‘Rath On Record #2
Artist: The Gay Blades
Genre: trash rock/garage pop/post-alt-country-core
Homebase: New Jersey/New York City
Players: Clark Westfield — crooning, hollerin’, guitars; Puppy Mills — skins, smooth talkin’
Back in the early ’00s, there was an unassuming pop-rock band making noise in dank basements and danker bars in and around New Brunswick, N.J. They drew a decent crowd and put on a fun show. Eventually, they broke up, and the world kept on turning.
Strangely enough, certain people claim that from the burned-out ashes of this nameless crew rose the fierce phoenix that is The Gay Blades. This is an almost unbelievable hypothesis for several reasons. Whereas the old band painted in broad, pop-friendly strokes, The Gay Blades splatter the canvas with visceral, genre-defying aplomb, setting their pop leanings underneath layers of distortion, confrontation and sweat. Whereas the old band would bring you breakfast in bed after a night of mediocre sex, The Gay Blades would be long gone by daylight after one of the best nights of your life. And whereas the old band featured about six or so dudes, the Gay Blades weigh in at a lean and mean two: Clark Westfield and Puppy Mills.
If you missed their 2007 debut Ghosts, do yourself a big favor and pick that up right away. It’s a near-perfect album featuring hook-heavy riff-tastic thrillers (“O Shot”), sprawling ballads about love-murder-suicide (“Dog Day Afternoon”), and 10 more assorted club-bangers and barn-burners. Several tours around the country and across the Atlantic have earned The Gay Blades a devoted and growing international fanbase.
Somewhere along the way, Westfield and Mills found the time to write and record a follow-up album called Savages, released a few short weeks ago on Triple Crown and the band’s own 4Never imprint. This time around, they chose to work with producer Dean Baltulonis (The Hold Steady, Madball) to great effect. Raising the bar (without abandoning the smell of the bar), Baltulonis helped them enhance their already-impressive stock of natural charms. The loud is louder. The grand is grander. The sex is sexier. And yes, that’s a full-on horn section on the single “Try To Understand.” And it rules, too. Westfield is still a whirlwind of emotion, bitch-slapping you on the aptly titled album opener “Rock N’ Roll (Part 1),” tugging your heartstrings on the epic “Why Winter In Detroit?,” and then coming on to you over a full string arrangement on the sweeping crooner “Every Night Is Like A Revival”. The Blades knock it out of the park each time.
At the heart of the matter, Westfield — besides being a charismatic (if slightly disturbed) frontman — is also an ambitious and formidable songwriting talent. ‘Rath On Record recently sent the rising star a few questions via e-mail and got him talking about his true identity, his preference for sleeping on floors, and his yearning to return to “the precipice of a disastrous adventure.”
ROR: First things first — there’s no record of a “Clark Westfield” in any public records in the tri-state or anywhere else for that matter. Who are you, really?
Clark Westfield: Well, I am father’s son. I am a narcissist in sheep’s clothing. I am a ranting, raving nobody, with an agenda to set something on fire. I’m a 29-year-old music-industry burnout who would rather sleep on a floor in Dayton, Ohio, than sit through another conference call. My parents named me James Dean Wells, which is actually a far more memorable name than my nom de guerre Clark Westfield.
ROR: Were you surprised by the rabid reception of Ghosts? Did it lend much pressure to the creative process when you were writing Savages?
CW: I was surprised that anyone cared, for sure. It seems that its not until you find your voice, that anyone will care. For me apparently, it meant creating a sort of reflection of what rock bands are perceived to be to the music fan. That’s not to say that the songs weren’t honest — they were most definitely coming from a real place — but the delivery of the tunes was a creation that Puppy Mills and I made up at our kitchen table like a kid’s costume for a school play. These days, that delivery process is a bit more genuine, though still reminiscent of a punk rock gala gone awry. Everyone’s afraid of the dreaded sophomore slump, but a few run-ins with a shaman in Bushwick, a great producer and solid songs calmed our fears.
ROR: How did Dean Baltunlonis influence the sound of Savages?
CW:That motherfucker is a motherfucker. He’s also sneaky, which is an important quality for any great producer who needs to get an artist out of his own head. Dean has a great ear for pop songs and we share very similar taste in aesthetics. He’d reign me in when I was being too over the top, and push me to go overboard if I was being too safe. We were talking the other day about how we wished the record sounded a bit sexier at points, but I went back and listened and I have to admit, Savages is fucking sexy. There’s some moments that are vulnerable, sure, but even that can be sexy, right????
ROR: You suffered the tragic loss of a relative while touring for Ghosts. Did some of the songs on the new record help you to process some of that emotional trauma?
CW:These tunes weren’t about working through my remorse, but they did spring from that remorse. The loss of my little brother, a troubled and lost kid, fueled me to make something great to honor his life and refocus my own. He was never a fan of any music I created, but I’d like to think he’d appreciate the effort.
ROR: You’ve said in interviews that Savages is the most honest music you’ve written. How has that honesty — that emotional investment — affected your recent shows?
CW: HMMMMM … well, I really want our band to sound great. I mean, that should be a given for any band, but in all honesty, it never was with TGB. We’ve always just wanted to leave an impression. Play loud and fast and be sexy — of course, I always wanted to give a good vocal performance because I’m vain, but as far as the other stuff, the tunes were just a vehicle for the show. NOW, I’d like to think with the addition of Mike and the occasional rehearsal, we cannot only give kids a dope rock show full of punk rock pageantry, but we can appeal to their musical inclinations as well. Then again, maybe we’re just going soft in our old age.
ROR: You’ve been performing live with a third band member. Give me the goods on that major change. What is he playing? Is it official? Or just for touring purposes?
CW: As I mentioned above, Mike Abiuso is our new friend on stage. He’s an amazing musician I met while working with his former band Kiss Kiss. Initially, we just thought he would play keys or whatever here and there on tour, but he has a tremendous and endearing spirit and he is by far the best musician on that stage, so it behooves us to keep him as long as we can. Usually, we are not afraid to use force to get the things we want, but we love him and he can come and go as he pleases.
ROR: Will Mike be involved in the writing process for the next album, if and when that time comes?
CW: We are going to write a record, or as much of it as we can in January. It will be far looser writing experience than Savages, which was mainly me bringing songs to Quinn. So we’ll see what comes of that. However much we get done during that first month of 2011 we’ll put out in some form shortly thereafter.
ROR: Spoon’s Brit Daniel has famously said that “there are no beards in Spoon.” Conversely, do you mandate beards in the Blades? Does the new guy have a beard?
CW: Ha! He said that, huh??? I fucking love Spoon, and I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t make me want to shave mine off. Mike doesn’t need a beard. He’s the young, skinny, single guy in the band, so it’s probably better that he look as handsome as possible.
ROR: You’re talented and handsome. A “double-threat,” as they say in the business. Do you have any advice for people who want to be both talented and handsome?
CW: Go to law school.
ROR: Can our brothers and sisters in Europe expect to see The Gay Blades in 2011?
CW:We are planning on a two week-ish tour of the U.K. in February and the surrounding environs. Savages will be released there in January, so we’re pretty stoked. We spent so much time in Europe in 2009, and I truly miss being abroad. It’s such a humbling and eye-opening experience. You’re completely out of your element, and every moment feels like you’re on the precipice of a disastrous adventure.
ROR: As your crowds continue to grow, is it getting harder to choose which audience members to alienate and humiliate for your amusement?
CW:First of all, we don’t alienate them, we just create, in them, an otherness for a moment — we always welcome them back into the fold eventually. Plus, most of these creeps at this point wear that kind of special attention as a badge of honor. Our fans are smart, discerning but amazingly weird people — by far the best crowds ever.
ROR: Rumor has is that Puppy Mills tied the knot in 2010. Any wedding bells in the future for you?
CW:I’m married to my boots and my boots are married to the stage. It’s a love affair for the ages.
ROR: Stan Grauer of The Detroit Free Press wrote in a recent editorial that he didn’t appreciate “hipsters like Clark Westfield of The Gay Blades exploiting Detroit’s economic crisis for a pop song.” How do you respond to accusations like that? Before you answer, consider the fact that I invented that quote as well as phony journalist Stan Grauer. Also The Detroit Free Press may or may not exist. Now go ahead …
CW: (Aside: I did not read the whole question and immediately spent 10 minutes trying to find that quote. Kudos, you wiley fuck.) No one in Detroit gives a fuck about what other people say — let alone some pop band from NYC. They are tough and smart and cool, and every time we go there, we meet new friends. But as the title suggests, “Why Winter In Detroit?” is about a city and its shitty weather, not its economic turmoil.
ROR: What’s the next record going to be about?
CW: Everything that has ever happened and a little bit about the stuff that hasn’t. It will probably be called some plural noun or another.
ROR: Are there plans to sign anyone else to your 4Never imprint?
CW:I think about it every day. I wish I had serious resources to put into 4Never, so I could be of benefit to artists I believe in, but for now it’s really just a place for us to put our shit out. I might have come up with a solution to the resources problem, but it’s going to take a little bit of time and finding a band I don’t hate.
Nov. 28 –Asbury Lanes (day show) — Asbury Park, N.J.
Nov. 29 – Garfield Artworks — Pittsburgh, Pa.
Nov. 30 – The Basement — Columbus, Ohio
Dec. 1 – Cicero’s — St. Louis, Mo.
Dec. 2 – The Riot Room — Kansas City, Mo.
Dec. 4 – Black Sheep — Colorado Springs, Colo.
Dec. 6 – TBD — Reno, Nev.
Dec. 7 – Bottom Of The Hill — San Francisco, Calif.
Dec. 8 – The Casbah — San Diego, Calif.
Dec. 9 – Perhspace — Los Angeles, Calif.
Dec. 10 – Biggs — Fullerton, Calif.
Dec. 11 – The Rogue Bar — Phoenix, Ariz.
Dec. 13 – Rubber Gloves — Denton, Texas
Dec. 14 –Emo’s Alt Lounge — Austin, Texas
Dec. 15 – Thirsty Hippo — Hattiesburg, Miss.
Dec. 16 –Drunken Unicorn — Atlanta, Ga.
Dec. 17 – TBD — North Carolina
Dec. 18 – TBD — Virginia
Dec. 19 – The Red Palace — Washington D.C.