Minneapolis trio The Blind Shake took only a few years to wire together a vicious post-punk sound, captured on its 2005 debut album, Rizzograph; but last year’s follow-up, Carmel, found the band stretching and battering its sonics to take in harsh bits of blues-y melodies and psychedelic tinkering. “Just within the past two years I think we’ve finally felt like we’re expressing what we want to be expressing,” says guitarist-singer Jim Blaha. Some of the credit for that goes to Michael Yonkers, a famously obscure and experimental Twin Cities guitarist who first emerged in the late ’60s (his intended 1968 debut album, Microminiature Love, remained shelved until it was unearthed in 2002 and later given wide release by Sub Pop in 2003). Before recording Carmel, the band backed up Yonkers on 2007’s Carbohydrates Hydrocarbons. The Blind Shake's most recent release is a split 7-inch single on hometown label Learning Curve Records with fellow Minneapolis duo Birthday Suits. Blaha spoke with The A.V. Club as the band began work on its third album.
The A.V. Club: How did you end up working with Michael Yonkers?
Jim Blaha: It’s kind of a long story. I saw him at a bar watching some bands and I told him how big a fan I was and we got to talking. He asked if I was in a band and I said I was. And he said, “Oh, cool, when are you playing next?” and I wrote it down on the drink ticket that he had, and he said, “Oh, great, I’ll be there.” I was like, “sure.” [Laughs.] A couple of days later, my brother [baritone guitar player-singer Mike Blaha] saw him on the street in downtown St. Paul, and he said, “Hey, I’m in this band The Blind Shake and we’re really big fans of yours.” I think that just doubly reinforced him to come, and he came and he really liked it.
We played a show at the Turf Club [in St. Paul] for the booking guy’s birthday, and his request [to Yonkers] was, “Do you think you could maybe do a song or something with The Blind Shake?” And he said, “Oh, I’d love to.” So we picked him up the day of the show and jammed on a little song that we just kind of made up on the spot. He had the groove going and we just did our thing. At the end of his set, we came up and played with him, and it went so well that he wrote back and said, “We should record that song.” Then he wrote back again and said, “Let’s do a full album.” So that became that.
AVC: Did you ever feel the need to defer to him?
JB: It was funny, because we would say, “I’m sorry, Michael,” and we would just have a little band-fight in front of him, about the way we think the song should go, as far as what we’re doing. We would work off of him, but at the same time, he really let our band just be our band. He really let things happen organically. He always says, “Let’s dream on that.” And that just means, if it’s a good idea, it’ll come back.
AVC: Did the experience influence you strongly on Carmel? For example, the opener, “Jolly Joe’s,” has this droning, psychedelic guitar part.
JB: I wrote that song and that part before we even started working with [Yonkers]. The change was starting to happen, and he completely reinforced it, and then beyond. [On Rizzograph] we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were basically recording our live show, which is a little bit more intense. I think on this one, we just said, “What do we really like? What do we see ourselves sounding like?”
AVC: Two of the most interesting tracks on Carmel are instrumentals—“Fake Silhouette” and “Fiberglass.” Do you use instrumentals as a chance to experiment?
JB: You can do a little bit more musically, or with effects, when you don’t have to create space for the vocals. I think the record that we’ve already started working on is much more in that vein already.
AVC: On the song “St. Paul Creamery,” are you singing about waffle cones?
JB: Yeah. It is definitely my brother’s song. It’s about his addiction to ice cream. Not just ice cream, but both of us, when we get stressed, we eat. We have an intense eating disorder in the band. I’m serious. When we’re on the road, we really try to watch each other, ’cause we can just eat all day and all night. I remember one day, Mike ate an entire box of Klondike bars in one sitting, and then a frozen Snickers bar. He felt so guilty he puked it all up while it was cold.