Ballet School on the Brink
ABOVE: BALLET SCHOOL
Happenstance may have brought Berlin-based pop band Ballet School together, but what keeps them making music has nothing to do with the stars. The three-piece troupe, comprised of lead singer Rosie Blair, guitarist Michel Collet, and drummer Louis McGuire, shared an immediate musical bond when they met—by chance—in early 2011. Now, over three years later, the trio’s unique take on shaking up the traditional pop narrative solidifies their connection—and subsequently, their success.
Following their 2013 EP, Boys Again, Ballet School’s debut full-length release, The Dew Lasts an Hour, explores themes of beauty, desire, loss of innocence, experience, and feminism. Behind these statements is Irish-bred singer-songwriter Blair, whose harrowing vocals—seemingly of another era—color the pop-infused 12-track album with a dose of dreamy rock-‘n’-roll reminiscent of the band’s most defining influence, Cocteau Twins.
Despite taking cues from musical years past, Ballet School’s debut offering is decidedly modern, with title tracks “Heartbeat Overdrive” and “LUX” serving up fresh, synth-flavored tones throughout. Opting to define their own rules with The Dew Lasts an Hour, Ballet School lets the music speak for itself.
JAMIE LINCOLN: Ballet School came together in 2011. Tell me how you met your bandmates.
ROSIE BLAIR: I had been out all night at this cocktail bar, and I was walking home—it must have been four or five, maybe even later—and I walked down onto the subway platform and heard this guitar. I didn’t really think anything of it, but then I got closer and saw that there was a person [Michel Collet] actually playing it. He was like the coolest guy ever. I just thought, “Oh my god, that’s a really good guitarist.” Finding a band is like finding someone you’re going to marry: it’s a really, really big deal that you get the right people. You’re like a family. So I don’t know, I don’t talk to strange men on the subway coming home from work in the middle of the night, like ever, but I thought, “I have to talk to this man.” After he had finished playing I went up and I said, “That was really beautiful.” I think I just said, “Do you want to start a band with me?” I was tired and just completely honest. He was like, “What kind of music?” and I was like, “Cocteau Twins,” and he was like, “Yeah.” [laughs] And that was it. I met up with him the next day and we played together, and we just immediately bonded. It felt really easy.
LINCOLN: What’s it like working with two men all the time? Are there ever moments where you go, “Okay, wow, you just really don’t understand women”?
BLAIR: There are different dynamics, you know? I was actually talking to a friend about this—a girl called Hannah who works for Captured Tracks—and she was talking about Perfect Pussy and what it’s like for Meredith to be in a band with all guys, and it’s weird… sometimes you feel like you’re the mom, and other times you feel like you’re just one of the guys. I wouldn’t say I’m a tomboy, but I would definitely say that I don’t really give a shit if someone’s got smelly socks, or something. Then there are those times when you really need a feminine presence—like on the road, you’re living pretty rough, you know? Times that that, I’d probably withdraw a wee bit. More and more I feel like I need a feminine vibe, but we all respect each other and see each other as equals because of the level of musicianship that we all have and the bond that we all have through the music. The boys know that I’m a feminist and stuff, but I don’t try and make them be feminists… that never works. [laughs] They’re both extremely contentious young men anyway, so it’s always a pleasure to be hanging with them.
LINCOLN: You’ve been quoted as stating, “We’re not a synth band, we’re a guitar band, but one that’s trying to push the boundaries of the traditional set-up.” How are you trying to push the boundaries of the traditional set-up?
BLAIR: You have to define the terms, I suppose, because I just feel like music is at a moment where genres are more than ever being broken down. There’s a model for what rock-‘n’-roll is, there’s a model for what pop music is, and there’s a model for what indie music is, but I think everyone who listens to music is kind of aware on some level that the models are ceasing to function as properly as they should or could. So what you do whenever you make music is, you change the model. What you have to do as a musician is remind yourself that there actually are no rules, it’s merely a model, it’s a mechanism through which to create music, and if it doesn’t work you can swap it for another one. It’s not like the law: pop music has to be made like this and sound like this, and rock music has to be four guys with a drum set, a bass, two guitars, and one of them has to be vocalist who’s cute. You can switch it, and you can change it—I’ve always said that.
LINCOLN: Tell me about your musical process when making The Dew Lasts an Hour. How do you know where to start?
BLAIR: You know, every time I finish a song and some time passes, I always have this thought, like, “Wow, what if you never write another one that good?” [laughs] You’re always worried, like, where did that come from? Shit, how did I do that? In a way, you don’t really know. It starts with an itch—you really want to write something. Like right now, I feel like I have the itch. I’m in Ireland right now, I’ve been home for a good wee while now, just because of responsibilities to my family, so I haven’t written anything, so I’m feeling myself having the itch. That’s what happens … usually you just feel compelled to do it, you have to feel compelled to do it. I think a lot of authors say that as well: You need to really be compelled, because it’s a pain in the arse. It’s a huge delivery, it’s like having a child. Usually in your subconscious you’ve been gleaning ideas in the back of your mind the whole time, anyway. You’ve been picking up on something somebody said, or you’ve been moved by some very small experience or some very big one, or you’ve been checking out somebody else’s music and you just thought, Oh my god! Usually that puts me in the mood to write something.
LINCOLN: So why did you guys name the album The Dew Lasts an Hour?
BLAIR: Because the album’s about innocence on the precipice of experience. You’re going to have certain experiences that are really difficult, that are going to change you … you can’t always stay innocent forever. All these books that I read whenever I was crafting what were going to be the big themes of my writing, I really became obsessed with beauty in the sense that beauty is innocence, beauty is longing and yearning. Beauty is the object of yearning, and that’s what defines beauty. Through experience comes wisdom, but you do lose something, you do give something up, and that’s really sad, in a way. The Dew Lasts an Hour is supposed to be a melancholic way of saying that because the dew in the morning on the flowers is plump and ripe and wet and beautiful, and then in an hour, it’s evaporated, it’s gone. It was kind of a poetic way of saying that, but it kind of reminded me of the title of a Felt album. You know that band, Felt, from the eighties? They have a song I really like called Forever Breathes the Lonely Word. Anyway, at one point I was like, Oh my god, this title The Dew Lasts an Hour is like, really camp, but I think people who are camp are also incredibly wise. I think the theme totally captures what I’m trying to say.
LINCOLN: You mentioned being a feminist earlier on, and I know you often write from a feminist perspective, particularly with your track, “Yaoi.” What kind of message were you trying to send with Yaoi?
BLAIR: I actually put a whole answer to this on my Tumblr, because there’s a lot of Yaoi on Tumblr. I don’t really read Yaoi, I’m not really into watching Yaoi anymore—I kind of grew out of it, but it always struck me as significant because Yaoi is manga erotica made specifically for teenage girls. That always struck me as the coolest thing ever, because so often the desires of little girls are mostly ignored by mainstream culture. A lot of the time the desires of little girls are projected onto them by the bully of male desire—what they think little girls might be thinking—and of course, it’s always like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” I think the coolest thing about Yaoi is it’s a safe way for girls to explore their own desires amongst their own peers in a world created for them. That struck me as really cool. A lot of girls reading Yaoi, maybe they’re feeling bad about it, so I kind of wanted to put it out there that I had read it and I had watched it. Don’t be ashamed, you know?
LINCOLN: Absolutely. In your opinion, what do you think is the most common misconception about being a musician?
BLAIR: At this point in time, I think there’s been a meticulous lifting of the veil on the music industry. It’s come on in the last 10 years, since we’ve have these talent-show programs come into being. Now, I think the average fan will know a lot more about the inner workings of the music industry, and is a lot more savvy than 30 years ago when fans knew very little about what was going on behind the scenes. If you read any pop blogs or message boards, these people are paying attention. They know musicians’ fears, they know exactly what’s going on in their careers, they know why they broke up with this manager, they know who’s doing their PR, how much their marketing budgets are. These fans, wow… nobody is going to trick them into buying anything.
LINCOLN: If you could have dinner with any musician—dead or alive—who would it be?
BLAIR: Oh, god. Do I have to think of a really fucking intelligent answer?
LINCOLN: [laughs] No! It could be one of your favorites. Anyone you’d be interested in hearing what they have to say.
BLAIR: I think I would probably want to have dinner with Madonna. But I think somebody else would have to be there too… do you know what I mean? [laughs] Otherwise it might get a bit intense.
THE DEW LASTS AN HOUR IS OUT TODAY, SEPTEMBER 9. FOR MORE ON BALLET SCHOOL, PLEASE VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.