Tropical impression

Work ethic: From lineup changes to sonic shifts, The Blank Tapes are a moving target. It’s a never-ending process of writing, recording and releasing albums, says frontman Matt Adams (left, with Pearl Charles). Photo by Karen Knoller
Work ethic: From lineup changes to sonic shifts, The Blank Tapes are a moving target. It’s a never-ending process of writing, recording and releasing albums, says frontman Matt Adams (left, with Pearl Charles). Photo by Karen Knoller

There are many forms of precognition, or predicting the future: Fortunetellers, crystal balls, dreams. Or, in the case of Matt Adams, songwriting. As the frontman for Los Angeles-based garage band The Blank Tapes, he wrote the song “Brazilia” off the band’s new album, Vacation, long before he ever toured that South American country. “It was influenced by a lot of bossa nova and white-boy tropicália,” Adams says. The song lilts and sways, its lyrics a breezy sigh over shakers and fuzzy guitars. Astrud Gilberto, the girl from Ipanema herself, could have made a cameo.

Then there’s the title track, which recounts the tour that finally took Adams and company to Brazil: “Crowded round the TV / we’re watching lots of movies / trying to learn Portuguese.” Those two songs, says Adams, set the tone for the album and its beachy, sun-dappled, ’60s feel. But despite the pitch-perfect, vintage-y high note of Vacation, Adams has no desire to commit to that sound.

In fact, when The Blank Tapes play Jack of the Wood on Friday, Feb. 21, they’ll be a different configuration than when they played The Grey Eagle in October. The last show had Adams’ girlfriend, Pearl Charles, playing a cocktail drum set in the center of a trio. These days, Charles is on guitar and Adams has added a drummer on full kit. The new setup, says Adams, “is a little more free,” allowing for ride cymbals and other flourishes that maximize the band’s surf-rock nature.

“With every new band lineup I have, the songs take on different forms,” says Adams. For the last couple of years, the group has been crafting its set lists from the same pool of 30 or so songs. And while that’s about three albums worth of material, the Blanks Tapes frontman admits he sometimes gets bored.

This may be why: Adams is a prolific songwriter. His early projects, created mostly at home with an eight-track recorder, were more like double albums, he says. He received some criticism for the size of those records and, since 2009, has been aiming for a 40-minute length. “I’ve been trying to be more cohesive with my albums,” he says. “I’ve got a whole folk album I’m trying to record, and my form of country. Then I have some harder rock stuff.” The next collection he plans to release — which was actually recorded before Vacation — is “a real trippy, psychedelic, weirdo album.” He describes Vacation as more pop; forthcoming projects will reveal more guitar solos and general wildness.

And then there’s another pop album, even farther down the line.

“The hardest thing about writing a lot of music is keeping up with it,” says Adams. Sometimes on tour in support of one project, he’ll realize he’s written enough material for a new record. “But I’ll already have these two other albums in the can that I need to release, so it’s a constant stockpiling of music,” says Adams. His current approach is to spell his major releases with small, EP-sized projects.

“It’s a never-ending thing of constantly writing, constantly recording and constantly trying to figure out how to release things,” he says. “It’s a good problem to have, but it’s only gotten more overwhelming.”

If The Blank Tapes’ Asheville show is overwhelming, it’ll be because of the sheer tropical, sunny, coastal awesomeness contained within the band’s current set list. Plus, the little-seen but much-loved local(ish) band Coconut Cake opens. That group, led by Michael Libramento of Floating Action, Ice Cream and, most recently, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, puts its own spin on 1950s and ’60s-era Congolese rumba-rock.

All of which adds up to be (February or not) downright sultry.

who: The Blank Tapes with Coconut Cake
where: Jack of the Wood, jackofthewood.com
when: Friday, Feb. 21, at 9 p.m. $8

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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