Friday, March 14, 2008

Band of the Week

Karl Blau

"Give me work to do/Give me health/Give me joy and simple things/Give me an eye for beauty/an eye for truth/a heart that loves/a minds that reasons/a sympathy that understands." from "Morning Prayer"

These are the words that open, AM, Karl Blau's 2005 release on his subscription based label Kelp Lunacy Advanced Plagiarism Society (KLAPS). This album is being reissued on March 18th through a new label/night club Whistler Records here is Chicago. AM is a perfect first release for a label, it is an album of hope, of new life and joy. It is an album of spring, rebirth and renewal, and new beginnings. It is almost as if this album brings the sun. I received my copy a few weeks ago, on a frigid February day in Chicago, and I listened to it for an entire day. As the words "Winter is Dead" echoed through my car, I could feel the temperature rise, and the snow begin to melt. AM is based on the poetry of A.A. Milne, and musically complex to balance the honest and straight forward lyrics.

Karl Blau is from Anacortes, WA, and has toured and recorded with many quality musicians including Laura Veirs, Mirah, Wolf Colonel, the Microphones, Little Wings, and D+. His subscription based label has made 26 releases, and will return this year as we will soon find out. He is known primarily as a folk singer, but I have always felt that he has a flare for all things electronic that folks seem to overlook.

Recently, Karl was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): On March 18th, Chicago's Whistler Records, will reissue your album AM which is based on the work of A.A. Milne. How did you chose the work of Milne to focus on?
Karl Blau (KB): I didn't consciously choose to record a bunch of A.A.Milne songs, though, in hindsight, I did focus on his words. I made the decision to write and record songs of a "morning" theme--Spring theme also made sense along these lines. At the time of thinking about these recordings I was reading to my daughter the tales of Pooh and also the collection of Milne's poems "When We Were Very Young." Many of these poems from "When We Were Very Young" fit the feeling I was going for. The state of child mind, connected to the morning theme as well, is part of the genius of A.A. Milne.

I'd been practicing making otherwise poetry into melodies--giving the poems shape. It's a great challenge; you can feel the elasticity of your mind and openness to possibilities. One may turn most anything written into song. Not to say it's going to work out for other people, but it's a good practice to do this and it gets easier to create melodic shape. Anyways, it was a breeze with these Milne poems, the lines were crafted mostly with the same amount of syllables so you can run them over the same or similar melodies without much hassle.
But then I was struck while reading the Pooh sticks story that the first paragraph was just the most beautifully written thing, and I had to read it several more times in celebration. I made myself a dare to take that paragraph and turn it into a song. Still Milne's writing is so poetic even in prose that it was doable. And this is one of my favorite melodies on AM called "Stream."

OA: How did you get involved with Whistler Records, and why did you decide to release AM through them?
KB: It was chance and also persistence on behalf of Bill Helmkamp of Whistler. I assume chance that Bill asked me if I would do something with them years ago and later his (and also Rob Brenner's) label --then On Purpose-- fabricated a chrysalis which took some time for wing development and then emerged as Whistler Records to release AM in 2008 as catalogue # WSLR-001.

For you folks in Chicago, rumor has it that there is an accompanying music venue in Logan Square, Chicago that will open sometime 2008.
As for "Why" I only can say that I am glad Billy is putting a lot of effort into getting this CD out there and heard.

OA: Now, AM was original released in 2005 as part of your Kelp Lunacy project. Kelp as a label is quite adventurous and really revolutionary, what has the reaction been to your periodical CD label? Are you still working on Kelp?
KB: AM first appeared in the stereos of the select few that subscribed to Kelp Lunacy (issue 16). So did Dance Positive, as well as Beneath Waves. It's full name Kelp Lunacy Advanced Plagiarism Society (KLAPS), my audio-auto-biographical subscription based label is intended to put out everything that I get involved in musically and otherwise sound waves.

Currently the reaction to my label is most likely "What's up?" Because I haven't sent out an issue in QUITE A WHILE. But this question should be nulled shortly after I write this as I'm sending out the new issue(a full length 4-track album) to be followed in a timely fashion by the following Kelps. There are 6 Kelps recorded right now that I am so excited about. I've been moving around and touring constantly the last year. I have had a terrible time finding my center and place to work out of to produce the actual copies and send them off.

But as I'm writing you, 'Orange Alert, I am sitting in my living room in Anacortes, the room where I've done most of my production for Kelp fresh off the plane from my stay in NYC and before that my fall tour. I'm pumped for Kelp.

OA: I have been asking musicians about their views on "new media" (i.e. blogs, myspace, youtube, etc), but with Kelp you have really embraced the new format of music sales and promotion. What do you think the future holds of new media and the music business in general?
KB: I think that black metal albums are still going to get 180 gram vinyls pressed and have triple gate folds and probably go deeper in that direction with actual human hair in the wax. Vinyl is still the most magical media out there. Cassette tape is a close second. Things you can touch and watch work will suddenly get really appealing to people. The music business will become "who's campfire will we meet at tomorrow night?"

OA: You work with many other musicians on their recordings, (i.e. Laura Veirs). How do you approach these sessions? Do you look to bring any part of your sound to their music or do you simply support their sound?
KB: It is completely up to the moment to decipher what I add musically to other people's music. I try not to have any pretense before a session, even down to what instrument I'm going to play. With Laura, I want her lyrics to dominate. I go into her songs getting out of the way of those spears. Everyone has their own relationship with recording music. There is an art learning how people listen and interact with songs. Hopefully no one wants to dominate this process and everyone involved is open-minded to the direction of the song.

Just to close these thoughts on recording, my favorite thing is being a part of a song that goes some place I couldn't expect.

OA: What's next for Karl Blau?
KB: I'm going to be in Chicago on the 22nd of March at Ronny's in Logan Sq(w/ Polite Sleeper)!
No, this question is referring to "NEXT", the real "NEXT." AFTER the standard touring, the standard record releases, the standard recording with so and so...

I am going to hole up in Anacortes (this is going to be NEXT spring --2009) and mediate children's orchestra groups. It will be a different approach to learning music. The kids commit to an instrument for a season, write all their parts, they get to choose what to play how to play it, but have to think of how it connects with the rest of the group, how the group works together, and construct with this awareness. Then we present their pieces at a concert.

Morning Prayer/Spring Morning (mp3)/Yellow Sunbonnet/Lake King's Daughter (mp3)/Bird Song/Noah Richards' Sun/ Of Birds/Stream (mp3)/Growing Up/In The Morning

For more information on Karl Blau and to sign up for a subscription to Kelp! visit his website, and for mor information on Whistler Records go here.

No comments: