Michelle Blades might be one of the most interesting – and well-traveled – artists I’ve ever had the chance to speak with. Half Mexican from her mother’s side and born in Panama to a family of salsa musicians, she grew up soaking up the vibrant culture before being forced to flee the violence of Panama for a new life in Miami. She grew up living in different recording studios and apartments, though music was all but forbidden in her home.
After moving out of the family home at sixteen, she worked odd jobs as a journalist, sold smoothies, and pursued her other passion for skate videos. She bought a ukelele with her first paycheck and moved to Arizona at the age of 18, diving into the DIY scene in Phoenix and Tempe before recording and released her first EPs and albums, playin gin the noise-punk trio North Dakota, and learning guitar, drums, and bass. To make her career even more international, Paris-based label Camaraderie Limited invited her to go on tour and play a series of house shows, exposing Blades to Europe. On her third trip to France, she met the team at Midnight Special Records, and the rest is history.
Following a move to Paris and the release of an LP and two EPs in as many years, Blades is back with her newest record, Visitor. Despite a transcontinental career – with bands based in France and Mexico – and a busy schedule, Blades took a moment to sit down with us and answer all our burning question. Read on 😉
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us at Left Bank! Congratulations on your new album! How did you get into music at first?
Thanks for having me around 🙂 Music is in my family but it’s what always been that thing for me: ever-present, therapeutic, intellectually challenging, my way of making sense of and organizing the world around me. I’ve known for a long time that this is what I want and I feel a lot of confidence in pursuing it with my whole heart.
You’ve had quite the life already: immigrated to the US from Panama, grew up in a family of salsa musicians and around music from an early age, involved in journalism, television, skateboarding, and smoothies, and — finally — pursuing a career in music. How does your background influence you and allow you to take risks as an artist?
I think growing up, I saw a lot of what I would never really want to do or allow. I mean, it was a different world, but I was around Latin pop studios in Miami during the 90s and early 00s, and even as a kid the whole like…party, drug, sex, alcohol thing was pretty influential to my way of swimming in the “industry” now. I saw lots of ugly scenes kids probably shouldn’t see, and now that I am an adult and making music and kinda in the system of not just writing in my room as a pastime, but producing it and playing it and doing promo and the music circuits and business and that whole micro-verse, I see the parallels and kinda feel like I’m getting a handle on how to navigate this. Not as a child spectator, but as a musician, and what kind of person I want to be in here. Risks are ways to grow and creatively I like to push myself a lot. I think the secret is learning when to push and when to pull.
What’s your creative process like? Has it changed over the years as you evolve as an artist?
I don’t really have a process until we get to rehearsing it with a band or recording. But the writing stage is pretty all over the place. Sometimes the song just comes entirely, sometimes it’s a melody, sometimes a lyric, and I build around everything whenever it feels natural or just goes click. Could happen in any way, honestly. Always been like that for me.
Who would you cite as your greatest influences?
Life tends to influence me more than anything, I mean that musically, and not just subject matter. I think Disney movies are a huge influence because they taught me early on how lyrics can say one thing and music another, and how that can manipulate your emotions and create tension.
Frank Zappa is definitely a creative influence. It’s still so infectious how curious he was. You can hear it in the evolving guitar style, the various recording techniques, the themes, the seriousness…or lack of. I really admire how he always wanted to propose something to the listener. Like, “Here, how about this? How does this taste?” And sometimes it was just, “Fuck you, I felt like doing this” And definitely his identity crisis with existing in the sphere of labels, and being famous and business.
What was your proudest moment while recording Visitor?The most challenging?
My proudest moment was definitely recording “Acid On the Hillside.” I wanted the vocals to feel like what I imagine acting good in a film must feel like. Jajaja. And then listening to the song with Daniel Hart’s string arrangements after. It was pretty fulfilling.
The most challenging was finishing some takes between tour dates. I was playing bass in a band called Fishbach, and the tour was very exhausting, and sometimes it was hard to show up with something left to record. The microphone hears everything you’re going throug,h and many times, entire days in the studio didn’t work out, I learned a lot during that time. We got through it, though, and I Iearned a lot through that whole process and I’m psyched on the result. I’m really grateful to my friends and the whole team around the album for their patience and kindness.
What do you hope your fans take away from Visitor?
I hope whoever listens to this record feels like something was proposed to them. Like an essai at trying to find my sound in the infinite possibility that is music and the recording of music. I really wanted curiosity to be heard and felt throughout the many sounds, colors and emotions on the album.
What’s next for you?
Shows, lots of them I hope. I really enjoy playing. I recorded a Spanish-language EP in Mexico that I’m anxious to move into mixing so I guess that, too. And back to writing. 🙂