Coming Up: Karl Blau
Sequestered away in rural bliss, 90 minutes north of Seattle on the Washington state coast, Karl Blau has been making records for 20 years, but many acquainted him for the very first time on 2015s Introducing Karl Blau, a set of gorgeous, lush cover versions drawing mostly on vintage Nashville’s country-soul, given world wide distribution by Bella Union.
His new album Out Her Space (out November 17 on Bella Union) features Blau’s own material, production and multi-instrumental skills, and forges a gorgeous, languid and hook-infested gumbo of soul, funk, some jazzy blowing and Afro-pop, to arrive somewhere else entirely. The album is made in collaboration with his long time partner Matthew E. White and his Spacebomb crew in Richmond, Virginia. “It’s a blues album, essentially”, says Blau about his new album. “It’s a music for listeners, made by listening!”
Always excited about Mr. Blau’s moves, we caught up with him just ahead of the anticipated album release.
Hi Mr. Blau! Congratulations with a new album coming up. Out Her Space, what do we get?
Alright! Out Her Space takes the listener on a sonic voyage along genre ports – jazz, world, funk, blues, soul. But these recordings utilize a more subtle lense with the incredible, Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb crew backing the entire way and featuring Matt on guitar with Cameron Ralston and Pinson Chanselle, bass and drums respectively. We recorded in Richmond, VA at the Spacebomb abode at the time an attic space with the gear held together with bandaids and tape – just how I still enjoy recording.
It’s a blues album, essentially – singing woes, crying out “why?” and “what the fuck?” A thread of inward and outward emotional politics line the narrative. I’m speaking to men in particular with much of this. Questioning the strong arm, the “power over.”
Side 1 opens with a plea to be more sensitive with bells and percussions a la Paul Simon’s Graceland. Next an overt anti-war song written to La Macarena leads to self doubting and self check dance yourself happier song 3. Side 1 ends with ye olde tale of the tensions between small towns and large cities, something most anyone who is paying attention can relate with; it’s a cover of an Aphrodite’s Child song – “Valley of Sadness” from 1968.
A Credence-y little stomp takes Side 2 into a pretty Jerry (Garcia) guitar solo by Matt White. Things get a bit further out with the 2nd tune in – proggy saxes and nostalgic synthesizers, jogging in place panting while delivering the lyrics. Then it’s clapping on the 2 and 4 with Phil Cook from Megafaun on piano – “Where Ya Goin’ Papa?” sing my children as I’m packing again to go out and rope me up some wild game of chicken scratch. This song carries out, lots of long jammer tales on the record – it’s a music for listeners, made by listening!
Finally it’s “Dub The War Away (Whiskey Zulu Mix)” – the parenthetical phrase refers to the coordinates that Camp Pendleton would use to test and destroy bombs that I had made some recordings of from a distance away and would regularly hear from Vista, CA.
What was your initial idea for this album and what inspired you the most?
Anticipating working with the Spacebomb crew had me choosing songs that I made versions of by myself on 4-track cassette, mostly, tunes that I could hear being gussied up a bit with some horns and the sort of soul vibe that Spacebomb vibes in spades.
Did you have a clear idea on how Out Her Space would be from the get-go, or did the album gradually evolve as a process?
I brought these Spacebomb cats 4-track versions of the songs of me playing all the instruments, tunes that I thought would be up their alley like I said. And the creativity on the spot with these gentlemen, it’s something to get out of the way of – mostly we hit the record button and that was that. Yet after the two weeks of making Out Her Space basic tracks in Richmond, Virginia with Matt, Pinson, Cameron and the gang the finished product of the record was made over years, with lyrics tinkered with, mixes upon remixes and restructuring and re-singing of tracks up to this year it was finally mastered for Bella Union.
It has been said that this album is so different from your previous ones that it could be titled ‘Reintroducing Karl Blau’. What in your words are the biggest differences or developments this time?
Working with completely different folks, different sides of the country, and these are original songs aside from the Aphrodite’s Child track “Valley of Sadness.” It could be said this is a more “normal” release for me in the sense that it’s a record that explores genres.
Can you shed some light on the recording sessions in Richmond?
The Spacebomb crew think of all angles – I mean it acts with a giant brain/think tank. The planning, preparation and synchronization of the Matthew E. White project was totally blowing my mind. I just showed up with some tunes. Matt of course had volumes of scores for his in house orchestra. And the level of musicianship – mostly folks with a jazz-steeped background, real top shelf improvisors. Super fun session to just see what happens and be with it. Did you catch the play in the name titles? They are cousins, this one and Big Inner.
How did you work out the songs and what kind of sound did you look for this time?
I wanted light and bubbly yet meaningful. Pinson several times would add tracks where he struck a glass bottle struck with drum stick. I was looking for in the moment feeling which is exactly what Cameron Ralston’s bass playing gives. And with Matt was always a bit of a surprise somewhere.
What would be your preferred setting to ultimately enjoy the LP, and how would you pair Out Her Space with a meal or beverage?
Away from light pollution, under starry sky with hot, licorice tea.
Which albums or songs (if any) inspired you the most in the making of this album?
At the time of creating these songs I can recall a deep connection with Milton Nascimento records – Milagre Dos Peixes, Minas, Geraes. My buddy Ange got me into Rai music at this time – Cheb Mami, Cheb Khaled. Also I discovered Chico Barque’s album Construção which continues to blow my mind.
What is your comment on the current political climate in the US, and does it affect your songwriting in any ways?
It’s a great political climate for writing songs! So much inspiration, enragement, great time for loud music, any chance you can shout “ffffuuuuccckkkk!!!” over the microphone you need to take it. The question right now is – “Which song do I need to write to articulate my F bomb scream?”. If you believe music can change the world – and I do of course, it’s changed my life over and over. Seems easy to write any song right now, the challenge is to figure out which one to write.
Any new artists out there you don’t feel are getting deserved attention and that you’d like to recommend?
My cohorts, buddies, neighbors from nearby Langley, Whidbey Island – LAKE have a wonderful, new record on the Tepete label, Hamburg called “Forever or Never.”
And finally, if your music was a plant what would it be?
If my music was plant it would be a stinging nettle. At first it catches your attention with a pinch when you are trying to pass, as you listen to it, useful information is revealed. What you once thought was a nuisance may be beneficial after all.
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