First Impressions: Blossoms
The first time I caught Blossoms was last summer on the final night of Recess Fest, the Charlotte summer festival curated by two of Blossoms’ members, singer/guitarist Casey Malone and drummer Zach Reader. They hadn’t slept in a couple of days and looked it, and pretty much served up an exhaustion-turd that night in front of headliners Joan of Arc.
The next time I saw Blossoms they opened for bassist extraordinaire Nat Baldwin, and they killed. I caught them again at a Snug Harbor show last fall, and despite Malone’s nasty head cold, they were even tighter still. Trending in the right direction, they call that. With Blossoms’ unique blend – old school soul elements, Arthur Russell avant-pop, and the occasional frenetic guitar squall – and Malone’s distinct half-yowl/half-falsetto voicing, this young foursome stand out by not sounding like most other young bands. They don’t take their cues from the usual suspects.
While the four members — who, until recently, were roommates — polishes up its debut, they’ve released a split-cassette with Asheville’s Slamming Door Orchestra to tide the eager over. Malone, just emerging from the haze of his 24th birthday weekend, was kind enough to answer email questions I, John Schacht, sent him.
Shuffle: How did Blossoms take root/emerge/sprout (and other flower-related puns)? And when?
Casey Malone: Blossoms started as just myself and Dustin Tape (cello/electric bass) playing small parties and early versions of songs for close friends in the summer of 2010. Zach (Reader) was around for many of the early shows and by the time he joined the band later in the summer/fall he already knew all of the songs. At some point after recording in 2011, Ben Keys was the only person living at 433 Faison that didn’t play in the group so we asked him and in no burst of excitement/uncertain terms he said “yeah.”
Where’d you take the name from, and did its history signify anything to you at the time?
CM: The Blossoms are a band that Phil Spector worked with. It featured Darlene Love and Fanita James. Spector had a falling out with The Crystals and had only briefly worked with The Blossoms, very briefly. Anyhow, they were just like a backing band and all of a sudden Spector was pissed at The Crystals so he asked The Blossoms to pretend to be them. Paid them triple the normal rate and they kind of killed it. I have always thought that story was pretty great; also I have always thought Darlene Love’s work in the Girl Group circle gets overlooked when people talk about that music. Beyond that, I think we all feel that the band Blossoms sort of represents something that harks back to a period of music where things were a bit more magical. We also use it as an anchor to continue growing together as people and musicians. Kind of boundless. We’re perennials.
Shuffle: What were some of your inspirations? Musical and otherwise?
CM: See above for some of this. But of course we all get off on different things. I know we all hate youth culture and that’s where some of my own frustration comes from in songwriting. At the same time, we are all big on the innocence that comes along with it. Musically, I would say there is an overarching soul/r&b influence. I think in our minds we are like a blue eyed soul band of guys that play their instruments in very odd ways. The Velvets are huge to everyone, as well. That’s sort of how I learned to play guitar and sing at the same time. Just practicing those songs. Also very affected by the feminine way, I think. I have always thought there was a sort of untouchable air that’s carried with a really great independent female songwriter.
Shuffle: As solo artist Bob Fields and with Black Congo NC, you did digital alchemy — what inspired you to start in that direction?
CM: I think I owe a lot of what came out of BCNC and how the developmental aspects of the solo meandering to the people that I played in that band with. Definitely, between Bo (White) and Eric (Deines) they probably don’t understand how much they accidentally taught me how to write a song. I think as far as the ‘digitalia’ goes it was just what I was initially interested in. I was a lot more keen on making a textural piece with lots of different colors as opposed to a portrait. Just a matter of discovering that medium in my early teens and listening to tons of ambient types, i.e., Tim Hecker, Brian Eno, even Kraftwerk. I sort of got a little pigeonholed during that and I think all of these things in conjunction sort of led me to think, like ‘Hey, I want to paint a clearer picture.’ Sort of a discovery that I actually have something to say and more often than not these days, I want to say it clearer. I think Zach sort of got that with his Ultimate Optimist stuff, too. We were happy to find one another.
Shuffle: How was it molding that into Black Congo’s strange blend of Afro rhythms and pop song? Does it ever worm its way into Blossoms songs?
CM: It was always great fun, and a hyper-productive time as far as I am concerned. I think in a lot of ways playing those songs made me realize what I actually wanted from a group dynamic, and I think to a lesser degree had a similar effect on Brent (Bagwell), Ben (Kennedy) and Michael (Houseman). Black Congo indirectly caused Great Architect to happen. As far as a BCNC/Blossoms parallel, we just finished recording a song called ‘Friend of Me’ that is an afro-punk tune. We have been playing that and working it in and out of sets for almost a year. It’s like a drone-y African tune.
Shuffle: You play guitar in the free ensemble Great Architect — how do all these previous other bands/elements filter into Blossoms’ songs?
CM: I think playing with Great Architect has made me a much better guitarist. I also feel that it allows me to be a little less cut and dry with structure in Blossoms which I think makes playing a lot more fun. I like to think of Great Architect as an extension of all of the things that are happening in Blossoms. Kind of how all of the Velvets had intertwining circles with the avant garde scene. They same way that Arthur Russell would play a solo cello set at the Kitchen on Monday and release a disco record the following month.
Shuffle: What do you look for when you write a song? When do you know you’re onto something worthwhile?
CM: I have been finding that tunes kind of write themselves in couples. I sort of like the idea that every two songs I write could be an A and B side of a 7-inch. A lot of things sort of come to me in spurts. There are lots of tunes that I don’t like until I play them with the guys and more often than not, it’s something that they do that leads me to realize whether or not I like a tune. Zach has played something totally different than I had imagined and I had almost hated what I had written up until that point. The group dynamic is kind of like checks and balances sometimes.
Shuffle: What have been some of your favorite opening slots so far? Do you take anything away from those?
CM: We love playing with our friends. Opening for Joan of Arc and our pal’s in Moenda at the Recess closing show was really special for us. I think some of our favorite shows are more about the people and feelings going on and the environment than the other groups. We have played with hot stuff bands and I think it has sort of found us with a bad taste in our mouths anytime folks think they are too cool for school. We’re a hard group of guys to embarrass because we essentially just like to have fun. I think we owe a lot of our sense of humor to artists like Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson. The most recent Future Islands/Ed Schraders Music Beat show was a blast, all those guys are great.
Shuffle: Dream bill for you to open?
CM: Oh boy. Talking Heads reunion?
Shuffle: How’d the split cassette with Slamming Door Orchestra come together?
CM: I have known the drummer Sijal (Nasralla) since high school. We always played music together and gotten along on the same musical terms. Zach wanted to launch a small and limited release tape label and this seemed like the perfect way to go. There was a point where I had a couple of the Slamming Door releases lying around the house and the guys started listening to them. It was Zach’s idea but their stuff is great. I kind of feel like we are brother/sister bands. They have a full length coming out soon that is pretty much the best thing I have heard out of North Carolina in the last year.
Shuffle: List a recent LP or two you’d like to enshrine in the Halls of Awesomeness, and one or two you wouldn’t inflict on your worst enemy…
CM: Ooh, I think we both agreed that the recent (Stephen) Malkmus LP is pretty gold. Ooh, and this record by Sandro Perri Impossible Spaces I don’t understand how everyone isn’t all over this. It’s the perfect morning record, and good for Arthur Russell revival. Both of the records Cass McCombs has put out are also excellent masterpieces of craft. I think it would be too bold to single out any specific bad records but I’ll just say that lots of electronic music scares me, these days. I also think there are a lot of things that people like just for the sake of a lifestyle. I think any music that gets listened to with too much of a lifestyle or aesthetic in mind is negative. There is nothing more punk than completely earnest songwriting, I think.
Shuffle: Pie or cake, and why?
CM: Pie from the Double R Diner. Twin Peaks is always in the front of my mind. Although I did just get peanut butter-banana-bacon cupcakes for my birthday that have changed my mind about a lot of things.