GENRE IS DEAD! Interview With Drew Riekman Of Blessed
It’s been a slow, yet steady journey for experimental post-punk band Blessed to get where they are now. Though they’ve recently released their debut album, Salt, they’ve been touring, writing, and releasing music since their 2015 formation. The group formed in their hometown of Abbotsford, a small farming town in British Columbia that doesn’t have many resources for ambitious musicians. Despite this, Blessed worked hard and climbed the ranks of the underground scene. After releasing two well-received EPs, the band felt it was time to go bigger and sat down to work on their full-length album marking a new milestone. Guitarist and vocalist Drew Riekman sits down with GENRE IS DEAD! to talk about the new record, why full-length albums matter, and the band’s journey so far.
GENRE IS DEAD!: Your debut album, Salt, is out now. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Drew Riekman: Salt was the natural next step for us. Releasing four-song EPs forever could’ve been our adamant stance since it gives you the opportunity to explore and feels weighted less heavily in the arc of creative lifespans, which grants creative freedom. But at the same time, there’s a unity and stronger sense of accomplishment wrapping up a record and being able to tour and share it with the world.
The perception of what an album represents at this point in time feels like it’s shifting in this new era of how people listen to music. Yet, it still feels like the appropriate channel to make a unified statement. It also provides a stamp in time of what the artists involved were inherently interested in exploring at that moment.
GID: As someone who still loves albums, I think you’re right. Listening to individual singles doesn’t have the same feeling as a cohesive record. I’m glad to know you guys still support the format. You mentioned EPs give you room to explore and experiment. Did you do any of that on the record that differs from what you’ve done in the past?
DR: There were a lot of significant changes heading into the writing and recording of Salt. We added a fifth member, Matt McKeen, just after the tour cycle ended for our second EP ii. We all bought synthesizers and decided to record the album in Montreal with new people instead of at home with familiar faces. We also got more comfortable as a group, a natural byproduct of spending months together and playing every night together for most of the year. We always maintain an attitude of “we write whatever we want, without the influence of expectation. We try everything once before disavowing a piece of music.”
Turning that ethos into a record with all those factors we wanted to be mitigated for the creative steps began coming in to create the record as a unified vision. The elements of sequencing, artwork, and mediums of release all became part of a new process of tying together what we’ve created. Whether these factors are actually important or if it’s just in our heads, I can’t say. Maybe there’s too much thought here and people would be totally fine hearing a record that’s completely all over the map without a thought towards fluidity. Maybe that’s even the album we created and only we hear the fluidity because of the immense number of repeated listens.
GID: Thinking about what makes a good record is a lot of pressure. On top of it, you guys got out of your comfort zone with where and who you recorded with. Though it produced a great album in the end, was there any part of recording that was challenging or difficult?
DR: We generally don’t go into the studio with many elements unprepared. In the economy of music and the niche area of it we occupy, there isn’t a lot of financial wiggle room to have things go wrong that need fixing while recording. I don’t remember if there was anything that felt particularly contentious in the midst of it – maybe the creation of the song “Anchor.” That was our first foray into expanding free form on a song in the studio, but we purposefully gave ourselves some time to enjoy that luxury in regards to that specific song. If there were any underlying feelings while creating it, it stemmed from the compositional side and not necessarily the aspect of recording it.
GID: “Anchor” was actually the song I really liked on the album. It stood out to me because it sounds more mechanical, jagged, and cold than the other tracks. Elements of it actually reminded me of Joy Division. Can you tell me a bit more about this song?
DR: “Anchor” was brought in by Matt when it was a skeleton of what it would become. We’d been trying different routes while demoing it before heading to Montreal, but since we gave ourselves a block of time during recording to have freeform input on it from all parties, it finally took shape. We processed the entire mic’d drumset through an older eventide effects unit, and just had Jake [Holmes] play improvisationally to a click track for five minutes. Then we went through the take cutting out parts and looping them to create all the drum pieces.
I hope it isn’t read as a “break” in the record, like an instrumental track or filler. As a group, we stand by it as a pillar of the record on par with all the other songs. Since you have to be so economical about how you spend time in the studio, we never felt the opportunity was there to utilize the sonic elements at our disposal being in a larger, more established recording studio. It felt like a liberating step in a direction we’ve wanted to take for a while but didn’t feel we had the capacity to make it happen. We’re all proud of how it came out.