As a songwriter, what elements do you look for in somebody else's work? Is there something that a song has to have, to get your interest (melody, great lyrics etc)?
hmmmm….I'm not much of a 'songwriter' connoisseur, I guess. There are songwriters that I love, but often there's an almost equally attractive part of the song that is because of the band. When we are asked to do radio sessions, sometimes they just say I can come with an acoustic guitar and sing…I think my songs would hold up that way, but I think everyone in Blanche is really critical to the ultimate success of the song, whether it's Feeny's pedal steel underlining a certain lyric, or Little Jack's rickety banjo clearing the fog.
I love and grab onto the melodies of people like Cole Porter and Hank Williams, but I also love Nick Cave's songs, and when I think of his songs, there aren't a lot of ‘hooks’ or even strong melodies in my opinion. It's more about the mood, the arrangements, and the emotion.
America is at war at the moment, and it seems, from the outside, that many American bands are having an ethical dilemma, on whether to involve politics in their music/songwriting or not. How do you as a band feel about this? Were you comfortable, for example, with the tours arranged by Springsteen & REM into swing States in the run up to the election?
(Tracee) I don't think that just because you have a platform you should use it. It always seems to rub me the wrong way when bands do that. It sounds horrible to say that. Things start to get a little watered down if you mix too many ingredients. Do we really need musicians adding to the circus of politics?
Josh Ritter, in an interview with Three Monkeys Online, mentioned that he got more inspiration for his lyrics from sources outside music, such as literature. Is that true for Blanche? What type of influences come into the lyrical side of things?
I don't think I'm really that influenced lyrically by other music. Music influences come more in the form of mood, arrangements and melodies. I agree with Josh in regard to the inspiration coming from sources outside of music: films, books, etc., but mainly, for me, I think it's the everyday oddness of life that strikes me to write a song. There are more obvious things that have inspired me: deaths in our family, illnesses, heartbreak (all those lovely 'feel-good' things), but also it can be from looking at a painting, reading something in the newspaper, seeing an expression on a stranger's face, or eavesdropping someone else's conversation and twisting it into my own interpretation. Mainly, though, I think the best songs come from a firm emotional reaction to something.
Two elements of the music are constantly cited – the spookiness and the sadness. Would you agree that they're strong elements to the music, and how deliberate is it? Is it, without meaning to sound like Elton John, that sad songs say more?
I really don't think it's deliberate. The spookiness and sadness are by-products of the emotion you try to weave into a song. I think you can hear when that sort of thing is forced.
For music like blues or country, with a strong melancholic streak, how important is experience? Do you have to have lived through painful events to be authentic? If that's the common wisdom, doesn't it to some extent belittle the songwriter's input? It suggests that the pain is in a sense the author of the music, rather than the imagination.
Well, I really feel what is ‘authentic’ is something people dwell on too much. Some critics were so disappointed to hear that a Jewish guy from New York wrote Strange Fruit, and that Billie Holiday hadn't. Does that make that song any less painful or sadly beautiful? There's a quote that's attributed to Hank Williams, “you can't write a country song unless you've shovelled manure…”, or something like that. To me, that sounds like a quote dreamed up by a marketing person to sell more records.
Anyone who's suffered through deaths, sickness, jealousy, or any kind of pain is qualified to write a country or blues song, I think. I think that as long as you're being true to the emotion of the song, that's not belittling anything, except those horrid ‘clever singer/songwriter’ types.