Minneapolis’ The Blind Shake have seemingly popped out of nowhere and exploded as one of the foremost psychedelic garage-punk groups. The group consists of the Blaha brothers, Mike (lead vocals and baritone) and Jim (guitar), and Dave Roper (drums). They are currently on tour with Thee Oh Sees to support their new LP, Key to a False Door, released by Castle Face Records.
AMBY: Could each of you describe your personal history with music? How did you start? What was the first instrument you played?
Dave: I started really young, I was in piano lessons, and I was in band in school with a really good instructor who kind of let us explore different instruments. So I was able to try out a bunch of different instruments, drums included, and I just really picked up on them.
Mike and Jim: We were in Third and Fourth grade, we had a twenty dollar Sears catalogue acoustic. It was the kind of thing where your parents say, “if you do well on that one, we’ll get you the electric”. But how can you do well on that? You can’t push those strings down, they are so strong you need a vice grip in order to make a proper chord.
Jim: I wanted to take guitar lessons when we were super young. We did it for like a year until Mike and I got really competitive with it. Actually, Mike wasn’t competitive, I guess I was. So I quit until I was 23, cause he was winning and he kept playing. I eventually got level-headed enough to dive back in and then just kind of made up for lost time and started playing all the time. Mike actually became my guitar teacher in a way. I would learn on my own, and then ask him questions, and he would give me some pointers. We went to different colleges at the time, so we were kind of developing separately.
Mike: Jim was into skateboarding and he got into punk-rock music. He is the one who got me into that type of music. Before that I was playing like Delta Blues stuff, or whatever…classic rock, anything that was for guitar players to kind of dork out on, that type of “impressive” guitar playing. I could have gone in that direction, if someone didn’t step in and “save my life”. So I would work on guitar with Jim, and he would show me all those cool bands. It really opened my eyes to simple guitar playing, which is so much more powerful, and opened me up to song writing. That’s another reason I play baritone rather than a guitar, because it would just be too noodley otherwise and just really stupid.
AMBY: What kind of music did you grow up on?
The Blind Shake: Our guitar teacher was into Black Flag, Circle Jerks. Other than that, Stevie Ray Vaughan and then the Beatles, pretty much everything.
AMBY: And how did this band form?
Dave: Mike and I were just playing together out of high school, on weekends and vacations, things like that. I was in Jim’s class, he wasn’t playing at the time. We just wrote stupid songs.
Mike: Dave taught us both to play drums. Before that, I only played by myself, so I had no concept of rhythm or time signature, so if I felt like speeding up, I would. It was a very busking type of playing, there weren’t really any rules. Then we started jamming.
Dave: Eventually Jim just kind of wanted to join in on the fun. Their parents lived in Northern Minnesota, and we’d stay there. At eight in the morning, we’d hear banging on the drums, and we’d get up and play.
Mike: I had gotten a student loan, and I got a little bit extra for books and stuff, so with that I got the drum set. Dave was living in Duluth, which was a couple of hours away, so we’d have this drum set ready. This was in Northern Minnesota, In Grand Rapids. It wasn’t until after college that we moved to Minneapolis to form a band.
AMBY: What is the very first band that won you over, to say, “Yeah! Music! I could do this!” ?
The Blind Shake: Vaz. They were a Minneapolis band, who live in Brooklyn now. They were in a band called Hammerhead before that which was a Minneapolis noise-rock band, on the label Amphetamine Reptile, they were big in the 90s, they blew our minds.
AMBY: Who are the musicians you look up to now?
The Blind Shake: It’s weird to say Thee Oh Sees, mainly because now we are touring with them. But we were influenced by Dwyer’s guitar playing probably since 2004. The Coach Whips definitely had an influence on us. It’s weird because most of our influences we have actually met, or got to work with either collaborating with our touring with.
AMBY: The Brooklyn Vegan really likes you guys, I was reading one article where it called your music “Dystopian Sci-fi Garage-Punk”. Actually, there are quite a few references to your music as sci-fi related. Does Science Fiction have a part to play in your band, your lives?
The Blind Shake: We saw a review the other day that called us “Aliens” from Minneapolis. Its probably our look more than our sound. Maybe bald heads remind people of how we picture aliens to be. Baldness must somehow, in our sub-conscience, mean advanced. Wow, they are so advanced that they are bald and their brains are growing past their heads? It could also be that we wear black.
AMBY: So now you are on tour with John Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees, and signed to his Castle Face Records. Could you tell us how that came about?
The Blind Shake: We had played SXSW with Thee Oh Sees a couple of times. Dwyer came to a bunch of our shows and would talk to us afterwards. This April he mentioned us doing a tour with Thee Oh Sees in the fall for a month. We thought it would be amazing, but didn’t know if it would happen. When we got back from SXSW, he texted Jim and was asked if we’d put out a record for Castle Face. Of course the answer was yes, and then the tour happened naturally.
AMBY: Why do you do music? What are your motivations and do you see yourselves as conveying a message of some sort, either creatively or lyrically, to the world at large?
The Blind Shake: vIf it was only about having good time with it, it probably would have fizzled out by now. So I guess we do have some subconscious goals, but goals like sounding better or doing better with each show, whatever that means at the particular show. It’s also about finishing what we started or maybe it would be nice to make a living out of it. The music just keeps progressing, we keep meeting new people, getting new opportunities. There is always the thought that if we keep going, who knows where we’ll end up.
We started the band after college. It wasn’t something cool we did with our twenties, so maybe our message is showing people that you can start late and keep doing it late. We didn’t really have any friends who were involved with music when we started. Just goes to show that you can start without knowing anybody, totally on your own, at face value. You can try your hardest as an old man, be physical as an old man, and not be afraid to get hurt as an old man. Not to be afraid to get hurt, physically but also emotionally. Its not dorky to try your hardest at whatever it is.
Also, things take time. A lot of the cheaper stuff comes out in the wash, time is the greatest equalizer.
AMBY: Tour tips?
The Blind Shake: Water. Get a good nights sleep. We are all vegetarian, Mike is vegan, that helps. Pace yourself drinking, cause otherwise you could just end up being super wild one night and a waste of time the next night.
AMBY: Crazy tour stories?
The Blind Shake: All of our gear was stolen this past SXSW. In 2004 we had our tour van break down and roll off the back of a tow truck while we were in it. We were driving to the repair shop and we rolled off and smashed into parked cars.
AMBY: Tips for a tourist visiting your hometown, Minneapolis?
The Blind Shake: Everyone likes to go to the Walker Art Centre, the sculpture garden. Or the Guthrie Theater, we have a really great theater scene in Minneapolis, one of the largest in the country. First Avenue is this historic club, if you are going to catch a show, they always have something cool going on there.
The Blind Shake: Chicago is awesome. The Empty Bottle is this venue we play when we go, great place and great staff. We play there in a week.
The Blind Shake: We always play Detroit on a Monday, they have great bands in that town, but we never seem to get the full feel on a Monday.
AMBY: Something cool about where you were last, San Fran?
The Blind Shake: You have to do all the touristy stuff, go down to the wharf and see the sea lions. We like the food! Food tourists.
AMBY: What is your Halloween costume going to be?
The Blind Shake: Maybe dudes with hair.
AMBY: Best way to eat ice cream?
Mike: I am vegan now, but in the day I was probably one of the top ice cream eaters. Bite it, don’t lick it. Oh and maybe your significant other getting their own, if someone orders two scoops, they obviously want both of them.
Jim: With a spoon, eat some if off, then a little more.
AMBY: If you could have a magical power, what would it be?
The Blind Shake: A sweet vertical Leap one that isn’t so noticeable as a super power, just enough to make a good dunk
AMBY: Dream lineup to tour with with bands dead/alive?
The Blind Shake: The Monks would be amazing, fun guys, we love their commitment to their band. With Black Sabbath in the 70s.
AMBY: Has the internet affected your band?
The Blind Shake: Yes, with international access to our music, and the Facebook stuff that comes over seas. Depression House Records in Italy just put out our 7”.
AMBY: Are there any plans for a European tour?
The Blind Shake: We’ll say 2014, mark it down. At some point. We’ll think about it. This guy Raff from Belgian did a video for us…
AMBY: What else do you have planned in the near future?
The Blind Shake: We’ll have something coming out as a live record of the shows at The Chapel in San Francisco. And a surf collaboration with John Reis from Hot Snakes and Rocket from the Crypt, out of San Diego. He flew us out to record the album, and it’ll be released on Swami, which is an awesome label.
Thank you The Blind Shake, for giving us your answers!