This review an interview of Blackout Balter's Philip Cohen by Jade Anna Hughes: check out her other writing here.
During my first listen to Blackout Balter’s soon-to-be-released EP Twist and Bend I was immediately transported to my endless summer nights of dancing in dark clubs on the Lower East Side in NYC in the early 2000's: a lot of happiness, some elation and a little bit of insanity. The tunes are all unique, memorable and really engaging. Blackout Balter produces the kind of music that you want to dance to, that dance that has you shaking your hair, moving your limbs in all directions, the dance that feels like a catharsis as well as expression.
The first song I listened to was Heavy Hand (you can check out the lyric video here) and found it really catchy: a song that deserves frequent play on every radio right now! It’s a real summer anthem that I can already hear blasting out of the indie clubs, on the beach, at your summer BBQs and belting out of open car windows.
Everything Becomes Mechanical--you can hear it below--another outstanding tune, premiered this week, and is a perfect blend of rock and electronica. If it doesn’t make you want to dance then I don’t know what will! I love how Blackout Balter mix the lighthearted and the deep together to create something of a unique sound and experience. The songwriting is full of really strong messages and images that need to be heard, and the melodies make you want to get up and move right then and there.
I’m really excited about this band’s future and can’t wait to see them live and what they will have to offer in terms of a first full album.
Blackout Balter’s Phil Cohen took some time out of his day to answer a few questions and I have to say these are some of the most thoughtful and engaging interview answers I have had the chance to read this year! It’s really interesting to hear that sometimes everything works out when you least expect it, and how a little bit of luck, a touch of confidence and a lot of talent can get you in the right place at the right time.
Your story kind of sounds like one of those dreams come true of yesteryear, when you slip an idol a demo and all of a sudden you are being whisked off to record an EP with him. A fairytale come true! How did this occasion present itself?
I know [laughing]--it's still hard to believe! Dave Keuning and I were introduced through a mutual friend and we hit it off right away. Shortly after we met, I found myself in the LA area, so I shot him a text to see if he wanted to hang out. When we met up, Dave showed me some of the new Killers music he was working on, and I showed him the demos that we had recorded only a couple weeks prior to my West Coast visit. I thought we'd listen to a song or two and Dave would get bored, but I was wrong. Dave was super excited about the music, and we ended up listening to all of the demos together. I guess the rest is history.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you meet?
Shortly after I came home from Afghanistan with the military, I moved to the Boston area and met Chris at a neighborhood block party. I had heard there was a good drummer who lived in our neighborhood; and, after Chris and I met, he found out I was a songwriter and I found out that he was the drummer I had been hearing about. I passed Chris a bunch of very rough songs, and Chris loved them. Within a few weeks, Chris and I (as a two-piece) started playing music together. We weren't Blackout Balter at this time; everything was still early, and--around that time--I started grad school at MIT. While I was at grad school, I met Misha. Misha had just finished up grad school at Brown, and decided to move from Providence to Cambridge to start a company with some friends (one of which was a classmate of mine at MIT). I introduced Misha to Chris, and the three of us started playing music together. We cut some early demo recordings together; and these demos are the recordings that ultimately found their way to Dave Keuning of The Killers. After grad school, I met Amelia through the local Boston scene. She was in an amazing band that I admired, and I loved the way she played bass. When the four of us started playing together, everything felt right.
Where does the name Blackout Balter come from?
The word "balter" is an old English word that died many years ago. We shocked it back into life and stole it for our name. The band and I love that word. It means to dance in a crazy way or to dance without a care.
Obviously you cite The Killers as an influence, but who/what else are up there on your greatest inspiration list (not restricted to music)?
I'm a big '70s underground rock guy--I've always been fascinated by the founders of the punk rock movement: Everyone from the Velvet Underground to Iggy, to The New York Dolls and Patti Smith. I could go on and on. My gateway into this music was through my cousins, Bayne and Andrew. They introduced me to Black Flag and a few other '80s hardcore punk bands when I was fifteen, and I fell in love with the raw emotion and passion behind this music. The Beatles and Nirvana changed everything for me, as they did for many; and, when I discovered Elliott Smith, that changed everything for me again. As a band, I think we're influenced by The Pixies, Pavement, Violent Femmes, and early Weezer; though there are really too many bands to name as far as our influences go. Outside of music, I'm a huge Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, and Raymond Carver fan; and, when it comes to the art of illustration, I'm really into portraits and the Impressionist movement, so Rembrandt and Van Gogh are two of my favorites.
Your EP, Twist and Bend, is packed full of super catchy anthems that stride through different musical genres, making your sound accessible to just about everyone. Can you give us a little insight into your creation process?
[Laughing] It's messy and it takes a long time! Thank you for the compliment--that means a lot; and your question is a great one, as I really believe that the act of creation is very important on a number of levels. I think creation starts with experience; and I feel very fortunate to have lived a number of very rich experiences throughout my life. That line by Leonard Cohen is just so good--"If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash." I really believe that this is true. On a more specific level, when it comes to songwriting, I usually start off with a chord progression or hear some sort of melody floating around in my head. Sometimes the only way to get one of these melodies out of your head is to write a song [laughing]. These melodies usually serve as the early foundation of a song; then I'll start working on the vocal melody; and then I'll use these melodies to inform the subject matter and lyrics OF a song. This may sound pretty straightforward, but it's kind of a mess [laughing]. I write and re-write things; I glue together melodies that I've written on different occasions; little scraps of paper with lyric ideas on them are masking-taped all over the walls of the office in my home--it's a struggle. But, to me, this is exactly what life and art are, or should be, all about: Some sort of difficult journey that leads to the discovery of truth; and, ultimately, catharsis.
What are your plans for the next year? Is there a full album on the way? A tour?
We're always working on new music, so I'm hoping that we'll be able to start moving forward with a full album later this year. We'll see--the music industry is a crazy place; but I'm very happy with the direction we're heading and songwriting we're doing right now. On the touring front, we'll be on the road soon and are hoping to announce some dates within the next month or so.
If you were planning and playing at your own dream music festival who would you want to play alongside?
It'd definitely be The Killers, as they're amazing artists, great people, and our friends. But, it'd also be a dream to play alongside Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, and Iggy Pop, as these guys are a few of our rock heroes.
Thank you, very much, Phil!
Twist and Bend was produced by The Killers’ guitarist Dave Keuning and will be released on July 8th in all of your usual outlets. Blackout Balter are Philip Cohen on vocals and guitar, Chris Dorsey on drums, Amelia Gormley on bass, and Misha Kostandov on keys and guitar. Find out more about Blackout Balter on their Facebook and Twitter!