Erik Blood is wearing his My Bloody Valentine Glider pin on his hoodie as we meet for our interview, which is the day after MBV altered the lives of thousands of Seattle music fans at WaMu Theater. The show blew both of our minds, among many others.
About 17 years earlier, My Bloody Valentine—and Cocteau Twins—had exerted a powerful effect on Blood. It was 1992, and the local guitarist/ vocalist/producer had become disillusioned with hiphop, in which he'd been immersed since the late '80s. But hiphop's increasingly negative vibes toward homosexuals were beginning to disturb Blood, who'd come out of the closet that year.
MBV and Cocteau Twins offered a much more welcoming sonic environment, without the toxic lyrical content. Blood fell head over heels for those groups' gorgeous, uniquely enveloping guitar tones. "That's all I wanted after that, that kind of guitar sound," he says. As a child, Blood had been exposed to girl groups, Motown, and '70s disco and R&B by his mother and the Cure, INXS, and Echo & the Bunnymen by his older sister. But MBV and Cocteau Twins were the acts that really set him on the path of music-making.
Moving from hiphop to the cream of shoegaze rock seems like a strange transition, but Blood disagrees. "[Public Enemy's] Fear of a Black Planet is like a hiphop-shoegazer record," he observes. "It's so dense. And every sample in it, every noise, even just the speaking parts, have these tones to them that sound beautiful mixed together. It's really amazing. It still blows my mind."
Such enthusiasm for the intricacies of sound led Blood to attend the Art Institute of Seattle for audio production. He wasn't completely happy with the program, but Blood did learn some techniques there that he still uses today when producing other artists' or his own material—and he also met the members of his first band, Mountain Con, at the school.
"Originally I just came in and produced their first record, and that led to them asking me to join the band as their onstage DJ," Blood recalls. "Which was fun. Those guys are great. I'm still friends with all of them, but their music just wasn't what I wanted to do. Every time I tried to push for doing something new, it got shot down."
Encouraged by Mountain Con's frontman to pursue his own muse, Blood ended up joining the Turn-ons, whose 2000 self-titled debut album he'd produced. With the Turn-ons, he played guitar, mellotron, Rhodes, cello, and arranged strings. The group released four albums and an EP, arguably peaking with 2004's East.
Despite a clutch of great, hooky songs ranging from debauched glam-rock homages to a deft Northwest take on shoegaze, the Turn-ons could never catch a break and are currently in limbo. Lead singer/guitarist Travis DeVries moved to New York and continues to work on his own music—an album titled Death to God is available digitally—while Blood has become a sought-after producer, working out of Ben Kersten's MRX studios.
While Blood derives much satisfaction working the controls for other artists' music (his production credits include releases by the Moondoggies, the Lights, Tea Cozies, and Voltage Periscope, the musical side of the comedy troupe Black Daisy), he is just as enamored of his own creative processes. The fruits of his efforts materialize May 12 with the digital release of his first solo album, The Way We Live, which he's releasing himself. Through a service called TuneCore, Blood's full-length will be available in several online outlets, including iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic.
The 10-track album reflects Blood's love of MBV and the Jesus and Mary Chain's clangorous melodic efflorescence, but it's enriched by a patina of romanticism that evokes John Hughes's '80s films. The album—mastered by Shockabilly/Bongwater legend Mark Kramer—exudes a grandiloquent cinematic aura. Nearly every cut aches to be set to crucial scenes in quality Hollywood fare, especially the climactic "Better Days," a rapturous, string-laden ballad that practically glows. "Birch Effect," which actually may appear in a small indie flick, possesses an understated buoyancy that recalls Modern English's "I Melt with You," before blooming into an epiphany of a chorus. "Broken Glass" rampages and blisses out with Loveless-like (b)luster.
Blood's songs bear elegant contours, and their hooks stick in your mind like a nutritious goo while avoiding cloying obviousness. Crafted with care and expertly produced, The Way We Live seems destined to attain pop-classic status.
"[This solo album is] something I've always wanted to do," Blood says. "I've tried to do it a few other times and ended up just giving the songs to the Turn-ons instead. It got to the point where I had a bunch of shit to say, and I had songs I wanted to do my own way and not think about what other people would think about it. So I took a week off work and just sat at the computer and Pro Tools, made as many demos as I could, and later on booked some studio time and finished it off."
Oddly, everyone from the Turn-ons plays on The Way We Live. "Yeah," Blood says with a laugh. "I can't play the drums, so Will [Hallauer], who's my favorite drummer, is on the drums. He can read my mind. And Corey [Gutch], the guitarist, writes the coolest shit. For 'She's Your Everything' [which Blood wrote for a friend's wedding], I called him and said, 'I need you to come over here and come up with a lead line that's as catchy as the La's "There She Goes." But it has to be somewhat more original than that.'" He laughs. "He came up with this amazing arpeggiated guitar line. It's so beautiful. He made that song my favorite one on the album."
The obvious hit single to my mind is "Broken Glass." "That's the first time I really feel like I got that Kevin Shields guitar sound down that I've been trying for years," Blood enthuses.
For Blood, innovation is nice, but he's a pop animal at core. His aim with The Way We Live was to "write catchy pop songs. Pop music is my life. Everything I listened to as a kid was pop music: [Bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and My Bloody Valentine] happened to be crazy innovative, but it was pop music. It charted in the UK. It wasn't just some crazy underground shit that stoners listen to. So that's what I hear when I listen to the solo album: pop music.
"The stuff I'm working on now," he continues, "I'm consciously trying to make different sounds and trying to do something new for me. And it's harder. I'm challenging myself to write music a different way. It's not always working out, but it's a good exercise."
Blood's new material initially was targeted for a porn-concept album. But after penning four songs on the topic, he's run out of inspiration. "I hate EPs, so I can't do an EP. I have to be happy with the music part of it. I can't just force myself to write shitty songs about fucking or about people who fuck for money."
Lyrics remain the most difficult aspect for Blood. However, "Odds for Sods," "To Leave America," and "Home & Walk" allowed him to address what it's "about being gay and being fucked with constantly your whole life. It's not fun, even in a city like Seattle where everything is [supposedly] cool. People still get their ass kicked."
Warming to the subject, Blood elaborates, "I'm trying to make myself less complacent with the way shit is just because I live in a place where I can walk around and hold hands with my boyfriend. We never worry about that when we're on Capitol Hill, where we live. That's why we live here. But that's not changing anyone's way of thought. We can't get married. We're not equals in the eyes of the government. We're somewhat subpar. Even though you're not allowed to beat us up or kill us because we're gay, we're still not really equal. We're not human beings; we're homo beings." He laughs.
Ending on a happier note, we return to My Bloody Valentine. "[With] MBV, we talk about innovative guitar sounds and tones, but we rarely talk about how amazingly written those songs are. Those melodies are fucking magic. They live in a totally different place. It doesn't matter if you can match those sounds and those tones, because a bunch of crappy shoegazer bands from the mid '90s did just that. And I don't give a fuck about them. Melody, man. You can sing those [MBV] songs."
So Blood's idols didn't make him want to call it a career? Uh-uh.
"I totally drew inspiration from that show [at WaMu]. I don't think that there's only room for the top. The top is the top because of all the people underneath it. I'm down for being a support beam for the awesome top."