Zach Steinman and Sam Haar make up the New York-based duo Blondes, who for the last few years have traded in lush, live takes on dance music motifs. Certainly “live” is thrown around a lot as an adjective for any music that’s even remotely unpolished, but for Blondes it’s actually a central aspect. Their tracks are honed from a constant flow of jam-outs and live performances, and the results typically feel intuitive and open, full of a kind of elongated euphoria. Over the last year, they’ve worked with the RVNG Intl. label for a series of 12″s that show them moving closer to the dance floor than ever before; and their new self-titled LP combines these sides with new tracks and remix turns from the likes of Andy Stott, Laurel Halo, and John Roberts. We called them to ask about the series, their sonic evolution, and their weirdly perfect stint playing live in Ibiza.
I think your back story is pretty well documented so I don’t have any Oberlin questions or anything like that–
Zach Steinman: Any what? Berlin questions?
Yeah, Berlin or Oberlin.
ZS: Oberlin. Yeah, good. [laughs] That’s good.
Your first 12″ on Rvng, Lover/Hater, those were staples in your live set, correct?
Sam Haar: Yeah, we were playing them for basically six months before we recorded them, so they were…
ZS: That was a different approach to making those tracks because we already sort of fleshed them out a lot. It’s different than some of the other 12″s because we made those 12″s at a time when we were knowing we were going to release them and hadn’t played them out very much.
Right, that’s what I was wondering about, if those were taken from your sets as well, or were they completely new compositions?
SH: They were mostly pretty new compositions, yeah.
ZS: Yeah, they were — we’re still trying — you know, I mean we play Business / Pleasure pretty thoroughly out now, but we’re still trying to figure out “Water.”
You’re trying to incorporate them.
ZS: We’re trying to incorporate “Water” and “Wine,” too. But we already started playing “Wine” a lot.
SH: We also actually — well, those we were playing out a lot before, but then they took a totally different shape once we recorded them, actually.
ZS: Right. That’s true. And now with “Lover,” especially, we also do things in our live show, that we — it’s pretty different now than it is recorded on the 12″.
SH: Yeah, I’d say just from playing a lot it’s definitely evolved.
ZS: The repetition of playing these tracks over and over again has sort of made us find new ways, and it’s given — [the tracks have] taken new lives themselves.
OK. So when you decided to compose the series of 12″s, how much were you considering the dualistic titles? Because they seem like…almost dictatorial, like, very clear opposites, but the sides only seem pretty subtly different from each other. Were you really considering, “This is going to be the ‘Wine’ side; this is going to be the ‘Water’ side,” or [was it more arbitrary]?
SH: It was much more like, “We’re going to make two tracks at the same time.” So each 12″ was made at the same time, like, concurrently, basically going back and forth a lot. And so that’s why they sound very similar because they each have their own sort of… process and vibe that they’re working on.
ZS: But yeah, we weren’t like, you know, “‘Business’ is going to feel like… corporate, and then pleasure is going to be like, ‘ah!'” Like, you know, “pleasure.” It was more of a fun naming system.
Right. I don’t get that impression from the music.
ZS: Yeah. I think if anything, “Gold” and “Amber” are the ones that are probably the most true to their names.
Did you decide to collect them all on an album from the beginning, or did that develop just from — was that [Rvng Intl. owner] Matt [Werth]’s idea?
SH: I think the project took form as we embarked on it. We decided we were just going to do one 12″ at first with Lover/Hater and, you know, we and Rvng wanted to do more. And as we were doing it, we were like, “Oh, we should probably — at some point it would be sweet to release this, like, digitally and put it all together.” So it kind of took shape as we were working on it.
I know you talk a lot about how your tracks are very live things, and they really take shape in the live setting. I was wondering if you had any plans to release a live album ever. I know mixes aren’t really — people don’t really buy mixes anymore, but as far as a live performance album, would you jam out for an hour or something and release that?
SH: We’ve definitely considered it.
ZS: We’ve been asked to release live sets. There’ve been a few people who have asked us for that. We’re probably going to release something like that where it’s like in the form of a mix, or I don’t know. But yeah, I think it would make a lot of sense for us to do a live album.
SH: It’s definitely something in the cards, I’m sure, in the future.
ZS: Merok was trying to get us at one point, when we released Touched, to do alternate versions. Alternate, live versions, but we never ended up doing that. Which is another cool idea. Our tracks are taking new shapes and could be different things.
Yeah, I know you’re kind of known for doing very few takes of your tracks. Do you have alternate versions of your tracks, or do you just go with the first one always? Or…
ZS: We usually have four different versions, I’d say. Generally speaking, we choose the best of four versions. And — minor editing is what we strive for. Even though sometimes we do real editing, but —
SH: Yeah. Sometimes, while we’re composing the track — I don’t — I think we rarely go with the first kind of compositional run.
ZS: It’s very similar to a pancake, you know? You never take that first — that first pancake’s always kind of like a dud when you’re making pancakes. You’ve got to wait for the grill to heat up. [laughs]
The perfectly formed pancakes.
SH: Yeah, I mean the thing is we have to play — we have to play each track a bunch in many ways before we really kind of understand what it’s doing, like, what it is, you know? I feel like sometimes we’ll be playing it and it won’t click for a week or two or who knows, and then it clicks and you know where you want to take it, what you want to do with it, and then you start recording. So it’s definitely not, like — the elements are not improvised in that way, you know? And then on the other hand, sometimes you do a take and you’re, like, “Man, how the hell did we get there?” And it ends up being the best one.
So regarding the [Blondes] remix album, I was curious what remix captured your style the best, or what’s your favorite of them?
SH: I feel like they were all such good — they were such good interpretations —
ZS: Of our style, I would say.
SH: I also really like that everybody made it their own in many ways. But I thought — it’s kind of funny, the one that sounds to me like it was made in the same way that we make music was the Traxx one, which is a pretty weird one, you know? But to me, it sounds like he’s just sitting there and playing it in the same way I feel we do. So actually, stylistically, I don’t necessarily feel that much of a connection with it, and he totally made it his own, but, just in terms of process…
I get that same kind of vibe from Traxx, yeah.
SH: Yeah, but everyone took it and made it their own thing, and I really have been happy with that.
ZS: Yeah, I think the remix album turned out really well.
So Matt told me you’re preparing for an installation at MoMA? Is that going to entail anything, special or different from your ordinary live set?
SH: Yeah, well, we’re doing a live set — that’s sort of the main performance — but before that set, as an opening, is going to be — we’re doing an eight-channel site-specific sound installation there. Or semi-site-specific. We’re going to have eight speakers all around the space playing some piece that we’re going to make. And there’s going to be some video installation up too, on the screens there.
ZS: Yeah, we’re going to make a video that’s basically in conjunction with a video we’re making for “Amber,” that will be incorporated into the video. And yeah, it’ll be at MoMA. And then Juan Maclean is doing this deep techno set that we — that he did when we were on tour with him in Toronto that was, like, really amazing. We asked him if he could do a set like that again. So we’re psyched on that.
So yours is a completely new composition?
SH: The installation, yeah. The performance is going to be one of our normal live shows, basically. But the installation is going to be all new composed work. Specialized around the space.
I was wondering if you had any intention to add new gear to your setup. Because I know live and studio are exactly the same, but yeah — or have you added much new equipment since you started playing?
SH: No, we’re trying. I think it’s a process; we already have been slowly adding pieces in since we started. And it’s going to continue to evolve. I think we’re going to get some money [laughs] and sort of feel like wanting to push it in certain ways.
ZS: I think our next album is going to be sort of — we’re going to get some new gear, which will kind of form how we play on that album. So I think we are going to evolve our gear setup.
SH: Yeah, so much of how we play and compose is sort of limited and — on purpose, you know, by the gear or sort of instrument. And so we work with those limitations, and as we alter that, you can sort of help to change your process.
So you’re working on an album right now?
ZS: Not yet. We’re really just working on the MoMA show right now, and —
SH: Then working a lot on promoting this album too. [laughs]
ZS: Right, yeah. And we’re about to go on tour in February to Europe, which we’re —
SH: Prepping for that. When we get back in March, we’re probably going to start diving into some new stuff.
Speaking of Europe, I wanted to ask you about playing Ibiza in the summertime. I remember when we did that email interview a while ago you talked about people, sometimes lying down at your shows. I mean, you make spacey music. I was wondering if you had to change or if you played differently for that kind of scene. I haven’t been there, but I can imagine — I know it’s like super-clubs.
SH: Yeah. No, definitely that’s a good question. We’ve been playing more — I mean even since that initial email interview we had too — we’ve been playing more and more clubs and less sort of, you know, rock venues and more dance-oriented spaces. So we’ve definitely gotten a little more “clubby.” A little more dance-y and dance floor friendly, and I think that’s reflected in the stuff that’s on this record. You play places like that, and you just — it’s a lot more fun to do that than just working more on the builds and getting people going. But on the flipside of that too, when we do play a show that’s much more chill, it’s fun to not try to do that and to get really spacey and let people sort of drift with it, you know?
ZS: Yeah. But in Ibiza, people were there to party, you know? They were all lubricated. I don’t know, it was —
SH: And our job was much more functional, in a way. A lot of people were like, “Who are these guys?” “I don’t know. We’re in Ibiza; we’re going to go clubbing. We don’t know who’s playing.” [laughs] It’s much more functional, and it’s also — it’s fun. I like those kind of parties, too.
ZS: They had the best lasers in the club we played. I just remember looking up and just being like, “Whoa, Jesus.” They had to be, like, $100,000. It was amazing.
I imagine they have a pretty high budget for lasers.
ZS: I’m sure. They had to.
SH: We talked to some people who tried to get a laser that good to go on tour and stuff, and it’s like, you can’t. [laughs] Unless you’re U2, you know? If you’re U2, maybe. What’s also fun about playing those environments is that people, they want to dance, you know? You don’t have to convince them; you just have to give them something that they can dance do and that they enjoy dancing to, you know?
Do you find that’s a thing? Like people have to be convinced to dance?
ZS: I mean, at more rock-oriented venues.
SH: They’re there to see you, and they might dance, but it takes a little more coaxing, sure.
ZS: Yeah, it does take a little more coaxing. Dancing isn’t exactly all our agenda either. It’s kind of —
ZS: We react to the crowd a lot. And I think that if it’s not that vibe, then we play in a different, more — you know, go spacier, usually.
SH: It’s not like we’re up there with a mic being like, “Come on, motherfuckers, y’all gotta dance!” [laughs]
ZS: Yeah, we kind of just —
ZS: Adapt. Adapting, yeah.
SH: It makes it more fun for everyone involved, I think.