For years “mainstream” has been considered a four-letter word in certain circles. Take the Pacific Northwest. By the time grunge was co-opted by the masses in the early ’90s, plenty of foundation had been laid for a more insulated DIY subculture that promised to remain fiercely independent.
Ultimately, Khaela Maricich and Jona Bechtolt, The Blow’s co-conspirators, each simultaneously fell into the folk-oriented scene revolving around K Records (best known for releasing Beck’s “One Foot in the Grave”). Moving to Olympia, Wash. in the ’90s, Maricich settled deep into the community known for its convivial potlucks, impromptu campfire sing-a-longs and tour stops at rec centers and other non-traditional venues. Likewise, Bechtolt did more than simply attend these intimate shows. Before he was even in high school, he began hosting them in the small loft above the gas station his folks owned in Astoria, Ore.
While a lot of the musicians in this bourgeoning camp weren’t necessarily anti-pop, their raison d’etre certainly wasn’t writing the kind of songs you’d imagine hearing on anything but college radio (maybe). When she started touring about five years ago, Maricich would beatbox or freestyle rap-sing a brand of abstract performance art. Meanwhile, Bechtolt was playing in a project that specialized in “complicated songs” that were decidedly “anti-chorus.” Soon after, he started releasing highly-textured electronic laptop jams under the curious moniker “YACHT” (he also drummed for psych folk figurehead Devendra Banhart).
Not exactly the backstory you’d expect for “Paper Television” (K Records), an irresistibly catchy mix of contemporary R&B, hip-hop and classic ’60s doo-wop that’s the backdrop for tales of heartbreak and true love.
“A lot of our friends shared our same perverted love of mainstream party station music, but they weren’t necessarily making it,” recalls Maricich, “We had dance parties in Olympia where we listened to Prince. Everyone loves Prince, I think. He was just absolute pop music mainstream perfection. And that started to seem like a real strength to me — to be super focused and have a vision and make a song that normal ladies want to dance to at their weddings, because it makes them feel sexy and powerful. So I thought, ‘Why am I hiding out on the fringe?’”
When discussing their intentions for their first full-length album, The Blow decided to make the music as universal and as sincere as possible without alienating either the “cool kids and weirdos” or, most importantly, their moms.
“I wanted [my mom] to feel like it was music that she was a part of, that she was invited into. And it really worked! My mom calls me all the time wanting to talk about it or tell me about the comments she posted on my MySpace page,” laughs Maricich, “She even posted a picture of my dad and her!”
These days, with online social networking having exploded into the cultural consciousness, the world has seemingly become an infinitely smaller, more inclusive place. Everyone is friends with everyone — or, at the very least, your friend’s friend is probably a friend of a friend’s friend. Thus, a greater number of people are able to engage in an ongoing conversation that’s less concerned with who you are or where you are, as long as you have something interesting to say.
In the case of “Paper Television,” The Blow have expanded the notion of art for art’s sake, and invested deeply in art for everyone’s sake.
“This music is for you. It doesn’t care about what you look like, where you go to party, what other albums are on your iPod or in the sidebar of your blog. We’re two people that made all of this, down to its packaging. But we’re not here to judge or make you feel bad or excluded or scared or even bored,” says Bechtolt, “We just want to make you happy, and have you later think about what makes you happy, and even later pass that on to someone less happy.”
Channeling that optimism, they managed to create arguably the most relevant, unjaded crossover record of the year. And they did so without abandoning the DIY spirit that started it all. Surely that’s something everyone can be happy about.
For more information on The Blow, visit: http://www.theblow.us/.