Houston, TX is known for a lot of things, but pop music isn’t one of them. While many may not know who BLSHS are now, that’s about to change in a hurry. Within the first few moments of hearing ‘Just Wait’, I instantly knew I had stumbled upon something truly special. With a foundation of airy synths and clicky drums beneath Michelle Miears’ ridiculously gorgeous vocals, there are few tracks this summer that will make you want to move more. With all this in mind, I sat down with Chris, Michelle and Rick to see what inspires them to make such ethereal pop…
Violent Success: What are your musical backgrounds and how did the band start playing together?
Chris: There was always music around the house growing up, my mom and brother played the organ, but it wasn’t until high school that I would find my first instrument. I bought a cheap P-Bass and never looked back. Bass led me to guitar, which led me to samplers, then drum machines and synths. I’ve been making music on computers since they were barely powerful enough to play back a beat on time. I made my first remixes using Goldwave and Hammer Head on Windows 98. I was blown away when Rebirth came out and we could finally sequence a couple of basslines and a beat at the same time. Then Reason came out and really stepped up the game. I slept on Ableton for awhile, but when Live 4 came out and they added a sampler and drum machine, I finally gave in and tried it and fell in love.
Michelle: My grandparents are my biggest musical influence; they played together in a touring band called The Branded Four for many years, while holding down multiple jobs and raising two children. My grandmother inspired and taught me to play piano by ear, and my grandparents both encouraged me to sing. I began learning songs on piano by ear around the age of 11 and was also in concert and marching band from 6th through 12th grade. During these years I played flute and snare drum. While I do enjoy learning and playing instruments, my favorite musical outlet is singing. I have always loved singing more than anything; it is one of my greatest passions, but I have dealt with stage fright issues with singing since before I can remember. I did not begin singing publicly or performing until November 2012, when my brother encouraged me to face my fear and join an electro hip-hop group that he created and was also a member of, called ZolotiNatioN, as a back-up vocalist. My brother is a talented producer and guitar player who shares my same passion in music. He has been a huge inspiration to me as well. I have since taken vocal and piano lessons, performed at open mic nights, and eventually was networked with Chris and Rick by my piano teacher, which ultimately resulted in the formation of BLSHS.
Rick: Most everyone in my family has played, or still plays music in some way or the other—mainly my uncle, DJ BIG WIZ, who was a big influence for me musically. I began playing percussion in 6th grade, and continued throughout high school. Some years after high school, I began playing with Reason and making terrible drum and bass music—that was years and years ago. It wasn’t until I met Chris that I started playing around with music again. Now Ableton is up on the daily.
Chris and I are in another project together called Neon Lips. In our downtime, we continued writing, and started toying with the idea of forming a side project with a female singer. After getting nowhere fast trying to find a female vocalist, a friend of Chris’ contacted him and sent him a couple of YouTube videos of Michelle. I remember Chris showing me the videos at work. I immediately looked to Chris and said, “Get her!” Michelle blew my mind! Chris contacted her quickly, and we all met and got to know each other a little bit. From then on we began writing, getting to know one another further, and developing a sound we were proud of. The rest is history.
VS: When you first got together as a band, how long did it take to find the sound that you have today?
BLSHS: When we first started working together in January of this year, we began to have discussions of our common interests and goals in music, and would share and listen to music together to get to know each other in that capacity. Sharing music and talking shop with each other helped us understand our influences, goals, and the direction we were hoping to go in together. Once we started writing together, we completed 3 or 4 songs before we found the workflow and niche that fuels us today. Even now, we are still growing creatively and musically, and our sound is progressing in a very positive direction.
VS: What are your main influences as a band? Are there artists you all share a love of?
BLSHS: Some artists that we share a love of and who influence us as a band are Madonna, HAIM, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Prince, CHVRCHES, Art of Noise, Imogen Heap, La Roux, Glass Candy, Grimes, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J.
VS: What kind of a practice environment do you have? Do you tend to shut out the outside world or are there people who you trust that you like to get opinions from?
BLSHS: When it comes to writing, we work a couple of different ways; we write remotely from our own spaces, and transfer files back and forth as the song develops, and we also meet at Chris’ house and write in a more cohesive manner, where we might be inspired by a simple riff on a synth or bass. Ultimately, our writing eventually hits a point where our workflow requires face-to-face interaction. We prefer meeting up in person because we are able to bounce ideas back and forth more quickly, and we can feed off of each other creatively. The studio at Chris’ house is neon blue and plastered in band posters and art work. We also cover the over-head light with a pink globe; the room has a really cool vibe and lends itself well to creativity. We practice in this same room when we are gearing up for a live show, and we do invite outside parties in during rehearsal time. It helps prep us fors being on stage, and we appreciate outside opinions when it comes to the performance aspect of what we do. For writing purposes, we typically only bounce ideas off of people we are really close with and whose opinions we trust. Other than a select few very close friends/family members, we tend to keep the writing component between the three of us until we are ready to fully release a track to the public.
VS: Michelle, who are some vocalists that you look up to? Are there singers that you hear and think, “Wow, I’d love to do that with my voice”?
Michelle: There are a handful of vocalists that have secured a designated spot, framed, on my wall, above my keyboard: Hayley Williams (Paramore), Imogen Heap, Ellie Goulding, Lights, Elly Jackson (La Roux) and Sierra Kusterbeck (VersaEmerge). These talented vocalists and song writers are all amazing and massively influential to me. All of the vocalists who tend to inspire me fall within a similar range as I do, which makes it easy to sing along to their tracks. To be quite honest, I have learned a lot about the art of singing, and my own tone and range by listening to these artists. For example, I did not find my “mix” until I sang along to Paramore tracks; Hayley effortlessly glides between chest, mix, and head voice – she is a power house, and her stage presence is second to none. Ellie Goulding has a beautiful tone as well; it is raspy just in the right moments, but angelically smooth and creamy all at the same time. Imogen Heap combines power with tranquility; she blends the two seamlessly, and her emotive delivery is what puts me over the edge. Lights and Elly Jackson both have a strong higher-end range that caught my ear; I love that high-end mix tone, that both of them do so well. Both artists also compliment the synth/electro-pop genre quite perfectly, I would say. Sierra Kusterbeck is powerful in her high range as well; she showed me that there is a lot of power in that range, if you can tap into it correctly. All of these vocalists inspire me greatly and have all taught me a lot, and I will continue to look to them all as a source of inspiration.
VS: If you could do a musical tribute to someone, who would it be?
Rick: For me, it would be a tribute to all who have influenced me and made me who I am today. Mainly my immediate family and a few really good friends.
Chris: Charles Cooper from Telefon Tel Aviv. TTA was such a major influence on me when I was first getting into drum machines, synths, computer music and production. Such a tragedy, he died right around the time their third LP came out. I think they are one of those bands that is only going to be fully appreciated and recognized in hindsight the way Joy Division is now.
Michelle: My papa. He inspires me both in music and in my every day life; he is the most amazing man I’ve ever known, and he is my guardian angel.
VS: Who would you want to sit in the studio with, even if it was just for one song?
Chris: Wow, this is really hard. There are so many… Depeche Mode. These guys invented making it dark, dance-y, super catchy, and sexy. They’ve still got it, too. I’d love to see them in action; writing, sequencing, and arranging songs. Plus, they’ve been collecting synths and drum machines for like 30 years. I bet they’ve got some crazy stories too. Yeah, Depeche Mode for sure.
Michelle: I can say without hesitation that I would sit in with Imogen Heap; she produces each of her tracks from the ground-up and is an infinitely talented, multi-instrumentalist, with equally impressive vocals and lyrics. Her production, melodies, and lyrics are nothing short of genius, and when you combine all of the elements, it is pure magic. She is my all time favorite artist, and one of my biggest influences.
Rick: Portishead. Easy. Ugh! I would be complete. Do I really need to elaborate?
VS: Finally, when writing a song/record, who or what do you typically find yourself thinking of most?
Rick: I try to clear my head and just create a beat that makes me groove at home, alone. I’m usually thinking about not adding too much, but at the same time trying to compliment each drum with each other. I tend to over-think a lot, so not thinking as much as possible helps me. However, I will listen to music before writing to find how I am feeling at the moment. I tend to create from that feeling, in that moment. Once the foundation is laid out, I’ll develop the beat and give it it’s own personality—then hope everyone is feeling it also.
Chris: I just try to get lost in the music and see what I find. Luckily most of our songs start off with Rick sending over a beat and he doesn’t fuck around. Whenever I see a new song in Dropbox, I know its going to get down. I’ll just put it on in the studio, turn it up, fire up a synth and try to make something that would sound good if we were on a speed boat at night with a briefcase full of cash and someone hot on our tail.
Michelle: When I am writing a vocal melody, I primarily focus on the emotion that the melody evokes. I am always on the hunt for a vocal melody that strikes me at my core and takes me to another place emotionally. Sometimes the melody comes first, and sometimes the lyrics come first, but I always focus on my own emotional reaction to the vocal line as a whole to make sure that the two complement each other. When I am writing lyrics, I think about my past, present, and future: this includes the relationships and the experiences that I had in the past, have in the present, and will have in the future. All of my lyrics are inspired from an experience that I lived, an emotion I have felt, or an insight or dream of my future. A lot of my lyrics are based around relationships and the effect another person had on me or I had on them, so I tend to think about these people and how I felt in various moments in time with them.