Getting Pretentious with Blondes

BlondesBlondes are two guys. They met at Oberlin arts college in Ohio, where they studied ‘electro-acoustic composition’ and ‘studio art’, which are probably good primers for the kind of sound they started to make after regrouping in Berlin (and then shifting to Brooklyn). It is intricate, enveloping house music that is created live, favours feel over precision and makes ears feel like rushing pill guts. Sam Haar and Zach Steinman are into ecstatic state meditation as much as they’re into partying, and they’re happy for you guys to use their music to soundtrack either situation.

Blondes have been amazing for a couple of years now, but seeing as their new, self-titled album’s just come out (through Rvng Intl), I decided to catch up with Sam and Zach in London after a Valentine’s Day in-store at Phonica. As you can see, neither of them are actually blonde, we made a hilarious joke about this after the dictaphone was turned off.

VICE: Hey guys. For the uninitiated, can you please explain what both of you do in Blondes?
Zach Steinman: We both make ‘sounds’.
Sam Haar: The conception is a collaboration of two minds that could go in any direction. At the minute we go in a specific direction, we’re focused on Blondes.

OK. Say, is this how you guys imagined your Valentine’s Day would be?!
SH: Ha! No, but you know…

Well my girlfriend is very happy that I left her at home to come see you guys.
: Do you celebrate it in Britain?

Of course. Us Brits are notoriously amorous. How did the in-store today compare to one of the shows you’ve played at, say, Panorama Bar?
SH: Panorama was a great show, we really enjoyed that. Phonica was great, but our equipment was wobbling all over the place. With in-stores you usually get a nice sound system, but it’s not a real PA.
ZS: The perfect polarity was in Dublin in a basement, which was a much more chilled vibe.

Are you guys familiar with the term ‘psychic geography’? It describes the lingering sense of history associated with certain places. You know, Wordsworth in The Lakes, Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage…
 We’re always feeling psychic geography of some kind. Here we were on display; more deliberate, restrained. When it is loud and dark and late and everyone gets a little more fucked up, it’s definitely more…
[simultaneously]: …immersive. JINX!

Would you rather people dance at your shows, or stand quietly and listen?
SH: We are pretty hands off, we’d never tell people to just shut up and listen. I don’t even know how we’d tell people to shut up and listen.
ZS: Take it as you take it… EVERYBODY FUCKING DANCE!

That said, there is something very explicitly ‘mystical’ about your music. It’s not lame in a soul patches and sandals kind-of-way, but…
SH: Yeah, absolutely, we want to induce an ecstatic state. We like the idea that we can induce some kind of trance state in people.
ZS: But there are different kinds of partying. What we do fits different situations – it COULD be background music, but then I think it also works at a party people have just gone to to get fucked up and pick up girls.

You say you compose as an ‘electronic jam band’, and there’s a very ‘live’ and improvised feel to what you do. You ever read any Roland Barthes?
 Wait, how do we link to The Death of the Author?

You aren’t presenting a finalised artefact that the audience are given no option but to receive. The audience can find their own way through the music, and interact with it as they see fit?
: Oh, in that case, yeah. I guess.
ZS: Let’s not get too highfalutin. Although there is a sense of: “Let’s do this, this time, this moment.”
SH: I think it might link back to what you were saying about the psychic geography thing again. We don’t really plan to do something, but we vibe off the room for sure.
ZS: The most we plan is to say, y’know, “Let’s be vibe-y tonight!”
SH: There are small parts that one or both of us won’t do again outside of one live show, but that is the only variation really.

Have you ever been to see Damo Suzuki’s Instant Music shows?

The whole thing is totally improvised, with a different group of musicians every show. The point is for the music to never repeat itself. The audience is supposed to get off on the experiential.
 Oh, we definitely go in for the experiential, we just don’t want to improvise every note each and every night!

One thing I like about the album is its sense of duality. In the titles, for example – “Lover”/ “Hater”; “Business”/ “Pleasure”; “Water/ Wine”; – and in the moods of the songs, too, which are often kind of opposite to each other. It gives the record another level or layer, when a lot of music these days sounds so desperate to be completely understood, immediately.
Well, we worked on the tracks in pairs, going back and forth between the two complementary tracks at the same time.
ZS: They are ONE object; two things that really are meant to be together. I think the best way to listen to the album is to play the first track off side A, then the first track off side B, etc…
SH: That’s also a bit of a reference to the dance tradition of turning and flipping a 12″. It makes it a physical experience for the listener.

Great. You’re playing Beacons Festival in Leeds later this year, right?
Yeah, is that Downton Abbey up there?

You know that isn’t a documentary?
 Yeah, but we like to imagine it is that way still.

In a lot of ways it is. The UK is a beautiful place, you should drink real ale while you’re here.
 Craft beers are big in the US. We’ll keep any eye out for old-y time-y cars with brass trimmings. And servants.

I’m sure you’ll find a lot of those. Thanks for talking to me, Blondes!

You can buy Blondes’ awesome self titled debut on RVNG INTL.

This post originally appeared on Vice on 4 March 2012 


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