We caught up with Blessed who share with us their latest EP's hidden complexities, their sonic characteristics and how they strayed away from the traditional recording approach.
Photo by Jake Holmes
Earlier this year, there was much anticipation circling around the young Canadian art-rock quartet Blessed, especially after their superb 2019 debut Salt. They lived up to the hype by signing to Flemish Eye and releasing their label debut and self-produced EP, iii, showcasing the combination of their post-punk sensibilities and exploratory spirit. The latest EP is a palette of musical styles with the intent of defying conventional rock expectations by the band working with various mixers. While leaving room for sonic complexities, Blessed's eclectic approach expanded onto a new electronic instrumental EP of remixes and reinterpretations, featuring contributions from No Joy, Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck and Odonis Odonis.
We recently caught up with Blessed who share with us their iii's hidden complexities, their sonic characteristics and how they strayed away from the traditional recording approach.
Paperface Zine: How did you all meet and form Blessed? What was your vision when forming the band?
Blessed: We're from a relatively small triangle of communities, roughly outside of Vancouver. The nature of the music scene where we are meant everyone had peripherally known one another or met by the time we were all graduating high school. We had all been playing in archetypal bands of varying genres which led us into playing with one another. And I remember before we even attempted jamming together as four people, we had sat down and discussed the creative constraints and limitations of the art we had been creating. There aren't many bands that all four of us loved at the outset, so the spirit of listening and music discovery between the members was and continues to be rewarding. The concrete slab that holds up everything we do, is the idea that nothing is out of bounds.
From your music, I get a mixture of Gang of Four and Bloc Party. Lay on me some of your biggest influences.
Tough question to try and encapsulate for everyone in the band but if you were trying to create a mind map and not pay attention to the subsidiaries that would be more apt and direct to individual members, at the core of it all would be Steely Dan, Broadcast, Kraftwerk, and Portishead probably? But I might also get some pushback on one or two of those. Hopefully one day you'll hear my best approximation of the ending guitar solo of "Green Earrings" on a Blessed record.
What is it like making music now signed to a record label? Did you notice any difference between the process when recording your earlier releases compared to your latest EP?
We've always been conscientious to create art in a vacuum. We don't generally share anything too early on, and the rule is the four of us have to enjoy it first and foremost before we invite outside opinion in. We also recorded iii prior to knowing we'd see it released by anyone else. That being said, Flemish Eye has been very easy to work with and understands our neuroses and respects how we like to operate. I don't foresee it having an impact on any of the art moving forward.
Having a bunch of different mixers on iii was a super interesting idea. What was it like working with producers like Graham Walsh and John McEntire, and what did they bring to the table that influenced the creation of the songs they worked on?
We made that decision after finishing the recording process ourselves. With an EP, there's so much room for malleability because the general expectation on all fronts is lower, and they provide an outlet for larger experimentation. If the band continues another couple decades, I think you'll always see us using EP's as an outlet for creative ideas that we don't have the ability to do on a full-length. Everyone who worked on the EP is someone who's creative work we've admired in some capacity.
What was the recording process like for it? Did you run into any challenges especially with the pandemic?
Very fortunate to have finished recording the EP a couple weeks before the first lockdown happened. There was a large gap in time between finishing and releasing because of the mixing phase and beginning to work with Flemish Eye, as well as the pandemic. We all had hopes, albeit naively with 2020 hindsight, that we could tour if we waited, which after taking the majority of 2019 off, was our biggest desire upon release. With the actual process of getting everything down, this was our shortest studio visit. Nearly everything was worked out 100% beforehand in our home studio.
What song (s) stood out the most during the recording and why?
I think there's always some level of masturbatory riffing on each Blessed release, and with "Centre," we knew the ending had that, and it's always an elating feeling to hear those parts come together that are tightly locked in and repetitive—there's a gratification to hearing music that was plotted out and practiced over and over again finally coming to life while not playing it. "Sign" is also a favorite because I think restraint and space is the avenue that we spend less time exploring, and that's where true growth lies for a band like ours currently.
Is III a preview to a larger project? Did you have a larger selection of songs to choose from for the EP?
Blessed: We generally only record the material we have at the moment. Given the cost of studio time and the fidelity we want to achieve on each release, we try to curate everything as much as possible ahead of time. We've only after recording iii, begun exploring home recording in a way that could let us be more exploratory on record. We've been trying to work on pieces of a larger format release when possible. But we respect the guidelines where we live, and we've been in lockdown again since November until the time of this writing. So remote writing has been explored but it's new territory. Hopefully if the summer eases similarly to last year, we'll manage to wrap up an ongoing project this year.
Drew [Riekman], you mention in the press release for iii that the album cover is inspired by your struggles with anxiety and agoraphobia. Would you mind explaining how the album cover correlates to that?
Blessed: Nathan [Levasseur] is the artist who creates all of our cover art and we've known each other for a decade, but only through the vessel of creating together and through Blessed do I feel we've really explored our relationship with each other and to ourselves. Nathan has helped me surmount some of the human elements of creating, I've never been a comfortable person and expressing that publicly can sometimes feel worse than it feels better, but I think vulnerabilities influence and relation to creating art is felt and heard if you're willing to put it out there. Nathan had a beautiful artist statement on the artwork: "Fragility and foundation, the correlation suggests alarm and worry. A set of precariously stacked blocks on the verge of certain collapse could easily serve as fuel for panic. But is the source of trouble in the actual structure itself or in our relationship to the state of being strong." There's a narrative shift that's been happening for me around anxiety and panic, which is to stop viewing the emotion as failure, and to stop worry about falling apart. Recontextualizing what it means to fail, and what it means to have these emotions and not punish yourself for experiencing them. There's a thru-line in the world that tells people "Only you are experiencing negativity and aren't creating better spaces for yourself." I used to believe that I would live without the fear of personal collapse one day, but I now try to accept its presence and equate it not with failure, but with knowing I can have it as a part of myself that I don't have to be ashamed of.
iii is out now through Flemish Eye Records. Stream the new EP below.