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

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,
when: Friday, Feb. 21, at 9 p.m. $8


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.