Indie pop-rockers Blossom Hall have been household names in the Cincinnati alt-rock scene for the better part of half a decade, and now they’ve released their studio album, Pyre. Notably, it’s both the band’s debut record and their last project before going on a hiatus. It’s also a great summation of the raw songwriting, swelling instrumentals and orchestral flair that the duo – comprised of vocalist/bassist Nancy Paraskevopoulos and vocalist/guitarist Phil Cotter – is known for.
Pyre also features several other Cincinnati acts, including Strobobean’s Katrina Eresman, MADQUEEN’s Jaki Howser, Molly Brown, Elsa Kennedy and Brooklynn Rae; drummers Zach Larabee, Tim Weigand, Matt McAllister and CJ Eliasen; violinists Sarah Gorak and Jacob Duber; and saw player Andrew Higley.
Blossom Hall fans were first introduced to Pyre with “God Girl” – the album’s lead single and a fuzzy rock mixture of anthemic drums and haunting vocals about loneliness and the divine feminine. Other highlights on the record including the mantra-esque “Peace to Everything That I Have Hurt and That Has Hurt Me,” and sunshine-pop “Parasols.”
Over the years, Blossom Hall has shared stages with the likes of Broken Social Scene, performed as the Pixies for a Cincinnati tribute show and created a well-defined sound and fanbase. Thankfully, though Pyre is the band’s last album for a while, fans can look ahead to upcoming solo music from both Nancy and Phil and, hopefully, a reunion in the near future.
Audiofemme caught up with Nancy and Phil over email about Pyre, the evolution of their sound, what’s next for the band and more. Read on, and stream Pyre, below.
AF: Pyre is both your debut studio album and your last project before going on hiatus. Do you think this will be Blossom Hall’s official last album, or are you just planning on taking a break?
NP: Probably more of a hiatus. I expect we’ll shift gears to be a recording project.
AF: What prompted the band to take a hiatus?
NP: A lot of things. With the pandemic, my life turned upside down. Before 2020 started, I had planned on leaving my full-time job to go to massage school, which I did in 2020. The idea was it would be easier to tour. But partway through, I realized the middle of a pandemic was maybe the worst time to learn how to be a massage therapist. I left school. I applied to and was hired for my dream job. Life just happens.
AF: Pyre feels like a good summation of the band’s years together — what was the timeline of putting this project together? For example, “God Girl” was originally written 10 years ago, right?
PC: It is a great summation. Nan wrote “God Girl” a long time ago, but the arrangement is new. That song especially, but also the album as a whole, distills the ultimate Blossom Hall sound to me. Darkness with a sense of humor. Big landscapes with minute details.
The timeline of the album is long. We originally went into a studio, which we love, back in 2017. And although the sessions went well, we realized the arrangements just weren’t ready. We wrote new tracks and rewrote some others and began to record the album in my home studio. The acoustics of my space and the gear I use is always evolving, so that created an interesting contrast between lo-fi and hi-fi audio elements. We were originally planning to release it a year ago, but when COVID happened it didn’t feel right. Anyone who mixes audio, especially their own songs, will tell you they could tweak them forever if there wasn’t a deadline. So I spent a huge chunk of quarantine mixing and re-mixing the album.
AF: What went into the shaping of “God Girl” — adding or changing elements — to make it the song that it is today?
PC: It started as a haunting ukulele tune, entirely written by Nan. When I first heard it, I immediately heard the dynamic shifts possible, as well as the range of strange things we could do around what I hear as a psychedelic vocal. The first thing I contributed was building a rough garage rock demo with the dynamic shifts I heard and more of a chugging, constant pushing rhythm.
Nan then added a vocal to help me hear the song take shape. Most of the original takes of my drums, guitar and her voice actually remain in the final version. Once her vocal was in there, I knew I wanted background vocals on the loud parts, so I did a few passes improvising them through the whole song and came up with the “sshhhh…hah…hah…” part, which I love so much.
NP: My favorite element that we added to that song are the drums in the bridge. I wanted to encapsulate the deep well of loneliness and self-pity that I had fallen into when writing that song. I asked one of our drummers Zach Larabee to just play something chaotic, which was a feeling I couldn’t have orchestrated alone.
PC: I knew we needed something ethereal and spooky and started reaching out to friends to see if anyone knew a trained theremin player. I’ve always wanted an excuse to hire a theremin player. Instead, we found Andrew Higley, an incredible saw player. I actually prefer the saw because it sounds more organic, and if you listen close you can hear the dissonant overtones of the bow on the saw.
After that, we had four non-male singers to come in and replace the placeholder background tracks that Nan and I sang. Then I just had to mix all of these elements sonically so that you could hear everything, but the emotions also come across the way they’re meant to. It’s a dense arrangement, and probably the most challenging to mix.
AF: In 2018, you played a tribute concert to the Pixies in Cincinnati. What bands influenced the making of Pyre?
PC: For my songs and arrangements: Ohmme, St. Vincent, Roomful of Teeth, Pixies, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, late era Beatles and early solo McCartney, White Stripes and early Todd Rundgren.
NP: I don’t know if these projects influenced the album, but I was into them the five years we made this particular music. We both love the music of the Dirty Projectors (especially the Amber Coffman era). Dixie Cups, Thelonius Monk, the Pixies, Beams, specifically Billy Joel’s “Vienna Waits for You,” Louis Prima, Mount Eerie, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu, the song “Joyful Joyful” from the Sister Act 2 soundtrack, Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande, Jeffrey Lewis, Lizzo, the Books, Friendship and not a music project but Dharma talks from the Portland Insight Meditation Center.
AF: Where did the inspiration for the album’s title come from?
NP: The song “Pyre” is about a relationship I had in which I was yelled at daily, called names, there was financial abuse, he was always threatening to break my stuff, he trapped me in the apartment. It was terrifying. When we go through trial by fire, we often come out a different person. The person we were is no longer. Our bodies have new memories, and it is a kind of rebirth – for better or worse.
AF: Will you be celebrating the album’s release with any livestream performances, or playing any in-person shows when things open back up?
NP: Will things open back up? My job has me going to the hospital and going to court regularly. With the new strains, it might be dangerous for my clients and for audiences for me to play bigger shows.
PC: No plans at the moment – we need a break.
AF: Are you working on any solo material/projects at the moment?
NP: I am playing with friends but nothing I want to announce just yet!
PC: Lots of other projects, some would say too many. Solo (folk), Golden Theory (live band hip hop), Party Blimp (soul music) and many freelance music projects for clients. I have a Patreon where I release a song a month, and I follow my whim on what kind of music to make in a particular month.
AF: What is each of your favorite songs on the album and why?
NP: I love the song “St. Louis.” It’s sweet and relatively simple. It’s focused on longing, which I try not to live in, but it happens – and can be fun! And Phil and I had fun writing it.
PC: Gotta be “God Girl” for me. It’s just so damn epic. I’m so proud of that arrangement and I adore Nancy’s lyrics and melodies. “Peace to Everything That I Have Hurt and That Has Hurt Me” is a close second. The first half is so soothingly groovy and pensive, while the second half feels so nourishing and epic.