Download: Blank Blue “All The Shallow Deep”
This is the last of our archival re-releases in honor of our first SXSW showcase tonight and it’s appropriate that it goes to Blank Blue, whose founders Nobody and Niki Randa were once both workers at Long Beach record store Fingerprints and who have the kind of collections professors ask permission to photograph. This interview is from Vol. 2 No. 19 and was conducted between Sunken City and the Belmont Brewing Co. by Chris Ziegler.
Didn’t you very first start out as a rapper?
Elvin Estela (producer/various instruments/samples): Yes, there is me rapping on a cassette that came out in high school.
Do you remember any of it?
Yes, you do.
E: I do, but I’m not gonna say them. I rap all the time when I’m being stupid—it’s all Ghostface style but hipster quotes.
Niki Randa (vocals/lyrics): You were about to do it—I felt the censor go off.
E: If you get me drunk enough, I’ll record some shit. I haven’t done it yet. But it’s gonna be the most awesome well-informed lyrics you ever heard, delivered in the most awesome Ghostface style ever.
How will it be well-informed?
E: A lot of rap is about the same shit—but there’s a whole lot of other things. My dream is to see a girl—I’m married, so this is hypothetical!—and rap about how her boyfriend’s lame because he doesn’t know these bands, so I’ll rap about all these bands I could show her. Like how once I’d play her a Can song, she’d never go back to her man.
What happened the night Project Blowed got raided?
E: That was in 1996—it was just weird. We would always be there every Thursday night in South Central, just hanging out, but one night for some reason the police came. Like a ton of fucking police. I was 19—I was with Omid and my good friend Dusk—rest in peace—and they came in and told us it was an unlawful assembly. It was fucked up! We were trying to plead with them and eventually it became a crazy stand-off—Aceyalone was up in the cops’ faces screaming at them! The cops pushed us back and next door there was a jazz café called Fifth Street Dick’s, and all the elders would play chess in front of the café, so they pushed us up into them on the sidewalk. I saw Medusa get hit by one of the cops and it turned into a full-on riot! All this bullshit! We went back next week and had a peaceful exit and the cops came back again and shut us down.
How many riots have you been in?
E: Just that one. Oh, wait, I was at the Venice B-Boy Summit. That was unreal.
Do you have any tips on running from the cops?
N: Don’t wear high heels.
How does Blank Blue fit into your discography?
E: It’s still my sound but I want it to sound like an album—with the guest vocalists, I like the idea but, it doesn’t sound uni-thematic. Having one theme—it’s something I never had before.
N: We’ve been kind of uni-brain since the get-go.
E: Sometimes I’ll have an idea and I’ll show her, and it’ll come out ten times better than I can even explain.
How did you find out Niki could sing? Did you hear her singing in the back room at Fingerprints?
N: He’s always singing in the back room at Fingerprints!
E: I just knew—I don’t know why we never worked on music together. I’m always nervous to show people new music—and I think she was probably really nervous to start working—but it came really naturally.
N: It’s a concept record—I kind of had direction.
E: It’s a record about the big earthquake that eventually sinks California into the ocean—the West Coast apocalypse, but there’s a really awesome outcome. We have to release the record so people know what happens. It’s like ‘1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’ but as an album.
Is this earthquake in 2012?
E: I don’t know, but I think it happens on a Sunday.
Do you think Pacific Drift left any kind of legacy?
E: To me, that album flopped when it came out! It was such a weird time. But maybe a lot of kids who didn’t know the Zombies or the West Coast Pop Art Ensemble or even the Monkees got to hear those songs.
Who is your favorite Monkee?
N: I danced with Davy Jones once.
Was he polite?
N: He was very nice.
E: Mine is Mickey Dolenz. He has the best high voice and a sweet hair-do. It’s both straight and curly!
How is the Blank Blue album a California album?
E: All of it—I think everything I do is very California. You know what I mean? How we live is how we listen. Stoned? I don’t know if stoned means necessarily high on pot all the time, but it’s a little murky, a little slow… that’s how music out here sounds. The world is not really mellow and slow now—that’s why people like New York—but soon they’ll come back to us.
N: There’s an underlying dark sentiment in music from California.
E: Subtly heavy.
N: Not necessarily dark—
E: Not gothy or satanic—it’s heavy-hearted. Singing with a heavy heart.
Where did that start?
E: It’s just the time right now. It’s a heavy-hearted time.
How do you think about music differently now than you did when you first started writing?
E: Now is the only time I understand what I’m doing. Literally before I just put two and two together—like ‘that kind of works!’ Now if I have an idea, I can express it musically. Before I didn’t have that.
How did you learn?
E: Just playing guitar and really trying to figure out why I liked the songs I like.
Why do you like the songs you like?
N: I like dissonant harmonies and complicated rhythms.
E: Beat-y but pretty.
N: Stuff that gets us through a six-hour shift at Fingerprints.
E: The field is wide open. All the kids grew up listening to hip-hop—the bands grew up on the same records. Even the bands on Pitchfork that are more indie-rock oriented—almost everyone listened to rap when they were younger, and it’s subconsciously coming through all the music. Gnarls Barkley or anything by Dungen—it’s just a little more heavy and beat-centric.
N: There are less rules.
How else are bands different now?
E: Now you have technology that you can abuse. When I interviewed David Axelrod, he was saying you had to record the record as you heard it live, and each one had to play the part perfectly, and if you wanted an effect, you had to effect it perfectly. And now a sound is just a sound you can fuck with. That’s why records are sounding weirder and weirder—you can’t fight it anymore.
What do you miss the most?
E: The analog sound of the records. The fact they mastered music to come out on vinyl—I really think music is surviving on vinyl, and that’s how it should be! What else goes with the times? If there’s no music programs in schools, how are kids gonna learn to play music when they’re 18? When I interview old timers, I understand—we’re all hacks! But we didn’t come up the same. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, music was in the schools—but now it’s slowly changing. Younger kids understand how music can be an expression of self and a way to get out of a situation. But maybe you have to be serious and proficient about it.
What does it mean that your roots will always be in L.A. hip-hop?
E: The way I listen to music—though it’s changing now, it started my passion to keep listening to music. It was inherently different and left of center and adventurous, and I still look for those same sort of qualities in music, whether it’s old or new. There’s something about Freestyle Fellowship when you’re a young kid—it sounds like the most bizarre alien thing, and I still want to make and hear things like that.
Niki, where are your roots?
N: I was raised in choir, so for me I’ve always used my voice to compliment someone else’s project—singing harmonies or back-up.
What’s the hardest thing for you to listen to in a song?
N: I hate shitty words.
E: There’s something about the singer-songwriter genre—hasn’t this song been written about 55 million times? Yeah, but it still sells.
What lessons should people learn?
E: The hardest thing is to not just continue on but to do something different—to build on what you just did, because if you rein in some fans, you wanna please the same people. But as artists, you want to do things differently.
N: There’s still simple music that sounds pretty—but we’re over-saturated with music.
E: We’ve worked at a record store for six or seven years. When we go home, we’re getting out all the bad shit!
N: I can’t shop if there’s a bad soundtrack—I lose it!
What’s the best thing a customer ever asked?
N: ‘How does your alphabet go?’
Isn’t there only one answer to that?
N: Yeah, thank you. He was wearing a giant shirt that said ‘PORK’ on it.
What did you recommend?
N: Start at ‘A’ and wrap around to ‘Z.’