“I felt like it was a great way to get signed, because it didn’t seem like we were trying to get these labels to listen. They were discovering us. That’s always a better way, and it’s completely different than being like, ‘Please listen to this.’ They were discovering it through Alt Nation and through blogs, so it’s pretty cool to put in that energy and have that actually happen.”
Erica Driscoll at length about the circuitous route that Blondfire took toward the band’s impending first major-label LP, from a youth split between Grand Rapids and Brazil to looking forward to sharing a bill with the Cure and New Order. Oh, and also the youthful decisions that one faces when choosing to see a concert in Chicago or Detroit …
PS: Well first I want to thank you for taking this afternoon to talk to me, I truly appreciate it. I’ve been a fan for a few years now, so it’s a privilege to be able to talk to you.
Erica: Well thank you. It’s my pleasure.
PS: As you might’ve been told, I work in the Chicago area and I know you’ve got a show coming up here in a couple weeks with Foals and Surfer Blood. Then I look at the itinerary and you’re going to be back in June at SPACE in Evanston and then, finally, you’ll be back in August for Lollapalooza too. So what is it like to be on these bills?
Erica: It’s been great. I mean, I’m a big fan of Foals, actually. We bought the new album and we’ve been listening to a lot in the van on our long, epic drive that we have. [Laughter] It’s a really good album, and they’re really cool guys. We’ve been hanging out with them and watching them perform. It’s really cool. They’re great performers too. And, yeah, I’m really looking forward to Lollapalooza too. Just because there are so many cool bands on the bill—the Cure and New Order, I love both bands so that’s really cool that our name is even listed on the same bill as them.
PS: Yeah, I was fortunate enough to be out in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago to see Johnny Marr open up for New Order. That was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever been to.
Erica: Oh! I would have loved to see that show. That sounds amazing.
PS: New Order’s really great live, so that’s cool that not only will you be there, but you’ll actually be on the same bill.
Erica: Yeah, it’s crazy. And also, I grew up partially in Michigan, so Chicago was only a few-hour drive for us, and that’s where I would actually go to a lot of shows growing up.
PS: Oh really?
PS: So you made the trip to the city fairly often then?
Erica: Yeah, I mean if there was a big concert coming that we were into, they would either usually go to Detroit or Chicago. You know, Chicago’s a little bit of a nicer place to go visit. I mean, we used to go see shows in Detroit too, but we would always be wondering if we were going to survive sometimes, depending on where the venues were and being, like, young kids, you know? “Are we going to survive this concert outing?”
PS: Happens around Chicago too. Whereabouts in Michigan did you guys come from?
Erica: We grew up in Grand Rapids, which is on the west side of the state. But my mom’s from Brazil, so we had dual citizenship and spent time in South America a lot also.
PS: So what were some of the concerts that you would come down to Chicago to see?
Erica: I feel like I might have seen Morrissey when I was super young. There were some good ones in there, but my mind is drawing a blank. We’re driving from Charlotte all the way to New York City today, so we’ve been in the van a long time.
PS: OK, fair enough. Onto more pertinent matters, then. Talking about the “Where the Kids Are” EP, I know that the song was put out back in 2011, but can you tell me about how it came around to be with Warner Brothers now?
Erica: Yeah, you know my brother [Bruce Driscoll, the other half of the Blondfire songwriting duo] and I were just writing and trying to do a new record. We’d written “Where the Kids Are,” and we wanted to put it out in the world and put it on iTunes. We’d shot a music video just on our own, with a friend who’s a director.
And you know, we were gonna put it out there, but we didn’t have a publicist. I just didn’t want to put it on iTunes and have no one even know about it. So I took it upon myself to email some blogs, you know, not even knowing if anyone would read what I was sending them, since it was not coming from a publicist or anything. I just hit up some blogs online and people started posting it and writing back to me. It just really grew online to the point that, you know, labels and publicists and all these people started reaching out to us from that. It was really cool to see that me putting that energy out into the world could actually have that sort of effect, kind of just on my own. Then it went to the point where we got picked up on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation show, and they started playing us in regular rotation. We weren’t signed, and we’re charting next to bands like fun. Eventually the song went to number one on their chart and a lot of labels are coming around. We decided to go with Warner Brothers. So it’s pretty cool, because I felt like it was a great way to get signed, because it didn’t seem like we were trying to get these labels to listen. They were discovering us. That’s always a better way, and it’s completely different than being like, “Please listen to this.” They were discovering it through Alt Nation and through blogs, so it’s pretty cool to put in that energy and have that actually happen.
PS: It’s interesting that you point that out because one of the publications I write for, I sometimes will do test drives of new cars that come out every year. So I’ll go to these rallies, and one of the cars I was driving had Sirius radio in there, so I had it on the basic alternative station, and “Where the Kids Are” came up on it. I’m like, “This is good. This sounds familiar.” I look and it says, “Blondfire.” And I’m going, “I didn’t know they even had anything new …”
Erica: That’s awesome.
PS: It turned into a situation where I don’t even remember what car it was, I don’t remember anything about gas mileage or the interior, but I remembered discovering the song there.
Erica: That is amazing. You know, they’ve been so good to us on that station. The guy, Jeff Regan, who’s like the program director and DJ there, they all got behind our band like that, even though we weren’t with a label or anything. And you know, just travelling and doing these shows—we just did a tour with Awolnation for 6 weeks and now we’re on this Foals tour, and it’s kind of crazy just how many people come up after shows and say they listen to us on Alt Nation and they hear us all the time. It certainly reaches a lot of people.
PS: Absolutely. Now, you said that when you did the song, you and your brother had begun to work on a new album. So when Warner Brothers came along, did you guys have a new album in the bag already, or was it a case of, “OK, now we’re on a major label, let’s write some new material”?
Erica: No, we already had songs pretty much ready to go. I mean, we were trying to decide which ones to finalize for the album, but since we’ve been writing together for so long, we have so much music on hard drives that are all different styles and sounds. I feel like we wrote the title track for the new album, which is called Young Heart, and “Where the Kids Are” kind of back-to-back. I think we wrote and recorded both those songs almost like a day apart or something. And they’re kind of similar on this direction that we wanted to take for the new album. So once we had that vision of what we wanted to do, we wrote like a full group of songs for the album in a week. When the label was coming around, it was great, because we felt like we had what we wanted in the album. We just played all the stuff we had for the album for the A&R guys. It was cool to not have all that pressure of, “Oh God. Now we have to write songs.” That’s always a little bit stressful, especially when you’re just getting signed, to think, “OK, we have to write an album right now.” So thankfully, we’ve been writing together for so long and already had these songs kind of ready to go. We just ended up having them mixed and mastered.
PS: Is there a schedule for release yet?
Erica: We’re just waiting on the date for that. It should be soon. I think they’re just trying to plan strategically when the best time is to put it out. I’m pretty sure it will be this summer. It’s all done. “Waves,” our next single, is going to Triple A on May 7. So I think they’re just trying to plan the best time and the EP has some of the songs that are going to be on the album already as an introduction to people that don’t know the band and who are hopefully excited for the album.
PS: I know “Where the Kids Are” is obviously the latest EP you’ve done, but going back to the Astaire days with “Don’t Whisper Lies,” you know you’ve done the EP thing before and you’ve done, obviously, the My Someday album. Do you have a preference in term of format? I mean is it exciting for you to get an album out there, or do you look at it as EPs give you more freedom to put more material out in shorter bursts of time?
Erica: I actually really like doing singles and EPs a lot, because it’s one at a time. You know, releasing one song and putting out a video is really cool, because then people really focus on that song. Then, by the time you put the next one out, people are really excited. So, I really enjoy releasing singles and EPs, but it will be nice to finally put out a full-length album too. Our last one was like 2008 or something. It will be cool, and people that have been following us for a while, they’ve been asking for more songs. So it’ll be nice to finally give that to them.
PS: And how do you think the new material compares to where you’ve been before? I mean if you go back to “Don’t Whisper Lies,” a lot of it sounds very atmospheric and then, you know, My Someday goes a bit more down the synth-pop avenue. So how does the stuff for Young Heart compare?
Erica: Well, I think we’re always trying to explore different sounds and different vibes. But it’s like the heart of our material is the same. I feel like on the new album, you definitely have a little more electric guitars and more distorted bass sounds mixed with the dreamy, atmospheric vocal melodies and keyboard sounds that we tend to gravitate towards. I think there’s just a little more of guitar on this as opposed to My Someday, which was a little more sweet and synth-poppy, which I like too, but it’s just—we’re always trying to push ourselves and try new things. But I feel like if people like the heart of that, they’ll like the new stuff too.
PS: OK. And do you think that kind of—I don’t want to say “heavier” necessarily, because I haven’t heard it all—but you talk about more electric guitar, more bass, do you think that comes out of the fact that you’re working more with this touring band now as opposed to before, where it might have just been you and your brother and a couple studio musicians?
Erica: Yeah, I mean I definitely feel a difference being in the studio and playing live and playing all these shows. It’s really fun to have upbeat, rocking songs for playing live, because it really translates well. The crowd really kind of wants that. But the album isn’t just that. There’s still some mid-tempo songs that have bigger guitars and some ballads.
PS: Looking at the schedule for the next couple months, obviously most days are filled with concerts, and I’m sure there’s plenty of radio promotion and talking to people like me ahead. Have you guys ever undertaken a tour or promotional campaign like this before?
Erica: Never this intense. I’ve done tours, but not like this back-to-back. I mean, you do this run of shows for 6 weeks and then we have, literally, 3 days at home before we set out on this tour that goes all the way through June and then we have some festival dates. We’re trying to tie all those together and figuring when we’re gonna be home as opposed to being on the road for a few days here and there. I’ve never done it this intensely. It’s fun. I mean, it’s a lot of work and it’s hard, but I feel fortunate for the fact that I can have this opportunity and be able to do this.
PS: Have you had any of those experiences where you’ve been like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening right now”?
Erica: I feel like that everyday sometimes. When we get up in front of a big crowd and we have a great reaction, that feels amazing. Doing things like photo shoots, it’s all kind of, “This is so crazy that I’m doing this right now.” At the same time, I’ve been doing it forever, it’s just like a lot more intense. But fun too. You know, the guys in the band are so cool and fun to be around, and they make it great. Even when we’re super tired, we’re just laughing and getting loopy and joking around.
PS: I wanted to ask you a little about that too. I’m sure spending all that time on the road with a band and having soundchecks and chances to goof on different songs or maybe come up with new stuff, do you think that will affect the writing process for future Blondfire projects given that Bruce is more of a stay-at-home musician now? Do you anticipate going back to him with new ideas and building off of those or do you think it’ll just kind of fall back into the habit that you’ve had with him, I would assume, for your whole life?
Erica: I feel like the fact that this is almost becoming more my band in a weird way, even though we created so much of the sound together, and it is us. I feel like I’m going to explore doing some co-writes with other people for fun. You know, obviously I’ll write with my brother more, because that’s a special thing that we have, but I’m definitely open to a lot and doing writing by myself more and bringing in some ideas from the road. Just like you were saying, playing all these live shows, it inspires me to want to write some even more upbeat songs, because they’re so fun to play live. I’m sure it will have an effect on the music that I end up recording.
PS: Is that something too, where being in that live arena encourages the faster more upbeat stuff and being at home encourages the ballad-y type of stuff?
Erica: Yeah, I think so. It all depends on whatever mood you’re in. If you’re pretty relaxed at home, you tend to write more intimate songs. But definitely playing all these live shows and watching Awolnation perform—not that we’ll ever be that rocky or anything—but just Aaron Bruno, the singer, he’s amazing on stage and he commands the crowd. It comes from all of this. I’m sure it will have some sort of effect.
PS: Talking a bit more about the writing process, I had seen an interview with you and Bruce online where he kind of talked about building “Where the Kids Are” from—and correct me if I’m wrong, of course—a drum loop. And then it was building sounds off that. Is that a normal thing for you, to build sounds like that or is it a more standard, acoustic guitar approach?
Erica: You know, sometimes we’ll start on acoustic guitar for some songs. A lot of the songs on our new record, though, are started in the studio like you’re saying, just getting sounds up and stuff. “Where the Kids Are” started with Bruce making this drumbeat, and cut this drumbeat up into this interesting thing. And then I think he picked kind of a surfy, distorted bass sound, and started layering stuff, and then we started laying melodies on top. A lot of it was very collaborative in that way. Some of our older material might have started on acoustic guitar, but not always. It’s always different every time we write together. A lot of keyboard sounds inspire melodies for me. If I’m playing the same chords on an acoustic guitar as I am on a keyboard, but the sounds are different, I’ll probably come up with a completely different melody. I’m still really inspired by cool synth sounds.