The following is a conversation I had with the hardest working band in Minneapolis, The Blind Shake. The band is comprised of Mike Blaha (baritone guitar/vocals), Jim Blaha (guitar/vocals), and Dave Roper (drums). I’m still in the process of digesting their two fantastic releases from 2011; one being their first full-length in four years, Seriousness. The other release is their second full-length (and fourth overall) collaboration with Michael Yonkers, called Period. I’m not going to attempt describing their music here, except to say that they consistently make me think (whether I’m watching them live, or listening to them at home), “I need to stop ruining my life so much and start working harder.”
Where do I start…
Dave: Start by pressing record [group laughter].
See, knew I came to the right place. When I was talking to [Michael] Yonkers, he said that the album [Period] was done in a day –the whole thing–
And then mixing, but he said he was really hands off with that.
Mike: Yeah, he sat in a chair with the headphones on, and just kicked back and listened to the mixing process.
Jim: He brought a lawn chair, seriously. Like a fold out chair, just sat back and listened to it with the headphones. He just knew we’d take care of the mixes and stuff.
Dave: Tracking itself was done in a day. Michael did all the vocals live as we played the songs.
Jim: Pretty much the whole record that you hear is that performance. There’s no overdubs, just a couple, maybe one or two. We probably finished, just actual songs, in a couple hours. Everything was first or second take. So was Carbohydrates [-Hydrocarbons, their first collaboration] though, for better or for worse. I know there’s times when we’re like, “Oh, we can do it better,” but he doesn’t want to go back.
Dave: This album we actually had a chance to get together with Yonkers ahead of time for about a month, actually. Had some real full volume practice sessions, which we didn’t really have with the other two.
Mike: The first time when this album was going to come out, it was a totally different batch of songs. He had the guitar and the vocals done, we were gonna go record over– like along with his stuff in post. Like we’d have to match the drums to his guitar, which might be easy if it was– I don’t know Bob Dylan playing guitar, but his guitar playing is…
Jim: With all the effects and different stuff, it’s harder to follow than an acoustic guitar or something. And That was actually a whole different set of songs, too. We still want to go back and do some of those.
Mike: There were three on there that we tried to do anyway, just tough it out and put out as a 7”. Surprise him. He’s not gonna go back to that stuff, he’s done. He wouldn’t remember those songs [much laughter], know what I mean?
When I was talking to him, he said he was already working on the next one.
Jim: Yeah, he just keeps going. Working with him…we can just pick up right where we left off.
He was telling me that he was pretty sure that the song “So Be” was from 1966. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Jim: He didn’t tell us these things until after it was all done.
Mike: He was playing that song at frat houses, back when frats were different than what they are today. I thought he said– did he say it didn’t go over well?
Jim: His band didn’t like it or something.
Mike: I struggled for a long time, until the day we went into the studio, to write my part for it.
Jim: It’s my favorite thing that he does on the whole project, and the solo on “Talk To Me,” that’s awesome.
On The Blind Shake end, previously you had mentioned that on each album there would be something that would hint at what the next project would sound like. So with this one [Seriousness] I was wondering if that was still the case, and if the song “Hand Me Downs” is a lead up to the acoustic Blind Shake record?
Dave: That’s a good observation.
Mike: This guy’s on the money. That’s pretty much true, and “Out of Work” or “I’m Not An Animal,” that’s the sound we really like still.
Jim: It’s a little trashier, I would say.
When I was talking to Mike at the CD release show for Seriousness, he mentioned that you guys already had a new batch of songs ready to go. Along with the leftovers from Seriousness, how do you fit that all in together on the next album?
Mike: Things start getting cut as they’re recorded. Some songs work better live, like there’s a song we have called “The Creeper” which always seems cool on Youtube.
Jim: Probably one of my favorite songs to play live.
Dave: We’ve probably played it a zillion times live.
Jim: But it did not record well at all, and then we don’t ever want to play it again live because we felt it betrayed us so bad.
Mike: Maybe we were the only ones that liked it all this time. People were just clapping to be polite [laughter].
Does this tie into the point that you [Jim] made at the last interview that differentiated live playing and recording as theater versus film?
Jim: These new songs we don’t really care to play live. Usually when we get a new song, it’s like “let’s play it, next show, next show.” We’ve just kind of been sitting on these, and once our mixing board is back from the shop we’ll see what they’re like on tape first.
Seems like it’s a stronger line now, “this is only live, this is for recording.”
Mike: Well we’ve been switching instruments too, me and Jim.
You guys had mentioned that you guys felt pretty comfortable– like “I know Mike can sing this song because I’ll like what he comes up with.” Is there still that faith in each others abilities?
Mike: The three of us wrote the lyrics for the song– it’s called, “Call of The Beehive.” We’re playing it fifth tonight, or is it fourth?
Jim: We put it on a whiteboard, and it was like “who can come up with another line?” It’s pretty fun.
Mike: It feels very us. I think all three of us could say, “Oh yeah, this is my song.”
Jim: Ideally, I never want anyone to go, “Oh, this is Mike, or Dave, or Jim.” It’s just The Blind Shake. It’s such a team band, I think that’s cool.
Mike: The farther we go, the more we should become one. Like bands as they become bigger, they get separated, “Oh, I can tell that’s a Ringo song.” We’re all gonna form into one giant Ringo.
Jim: Yeah, now there’s songs where Mike plays the guitar and I play the baritone, Mike came up with the riff and I sing the vocals. I think that’s why we’ve been way more productive.
Mike: There’s an acoustic one where Dave’s playing guitar, and there’s one where Jim’s playing the drums.
Jim: Everyone plays all of the instruments now. It works, it feels right.
Dave: It’s about just getting a song out, not who’s doing what.
Mike: But you’ll find that we have the same exact approach anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Dave: It’s not like Mike comes in and all of the sudden he’s this Jazz drumming dude. It’s still gonna be stomping and…
I don’t even know how to say it, how did you land on that drum sound? It’s all things I like; lots of tom and ride cymbal, and…
Dave: Simple, cool beats.
But, what’s the secret?
Dave: That’s it. The coolest beats are just the simplest.
Mike: I would say that Dave is a classic game time player. You drop in on a Blind Shake practice, and you might see one of the worst drummers of all time.
Jim: He’s been working until six in the morning, practice is at ten in the morning…
Mike: He’s the same when we throw the ball around. Throw the ball to Dave, he might not be into it, this or that. Then you play backyard football or something and he just tears it up. The lights go on and he shines. He’s a Monday Night Football guy…
Dave: Deion Sanders of drumming [much laughter].
Jim: That’s the secret.
Well, it’s like [his playing] has grooves, but power –a lot of power– and it’s not flashy.
Jim: That’s just Blind Shake. It just fits into what we’re all…
Dave: I’m not the star of The Blind Shake.
How do you guys all end up on the same page?
Mike: I think we all think in terms of the beat. You ask anyone, “why do you like that song?” Either they like the words or “really I just like the beat.”
Dave: I think in general, whether your playing guitar or drums, just play what the song calls for. You don’t play any more or any less than what the song calls for.
Jim: I feel like we’re getting better, we’re still very into it. I still think we’re not satisfied, I’m not, are you?
Dave. No. Seriousness is our best album, but it’s not our best album. The best album is gonna be something down the road.
Jim: It’s the best one we’ve done so far.
Do you guys still feel like a young band, that you still have a lot of energy?
Mike: A lot left to prove, yeah. We haven’t hit that game where you grand slam every at bat. That’s all I ever really wanted.
Dave: It’s not too much to ask for.
Are you guys happy with your past recordings or is there dissatisfaction?
Mike: I’m now not embarrassed, know what I mean? But, we should have taken more chances.
Dave: Each time we learn a little more, we take that and we build upon it.
Jim: It seems like so many bands come out with their first album as their best one, but I feel we’re the opposite.
Dave: Our last album will be our best album.
You had also talked about gradually expanding your sound, is that still true?
Dave: Yeah. The Yonkers project is inspiring us to go in different directions, so is the acoustic project. Just wanting to grow as The Blind Shake has made us improve on what sounds, what instruments we use.
Mike: Even who’s playing what instrument.
Jim: It’s subtle, little things. I think if you start at the beginning; from our first demo, to the 7”, to Rizzograph [their first album], you can hear this progression.
Mike: Well like you brought up, each project has it’s clues towards the next album.
When I was talking with Jim, it sounded like you guys were kind of looking to Rizzograph as kind of a model that you’d like to go back to.
Jim: There is something kind of awesome about that first record. When I listen to it, it sounds like we’re on mission, in a weird way. It’s faster, [it] seems pretty vicious.
As always, I gotta bring up the work ethic that you guys have. I was talking with Yonkers about this, and I felt like The Blind Shake demands your attention because you guys care so much, and that’s what draws me in–
Mike: I never roll out of bed and just let my day begin, it just kind of happens when it happens. The alarm goes off, I get up. Not like we’re all regimented people, but– you must think you’re some sort of genius if you think people care more about your band than you do. It’s never gonna happen. We’ll always care more about our band than the audience. Why would they? They’re out there having a drink, eating tacos, and listening to you; where you are only focusing on playing– it’s your life. You give up certain things to be in a band, you damn well better care more than the audience, unless you’re some kind of genius. Maybe I’m getting mad here… but it’s arrogant, “dude, we just put a couple chords together. Listen to it.” Well, everyone in the crowd can play those chords…
Jim: Honestly, I think it’s a defense mechanism, where people try to give off that vibe. Usually it’s a very deep insecurity. So, just pretend like I rolled out of bed, “dude, this isn’t that good.” Deep down they’re going, “I hope everyone loves this, because I don’t know about it.” That’s really what I think it is.
It does seem like sort of– “I’m gonna kind of try, but I don’t want to get hurt.”
Mike: Well, with that in mind, maybe I’ll back off my statement and be nicer because if it is somebody’s insecurity…
Jim: You can see us on stage, and I could say we’re trying as hard as we can, like that’s the best that we can do.
Mike: I think Jim, you brought this up before, the fact that we are older, so there isn’t this– we’re already too old in a way, so you’re already pitiful and embarrassed, so you may as well do what you want to do, you know what I mean? We’re not cute, we’re not approachable in a sales way, we don’t have a raggedy annie, loveable loser type of vibe. “Dude I just rolled out of bed, and I’m ready to be cute.” We’re not ready to be cute, we didn’t roll out of bed. We don’t have all our hair. We were probably your babysitter, we took very good care of you. We did not just roll into the house. We did everything your parents wanted, put you to bed on time, didn’t have any friends over, we didn’t drink, we didn’t watch TV. We played with you while you colored your stupid thing, and made sure you’re learning was great. Now you’re– anyway, I don’t know who this fictitious person is, but I hate him [group laughter].