INTERVIEW: Blast and the Detergents explore Brain Time Now
“It’s 17 songs, recorded in 3 hours in a storage unit in Tampa. Gusts of paint fumes were being pushed in by this illegal chop shop and when we got out of it we were breathing paint fumes – that’s how many paint fumes we ingested. It was really horrifying. This is serious. We were standing in line at Taco Bus and we could see particles coming out of us. I feel like we’re immune on account of our high levels of coffee – at least I’m immune to stimulants.”
Chris Nadeau tells me this from his living room floor alongside Alex Nadeau and Ben Mast– the trio which compose Blast and the Detergents – all sitting in the open home that doubles as a practice space for any number of musical projects and an armory of worn science fiction books and Mystery Science Theater box sets. A copy of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis is on the table beside the teacups and new presses of the album are in a box near the sofa. CyberTracker – a mid-nineties sci-fi film bust – is playing on the television set.
“People should watch it while listening to our album,” Ben says. “Things will synch up. It’ll all make sense.”
From all those hours of huffing paint and ravaging instruments came Brain Time Now [recorded and mixed by James Bess], an album that plays out like a feral, paranoid vision of dystopian pasts and futures – the dual guitar work of the Nadeau brothers is like a whirlwind of razorblades thrown over the bone rattle sound that makes up Ben’s drum kit. The riffs and progressions are familiar, drawn from the punk rock they all three have long been absorbed by, but the sounds are corroded, detuned – not so much the ghost of its sonic ancestor, but its charred remains. And over all the primitivism is often Chris Nadeau, stabbing the air with his voice in mangled lines, but in every shout is a conscious thought.
Since the summer of 2006 when they all connected, this has been the nature of things: punk, noise, and critical thought. The title of the band itself was birthed from a fascination with contradiction; “Blast” had been pulled from the title of a German art periodical connected to the Futurist-related Vorticism movement of the early twentieth century. “I was interested with it at the time because it was this art movement where I liked the visuals but the politics were really, really awful – something we didn’t like,” Chris says. “Part of the name came from that question – if you like the way something looks but you don’t like the ideas behind it, which part could you still like?”
Through the walls of sound on Brain Time Now come harsh anthems – I ask about the lyrics and Chris laughs. “We do have words,” he says. Then goes on: “We have a lot of reoccurring themes in gender equality and kind of a pointing the finger, a calling out on. With this record a lot of the songs are really positive.”
One of them being “New Florida,” the track that encapsulates everything the album is – all the same defiant, impacting, absurd and alert – belts out frenzied line after line:“swirling around/blinding glare/violence stupid/confusion brain/laughter from the sun/eternal summer/fried brain churning/still produce new thoughts.”
“I think we all have times when we’re down on Florida, at different times we’ve gotten positive now – though I was the last one to hang onto my hate,” Chris says. “The Old Florida…it’s not even worth mentioning. What that song is about: we’re in this super conservative state, framed by conservatives. Everything: very conservative and it’s part of living here. But we’re gonna live here our own way – there’s such great people here that we can have this community different than what I thought Florida should be.”
“It’s finding a better way,” Alex says, “to live in this state and world…through rock and roll,” he grins.
And Blast has become embedded in the greater New Florida community, as regulars in houses and bars and stages throughout the state and the rising warehouse district of St. Petersburg – nothing is beyond reach. Collectively, they each see a progression in culture both greater and local.
“There’s a lot of DIY happening,” Ben says. “It’s always been there but it’s becoming a lot more prevalent in St. Pete. It’s good to play shows with people who are there for the music and each other than some place where people are there to drink and music is in the background.”
Chris would reflect on the transition of power in the underground and how it contributes to the envisioned New Floridian identity:
“Living in St. Petersburg I’ve noticed a change where the bars don’t have a grip on cultural decisions like they did a few years ago…that’s part of the New Florida. We used to rely on sneaking into bar shows and getting harassed at them, just trying to shoehorn ourselves into this thing we didn’t fit into. The way St. Petersburg is moving is there are alternatives where we don’t have to play at bars – at a really local level, Tampa has had those options. We’re just finally moving in those directions. Even living here every day I sense a reliance on the bar scene for entertainment, but the fact that there are other options makes it a much more positive place to live.”
Alex nods. “It’s creating a space for people who wanna make their art – with bars, you go in and they turn you off or ignore you if you drive away the drinking crowd.”
When asking Chris Nadeau what he hopes Blast and the Detergents will contribute to, the answer is often the same: “Start a band,” he says. “We’ve all gotten a lot out of expressing ourselves creatively – we got written on the liner notes with a heart, ‘start a band.’ What it means is express yourselves creatively – you don’t have to start a band or sound like us, we just wanted to share some of the sounds when the three of us get together.”
Even Brain Time Now is an example of that call being answered and sustained by a community who values it.
“This album we saved up for, recording it and having people give us money for downloads and paying for vinyl when we could. But it wouldn’t have happened without our friends in Jacksonville, Infinitesimal Records,” Chris said. “They gave us like three hundred bucks towards the record. And like Jason Beardy, he gave like fifty bucks. People just wanted us to put this out on vinyl.”
It is this fervent spirit that arises from Brain Time Now and the experience Blast brings with them – there is an innate sense of community, like an open invite for dialogue and creativity.
“It’s easy – the things we do are really simplified versions of, like, cock rockery. So we strip it down and it’s really loud and noisy and feedback. In the way we recorded the record, we literally did it in three hours, not even any overdubs. It was three hours and mastering. There’s a huge reason behind it – it’s live, it’s raw power, it’s what we sound like and it’s honest. For this group, part of the authentic nature of it is that it’s this live thing. Also, the three of us together don’t have the skill…just the way we do our songs. We could learn how to get each part separate – we have other projects where that happens – but with this band it’s impossible.”
It’s the atmosphere – the broken glass tornado of distortion, battered snares, and manic howls – that grants the project its identity. Without it, what would remain?
“It wouldn’t sound anywhere near what we’re supposed to sound like. There’s times in the songs when we’re barely holding it together,” Ben says. “I love it when I hear that. It’s why I like hearing live recordings; it sounds like they’re about to fall apart but they stay together – it’s just how it came out. I like that than having polished, well-structured tracks.”
I mention hearing the phrase “future rock” thrown around in reference to them – Chris is humoured.
“We’ve made up a lot of genres. My friend Hal McGee called us neopunk,” he says. “And at the time Ben was in a band that was called neocrust. So we were excited about new and neo.”
“I’d only really wanna call what I do punk, what I’ve been a part of and will ever be a part of,” Ben says. “Maybe I’ll have something jazzy someday, but as long as I can still call it punk.”
And Chris goes deeper into their punk roots and the changing St. Petersburg culture:
“We’ve always called Blast a punk band. People get upset sometimes – they do, they have. I think they don’t anymore, but that’s one of the things that’s been great about the way the world’s moving – acceptance. Or maybe it’s living in St. Pete, I dunno what it is, but it seems like people are less rigidly hanging on to labels. We ended the album with ‘Brain Time Now,’ which in an album of seventeen songs is a six minute and change song,” he says. “And it ends in a four and a half minute long Lynyrd Skynyrd jam – we’re destroying old Florida, destroying Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
“That’d be a neat band to have beef with,” I say. “But I think most of them are dead.”
“I don’t care – I’ll have beef with a dead band,” he says.
Ben reflected back to the days when he had first picked up the sticks – they were distant but ever relevant.
“I don’t remember who I was with when I started playing drums, but I was listening to these East bay, early nineties California punk bands. Blast was nothing like that, but I still played with beats, and now it’s become…all I have to do with songwriting in this band is a line, a beat, two chords, a noise – whatever – it shapes the songs. I like things to sound driving and raunchy here and there.”
Contributing to the disorder and chaotic vibe of Blast and the Detergents is the method of practice – Chris would explain.
“We have a lot of theoretical practices more than real practices – we’ll talk about what’s gonna happen. We’ve traveled a little, always awkwardly, but a lot of fun. I remember having an intense theoretical practice one time in San Antonio while waiting for an oil change – theoretical practice.”
For Blast, words indeed mean something – entwined with the corrosive instrumentation are the ideas alive.
“With music and the lyrics, we like not as obvious things. We don’t wanna just have a song where you say, ‘don’t vote for George Bush or Obama’ or whoever is the stupid president. We want our songs to be like, ‘we don’t need a president – it’s stupid.’ I don’t really care about presidents – it’s an arbitrary figurehead at this point,” Chris said. “I feel like a lot of what I write about is always feeling distracted by these things – the big issues are all distractions that aren’t really important, like which dude is gonna be president.”
The conceptual reach of Blast is broad, with the songwriting indicative of it.
“The themes are general – like turn off your TV. But don’t ever not watch TV. If you watch something, engage it as completely arbitrary and distracting but own that you’re watching something, but don’t put your whole emotional content onto this thing you’re experiencing that somebody else made,” Chris says. “If you’re just complaining about there being nothing to do or things being crummy, start a band or do your own thing. There’s no reason to complain – you can always do your own thing. The reason I started music is because I wanted to share music I like and the way I wanted to do it. If anybody is like, ‘I do not like any music that’s happening in St. Petersburg,’ that’s fine – that’s a valid opinion to have. But then they should make some music in St. Petersburg that they like.”
“It’s not necessarily something you see on TV,” Ben says. “The president of this country might be hiding something important, but what’s important to me and what we’re saying is that we’re not telling you what decisions to make – who to vote for – it’s more a message on a level that’s reasonable and obtainable. Things like, ‘start a band’ It’s easy, it’s helpful and life enriching.”
Alex had written “Free Me and “Into the Fog,” reaching intuitively.
“They were just thoughts, these phrases, that were just in my head at the time,” he says.
With the fixation on the future and what it may yield, Blast is everything in the present – the time to move, evolve, and change is now.
“I always get bummed out when people still have that opinion: ‘Aw, I wish I was born in CBGB’s in 1976,’ or whatever. It’s such a weird opinion to me. I’ll just live what I’m living and make what I wanna make,” Chris says.
I mention friends of mine who lament not having the chance to backpack in the sixties. He laughs. “Buy a van and go drive – there’s still vans and gas, just go – do that. Move to New York if you want, I don’t care.”
The conversation turns to tea and film, then back into the album. Like the writers that line the walls and tables of the Nadeau home, communication is essential in concept and practice for Blast and the Detergents – it is inevitable to the art and essential to its objective, and it breaks into Brain Time Now in the first track, never quite leaving.
“It’s finding a new way to have a conversation – if you disagree with them that should not a deal breaker. Through conversation and disagreement you should value them and learn from them and learn from them and be able to articulate your positions,” Chris says. “I just personally value it and wrote some of the lyrics about sharing points of view and listening to where people come from – I just want people who can’t understand what I’m hollering about to come up to me after show. Just talk to people. I feel like people get into this like, ‘I can’t disagree with somebody.’ I feel like I learn a lot from it, as long as they’re being honest. Sometimes people are contrary to be contrary – if it’s an honest conversation you can learn from it as much as from a book. It’s finding new ways to come together.”
There it lies, the ethos of Blast, empowered in the chaotic hellfire it comes in.
A digital version of Brain Time Now can be listened to in its entirety below. Downloads can purchased at a pay-what-you-want basis (and you spend actual money a vinyl version of the LP) at the Blast and the Detergents’ bandcamp page.