Five questions with The Blind Spots

Ithaca, N.Y.-based indie-pop outfit The Blind Spots (Maddy Walsh on vocals, Mike Suave on guitar and vocals, David Openshaw on keys, Khris Oursler on bass and Mike Parker on drums) has been on a bit of tear since releasing their most recent album, Rhizomatic. The group is included in this months IndiMusic TV Top 21 Countdown, they’re launched a number of videos and just started their winter tour. Where better to begin a tour than Asheville — The Blind Spots play Altamont Brewing Co. on Thursday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m.; and at The Root Bar on Friday, Jan. 23, at 10 p.m.

What can music fans expect? “A high energy, all original rock show,” says Walsh. “We’re psyched to be in a new town, especially this one, and we’ll pull out all the stops for ya, LED lights and all. …We’re about fun,’cause fun is awesome.”

Mountain Xpress: Does having The Blind Spots as your your band name help remind you to acknowledge/avoid/overcome creative or personal blind spots?
Maddy Walsh:
That’s part of what the name is about, actually. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought that went into it at the beginning — we just needed a name to start playing shows behind — but the name has taken on more meaning as we’ve grown. Understanding that we all wear unintentional blinders that can hinder us from communicating effectively (which is important for a band touring together on the road!) or from creating openly is important — the band names sometimes serves as a reminder. Other times it’s just a name.

So what does it mean to be an Ithaca band, and in what ways does Ithaca inform or inspire your sound?
Asheville and Ithaca have so much in common! I had kale in my breakfast [in Asheville] as I listened to old-time music this morning in a cafe that composts. This place has got my number already. I don’t know that being an Ithaca band means anything in particular, but there sure is a lot of talent in our hometown; there’s a lot of old-time, folk, reggae, Americana and zydeco music, so being that we’re an indie-pop-rock band, our sound isn’t terribly influenced by what’s around us at home. Coming from Ithaca certainly raises the professionalism bar though — we’ve worked very hard to get where we are there, and now Ithaca is the supersupportive springboard that’s allowing us to do what we’re doing in Asheville and other places.

Ithaca absolutely is still rootsy. Ithaca audiences will ultimately embrace talent though, whatever the genre. Our drummer, Mike Parker, played for years with Ithaca favorites Ayurveda, which was a pretty heavy rock band influenced by Radiohead, Tool, etc. A lot heavier than the type of music Ithaca would normally embrace, but [the band was] just so good. Ithaca is full of die-hard music fans, so while our genre wasn’t as readily digestible there as many of the rootsy bands are, once you’re earned your place, you can keep it. We’re very happy living in a place where music of all kinds is celebrated and valued — much like Asheville, it seems.

What’s the deal with wearing white? How did that start and what does it mean to the band?
We wore white for the release party of our first album in 2010 just for a fun and cheap way to achieve a cohesive look and to let the light show really shine, but it just became a thing over time. The guys prefer it to having to figure out what to wear. It’s like a uniform, I guess. A rock ‘n’ roll uniform!

Tell us about Rhizomatic — what are some of the themes of the album? Any good stories you can share from the time you spent recording it?
The term rhizome is actually a botany term that I came across in college by way of philosophy — theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote about the rhizome, which in biology is a type of root structure that opposes the arboreal structure (one tree coming from one seed). The rhizome is a complicated network of roots that can grow just under the surface of the soil and doesn’t have just one point of origin (the seed) but several nodes of origin. It spreads laterally and extends outward, rather than just upward, and you can never tell where a new plant, which is part of the whole latticework, will shoot up. They’re hard to kill, and there’s an infiniteness about them. The philosophers discuss the rhizome in terms of anti-chronology/hierarchy/progress — instead, it’s an interconnectedness, a continuous state of being, or mesh of possibilities.

I loved the idea of a musical body of work being that network of roots, with several nodes of origin (the songs themselves) connecting people and spreading laterally, by word of mouth the way most music is spread these days, since we don’t have big record companies telling us what to listen to right now. It’s up to us (the fans and the musicians) to spread art and concepts. It’s delightfully postmodern! But it’s also just a kick-ass word. I like that you can here “rise” in it, because I think this upcoming album shows us hitting our stride and poised for the next phase of our career together; it’s by far the best collection of songs we’ve written, and it’s produced the best too. Blind Spots on the rise!

The band put out a number of videos along with the launch of Rhizomatic. What’s your process like for setting imagery to your songs? Ever worry the videos will change your listeners’ perceptions of the songs?
We had never approached the creation and release of an album from such a cross-section of the visual with the audio. We actually started creating the music video alongside the recording of the songs, which was a different experience for us and so far seems to be a fun way for our fans to connect with the tunes on another level. The videos all came from different places — our drummer wrote the storyboard for “Hey Boy” (which seems to be everyone’s favorite so far and got big laughs at the local movie house when we debuted it in November with the four other we created to accompany this album). We worked with three different directors to created each one, some of whom came up with the concepts.

I don’t necessarily think that the visual detracts from the song itself but it can change it — “Hey Boy” is kind of a sexy song, but we don’t exactly “do sexy” in this band. We’re way too silly for that. No Beyonce-level bikini-on-the-breach writhing in this crew (not knocking that either — Bey is boss!). So we went the opposite direction and created something supersilly and nerdy, which suits us. We want to let people in to the persona of the band, ultimately, and since everyone listens to and shares new music through YouTube videos these days, we wanted to join that party.

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

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