Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Pat Kearns and Mike Lewis, two parts of the talented team behind Portland Oregon's Blue Skies For Black Heart took some time to talk to BLS about the band, their upcoming new album and Afghanistan.
BLS: You have a new album set for release in July. What do you enjoy the most about the new album?
PK: It's new! For me, the music needs to change and evolve. This album brings longer songs, new and more sonic textures. Keys are as much a part of the picture as guitars on this record. They've been on our past recordings, but not so prevalent. I think the songs have a sense of perspective to them that we didn't have on earlier records. It's all part of evolution.
ML: The vocals harmonies. I've been singing in vocal groups since I was five...with the addition of Grant Law and Mark Breitenbach, we are able to do four part harmonies on almost everything. In past lineups, we've worked toward this, but never quite got there...but this band nails it. I haven't had so much fun singing in ages.
BLS: Blue Skies for Black Hearts has been producing music for over ten years. What do you equate your longevity?
PK: Persistance. And when things got rough, I had even more desire to make music than I did before. Making music is important to me in the way that I connect with the rest of the world. Some people call friends on the phone. Some people go to the bar and watch football. I write songs. That's all the sense I try to make out of it.
ML: We're stubborn, I guess. But really, for me, the first time I tried out for Blue Skies over 13 years ago, there was a magic there...especially between Pat and I. I can't imagine giving that up. It's what gets me up in the morning, centers me when times are rough...those moments of magic, on stage, in the studio, when rounding out a new song...it's what I live for.
BLS: Your music has a palatable retro sound, what do you sight as the defining influences?
PK: I grew up listening to a lot of college radio and underground music, but my heart has always been in Rock and Roll. My earliest memories are listening to Elvis Presley records on my mom's player. And still, no music can stop me in my tracks like primordial Rock and Roll. Arthur Alexander, Smokey Robinson, and Roy Orbison all knock me out.
ML: As the songwriter, Pat should really speak more to this. However, as a guitarist, I love simple, ear grabbing hooks. For me, The Edge and Mike Campbell are huge inspirations. Those guys can make two notes stick in your brain forever.
BLS: Michael Lewis, you’ve been recently working with Rock School Kabul in Kabul Afghanistan. Can you tell us more about the work you’re doing
ML: I am volunteering as a music instructor at the rock school. This time out, my friend Jerry Joseph (a fabulous Portland songwriter who I look up to immensely) is here with me. He busted his tail end and raised a bunch of money for the school. Because of that, we were able to bring a big shipment of equipment out to the school...drums, guitars, pro audio gear. Music has meant so much to me in my life...given me so much, I just wanted to give back to those who don't have the access to it that I had. I am honored that Jerry and his fans have been so generous in helping out the school. And have to give a huge shout out to Humayun and Robin, the founders of the school...they are doing the work day in and day out for nearly three years now. (also check out Robin's killer band, Arc Iris!)
BLS: With the busy lives of the individual band members, how do you manage to keep the band vitally active?
PK: Lots and lots of coordination. This is also why it takes a few years in between records for us.
ML: Lots and lots of coordination. It's a lot of work...but worth it in the end.
BLS: Other than your album release, what dose the summer have in store for the band?
PK: We'll be touring the west coast in July and we have a few festival dates in August around the NW.
ML: As much sunshine and days on the river as possible!!!! Plus touring and festivals and generally kicking ass.
BLS: The Blue Skies in the name, is that wishful thinking being from Oregon?
PK: I'm sure it's not an accident that our name references it. When the sun comes out here, after six months of rain, everybody smiles.
ML: Pat named the band...but I think it is as apt a description of what it means to be a Portlander as any.
BLS: As a long time Portland Band, What do you love most about the hometown scene? What’s you least favorite element?
PK: I love that there's so many different scenes that have evolved here...but I also hate that we don't easily fit into any of them. We're not punk enough for the punk scene, we're too indie for the alt-country scene, and too retro sounding for the pop scene. I just think of us as a Rock and Roll band. Although we don't fit, I never had a desire to follow the rules of a single genre. My favorite songwriters all move around.
ML: I love the artistic pressure cooker...there are so many artists, that it pushes everyone to greatness, because you can't be a slacker band in this town if you want to play. But I find it to also be a little overly clicky and competitive. At any given show, half or more of the crowd are musicians, arms akimbo, standing in the back, not moving a muscle. In New York, people still go out to see music, because music is what they love, and they dance and freak out and don't care about who's looking, what they're wearing, or whether the band is cool enough for them to be into them. They just love music.
BLS: What's the one Portland venue that’s no longer around that you miss the most?
PK: EJ's. Man, I miss EJ's.
ML: I loved playing shows at the recently departed Langano Lounge. House show vibe with a good bar.
BLS: Name 5 bands you love but who few people have heard of?
Hillbilly Dumbass (Portland, OR)
Toyboat Toyboat Toyboat (Portland, OR)
Moving Sidewalks (Seattle, WA)
Troublegum (Oakland, CA)
Exploding Flowers (LA, CA)
The Virals (UK)
The Plimsouls (old school 80's west coast band)
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons (Portland/Salt Lake City)
The Knast (Seattle, WA)
The Equals (UK...their early stuff, when Eddie Grant was in the band...they wrote Police On My Back, my favorite cover by The Clash)