After an intense performance last Friday night by The Gay Blades at Asbury Lanes, the band’s front man James Wells (Clark Westfield) and I sat down in the venues bar area and spoke about various topics including the band’s new album, life in general, music, and Voodoo. This was our conversation…
I’ve been reading up on you guys and I haven’t been able to find much. There doesn’t seem to be a lot written about the lore of The Gay Blades.
Well we lie a lot. There’s a lot written, but most of it’s just lies.
Well I don’t know much about your history so I’ll jump right into it. How did you and Quinn come up with the name The Gay Blades?
Uh, have you ever heard of Voodoo?
Voodoo. It’s an African religion that’s spread its way into the Caribbean. It’s not a bad religion, people often associate it with dark magic, and it’s not. But it does require often an animal sacrifice. And when we found ourselves in need of a name we turned to Voodoo, and the chicken bones, and the fucking beaver blood, and came up with The Gay Blades.
How long have you been practicing Voodoo?
I don’t “really” practice voodoo, but in the moment of performance and inspiration, it feels pretty fucking magical. That being said, I wish I could bend people to my will with the flick of a few chicken bones and some pig’s blood.
So what is Trash-Pop?
I think it’s a dedication to melody and hook, and also a dedication to the kind of music that we love and cherish as listeners, like the Pavements of the world, and The Pixies. I love big, pop, choruses. But I also love gritty guitars and dirty drums that sound really big, but clip into the red. So Trash-Pop is trashy sounding music that adheres to Pop sensibility.
You mentioned The Pixies, you mentioned Pavement, do you have any other big influences?
Yeah, of course. I’m 28, so I’m a wee-bit older than some of the quote-unquote, I won’t even finish the sentence. But I’m a little bit older, and I found myself loving David Bowie and Elvis Costello. I really love Tom Waits. New bands that I love are Wilco and Spoon and Weezer. And fucking, When I was a kid I grew up listening to Nirvana and Foo Fighters, Bush and Oasis. You know, you can’t escape that. That music stays inside of you forever. You can try but it’s going to come out and I’m happy that it does.
You’ve mentioned all these bands and artists, and I was wondering if you can delve a little deeper. Other than their sound, what types of messages and attitudes did you take away from them that shaped who you are as a person as well as a musician?
I guess my most favorite part of listening to music, that’s interesting, is that, they give you all the answers. They leave you wondering up until that very last minute, and then they resolve it all for you. And it’s like you go on this roller coaster ride, this sonic roller coaster ride where you’re allowed to use your imagination. But ultimately it’s going to be up to the songwriter you know? And it’s an exciting process when your like “Oh my God, this amazing songwriter is setting me up. A, B, well C is sure to follow, it’s going to be C!!!” And he skips and goes right to “D,” and your like “That mother fucker just skipped C!!!” But you realize that it makes perfect sense. A,B,D is okay.
You’re one of the few people I’ve talked to that doesn’t hate Nirvana for one reason or another. I found Nirvana a couple of years ago and the music got me through the lowest points of my life to date. I was wondering if you could discuss what that band in particular meant to you, or did for you, or how the music makes you feel?
I don’t know man. I’m pretty old, and all of my friends and people my age love Nirvana. Its noisy irreverent and although incredibly literate, its pretty childish overall. I love it.
I know The Gay Blades is notoriously a two-piece. Have you ever experimented with a more conventional rock lineup?
Well, obviously, tonight you saw us playing with a keyboard player. So, this is the first time we’ve experimented. I mean Jeff Plate [Low Flying Jets, Mothermania, and Sikamor Rooney] was a massive part, a massive milestone of a man in the history of The Gay Blades. He helped us a lot, he played all the bass and all the keys on the first record Ghosts, and pretty much produced it. We played with him on bass for a little bit…
Random Dude: I don’t want to invade your privacy, but it was a great show dude.
James: You had a good time dude?
Random Dude: Yeah man, definitely did.
James: Cheers man. That’s all I care about, I hope you know that.
Random Dude: It was a great time, I had fun.
James: High five man.
[Hand slapping occurs]
James: Be safe tonight. You got a ride? Do you gotta drive?
Random Dude: I got a ride.
James: Cheers dude.
…I don’t know where we left off, but you know what I mean. Oh yeah, it was always a two-piece, and on this new record there was so much keys, and we asked our friend to play keys for us just for fun, and his name is Mike Abiuso. It’s so much fun, and he is such talented musician. You know, Quinn and I have been slugging it out on the road doing small tours, big tours, back and forth. One day we’d play in front of 500 kids and the next we’d play to five. This is real. So the opportunity to have a little bit more wind in our sails, a new smile in the group was very exciting. He’s an amazing friend and a very talented musician. He’s better on drums than Quinn and he’s better at guitar than me, so it’s all good.
You’re very accessible and open to fan interaction in an age where many musicians aren’t and I really respect that. Can you explain why you feel obligated to interact with fans?
I think most bands do their best. I happen to be an outgoing jerk, so talking shit with people doesn’t bother me or keep me from being able to express myself on stage or whatever. I don’t fancy myself a fragile artist, ya know? I don’t feel obliged one way or another, I just like to talk to people.
Let’s talk about the new album. I’ve listened to it, I like it a lot, where did the name Savages come from?
It’s called Savages. I guess I was about 22-years old and my father called me and said, “Your little brother would like to meet you.” And I said, not quite understanding or remembering the story, my folks split up when I was seven and my old man married a new woman, or married a woman, and he fathered a son, and he became estranged. And it was a very complicated time and I had had no contact with this young man. So I eventually met him at this complicated time, it was a strained relationship, and as you know, I think everyone can relate that families aren’t as easy as they seem in the movies and TV shows. So I had very little contact with him, I’d see him maybe once a year on a holiday. And last November he passed away. It was right while I was on tour, I was in Portland, I was about to play a show, and I got call from my little sister who asked if I was sitting down. I was actually laying down in a bed in a hotel at the time and she said “Savage,” his full name was Ian Savage Wells, she said “Savage passed away.” And it was really, as you can imagine, I mean again, not a brother I grew up with, not someone I spent as much time with as I would have liked, but it takes its toll you know? So for Ian Savage Wells, god rest his soul, he’s no longer with us.
So, I wrote a lot of songs about him because I knew of the troubles he was going through. It struck a chord and I wish I had done more, but I didn’t, and that’s my cross to bare. It is what it is.
So, you wrote a lot of songs about your brother, about his experiences. Is that what’s coming out on this new record, as well as what you’ve gone through the past two years?
As call0us as it might sound, that was a huge part of my past year, my little brother having past, but It’s not the only thing. I had written a bunch of songs before I found out he had past away. So there’s a lot of songs about being in a rock band in New York and being in a rock band on the road. About trying to, you know, I’m in the quote-unquote “twilight” of my youth, a 28-year old man living in a van who is ultimately trying to do something he always wanted to do. I watched my old man play guitar when I was five and was transfixed. So yeah, I wrote these songs about my little brother because I saw he was having troubles, but really I had no idea.
You released “Try To Understand” to everybody. It’s very poppy and it’s extremely catchy, more so than anything on Ghosts. Is that the type of music you’re trying to make these days.
We don’t try to make our music sound like anything, we didn’t on Ghosts and we didn’t do that here. Songs just come to us, and that particular song came to me, and it sounds like it sounds, and I think when you listen to it in context with the rest of the record it fills that same kind of expectation. It won’t sound like anything else on that record. You’ll have those bits, those David Bowie early Stones things, but there’s nothing…In other words, we may go through it where we’re trying to be irreverent and trying to be difficult. But on this record I just wanted to write a bunch of good songs that I really cared about.
“Try To Understand” by The Gay Blades
You mentioned your musical range, your ability to write songs that don’t have a centralized sound or feel. Do you strive to do be that diverse? Is it something you pride yourself on? Or does multi-style songwriting come easy to you?
I try to pride myself on it. I don’t know if it’s a proud moment. But yeah, I pride myself on it because I believe a lot of bands find themselves writing themselves into a certain place and I think that’s unhealthy as an artist. Certainly there has to be a continuity and I understand that, every good artist does, but I’m not trying to confine myself to write one particular brand of music. I don’t think it’s fair to the listener and I don’t think it would be fair to myself. I don’t think it would be an equal exchange. I’m not trying to be too heady about it, I wanted to write the songs, so I wrote them, and because I’m in The Gay Blades, The Gay Blades are going to play it. It’s very simple and I don’t mean to sound heady about it.
I love the song “O Shot.” But what the hell is it about and how did you come up with it?
The song is lyrically about nothing. One day I challenged Puppy, that whatever drum beat he played, I could write a song over it. That song, for the most part, was written and I played it the first time. It’s a stupid fun tune, barely a song, but I’m sure glad you like it!
“O Shot” by The Gay Blades
Speaking of Puppy Mills, you’re also known as Clark Westfield, how did you guys get these aliases?
We were born with tattoos of these AKAs on the soles of our feet. We didn’t choose them, they chose us.
You came home tonight to play Asbury Lanes and I was wondering if you can think back over your career, do you have a favorite venue to play?
Asbury Lanes. It’s always been Asbury Lanes.
Why do you love it?
The people. The ladies and gents who run that joint are good people and there’s magic in those walls…did you feel it?
I did indeed.
My readers and I are always looking for new music. Who are you listening to that we should be aware of?
Right now, I spend a lot of time writing music, and I try to stay away from new music. But the new music that I’ve heard, that I love: I will always, one-hundred percent go to bat for Spoon. Do you love Spoon?
I like Spoon.
Me too. Britt Daniel man, I’ve met that cat a couple times and every time I get my foot right in my mouth. I’m like “Uh, hi, uh hey bro. Adios amigo.” I really like that dude. The new White Rabbits record is really good, Britt Daniel obviously produced that album. The new Colour Revolt record is very good. If you haven’t heard that, it’s amazing, please go out and buy that. The new Arcade Fire record is really good. There’s a cat called Why? who has, not a new record, it came out last year, but I found myself listening to Why?, he’s on Anticon. And The Gay Blades of course. And David Bowie and Elvis Costello.
A lot of my readers are in bands and they’re trying to get to the position that The Gay Blades are in. What advice can you leave them with?
I had an epiphany when I was a kid. I had just left Rutgers, I hadn’t graduated, I just left, and I wanted to work in the music industry. So, I was going to go to where the music industry is and that meant going from New Brunswick to “South River!” And I met this guy Andy Gessner who works for HIP Video Promotion and I said “I’m gonna go work for him because he does bigger stuff than what I do.” And I guess the idea is to always surround yourself with people who do bigger things than yourself. It’s all about surrounding yourself with the people that are doing the things you want to do. It’s not about being fake or disingenuous, it’s about working hard and being of use and of value to people and yourself. At the end of the day, I know this is cliche’, but go to where the action is. If you want to work in film production go to L.A. If you want to wok in politics go to D.C. If you want to work in finance move to New York. Go to where the action is.