Erik Blood loves every kind of music. Which is why his is so rewarding.
During a night of conversation at a Capitol Hill bar, Erik Blood describes himself as “nerdy,” “hyperbolic,” “too opinionated” and “kinda cheesy.” He delivers these words in a gentle, sincere manner, blue-green eyes beaming, and they’re accurate, though short of a whole self-portrait. He breathes a kind of brainy, good-times concern, the natural give-and-take of a highly creative mind.
Erik Blood: singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist; producer of Seattle’s most exceptional bands; DJ and studio engineer; full-time legal courier. He knows he’s good at what he does, believes he’s lucky to do it, surrounds himself with peers and colleagues he admires, and relies on self-deprecation to keep good fortune in check. This month he releases his second solo album, Touch Screens, a collection of sweet, sensual pop songs.
The hours pass, the conversation spirals and drinks disappear (him: Buffalo Trace bourbon, neat). Blood says things that seem at the time like easygoing exchange. Eventually, close to midnight, we part.
Upon sober review, I find Blood’s half of the conversation almost axiomatic. His ideas, humbly spoken, are rather hefty. They’re true. They stick.
1. The more people hear music and see art, the more people are gonna like music and art.
This is Blood’s game. The goal of the game is exposure—exposure to art. Exposure to art makes you a better person, the world a better place.
“I’m kind of Zen about the whole art thing,” he says. “It’s what we make. I want everyone to experience it in whatever form they choose. And they can choose what they enjoy and they don’t have to just enjoy what they’re told to.”
Blood brings up two corollaries to the Zen Art Thing: Moonrise Kingdom, the most recent feature film by director Wes Anderson, and Bloom, the most recent album by Baltimore duo Beach House. Aesthetic similarities bind them—sun-faded nostalgia, romantic reverie, meticulous attention to texture, lighting and mood. Narrative similarities, too—released in May, both are latter efforts by abundantly lauded auteurs that straddle the mainstream-indie gap and divide critics and fans.
“I get upset when I see people write, ‘The new Beach House album sounds like the old Beach House album’,” Blood says. “Fuck that! They didn’t listen to that shit, they don’t know what they’re talking about. But they do. They hear what they hear. They’re affected the way they’re affected. Me loving the record doesn’t make it great.
“Wes Anderson makes these wonderful movies that I really enjoy,” he continues. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like The Royal Tenenbaums. Then people started thinking, ‘He’s not as great as we thought.’ And it’s kind of your fault for thinking he was great. Well, he’s an artist. He’s making art. He didn’t change shit on you, he just made new shit. And it’s up to you whether you like it or not. It doesn’t change his value as an artist if you don’t like one piece.”
2. If you’re not copying something, you’re channeling something.
Will Hallauer and Corey Gutch have known Erik Blood for more than a dozen years. Along with a couple other guys, they played together in the Turn-ons, a glammy rock band back in the mid-’00s, Hallauer on drums, Gutch on guitar, Blood on keys and production. Hallauer, Gutch and a string section are the only guest musicians to appear on Touch Screens. Blood plays everything else.
“He has a lot of ideas that are cool and original, taking things that are more Motown or soul influenced and combining those with swirling shoegaze stuff,” Hallauer says. “He draws on disparate stuff that hasn’t been put together a lot. I think it’s his background—he knows a lot about a lot of different kinds of music. That’s what you hear when you listen to his solo stuff. A lot of people get stuck in a musical hole, they listen to one thing. Erik is omnivorous when it comes to what he listens to, and that comes out.”
All the way back to the Turn-ons and through his first solo album, 2009’s The Way We Live, Blood has swathed his music in diffuse, shimmering atmosphere, taking a tonal cue from shoegaze-y mainstays like loud-as-god My Bloody Valentine and synth-drenched Cocteau Twins. But there’s more to his aesthetic than reverb and gloom.
His professed obsession for droning guitars came after a long, crucial love affair with hip-hop in the ’80s and early ’90s, during Blood’s teenage years in Tacoma, where he was born and raised. He has strong opinions about hip-hop from that era: Digable Planets could do no wrong, Onyx turned him off to the direction hip-hop was taking, 50 Cent was—and he demands I quote him—“the antichrist.” Before that, as a seven-year-old kid, Blood tracked down KISS records when visiting his grandparents at the Ft. Lewis PX. Before that, Blood’s mom would pick up all sorts of 45s from Peaches, a record store in Tacoma, to bring home and share with the family.
“Record shopping was something I grew up thinking you did,” Blood says. “It wasn’t weird. Music was all over my house. We all had records and tapes and there was constantly music going on.”
There was a time before the saturation of punk and hip-hop. As a 35-year-old child of the ’80s, Blood is of the generation that came of age alongside them. And he was paying attention the entire time. It’s one thing to be a student of a musical style. It’s another to be a pupil alongside it.
Connect the dots between Blood’s production endeavors: early bands the Turn-ons, the Lights (a cult-fave garage-rock outfit) and Mountain Con (Blood’s very first band endeavor, a beloved/behated Beck-inflected outfit which he describes as “incredibly misunderstood”); current luminaries the Moondoggies, Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction; rising stars OC Notes, Stephanie and Crypts. Add in his pair of solo albums. A full constellation of Seattle music arises, spanning from the last decade into the foreseeable future, garage rock to glam rock, Americana to hip-hop.
None of these bands has exploded to the level of Seattle’s most fabled acts. Instead they provide the city’s subtext, the underground foundation of a scene made famous via the exploitation of its underground. Living in Tacoma during grunge, Blood was indoctrinated into that music by proximity rather than participation, so it left no scars, artistic or otherwise. Today’s music-industry landscape inhibits geographical isolation and independent development, but given a few years and the benefit of hindsight, we’ll better understand the way Blood has shaped the Seattle music of today.
3. There’s nothing negative about making music.
Every November, Erik Blood cooks a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for his family and friends. Not a huge to-do—a dozen guests, max—but he rearranges the furniture in his Capitol Hill apartment and borrows folding chairs and seats people at mismatched tables. Most of his life, Blood’s Aunt Jackie hosted dinner in Tacoma. But after she died of breast cancer seven years ago, Blood took up the mantle. And so he’s up at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to start cooking turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans, macaroni and cheese.
“He’s got a mother in him,” Gutch says. “I think his desire to feed his friends and family for Thanksgiving is the same kind of nurturing trait that he brings with him to the studio for bands, nurturing them to be happy.”
Apparently it’s in the genes. Gutch describes Blood’s mom and dad as “the best people in the world,” and Blood “like this perfect combination of the two. His mom’s sassy and kind of loud and really funny and quick. And his dad is really sweet and lovable and tender.”
A good music producer can check off an array of quantifiable skills on his resume: facility with recording technology, familiarity with a variety of musical instruments, an ear attuned to key and pitch. These skills can be taught and learned—and Blood’s got them. Others are ineffable and innate, more character traits than bullet points. This is what Gutch is getting at.
“Music is everything to him,” he says. “That’s why he’s so comfortable working with disparate artists. He’s not like, ‘My thing is folk music,’ or ‘My thing is hip-hop’ or ‘My thing is punk.’ He loves music.”
4. The album is about pornography. It’s entirely about pornography.
Touch Screens is about pornography in the same way Warhol’s soup cans are about soup.
The album is a 43-minute survey of 50 years of pop music composed by an ageless, ardent introvert obsessed with perfectly miked drums. It’s Blood’s deft songwriting, poignant and self-conscious, subdued but sentimental and beautifully strange. It’s the cover art, an image of two men mid-kiss, patterned hypnotically like checkerboard tile or one of those 3-D Magic Eye posters. It’s Blood’s comically blunt mission statement about porn, which would have been an appropriate Tipper Gore-approved warning label stuck onto a shrink-wrapped cassette version of Touch Screens in 1991.
It’s a lot of things at once, a confluence of ideas that Blood may or may not have intended. Taken with the entire body of his production work, it‘s a beguiling, thrilling, accessible, inscrutable experience.
And yeah, it’s about pornography. Good pornography, Blood explains.
He appreciates mainstream cinematic fare of the early ’70s like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. But he deeply admires the era’s “porn chic” style of Bruce LaBruce, Radley Metzger (aka Henry Paris) and Jack Gage. Filmed on location around Europe, their movies were some of the first to feature explicit sex footage, but retained a fresh-faced, almost Edenic innocence.
This combination of physical and mental arousal, of stylish playfulness, is what Blood achieves with Touch Screens. Lyrically, it acknowledges the moral and economic complexity of pornography, which, in conversation, Blood points out as identical to the complexity of producing any kind of art in a marketplace of ideas. Touch Screens is an adult album full of youthful musical ideas—“pop, but not Katy Perry pop,” as Gutch puts it.
Blood flourishes in a meta-pop playground, a modern artistic space that encourages a loosening of taboos for an unimpeded flow of ideas and enthusiasms. Self-actualized liberation is all over Touch Screens. It also applies to the business of releasing the record. The guys in Mountain Con and the Turn-ons, Blood says, were constantly seeking a record label to release their music, to approve their music. With his solo work, he’s stopped making outside approval a priority.
5. I’m not gonna win a Grammy singing about fucking for money.
“Not to say that I wouldn’t jump at certain labels given the chance, but doing it myself, packaging it myself, doing a limited edition final run and just having fun with it has been a really good thing for me,” Blood says.
“Success is not the big label, giant distribution and whatever comes along with that. It’s just getting it out. Getting some people to listen to it. Being really happy with what I put out. And getting to do it again. It’s starting again. I said everything I wanted to say with the record. I said porn is fun. Find the shit that you like and enjoy it.”