We spoke with Karl Blau about his influences from the Pacific Northwest and his new record Introducing Karl Blau.
How has your time living in the Pacific Northwest affected your songwriting and creativity?
I've lived in Charleston, SC, Queens, NY and Vista, CA over the past 20 years, but I do keep returning to the NW after tours and travel and sigh a huge sigh. Anacortes is a community that I love and feel like I'm a vital piece of. My family, including 3 brothers and their families, are here in the Skagit Valley, as well as my mother. I think I owe much of my vibe (if you can sense any thread there) equally to my friends and family here as well as to the forests and beaches I grew up in and continue to explore and commune with. Hungry Cloud Darkening, SiLM, Enduro, Mount Eerie, a new band called Buffet to name a few bands right now in Anacortes.
Just outside of our little scene here there is always something bubbling. Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia have a super diverse scene - not to mention Portland. I enjoy getting into what my friends and cohorts are doing. My greatest influences are my NW friends for sure - Eli Moore, Andrew Dorsett, Ashley Eriksson of LAKE, Bret Lunsford and Phil Elverum of Anacortes, The Solvents, Jarrod and Emily from Port Townsend, Clyde Petersen, Kenneth Piekarski, Luke Bergman, Dylan Carlson and Lori Goldston of Seattle, and Calvin Johnson, Arrington Dedionyso, Angelo Spencer from Olympia. It's impossible to draw a line but fun to name some heavies in my life here in the PNW -amazing minds at work, and I feel like the bar gets held very high at intervals.
Creativity is very highly regarded and practiced. I think a big theme of the NW music scene that I've been lucky to be a part of is inclusion - a broad range of styles, personalities that create under a common theme of "this is what I'm feeling now." Another commonality would be that we're all doing it because we want to, and not because we have a drive to dominate or be heard more than other bands.
Your records seem to have distinct differences in themes and sound. How would you describe your writing and record process? How do you decide when to record?
I like to set parameters like what instruments, what tonality, what methods of recording, etc. and try things I've never tried or never heard before. Also I like to move very quickly and gesturally. It's mostly an improvisational environment, tapping into the present to make a deep connection. I figure by the time I'm 60 I'll be really good at this style, but think I'm already starting to show some signs of results that aren't completely silly.
Can you explain what the Kelp Lunacy Advanced Plagiarism Society is/was and how you're involved?
KLAPS started out in 2003 to be a monthly subscription-based albums that I would make myself and hand package, etc. I made about 22 in the first 2 years and then it's taken me this last 12 years to make the next 12. I always thought I could get it off the ground, but the amount of organization it takes to make a living from it always seemed just out of my grasp. I dunno, now I've reached a lot more people, maybe I could make it fly again? Technically you can subscribe to the final 10 albums of the series, feel free to listen to many of them, here.
Introducing Karl Blau is not your first record by any account. Why is this record the introduction and what does it symbolize for you?
Introducing is an introduction across some borders by which I haven't until now traversed. For one thing, it's an introduction to a more digestible sound by having the lush, Tucker Martine studio production. It's an introduction to my voice to this format of country/soul/rock. And by and large, in general, an introduction to me for most people as I've flown under the radar for so long.
The album for me tells a story about a man who is getting in touch with his emotions and moving through a dark place of uncertainty towards a distant light of hope. These are all covers of 60s and 70,s mostly of the Nashville style of songwriting. The record was designed in the classic style of the producer calling all of the shots. Producer Tucker Martine is someone I've worked with and cultivated a strong relationship with for many years through among other ways recording on Laura Veirs albums and touring together in her band. Tucker's vision was to portray my voice in a way that he felt could convey the best and his vision was through country music mostly. The lyrics didn't necessarily have a thread that Tucker was paying attention to, but after it came together, the message and the voice of the character on the album did end up being more focused than not.
What would you say inspires the best writing out of you? Anything that hinders that process?
Being somewhere between awake and asleep makes for great ideas. Being in a state where you're not judging your output, just practicing getting in touch. I just need some silence usually and some time and to get into a meditative state.
What's your earliest musical memory? Looking back, how was that impactful to where you are now in your career as a musician?
My earliest memories are of my older brother pounding on the piano, he was very good very early excelling at classical piano. Mom would do dishes if we went straight to piano practice just after dinner - my father playing trumpet in his underwear walking around the house just bouncing sound around the various rooms - my mother and her brothers and sisters singing 4-part harmonies any old occasion.
Are your records a solo endeavor or is there more of a group involvement that occurs either in writing, recording, and performing?
More and more I want to work with my friends and their strong creative suits with music making. The more I involve others, the more pleasure I derive from the process. That said, it's so easy right now to just slip down into my room and make some quick progress on a project as I run into little windows of time. Fatherhood demands most of my time I'm not hustling work.
Is touring something you feel obligated to do after you release a record? What are the things you look forward to or dread about performing and traveling?
Definitely for this record, which a lot of people have gone out on limbs to put out there - and the iron is nice and hot. I do feel the pressure to get out there and I know what it takes to be successful these days or at least to increase your chances. Touring is a part of making those odds work in your favor. I don't believe it should be mandatory. I don't think it's for everyone either.
I quite enjoy touring, and if it weren't for leaving my family for such extended intervals, it would be very satisfying on most all levels. I like leaving my little town regularly, it renews my appreciation. I love to drive. And especially since I've been able to choose who is coming along with me, the people I'm playing music with now - Eli Moore - bass, Andrew Dorsett - drums and Jon Hyde on pedal steel and lead - some of the greatest dudes to travel with and strike up conversations with - very sensitive and considerate people.
What's next for Karl Blau following the proper "Introduction?"
I have some great music in the can I can't talk about yet, but it's done and it's fabulous. It has some jazz notes, but it's pretty straightforward psychedelic rock. Next is hard to tell what will happen. Tucker and I are talking about working together again soon. I'm working on a screen play, a TV series and yet another album of Blau tunes here in Anacortes. Just you wait!