The Blind Shake champion teamwork
For the members of the Blind Shake, playing music together has become far more than a hobby, or even a passion. Even calling it a way of life might not do it justice. No, for these three guys who grew up together in Lake City, Minnesota, and have put in at least a decade playing garage-punk together — "We've been saying 10 years for a few years now," quips baritone guitarist Mike Blaha — it's a brotherhood.
"We're like a backyard football team," says Blaha's older brother, Jim, who plays lead guitar and shares vocal duties with Mike and drummer Dave Roper. "We're just from the neighborhood, we grew up together, we're not trying to get a ringer. We just try to get better. This is our team; this is our neighborhood."
A sports analogy of that sort is especially apt with a band like the Blind Shake, who are about to release their fourth full-length, Key to a False Door. They all have athletic backgrounds, and Mike even played semi-pro football as a running back and slot receiver. But more than that, the music showcases hyper-focused teamwork that borders on competitive and leaves no room for bullshit.
"I was asked recently in a job interview, 'What other hobbies do you have?'" says Mike. "I was like, 'Oh, recording bands and making guitar cabinets.'" He pauses, as though coming to a realization. "Like, wow, that's kind of...." He trails off, then gives a shrug and a short, sharp laugh. "I don't know, I like it that way."
The Blind Shake enjoy a following in other cities that often surpasses their reputation in the Twin Cities, but in recent years the balance has shifted further in the direction of touring, with excess of 50 out-of-town shows a year. Due to a recent signing with Panache Booking Agency — whose clients also include Ty Segall, Marnie Stern, and Monotonix — they're playing bigger shows and making more festival appearances.
"There's kind of a structure to being on the road," says Roper, who points out that, while all three members are married, their wives accept that this is simply their husbands' way of life. "You know exactly what you got to do, there's a routine. It's almost simpler. Being home is way more complicated." Jim agrees, but with a caveat that raises laughter from the whole group: "I definitely miss being home, but when I get home I miss being on the road. So it's like I'm perpetually unhappy."
Unlike its road-birthed predecessors, Key to a False Door came together at home in the studio. This led to a bit of a false start last winter, as most of the songs from their first recording sessions — roughly a whole album's worth of material — got scrapped. On top of that, a large amount gear was stolen from their van during South By Southwest, including Mike's first baritone guitar and a speaker cabinet he'd built with his father.
Still, the outcome was eventually a success. Key to a False Door picks up where 2011's Seriousness left off, with tightly wound melodies and a ferocious, uptempo pace that barely ever lets up — yet it sounds somehow sunnier and more upbeat. The sludgy drones they were once known for are gone, and the lone exception to the album's precision is greater distinction between each members' vocals, which adds a ragged edge.
On that note, there's plenty more on the horizon for the band, including a tour slot opening for Bay Area punks and kindred spirits Thee Oh Sees this fall.
"We've crossed the line. We're no longer — well, we never really were — a young, up-and-coming band," Mike says. "Basically, once you're in your mid-30s, you have the right to be an old guy — and an old guy goes from 35 on to death. We don't have to stop doing this for anybody."
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