Sheesh. Even the indie rock bands at this school are perfectionists.
Hoping to make a splash on the national indie scene with a debut EP and a high-profile gig at The Middle East rock club, these four undergraduates can’t seem to make up their minds: one minute, they’re calling the Harvard milieu too closed-off; the next, they’re hosting their CD-release party as a posh wine-and-cheese soiree at the Signet Club. Blanks.’s ambivalence towards the Harvard community is striking, almost maddening.
BROOKLYN TO BURRITOS
Last Thursday, Blanks. were a bit out of their element at a four-school “Battle of the Bands,” held at Paradise. A Tex-Mex fast food chain brought them to face off against representatives from Northeastern University, Boston University, and Boston College. The chain’s PR team christened the event “The Rice and Beanpot,” and a burrito-eating contest was staged between the bands’ sets.
A pair of radio shock jocks bleated out phallus/burrito jokes to the crowd, and predictably asked the members of each school to “make some noise.” Students from BC and BU made a formidable racket, but were drowned out by the deafening roar of the Northeastern contingent.
But Harvard’s presence was negligible--a smattering of applause, barely audible above the ambient din of the club, was all the noise the Crimson could summon. Where were Blanks.’ fans?
Matt T. Boch ’06, Blanks.’ lanky and mop-topped lead singer, explains that the Paradise gig was not a priority for the band.
“We weren’t really pushing the show,” he says. “We were playing a fifteen-minute gig, and it’s a lot to ask of our fans to come all the way from Harvard, plus pay the club’s admission, to see that,”
But later in the interview with The Crimson, he gives a somewhat different view on the purpose of live shows. “You get big by performing and showing promoters that you’re good and that you have a following,” he says.
Blanks.’ did not seem affected by the crowd’s reticence and they launched into their set.
They played with their usual blend of disco backbeats and angular rock progressions. Long Le-Khac ’06 laid down a nimble bass line, Drake rode the cymbals to high heaven, Jon H. Carter ’06 deftly fingered twisting guitar lines, and Boch stole the show with loopy vocals and wild facial expressions.
As good as they were, what the Blanks. needed to clinch victory in “battle” was a little backup. When the crowd was asked to choose the winning band through a show of applause, the Northeastern mob easily overwhelmed the competition. Blanks. hardly stood a chance of winning.
After the show, Le-Khac characterized the band as being above the event’s frat-boy nonsense.
“It was ridiculous,” he says. “It was fun to be a part of, but none of us were taking it that seriously. A fifteen minute set played in conjunction with a burrito-eating contest isn’t an ideal arena in which to introduce new music.”
A little less than two weeks before the Paradise gig, Blanks. had a spot more to their liking. They headlined at Brooklyn’s Underwater Lounge to promote the New York City release of their EP, “Infinite Lives.” Le-Khac’s brother booked the venue, and 200 of the band’s friends and fans turned out in force.
Boch recalls: “Our friends, and a lot of Harvard students spending intersession in New York, attended the show. We packed the club.”
While the Paradise gig might have expanded Blanks.’ following--a move critical to their success--Boch expressed more enthusiasm for the New York show performed before an audience already sold on the band’s sound.
CHEESE WITH THAT WHINE?
Even though the other college-aged bands found the burrito battle adequate to their artistic vision, the more ambitious Blanks. preferred an unmistakably “Harvard” forum: two days after the Paradise show, the band hosted a wine and cheese party at The Signet, ostensibly to debut the Boston release of their EP “Infinite Lives.”
The Signet event was sparsely attended—invites were mostly sent to the society’s members—and the band opted not to play the Blanks.’ record for those in attendance. Early on, Drake discovered a CD compilation of 50’s rock-n-roll classics: “Screw Blanks. let’s hear some Buddy Holly,” he exclaimed as he switched “Infinite Lives” out of the stereo.
Blanks. usually pride themselves on not being stingy about their music. Anyone anxious to hear their work can find it for free on the web. Four of the EP’s eight tracks are available for download on the Blanks.’ website, www.loveromp.com.
Blanks. is also streaming themselves on their MySpace profile at www.myspace.com/blanks.
Boch explains: “Internet radio and podcasting are changing the way music is distributed. You don’t need commercial radio or record labels to get your songs out—you can just put up some mp3s for fans. Our decision to release half of our record for free isn’t unorthodox. Bands like Deerhoof and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have gotten a lot of exposure for doing that.”
This internet egalitarianism is a response to their feelings of the confinement of the Harvard rock scene. “Harvard lacks the infrastructure for a real scene, especially in terms of rehearsal and performance spaces,” says Le-Khac. “Blanks. has been kicked out of every practice room in every dorm behind noise complaints—that’s pretty insulting.” Boch echoes this feeling of frustration at Harvard’s insularity.
“The Boston scene is a hundred times more relevant than anything at Harvard,” he says. “There are a couple of good gigs at Harvard, but that’s not how bands make it. You make it by building a base of permanent fans—not just transient college kids—and you tour.”
This seems to be the problem at the core of Blanks.’s endeavor--even as they outgrow Harvard’s resources, they need student support to expand beyond the Signet/Quincy Cage scene. They’re banking on a strong showing of Harvard students at a critical gig next week to propel them to the next phase of their career.
Blanks. will be playing with four other bands in a Feb. 23 show they coordinated at legendary Cambridge indie rock club The Middle East. Drake says they’re scheduled to play in the smaller “Upstairs” venue, but has high hopes.
“If we can sell out The Middle East Upstairs, then we can book the Downstairs stage—that’s where national acts play. That would be huge,” he says.
Caught between world-wide accessibility and Harvard insularity, the next step for Blanks. is anybody’s guess.
–Staff writer Bernard L. Parham can be reached at email@example.com.