Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Heavy Hand”?
First off, we’re grateful for the response we’ve received for Heavy Hand. People seem to dig it, and that makes us happy. We’ve lived with all of the songs on Twist and Bend for quite some time now, and each one of these songs has a place in our hearts, as a band; but it’s great to hear that others are digging them as well.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
For Heavy Hand, it definitely wasn’t one event that inspired this song. It was more like a collection of events that informed a theme or general idea that I was interested in pursuing via the song. Heavy Hand touches on the notion that it’s really hard to get away and start fresh, because there’s always something that’s hanging over you. Of course, this can be bad, but it can also be good. This is all a function of being human; and being human is messy and beautiful all at the same time. I tried to play up this notion of being human and the notion of creation through some theological references in the choruses. I really believe that one of the most important things we can do as human beings is to create—write a story, paint an image, create a song. Invent something. Creating something unique, something that is indelibly yours, is a beautiful thing; but it’s also a very tough, and very human struggle.
The single comes off your new album Twist and Bend – what’s the story behind the title of the EP?
On the outmost level, I love the cadence or the prosody behind the phrase “twist and bend.” The Rolling Stones’ album title “Let it Bleed” has a similar feel to it. We were also interested in drawing some sort of connotation parallel to The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” as that’s an overwhelmingly happy song. When you juxtapose this happy aesthetic with a lot of the themes that are present throughout our “Twist and Bend” album, the art or emotion really starts to take shape. The phrase “twist and bend” is also a lyric in Goodbye Cambridge, another song on the album.This song plays around with the outwardly-happy-aesthetic meets serious-theme structure. On top of this, I’ve always found things that either cause destruction or are a product of destruction to be ironic in nature. For example, a gun blast can sound like a little pop, but the destruction it brings can be significant; and the product of a bomb—these can sound like little pops too—can twist and bend vehicles, and so on. I know it sounds a bit dark, but I seem to live within this sort of irony as a songwriter.
How was the recording and writing process?
I’m the primary songwriter of Blackout Balter, and the first phase of the songwriting process for me is pretty quiet and solitary. It takes me a long time to write songs, and I do a lot of rewriting to ensure the melodies are right—both chord progressions and top-line lyric melodies—the lyrics are right, the structure of the song is right, and the overall feeling of the song is right. Melodically, I think it’s important to be relatable and unique. Left-turns are always important. Lyrically, it’s nice to take the song in a direction that’s different than its melodic component. This entire process is a struggle for me, but it’s also a process that I enjoy, and it really makes me feel in-touch and human. The recording process is definitely more straight-forward, and the band and I tend to work very quickly. In fact, when we were recording at Battle Born, I think we surprised Root, our producer, with how quickly we worked.
What was it like to work with Robert Root and how did that relationship develop?
It was amazing to work with Root. He’s such a great guy, and he was such a complement to our personalities throughout our time in the studio. Root let us do our thing, and pushed us subtly. He had a process that he put us through that, clearly, he had used in the past—one that was tested and proven. This process was methodical and well-calculated, to ensure we were hitting everything that he wanted us to hit. Here we were—these indie rockers, used to just blasting through one song after another. With a steady hand, Root said, “Hey, this is how we’re going to do this,” and it worked.
How much did he get to influence the album?
Generally speaking, I think his influence is subtle and tasteful, but—make no mistake—his influence is present throughout the entire album. I actually think this is the mark of a good producer. Let the band do what they do best, then implement tasteful additions to make the music shine. With all this said, Root’s largest influence was on “Everything Becomes Mechanical.” This song was the least finished song we had upon heading into Battle Born, but—by the end of the process—I really thought Root had turned this into production gold. And this production helped to fulfil my intent of mechanical, robotic verses transitioning into more human-sounding choruses.
You also got the chance to have The Killers’ Dave Keuning featured on this album – how did he come on board?
Dave and I met through a mutual friend while I was in grad school at MIT. When I was on the West Coast, I hit up Dave to let him know I was close by, and he invited me over to his place. He showed me a few new Killers demos, and I showed him a few of our demos. I thought he’d hear our music and say, “Yeah, cool—pretty good,” then we’d turn off the music after the first song or something. But he loved it, so we listened to all of the music. At the time, I think we had 5 demos and one of the demo songs never made it onto Twist and Bend. Dave was excited about he heard, and he was interested in being a part of the album. How could I say no? [laughs].
What did he bring up to the table?
We’re talking about Dave Keuning here—future rock hall-of-famer, and just the best down-to-earth guy you’ll ever meet. He brought a ton to the table! Dave ended up playing on Heavy Hand, Goodbye Cambridge, and Hello Operator, and each of his additions to the music was perfect. I was amazed by his creative process, and I was humbled to have gotten the chance to see this process in action—I’ll cherish this memory forever. He was quick and precise. He knew exactly what he wanted, and knew exactly how to get it done. He tracked guitar in the control room with us, but he tracked cello in the live room. When he was tracking cello, Root and I would communicate with Dave via the in-studio “talk” system. After a few run-throughs, I said, “Hey, Dave—could you try this?” and I gave him some feedback. Then I thought to myself, “Holy shit! There’s Dave-fucking-Keuning on cello!” Unbelievable.
Does Las Vegas play a role in your music?
I’m not sure. On one hand, it didn’t play a role in the writing of these songs, as they were all written on the East Coast; but, on the other hand, there’s a certain energy out in Vegas that is hard to miss. In some way, I’m sure some of this energy made it into this album. And, as I say this, the song that probably has a good helping of this energy is “Everything Becomes Mechanical,” as it really came to life out at Battle Born.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I’m big into real-life experience informing art. Really—what is an artist without experience? Would Van Gogh have been the artist he was without experiencing the poor working conditions of the coal mines? Would Hemingway have written “A Farewell to Arms” without having experienced war? The answer is a resounding, “No.” I’ve been very fortunate to live a number of very deep and, at times, intense life experiences. From my time as a full-time hockey player, to my time as a military officer, to my time in some pretty intense academic institutions, these experiences are a part of my DNA, and they certainly inspire the songs and lyrics I write. I’ve always found that the most inspiration has come from the more challenging moments of my life.
Any plans to hit the road?
Yes. In fact, we’re working some great agents behind-the-scenes to make this happen, and we’re hoping to release some information on this soon. We’re discussing a US and European tour.
What else is happening next in Blackout Balter’s world?
We’re always writing music, and I couldn’t be happier with the direction we’re heading. I think we’ll be back in the studio soon to cut some new material for our next album. In fact, we already have some new demos. But, for the moment, we’re excited to share Twist and Bend with the public. We’re proud of these songs, and I think they’re a great indication of who we are as a band. I hope others agree.