Minneapolis Punks the Blind Shake Talk Taekwondo, Baldness, Day Jobs + New Album ‘Key to a False Door’
The Blind Shake are turning into a Minneapolis punk rock institution. Led by brothers Mike and Jim Blaha, the trio has a driving work ethic to match its ferocious sound, and whether working with legendary underground psych guitarist Michael Yonkers or assaulting ears with baritone guitar riffs, it's adding to the city's lineage of rock 'n' roll greats and setting the standard for citizens of Loudville.
In a recent email exchange with the Blaha brothers, Diffuser.fm learned that the Blind Shake are also some of the nicest dudes in the scene. Topics of discussion included male-pattern baldness, martial arts and 'Key to a False Door,' the band's new LP, due out Sept. 17 on Castle Face Records. Check it out below!
You guys are credited with resurrecting the great rock 'n' roller Michael Yonkers' career. What was he doing for so many years before you worked with him? Are there other Minnesota-born artists the Blind Shake would like to work with?
Jim Blaha: Michael Yonkers is the best. He sure didn't and doesn't need any resurrecting. He is a creative force that keeps on giving whether people know about him or not. He is a true artist. I think if anything, people got to see him play some live shows in a full-band context and be reminded that he isn't some long lost artist from another era. He is a musician who continues to push the boundaries of his art constantly. Between recording his first records and today, he has had an incredible string of solo albums, plus many years involved in the local dance scene. He has stacks of records just waiting to come out. Every year, he creates a new set or two. It is very possible that we will collaborate on something with him again, and I have to say, if we were to work with another MN-born artist, I hope Yonkers would choose us again.
Mike Blaha: De Stijl and later Sub Pop resurrected Yonkers' career with the release of 'Microminiature Love.' That's how we came to know of him and were lucky enough to be from the same city. During the '70s-'90s, Michael was involved in dance in order to rehab his various health issues. He also wrote folk albums, noise albums, blues albums, strange-meets-odd albums and some very amazing underground songs that hopefully will see the light of day. What surprised us is that he never stopped writing and recording songs. But for a bunch of different reasons, it has always been unjustly under the radar. As far as other Minnesota-born artists to work with, I'm not sure. If only we could dig up Judy Garland. What a voice.
The Minneapolis rock scene looks really robust. Who besides yourselves is continuing to keep the tradition alive in your home city?
JB: So many. What I love about Minneapolis is that every band is very unique from each other. I think there is a very healthy dose of honesty in the music that comes from here.
MB: Birthday Suits, STNNNG, IS/IS, Myrhh, Gay Witch Abortion, Heavy Deeds...
Mike and Jim, you apparently both dabble in taekwondo. Have you ever (a) used your martial arts powers for evil and/or (b) had to fight someone onstage?
MB: Actually, Dave [Roper, the drummer] and I had the taekwondo detour in the late '90s. He used to come over to my house, and we'd spar in the living room or in the snow. We both took home the gold medals at "The Clash in Crosby" in our respective divisions -- he blue, I purple with white trim! There wasn't much to do in northern Minnesota at that time. But more importantly, how do you know this?
JB: I did taekwondo for about three weeks in college. I sprained my ankle skateboarding the night before my yellow belt test. Alas, I remain a white belt. Again, how do you know this?
Do you guys have day jobs?
JB: Yep, I work in a coffee shop. Dave manages a bar and Mike is a substitute teacher. We also do a lot of things that spring from being in the Blind Shake. I do a bunch of visual art, and Mike is designing and building homemade guitar cabs. He also has his own recording studio in our rehearsal space.
Is hair overrated?
MB: Of course. Humans lost most of their body hair when they started to walk upright. Walk with me. As we keep walking, we keep evolving. Now feel the top of your head. See, the hair is disappearing. But we knew this subconsciously! Just look at our imagined archetype for the advanced alien. Huge brain, no hair. However, maybe the aliens we imagine do have hair at a young age, but when they grow old during space travel to earth, they become bald. In a way, to ask if hair is overrated is to ask if youth is overrated. Again, it is overrated.
JB: It's kind of awesome how hair is really an identifier of your culture -- your hopes and dreams. But yes.
You guys have a reputation for being really nice dudes. Does it piss you off when other bands put on airs of assholery?
MB: Thanks. We try to be nice to people. Everyone deserves respect as a starting point. But it does piss me off if the band is really good, and then you find out they are dickheads. It ruins the album because you can't get their comments/actions out of your head. But when a band is terrible, and then caps it off with arrogance, I get so angry that it actually excites me. You know the story, a cocky band guy pops off with some sideways, tough-guy comment. He turns to walk away in superiority when I suddenly choke him out with a guitar string and drag him onto the dance floor. "You want to dance? Let's dance!" Gurgle, gurgle, gasp, silence. Then, of course, the venue staff and bar patrons try to make me out to be the bad guy. Now I'm the jerk! It's frustrating how the arrogant folks of the world try to twist the facts to make themselves look good, even when they are no longer with us. Classic "blame the victim" mentality.
JB: I don't really think about it. I really believe people are sweet deep down. When they carry themselves in that kind of way, I tend to think it's just a defense mechanism. Especially in music, where you really put yourself out there (putting yourself up on a stage for your peers and singing). I try not be offended.
MB: I guess I agree with what Jim said. I need to relax.
The music on 'Key to a False Door' sounds like a bunch of different muscle cars revving their engines until they all speed off into a brutal salt-flat road race. To you, how does this new album fit together thematically?
MB: I like your description of it! I don't know what the theme is. I think our approach has always been one song at a time, and once that song is done, time for the next song. But I do wish we had that sort of vision to see the whole before the parts exist. That's a gift some people have.
Jim: I think it was a test to see how much melody we could get away with before it stopped sounding like us. I am very happy where we ended up!
What does The Blind Shake see when it finally opens its eyes?
MB: A Civil War battlefield.