INTERVIEW: Blue

Chain Border

I sought this exclusive with Blue myself and of my own accord because of my interest in his body of work. From film to production, multiple musical projects and more, Blue has shown himself to be a master at many trades. Whether he's performing under his own name tracks from his many releases such as Alive in the Valley, Dead in the Water or Burden, The Lion's Den or Holly's Song…or maybe he's performing with friends in the indie-rock outfit Metal Machine who are just beginning to promote their second release Kinked Slinky. Possibly he's in the studio mastering the latest sounds from the enigmatic Church of Chaos or instead he's filming shorts like Flat or Everyday.

But whatever it is he's doing, you know it's going to be something worth seeing or hearing. That's why I sought this interview…Blue's talents and work spans across multiple facets and genres. It's always worth talking with someone who does so many things.

Marcus: I'm not sure where to start - there's a lot to discuss. But I guess music is as good as any. You've put out nearly a half dozen (or more?) releases under your own name of Blue. From the MP3.com releases of Alive in the Valley, Dead in the Water, Burden and Lion's Den* and thereafter the story of Holly's Song**. All these releases cross genres of indie-rock, pop, rhythm and blues, gothic rock and more. How does one person end up creating so many different styles of music rather than picking a genre that you stick to more often than not?

Blue: My next solo record is slated for release in May 2002; it will be my eighth not counting compilations, soundtracks and stuff like that. With the exception of compilations all of the DAM CDs we did through MP3.com were reissues. We formed Sanity Check in 1989 and released my first disc, Welcome to the Nineties, in 1990. My second record, The Lion's Den, was the tail end of 1991.

The next one is called Something Borrowed Something and it is a straight-up blues-rock record. I've done a great deal of blues live, but this is the first time I've dedicated a full album to it.

It is kind of odd, I think, about the genre issue. Early on, I didn't even think about it. I still don't think about it too much when I'm recording, but it becomes an issue, as the label owner, when it comes time to release the records and we have to find our markets differently each time. I listen to so many types of music that I guess they all influence me in some regard. So with the exception of marketing issues, I just don't think about it until the songs are in the can. I am usually surprised not by how most artists choose to work in a single genre, or subset of genres, but by the fact that most artists I have met are very selective in the types of music they will listen to. I really go across the board with my listening tastes. I think there is good and bad in pretty much every genre, and if something moves you, it moves you. The cool thing is, that over the years my "core audience" has turned out to be a group of people who are incredibly open minded musically... uh, I guess they'd have to be.

M: If there was a musical genre you enjoy working in most, what would it be and why?

Something Borrowed SomethingB: I don't think so. I guess I've created a fairly enviable environment for myself. I get to do whatever I feel like, and then afterwards we just figure out how to recoup the costs. LOL. In the live environment, which is usually very much secondary for me, I prefer doing blues-rock. I like the fact that the blues is reinterpreted for the moment, and that is what a live show ultimately is. It is fleeting, so I think there is more to be shared with the audience if the music is being interpreted during the same fleeting moment. When recording I think I enjoy playing the drums the most, but they are also the biggest pain in the ass to record, logistically. Hhhmmm I guess the actual answer is "no." HA.

M: How much of the recording/creative process for Blue is a planned thing and how much tends towards a jam-session, come-what-may sort of creationism?

B: Wow! What a great question! I've never been asked that before, and I think it is a very defining question, musically. I am completely anal, LOL, I write everything out before hand. There are exceptions to just about everything I could say here, but I usually do not write with an instrument in my hands. I write my music and lyrics on paper before recording. I often make notes about microphone choices and mic placement when I'm writing too. I usually have the entire thing figured out long before I pick up an instrument. I never learned to "sight read" music, but I have studied music theory ad nauseum. Over the years I've worked out my own bastardizations of both standard music notation and tablature, and I write it all out with pen and paper.

M: It's noticed that you no longer produce using MP3.com's DAM CD system. What's your experience with MP3.com? Has the Vivendi-Universal take over of MP3.com played a part in the decision to discontinue the DAM use and what are your views of the way Vivendi is now handling the artists there?

M: It's noticed that you no longer produce using MP3.com's DAM CD system. What's your experience with MP3.com? Has the Vivendi-Universal take over of MP3.com played a part in the decision to discontinue the DAM use and what are your views of the way Vivendi is now handling the artists there?

B: I haven't done much with MP3.com since Vivendi-Universal took over. However that is really just a coincidence. MP3.com is a pretty cool service, free real-estate, and they get pretty good traffic. It would be kinda silly for me to house my mp3s on my own servers, so I just redirect traffic to MP3.com. I think that generally MP3.com is about the most mean-spirited bunch of people on the net, by which I mean the company reps, not the artists. They seem to have a shocking amount of contempt for the artists on their site. I think I even have a reference or two to that effect on my site somewhere. I do however love their DAM CD program. It has limitations, but it is pretty cool nonetheless. That said, they just don't generally sell. If you buy a DAM CD you get the advantages of an audio CD and the added bonus of the mp3s already ripped for you, but people just seem to view them as being "not a regular CD."

We reissued albums like Alive/Dead, Burden and Rockabilly Rat via the DAM program, and I think they sound great. These were albums that I couldn't have afforded to reissue if it weren't for the DAM CD format, at least not so rapidly. In fact Rockabilly Rat is pretty much just a small sampling of the extensive work I've done with Erik "Shock" Mielzarek over the years, and it wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the DAM CD program. But, for example, Holly's Song is one of those records where the songs often flow from one to another, and that isn't facilitated by the DAM CD format.

M: Let's talk a bit about Holly's Song. This was created as a concept album. Tell us about the concept behind it and the story/plot that the songs deal with? Is there any parallel here between the suicidal tendencies of the character within the songs and your own life?

B: Basically the story is about a suicidal artist who loses his mate in an accident. He decides that he no longer has anything to live for and resigns himself to suicide. About that time he begins receiving visitations from the ghost of a small girl in the home that he and his girlfriend had purchased together. At first he's frightened, but ultimately the story unfolds to reveal that an abusive father murdered the girl in the house, and she convinces the protagonist that he shouldn't kill himself.

BlueI think in my solo catalogue, the two "cornerstone" pieces are probably The Lion's Den and Holly's Song. They are the two pompous, cerebral artsy albums, LOL. In The Lion's Den, my writing was so "introspective" that I am to this day surprised the record found an audience. It is kind of hard to relate to another person's internal dialogue, LOL. So when I wrote Holly I wanted to translate those concepts and project them into a story to make it easier to empathize with. It was fun to do. Actually I wrote Holly's Song in 1994 and recorded it in 1994/1996, but I just sat on it and didn't release it until 2000. I am still surprised at the positive response it received. I mean, I am very proud of it, but it isn't something you can dance to, LOL.

Regarding parallels, yeah the tendencies I depicted in the record weren't much of a stretch for me. I guess I'm not as versatile as I like to pretend, LOL. But that said, as I've aged, I've learned, as I guess most people do, how to ride out my own storms. I'm a terribly clichéd workaholic, but it gets me by. I'm really prolific, I write pretty much every day, with pen and paper in pocket at all times. There are a couple of downsides to that of course... I can't actually record anywhere near the amount of music I've written, I'm kind of in the Canterbury Tales realm there, and a ridiculous percentage of my songs are incredibly dreary anyway. One can only publish so many songs like Quiet. HA. The music is my therapy, I guess a good many artists would say something to that effect.

M: Church of Chaos - there's a group I really enjoy. I still have Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins*** in my personal collection and still listen to it regularly. This is yet another musical genre - industrial, electro, etc. - that is very different from your work as Blue and Metal Machine. How did you get involved with Father Nookie and the gang? Any comments on the similarities between yourself and Father Nookie? Or, to put it bluntly, ARE you Father Nookie?

B: First off, thank you, I take great pleasure in knowing that you dig Snow White. I have proudly placed your review of that record, in full, in the COC press kits.

The way that the entire COC thing came about is kind of weird. I really love bands like My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and KMFDM, of course Skinny Puppy, and Negativeland, among others. I had JOKED for years about "taking a weekend off and writing an industrial record." After we got into the film stuff, I wrote a kind of parody of the A&E Biography, Behind the Music kind of shows about a band called "Church Of Chaos." I wanted to affectionately parody some of the more extreme bands like Manson, Slipknot, Insane Clown Posse, all of whom I really dig by the way. But all of that, from Sabbath to Cooper and on, all verge just on the edge of silliness. I know that even things like Holly's Song walk a really fine line. So I wanted to kind of go over the top with it. When I wrote the short film, I drafted out the band's members, and then I outlined three records, and wrote notes for a fourth.

Then I got carried away, LOL.

I wanted to use samples, the way that Thrill Kill Kult does, but I didn't want the hassle of getting the mechanical licenses for samples from movies or other records. So I came up with the idea of scripting the samples. I don't really know the order of how some of the details came together, it happened very quickly, but I started creating each of the band members, and giving them voice.

Then I spent a week writing and recording the first COC record. It took me a little longer to finish the final mastering, but the record was completed in less than a week. I wrote much of Snow White in that session too. I put the first record out as a DAM CD only, and it began to gather a following on the net very quickly. A couple of free mp3s were featured on the AudioGalaxy site, and then it steamrolled. Before I had even finished scheduling the shoots for what was to become Church Of Chaos - Vibe 'n Groove 'n Video I had friends and supporters of my work, putting up COC fan sites on the net with no idea that I was responsible for the work. Somewhere along the line, I decided to keep the fact that I was really COC quasi-secret, I don't really know why, it was just a gag. I was referring to it as the "Great Industrial Swindle." LOL.

The reality of COC is that I script the samples, which is probably the hardest part of the writing. Making them pertinent but a step or two removed from the obvious theme of the lyrics. Then two of the finest actors from our stable of backyard filmmakers; Christina M. Orr (who is also my "Chrissy") and Scott Shoup perform the SPOKEN word parts for the samples. I perform all of the music and all singing vocals for the band. I have specific vocal ranges that I use for Nook, Victor and Lucida's harmony vocals. I made a concerted effort to perform very differently than I usually do, especially with concern to guitar, on the first record. By Snow White I loosened up a bit.

BlueIn the video(s) Christina portrays Lucida Vale, Scott portrays Victor Axis and I portray Father Nookie. Terry Miller, who is the other half of METAL MACHINE and another damned talented actor, portrays Fairy Dust. All four of the character names are my own registered pseudonyms with ASCAP. I still find it amazing that these cats can lip sync the vocal parts for the videos when only Terry is a musician in real life.

Somewhere along the line, I lost track of the parody and started putting a great deal of affection into the music, and just recently I realized that I had ultimately created a bonafide "alter-ego" in COC and specifically Father Nookie.

Amusingly the Vibe 'n Groove 'n Video had the biggest budget to date of any NACF**** production, and it was not accepted into a single film festival, ha ha. I don't think I was ever able to properly convey that it was a film parody ala Spinal Tap, but that the music was seriously produced within the confines of the genre. I can't figure out at this point whether it is Spinal Tap or the Monkees, but I will say that it has been very very liberating artistically, and that COC is the music that I listen to the most myself, of all that I am involved with.

M: Independent film is another avenue you've explored heavily with the Sanity Check offshoot, Naked Acre Compound Films. Is there a philosophy behind Naked Acre?

B: I really needed a hobby, and I am a complete movie buff. I love movies; I think I've always loved movies even more than music. I also love writing soundtrack music. Somewhere along the line the non-linear editing movement made it possible to make movies without wasting time in film school, or sucking off of the Hollywood tit. I am so very fortunate to have a group of extraordinarily cool and talented friends. When it came time to call them and say "Hey I want to make a film in the backyard, get over here, and wear a wig" they were game. It is also interesting to note that they can really act! Since then they've all started branching into the different areas of film production that they are drawn to; directing, camerawork, sound, production, acting, writing, whatever. We have such an awesome group o cats.

M: One of the highlight releases of Naked Acre was Flat - a circa 2000 independent drama. Where did the idea for Flat originate and how is Naked Acre handling the influx of orders generated by Flat's screening in New York?

Blue on DrumsB: Actually I'm not following up on the orders and requests as well as I should. I think we actually only submit, on time, to about a third of the festivals that request the film. There are many digital festivals and net-based festivals now; it is really hard to keep up. The odd thing is that getting attention for a short film is expensive. There really isn't a way to recoup the costs, except that it will hopefully, one-day, result in the sale of a feature film.

Oddly the concept for FLAT originated from those "urban legend" emails that circulate around. In fact since the success of FLAT I've received several variations of the email. I received one of them early on, thought it could be turned into a film and ran with the idea. All I did was try to flesh out the characters, and "personalize" the story.

I was looking to do a drama. We had done the music stuff, and quite a bit of the low-production skit comedy stuff, but I wanted to make a "serious" short film. I wrote the script for FLAT and asked my friends to act and crew it with me. I am still completely blown away by the acting performances in that little film. Nothing I did sells that film like the acting Christina, Terry and Scott did, as well as the supporting characters. Note by the way that Christina M. Orr portrays both COC's Lucida Vale and Anna Palmer in FLAT, Scott Shoup portrays both COC's Victor Axis and Michael Palmer in FLAT and Terry Miller portrays COC's Fairy Dust and FLAT's Roland James. I tell you, I have some incredibly talented friends!

M: Another very short film, Everyday, borders on the surreal. Likewise, where did this idea originate from?

B: The first thing I really did film wise (I say film but it is all video work actually) was a kind of "training film" for a software product I had designed and co-developed. It was six minutes long. I started that project two weeks after buying my first camcorder (a Hi8 Sony). Christina and Scott made it with me. It was distributed around the Country and is still shown in classes for the product periodically. It was even picked up by some unrelated Govt. agencies to use, as an example for training... it was kind of funny.

After completing it, we had some confidence and wanted to make our own movie. I wanted to work on "story telling" techniques and pacing, so I wrote Everyday. I don't really know where it came from, but really it was written just to facilitate the editing and pacing techniques I had in mind. It ended up being one of those things that some people just don't get, and others find quite amusing. It is really fun to watch an audience when it is screened at festivals, because a segment of the audience usually laughs immediately and loudly, and a portion just sit there.

Funny side note, I did Everyday in one weekend, shelved it and forgot about it. Then we put money and time into the COC-VGV with the festival circuit in mind. When we were submitting, we remembered Everyday and submitted it too, on a whim. Everyday was accepted in most of the festivals, and did really well. And as I mentioned previously, the VGV wasn't accepted by any of them. That still gives me a chuckle.

M: And just to satisfy my own curiosity, which Blue track is that playing on the radio during the wake up scene of Everyday?

B: Man, you don't miss a trick, ha. It is the song Someone from the record Burden. It is a blatantly derivative Psychedelic Furs sounding song. I've always loved the band, and it is one of the few times where I let my work reflect its influences in such an obvious manner. I am actually surprised that I haven't been trashed for that one by a reviewer yet. But I really like the song. On my next record I have a song that sounds so much like the Doors that I am steeling myself for the backlash now. Ha.

M: What else Naked Acre producing now and what is expected in the future?

B: After FLAT did so well in New York, and the people from the NY festival represented the film at Cannes, Mifest and AFM, I was left standing on the edge of the precipice with few choices. If I do another "big production short film" I really only set myself up for a backslide. We've been continuing the weekly skit stuff for the site, and I am trying to do more music videos, but for the festival circuit we weren't left with many options. So we are preparing to make our first feature film in the fall of 2003. I've already optioned a script that is currently in the second draft stage. A really talented cat named Josh Smallridge wrote it. It is a ghost story called Dark House. I decided that just in case I only get to do this once, I want to make a movie that I would like, so I plan to put in profanity, nudity, horror, cool music, some fun editing effects, all the shit that gets me to buy a DVD. Hahaha... I never claimed to be too terribly "high-brow." Josh has been incredible to work with and I already have most of my crew of miscreants slated for different jobs on the flick. Everyone is saving up his or her vacation time to work on it next year.

M: The Internet has been a major boon to independent scenes across all facets. Besides Sanity Check's substantial website, do you use the Internet as a major avenue to promotions or do you simply use it in support of standard real-world promotion efforts?

B: I am such a cyber geek. I bloody well love computers. You can tell by all of the "LOL" abbreviations I peppered throughout this interview. I save a butt load of money now just using email instead of telephone. When I started the label our phone bills were cosmic. Just leaving messages for distributors and such nearly put us under. But I don't think we can rely entirely on the Web, because there are segments of people who would rather not use it, or aren't inclined to.

Different genres are affected as well. COC does very well via the Web because of the audience base, which is often very computer literate; its just part of the demographic. Of course that is a generalization, but an effective one. My more roots-based or organic stuff doesn't do nearly as well via the Internet. That said, the bulk of our sales come from online distribution instead of the "brick & mortar" stores.

The entire landscape of the Indie Music world has changed drastically in recent years. I'd have to say that the Internet is definitely the primary cause of that. Most of the distributors I started with aren't even playing the game any more.

I think my favorite part of it is the effect the Internet has had on publishing zines and such. Things like your mag, which I read by the way, is not only outstanding, but seems to benefit significantly from the net. I love the fact that I can download PDF versions from your site. That is just the coolest.

I guess we do a little of everything, and use every avenue at our disposal. But if I only had time for one focus, SanityCheck.net would get it.

* The Lion's Den is scheduled for review in an upcoming issue of Legends.
** Holly's Song was reviewed by Mike V. in Legends #119.
*** Snow White was reviewed by yours truly in Legends #119.
**** Naked Acre Compound Films.

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