it? What is the process of turning that inspiration into a song like?
LI: A lot of the songs were taken from snippets of poems that Kevin wrote. He would go to the library and look through Art In America magazines from the 80s and write poems about the pieces he saw. It was meant to be a writing exercise but it turned out that some of the lines really lent themselves to being songs. With that process, you have a song and you have a melody and you can pick the really great lines and fit them to the rhythm. The Pamela De Barres homage, Tattoo, was written after all of us spent a tour reading her book ‘I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie’. It was clear we had to write a song for her because her passion for music was so inspiring. As a musician, you can only write so many love songs before you start looking to new places for inspiration.
AF: How do you tackle the songwriting process between the three of you?
LI: Kevin is a prolific writer. When we’re not on tour, he spends anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a day writing music. We have a library of songs to choose from but it’s always clear when one is going to turn into something special. He writes everything on his Korg MS-20 in a sort of synth-symphony. We then take it apart from there. Usually I’ll listen to it and try to determine what the song made me feel. Sometimes there isn’t a melody in place and I’ll get to write that as well. Sometimes Kevin will write half the lyrics and I write the other half. Other times we write everything together. After that initial synth-symphony it’s not a set process with us. We each pick and choose what we’ll contribute or what we’re drawn to working on. Derek always spices up the bass lines once we get the song into a practice space.
AF: You’ve self-produced most of your music. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Is there a particular reason you choose not to get other parties involved in fine-tuning your recordings?
LI: We tried to get other parties involved in this album. We thought it would be great to go into a studio and get a really clean recording. A friend of ours in Austin recorded the entire thing in March of 2012. It was a great recording but we felt it was missing the soul of an analog recording. So we scratched it and went back to the beginning with our usual process. It just works for us. Aside from the ease of recording at our own house and our love of an analog sound, it also makes sense financially to record on our own. We did have Matt Oliver at Big Orange studio in Austin mix the album and he really helped solidify the sound we wanted.
AF: A couple of years ago I went to a SXSW day party at the Monofonus Press compound and was bowled over by their whole aesthetic, by the music and art and literature they were putting out. How did you get involved with Monofonus Press?
LI: I played in a band called the Hunnies a few years ago with a guy named Will Slack, he became one of my closest friends through that musical project. He plays in a band called Soft Healer now and works at Monofonus Press. On our last tour he sat me down and talked to me about representing the city we love and essentially putting our ‘money where our mouth’ is by going with an Austin label. We feel they’re really ballsy in terms of putting out product they really believe in and we knew they would let us have creative freedom.
AF: Monofonus has a quintessentially Austin feel to me. Are there other ways that living in Austin has influenced your music?
LI: The pace of the town is a huge influence, everything moves slowly and people spend a lot of time just enjoying being there. We didn’t realize it until we started touring and seeing the different ways cities work. If we lived in New York, for example, we wouldn’t have been able to make an album with so much space in it. I think we would have kicked it up a notch in any bigger city because we would be moving faster in general. It’s a subconscious thing but I really see it to be true. The other half of that is that there are thousands of bands, so even though there’s a great music community, it’s very competitive. I think that keeps us on our toes. We’ve been to cities on tour where there are only a dozen bands or so. When there’s no one else making your genre of music in the town you live you’re less likely to push yourself to be the best you can be.
AF: Austin’s also known for its phenomenal music scene; who are some of your favorite Austin musicians?
LI: Deep Time has been one of my favorite bands for years. Mirror Travel rules too. My new favorites are a band called Polio Club. Our friend Zach is making some great outsider music under the name Time Supply and Kevin produced his album. I highly suggest checking all of these out.
AF: You’ve been on tour for a month and you’re about halfway through some dates with the Blow. How did that lineup come together? How has this tour compared to others?
LI: We did a short tour with the Blow in 2011, just some southwest dates. We really clicked with them and have become close friends since that time. The two of us went through the recording process together and it was comforting to have another band to relate to and lean on when things got tough. We were emotional/spiritual support for each other during recording, mixing searching for labels. Our album came out in late September and theirs was released in October so it ended up being perfect timing for us to tour together.
Comparing to other tours, this has felt a lot more like our first European tour. The Blow have a big following so we’ve had good crowds, even in the smaller towns we’ve played. It’s cool because their audience understands our music and vice versa. It’s been amazing to see their show and to have a chance to fine tune ours on such an extensive trip.
AF: What’s your favorite thing about touring?
LI: It has to be having the chance to see our friends all over the country. I get to see all of my friends more than anyone I know. It’s also always great to tour because you become tighter as a band and really have a chance to generate new ideas about your music. We’re really excited to go home and record our next album this winter.
Thanks for chatting with us, Love Inks!! We ♥♥♥ you. Catch you soon.