Paper Television, the fourth full-length from the Portland-based duo called the Blow, is an incredibly intelligent, somewhat bubblegummy pop album that may inspire you to dance as much as it does make you want to ponder. The happy album, say band members Jona Bechtolt and Khaela Maricich, was made in response to “dark times nationally and internationally.” In keeping with the theme of contrast, Bechtolt and Maricich talked with us about their tomfoolery crushes, their new album (released October 24 on K Records) and their roles as musicians during wartime.
You’ve been touring in support of Paper Television? How did the Rhizome gig go?
Jona Bechtolt: Especially well! Claire (my girlfriend) and I toured the show we made for the Kitchen/Rhizome show down the West Coast to test it out, and it deeply paid off. We ended up driving from Tijuana to Portland through the night in order to catch a flight to New York the next morning at 7 a.m. It was madness. I ended up puking out of a moving cab the day before the show because I was so exhausted and didn’t eat enough. The show ended up being totally awesome, though.
Khaela Maricich: We’ve been on twin tours, out in the world at the same time, hitting it from different angles. Jona is touring as Yacht, and I am out touring the new Blow record. I did a tour opening for Architecture in Helsinki, and then [recently] started a tour with Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice. So far it has been really, really good. People who came to see those other bands have taken the time to pay attention to the Blow songs, which is awesome. It feels really good, especially because Jona and I worked so hard to make these songs and feel really excited about them. Watching some of that excitement get picked up by an audience (who maybe has never heard of you before) is pretty rad.
One could argue that there isn’t a lot of intelligent pop out there. What other pop albums do you hope Paper Television would be on the same iPod with?
JB: Fucking Justin Timberlake’s new album! I’m a huge fan of pop music, and I stand by the statement that hip-hop and R&B music right now is the most intelligent and innovative music being made. I feel like Timbaland is, and always has been, making ridiculously radical and awesome shit. At times I can’t believe how popular it is because it gets so weird and really stretches popular boundaries, but then you hear it really loud at a club and realize that that shit is just plain good and impossible to stay still to.
KM: Ditto one hundred percent. I listen to the mainstream party stations, scratching at my skin with desire to be as brilliant as the producers who make that stuff.
If the Blow blows up, especially with this new album, how would you like to be received? Who did you make this album for?
JB: I made this album for myself, mostly. My favorite music is a deeply weird mix of music that I hear on the radio and of music that hasn’t been, and maybe will never be, on the radio. My friends make my absolute favorite music of all time, so I hope they like the album. I hope that complete strangers get something out of the album, too, whether it’s simply the good vibes and dance jams or if they read into the vague political commentary and open their hearts.
KM: Ditto again. Except the vague part — dude, that commentary is crystal clear!
It’s clear that the two of you have a lot going on: artist-in-residence at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, ultimate blogger, Yacht, playing drums for Devendra Banhart, as well as art. If you could break everything into percentages, like a pie chart, how would it look? Do you need a lot going on around you?
JB: I totally need a lot going on around me or I’d go crazy. I feel completely and utterly overwhelmed by the world and all of the total bullshit going on in it on a daily basis. If I don’t keep myself busy with projects and amazing human beings, I would die. Straight up.
KM: Yeah, I have to have a lot of different projects because I am such a procrastinator. If I have one project that I am stalling with, I can scoot over and do a little bit of work on some other project, whichever one has a later deadline, because of course the one that doesn’t need to be done yet will seem much more appealing. The pie might look like this: fifteen percent laying on the floor and spacing out; twenty percent hanging out with my friends, working on things, or not working on things; twenty-two percent (under the surface, all the time) thinking about writing songs; eighteen percent random graphic design projects, record covers for my own and friends’ albums; twenty-five percent performance projects; and whatever percentage is left doodling in my day planner.
Do the two of you play pranks on one another while on tour or recording? Do you have any running jokes?
JB: We both talk in a lot of weird voices almost exclusively. Recording this album was a deeply weird and grueling process and was full of spazzy moments and lots of jokes. There’s a little video on our MySpace page that shows a little bit of us raving with the webcam on my computer.
KM: My favorite is to get to sit around and listen to Jona be funny. He is kind of a fountain of funny and endearing little commentaries and songs. He makes up a lot of impromptu songs, while driving or whatever. Sometimes I make jokes and say funny things, and what is nice about that is that it bonks up like a little surprise to the both of us. There I was just waiting for Jona to be hilarious and talk in a Southern voice about how it’s so cold he has to eat his chips with gloves on, and my waiting got interrupted by my being amusing.
K Records seems fairly low-key and personal, perhaps because of its regional-based artists or all of its collaborations or maybe just because of Calvin Johnson. From the outside he seems to be a fatherly/mentor figure. Is that somewhat true? How is he as a dad?
JB: Yes! Calvin is an awesome dad. He is super honest and incredibly helpful in every way you could ask him to be. When we were sitting around thinking about the record being finished we were sort of stuck on what we should call it. We asked Calvin what he thought we should call it and without a literal second of hesitation he said "paper television." Dude is magic. A magical dad.
KM: It’s funny you asked this question. I totally call Calvin "dad" now and then. He is a really great inspiration, and such a great guide for how to do whatever you want to do in the world. He has made my life much more possible and awesome than it ever would have been without him.
What is the place of musicians during a time of war, or “dark times”?
JB: I have noticed a stupid stigma against musicians speaking about the war, or just about their political beliefs in general. Even if you play in a band that plays shows only to your friends, I think it’s super important to speak or sing or whatever about what you believe in. Even if it feels like you’re preaching to the choir, just opening that dialogue makes a difference. If nothing else, it gives you and your friends tools to talk to people that don’t share your beliefs.
KM: I think that every person’s role at all times is to strive to be honest with themselves about how they feel. From there, I think one just has to keep following the feeling, to see what it leads them to need to do. It’s important to use one’s powers to aim for the light, I think. It’s scary. I am still trying to figure out what it means literally. I know that something needs to be done, and I know that I have the force to be able to do something, but I just still don’t know what that is. I think a lot about it. Give me a little minute, while I keep trying.
Does anything in the deli aisle make you cry?
JB: Yes. I’m vegan. A lot of stuff in the deli aisle freaks me out. A lot of the time the deli aisle is my least favorite aisle in grocery stores.
KM: If I cried as much as I feel like I want to cry, I would be a much braver person. I don’t have the balls to feel all the things that I could feel; I don’t have the balls to be that open. When I wrote those words, I was making up a fantasy of having a relationship with someone where I could feel free to be that revealed, like in the relationship, and then literally in the supermarket. I was imagining having someone love me in a way that made me feel strong enough to let my feeling be raw, to let a long row of hanging pre-sliced cheeses of canned vegetables be as overwhelming as they sometimes seem like they could be.
Fortunately, the two of you seem to be concerned with all aspects of what you produce and put out into the world. Has it been a struggle to keep it that way? In other words, have people tried to take that aspect away from you?
JB: So far it hasn’t at all. K is amazing and open to everything we’ve ever wanted to do. Tomlab and Popfrenzy (our European and Australian labels, respectively) have also been totally awesome. I’m excited to see if there will ever be a point when someone tries to take that away from us. I’m into that battle. It will be funny.
KM: Wow, holy shit, no. No one has ever tried to edit anything I have been doing, musically or artistically. Except that K has required us to put barcodes of the regulation size onto the artwork. That has been the most upsetting imposition. The only person who has tried to get me to change what I am doing is my mother. She is a huge fan and loves the new record and listens to it literally every day (she will call me and it will be playing in the background), but she is really upset by the fact that I use the "S" word twice on the record. She has lectured me about it many times now, arguing that there are a lot of people who would really love the music, that it is really good music, but that those people would never be able to handle my swearing. She says that no one could play it who has children in the house.
Who do you two have crushes on? Romantically? Musically?
JB:I have a deep romantic crush on this girl in Portland named Claire L. Evans. I also have musical and romantic crushes on Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Nelly Furtado, Scout Niblett, Andrew W.K., all of the Dear Nora band, all of Electrelane, Momus, Outkast, Panther, and Sean Lennon. I mean, I have tons of crushes. I crush hard.
KM: Whoa, dude, dig right in there. I get crushes now and then. This past summer has been a particularly crushy season. I tend to get crushes on people whom I really admire, who I kind of want to learn to be like. Musically, I have crushed hard on Final Fantasy, every person from Architecture in Helsinki, David Byrne, Missy Elliot, Juana Molina, Prince, Katy Davidson and Andre Ice Cold 3000. My crush on Andre 3000 is so wide, it would probably stretch into the realm of romantic. There is the racing heart and all that. The thing I have been figuring out lately about romantic crushes is that they don’t necessarily turn out to be the love that works. I mean, you can have so many crushes, but only a few real loves. And the name of the girl I do real love with lately is, for just now, just a little bit secret.