Dreaming of Paradise: Meet The Blank Tapes

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There is a rare and terrifying thrill in discovering an artist with a back-catalogue as wonderfully extensive as The Blank Tapes. It’s a bit like stumbling into a room full of pies. You know you’ll never be able to eat all of the pies, but the ensuing process is going to be undoubtedly delicious, disgusting and exhaustive. Here I am, eight albums deep into The Blank Tapes, covered in gravy, stuffed to the brim with a gigantic smile on my face. The prolific Los Angeles artist appears to approach songwriting with a sincere creative courage, resulting in a collection of songs that are beautiful, honest and sublime in their simplicity. Somehow between writing songs, he found time to talk to me.

Good morning Matt. How is your day going?

Hey, I’m writing this on my birthday, March 12. It’s going good so far, played a show in Amarillo, Texas last night and driving to Dallas today.

Let’s talk shop. You’re just about to head to SXSW. Although a world-famous event, I feel as though for us outsiders it’s a difficult concept to fully understand. The closest thing we have in the UK might be the Edinburgh Fringe. How would you describe SXSW to a clueless Welshman?

SXSW is a total shit show party fest with a million bands playing in a million venues and spaces all over the city (and now surrounding cities). It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of free beer but it can be exhausting and overwhelming. This is my 5th or 6th one, sometimes I need to take a year or two off but I always love coming back.

In Silver Lake I saw two rats fighting over the corpse of a third rat, and this seemed like something of a metaphor for life in Los Angeles. What are your impressions of survival as a musician in LA?

Parts of LA are like that, especially in Hollywood, but in some of the other “hipper” areas like Highland Park & Echo Park there’s a little more camaraderie. The music scene can be really supportive if you’re in the right one. Certain venues and bars definitely pray on green bands, especially if you’re not too familiar with the greater Los Angeles area. Some people think it’s just Hollywood.

I’m no spring chicken, and fondly remember painstakingly tracking mixtapes onto blank cassettes. By naming yourself the Blank Tapes, in what ways were you intentionally trying to capitalise on analogue nostalgia?

I named my band The Blank Tapes in 2003 so I don’t think cassettes were truly dead just yet. The name was mostly inspired by all the blank tapes I had which I was recording on at the time. It seems a little dated now but it’s too late to change my band name after all these years of promoting it.

You’ve put out albums at a rate of knots for well over a decade, with little sign of slowing down. Do you think a prolific output is daunting for new listeners discovering an artist for the first time?

It IS daunting but I can’t seem to stop the flow nor do I want to. As of now I have 5+ albums almost finished set to be released over the next few years. I figure CCR release three albums in a year, so why can’t I release at least one or two per year? I’d suggest new listeners to start with the my latest album ‘Candy’ and if they want to dig deeper, check out ‘Collection 2003-2017’, which has one track from every release I’ve done.

Recently I’ve started to notice a trend of artists drip-feeding their releases out, one song at a time, playing a waiting game with their fans. This is no doubt a marketing strategy, and seemingly one you have no interest in. In what ways do you think a marketing mind is an essential asset for a modern musician?

I released one song a few months ago called ‘Secret Drugs’, so I do a little bit of that. I also released a single or two from the last album before the whole album came out. I guess I’m old school, but the market is shifting all the time. I don’t know, I market the best I can, I’m usually the only one doing all this shit so the music comes first and then everything else later.

Musicians love to lament the state of the industry these days, with torrenting and streaming and what not, but it also seems the internet can be an invaluable tool for an artist. How do you view it, friend or foe?

The internet is a friend, but the way everything is so impermanent is a foe. Like you said about people drip feeding releases, people’s attention spans are short due to that fact that the arts world is completely oversaturated. I’m able to reach people all over the world but audiences seem to always want something new or a new band so it’s tricky for an oldie like me to keep people’s interest.

On your newest record you sing of Paradise. What would that place look like for you?

Paradise would be in a hot spring on a cloud surrounded by beautiful things with the Beatles on repeat.

Keep up to date with The Blank Tapes on Facebook here.

Interview by Jethro Jeffries