IMAGE COURTESY OF KURT W. SAWILLA
Clean Cuts, the debut lo-fi release from ambient electro-trio, House of Blondes, is a hypnotically minimal album, filled with light, airy vocals, analog chords, and solid drums. Inspired by Wolfgang Voit’s ’90s techno project, Gas, House of Blondes recorded all of their tracks in one or two takes, using pre-existing sounds to create new ones. Don’t, however, think that the band’s improvisatory method is indicative of a half-hearted effort: “There’s an enormous amount of preparation leading to that free moment,” says band member John Blonde.
Interview met up with John Blonde and his bandmate, Chris Pace (the third HOB member is Brian McNamara), who cited New Order, Steven Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Miles Davis, and Prince as influences.
THE BEGINNING: Blonde: It started in 2007. I’d seen Genesis P-Orridge perform with Thee Majesty at the old Knitting Factory in NYC; it was this pulsing ambient stuff with spoken word and it gave me a really strong desire to do some electro stuff. Before that, I’d been in a few indie rock bands, [but] Chris Pace was the only person I knew that was adept at doing and recording electro. I wanted to use synths—and that kind of gear is haunted! You can’t get [the sound I wanted] from a computer. I went to Chris’ studio and we recorded me beating my hand against this couch and twenty minutes of sound. Out of that, he carved the song “Anhedonia.” The whole album, the band, was built around the pulse of that song, and it’s how we approach almost all of our material now.
NATURAL SYNTHETIC PLEASURES: Blonde: We’ve recorded dozens of songs. There are probably 50 House of Blondes songs no one will ever hear! I created four different albums and came up with the final nine tracks. There was a sadness to the tracks that I liked, but there was this hope in them also. There’s a search for people in the songs—needing other people, acknowledging the beauty in other people. I’m a huge movie fan; somebody like Almodovar… you watch a movie of his and it’s immersive! On every song on the album there are natural elements and more traditional instruments being used. On “Shadows,” there’s a huge guitar solo that starts in the middle of the song and doesn’t end. “I’ll Wait All Night” was mainly synths, but there’s feedback [that] we created using guitar. It never felt like we were creating something synthetic.
THE VIDEOS: Blonde: Obsession is one of the most fascinating things you can film. Our videos are like that: the music points to something that might seem casual to one person, but is actually an entire world for somebody else. “Do It Yourself (Landscape)” was an homage to Luke Smalley, a photographer that took kids from high schools and photographed them in old-fashioned uniforms inside gyms and on old exercise equipment. All of his stuff has a haunted quality— [it’s] from the past, but filmed in contemporary life. When he died, I wanted to pay tribute to him, so I came up with the idea of doing a video with a bunch of boys working out. There is this underlying homoeroticism to it, but there’s also a nice elegance. I’m not afraid to say it’s “erotic,” but that was not my intention.
D.I.Y. ETHIC: Pace: I think it’s rare that any music is not collaborative at some point. There are few musicians who can really do it on their own, but you can spearhead it yourself—you can make your own project. The single “Do It Yourself (Landscape)” is about empowering yourself.
THE LOWDOWN: Blonde: The whole record leads up to the song “Lower”—this inescapable feeling that without somebody else, you can feel like nothing, but at the same time, you don’t need somebody else for validation or to feel alive. Without the feeling of connectedness, [life] can feel bleak; everything is just so relentless and hyper, everything is coming at you at an extreme rate [and] we’re numb to it! The whole record is reaching out, [it’s] a longing for transcendence.