Sunday, February 4, 2007, 05:21 PM ( 2609 views )The Blakes are a band I saw for the first time a year ago and was thrilled by their energy, sound, and presence. As a trio comprised of Bob Husak [drums] and brothers Garnet Keim [guitar, vocals] and Snow Keim [bass, vocals], they a truly exciting band.
I recently had dinner with them at a local Greek restaurant, where we talked about touring through unique locations, how they have escaped some dangerous situations, and why they are doing things their way.
What’s it like visiting home now?
Garnet: We grew up this kind of small town, and every time we go back, it’s so small that your mom goes to the grocery store or to the video store and she gets “so when are the boys coming back”? It’s like everybody knows about you –
Snow: My therapist says it’s called being a celebrity.
Q: You grew up in Maine?
Snow: Kind of. I was born in Alaska – I moved to Maine when I was about, 10.
Garnet: I was raised in Maine and grew up on the West Coast, if you want to put it that way.
Q: Garnet, you’re the older brother?
Garnet: Yeah, I’m older than Snow.
Q: Was he an obnoxious little brother?
Garnet: Yeah, he used to beat me up. I’ve always been the weak one in the family. I’m the biggest and tallest but I’ve always been beat on by a lot of people.
Q: That’s sad.
Garnet: I know. Snow used to take me down - well he was a champion wrestler for a while. He was a wrestler – You did really well at wrestling, Snow.
Snow: I was going to pull the family out of poverty. I sprained my ankle at the European Wrestling –
Bob: It ended your career.
Q: And that was it?
Garnet: You [Snow] were good in history and you loved the chess club. And then he was really good at jujitsu.
Snow: I was trying to get a job as a bouncer.
Garnet: You were just a tough kid. You grew up tough. You never really had a lot.
Snow: Grew up on the streets of Maine.
Garnet: The mean streets of Maine.
Q: Garnet, I remember talking to one time –
Garnet: Oh god what did I say?
Q: You were talking about your artwork.
Garnet: Yeah, I did a comic for our band. We had a really bad show – in Walla Walla. We drove all the way to Walla Walla, it’s about a 6 and a half, 7-hour drive and we get there and there was no show. They didn’t bother to tell us. So we did a 13-hour day. I did a little comic book, about 15 pages. I illustrated it and wrote the whole story to kind of blackball the place. I called it the Glass Ceiling, cause it felt like we weren’t getting any bigger or any higher – we’re doing all this work and we just hit this flatline. But yeah, I do a lot of the artwork for the albums and stuff like that [along with Heather McElroy’s Yep Industries].
[At this point there is an interruption in conversation as a dish is served to a nearby table. The dish is some sort of meal on fire].
Bob: What happened?
Garnet: We should order that next time.
Snow: I want to do that.
Garnet: I don’t know what that was but it sounds exciting . . . Yeah, I do some artwork here and there.
Snow: When Garnet was in high school he wanted to move to San Francisco and take drugs and do art.
Garnet: Street art. And then die. Really misdirected. And then I decided that I wanted to be a chiropractor. I started going to the University of Maine at Farmington. I was a bio chem major. I did that for 3 years and I dropped out of that after I got a lead role in a play. That changed my life. I never looked back. We just kept working on our band and moved out here. That was that.
Snow: Most people don’t know this about Bob, but he was a championship runner in high school. One of the best on the island.
Bob: I was a pretty fast runner.
Snow: You raced the state champ and you beat him.
Bob: No, I raced the fastest kid in school. He gave me a 50 meter head start. I think it was a tie.
Snow: Oh, well that’s still pretty good.
Bob: When I was younger than that I was the fastest kid in my class, but I never really followed up on it.
[At this point another flaming dish arrives].
Q: So, Bob, you grew up around here – in the San Juans?
Bob: No, we had a cabin in the San Juans. I kind of grew up in Edmonds, then we moved to Spokane, then Whidbey Island. That’s where I went to high school.
Q: So Garnet and Snow, you moved here together and found Bob.
Garnet: We found Bob.
Snow: We found God, I mean Bob –
Garnet: He was the first person we met when we pulled in to Seattle.
Q: Oh no he wasn’t.
Garnet: Honestly. He was the first person we spoke to in Seattle. I’ll show you how it went. We came down from Vancouver and we were just driving around and we hit Denny and this guy started screaming at us.
Q: And that was Bob.
Garnet: No, that was the first person who spoke to us . . . We got to Queen Anne and I wanted some coffee. So we pulled over to this shop and got talking to this weird guy behind the counter about where was a good place to work or do you know of place we could stay . . . and we just started talking. We all had a common love for British music and British pop.
Snow: He started camping out at our apartment.
Bob: You guys had a tent in there for a while.
Snow: We were living in the hostel. We lived there for about 3 or 4 months.
Q: The one downtown?
Snow: Yeah, the Green Tortoise.
Garnet: We were playing on the streets, busking, just to live. We didn’t know anybody. We made about $70 a day on Saturday and Sunday – near Tully’s. We would buy McDonald’s burgers. We ended up getting jobs at Tully’s – I worked with Bob there and Snow worked in Magnolia.
Snow: We did that (busked) because we couldn’t play in the bars – we were under 21.
Bob: Things were pretty bad in Seattle in the late 90s.
Snow: The Sit N’ Spin had just closed -
Bob: - and RCKNDY
Garnet: There had been a Mayor’s Ordinance.
Snow: DV8 wasn’t there, was it?
Garnet: Everything was done.
Bob: One time I went to Swing Night at DV8.
Garnet: Remember that swing craze in the late 90s?
Bob: The worst thing about it was they were doing this class before you actually danced, and they had people there who were really good. I partnered up with this girl who was really good and – she was really mean.
Snow: Did she think you had lead feet?
Bob: No, but I didn’t know how to lift her up.
Snow: Those girls don’t mess around. If you’re a mover and a shaker you can get a date, otherwise . . .
Bob: I never got into it. After that I never went swing dancing.
Garnet: You probably didn’t miss that much, honestly. I always like the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I never felt like they were a swing band. I always thought that was a man singing, but it turns it was a woman. I always thought the woman was a cross-dresser. It was weird. I remember I was working out in a weight room and hearing the song Put A Lid On It –
Snow: This is getting very homoerotic. Thinking about a man dressed up like a woman and you’re really into it . . .
Garnet: I was doing curls. Snow, you’re disturbing the guests. You’re screaming - you’re probably drunk.
Q: So, memorable shows, good or bad?
Garnet: Well, probably the worst was Frostburg.
Bob: [Agrees] Frostburg.
Garnet: Getting whipped in the basement with a belt. That was awesome.
Garnet: Our whole band got held down and beaten.
Bob: I never got whipped.
Garnet: He ran away.
Bob: They kept trying to talk to me.
Snow: Okay, Frostburg is some weird mountain town in western Maryland.
Garnet: Close West Virginia.
Bob: All these weird toothless locals. There’s a college there that’s kind of nice, but –
Garnet: And it’s cold there all the time.
Snow: [We played at] the Regal Beagle.
Bob: And we played to all these toothless locals. They were crazy.
Snow: They were nice, but crazy.
Garnet: To make a long story short, we had an afterparty at a house, in the basement, and they start hauling out moonshine that they’d actually made. It was 100 proof.
Garnet: The girls at the party get bent over, quickly - they’re all kind of punks and the guys have these spiked belts. And the girls start to whip them.
Snow: Squealing like pigs.
Garnet: And then the guys start beating the guys and then they’re like, wait, we haven’t beaten the band yet.
Bob: They started chanting, get the Blakes, get the Blakes.
Snow: I was in the corner trying to mack on some toothless girl I thought was cute. I didn’t get hit.
[They did get Garnet]
Garnet: I had my arms held behind my back.
Bob: This one guy, all night, was saying, ‘Bob, come here’. And then I’d avoid him and he’d forget about it. Then he’d remember.
Garnet: Cause they were so drunk.
Bob: No, no, come here Bob.
Garnet: I don’t know if that was the best or the worst, but that was an intense one. I mean, we’ve had guns pulled on us.
Snow: In Georgia we went to where they shot Deliverance. We got to tour the slave graves.
Bob: Marked with just flat stones.
Snow: There was a regular cemetery and then there was the slave cemetery.
Garnet: It was really weird to see that. These graves were marked but just with these flat stones.
Snow: You don’t see it in Atlanta. It was in these places where only our band, for some reason, has gone. Really out of the way type venues. The band that was opening for us, their hair was down to here, and they weren’t wearing shoes. They were barefoot.
Snow: One girlfriend came between their whole band -
Bob: She’s reading a book the entire time -
Snow: . . .read a book through the entire show. He covered You Spin Me Round. . .
He got down on the table and started shaking his hair. And it was our band, his girlfriend, and about two other people, going yeah.
Bob: Right before the show he was like, we wanna welcome the Blakes to Georgia – this is where the players play.
Snow: That was the first tour.
Garnet: That pretty much sums up our touring.
Snow: We had about 200 nights of that.
Bob: We just got an email from the Downtown Lounge in Tennessee – he was like, we’re still rockin’ your demo.
Garnet: One of the only two cities in America that has sidewalks that are on a second story.
Bob: They have the regular sidewalk and then another sidewalk that’s above the street. They have shops up there but now it’s a ghost town.
Snow: We had so many experiences like that when we first started touring. It’s not like just doing the club circuit.
Bob: We were pioneers.
Garnet: We starved out there. We ate potted meat. People still remember us from Project Rathole, though.
Bob: It wasn’t even a club. It was this judge [in Texas] – he was a crooked judge. He got disbarred.
Garnet: But he had this nice property.
Snow: And two wolves. Remember the wolves?
Bob: There were these two wolves that were sitting around the swimming pool and every time you’d go to use the bathroom these wolves would come up to you. And they were huge.
Snow: Real wolves.
Bob: He’d made this venue and called it Project Rathole. And all these crusty punk kids would show up.
Snow: There’s not one independently owned store in the whole area. It’s all commercial chains. Those [kids] were so extreme with their punk ideals because there just wasn’t any normality. It was all new businesses.
Snow: One kid was so carried away during a song, he cut himself with a razor blade across his chest.
Bob: Yeah, he almost died.
Snow: That’s the kind of stuff you just don’t see. After playing all those places, coming back to Seattle, we felt like – let’s play somewhere where the whole band feels comfortable, where we all like. The city [Seattle] is just a really great place to live. We love it up here.
Bob: You don’t know how nice this city is until you’ve been everywhere else.
Snow: You’ve got KEXP – independent radio.
Q: What’s happening with the new cd?
Garnet: We’ve done a bunch of showcases for major labels, but we’re not going to go that route. Our goal is to keep producing at least a record a year. We definitely have the songs. I just can’t wait to get this one out so we can do the next one. We get tired of material so fast.
Snow: Every one was like, wait to get a label. And we thought about doing that. It didn’t feel right. What does it matter if we put out our record now, to our friends and Seattle? If a label wants to come and help out, fine. But we’re not going to sit around and wait.
Garnet: Anytime you sign with a major you’re put on hold for basically a year. The downside is that [doing it on our own] it turns you into a little business mogul. I think there’s a lot more that bands are finding out about this whole thing of doing it for yourself. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and not only that it puts you in a very compromising position.
Snow: You don’t want to look at yourself as a product. You have to sell yourself.
Garnet: It’s weird. There are no guarantees.
Snow: You don’t have any strings attached.
Garnet: This is the first record we’re really trying to do it right [with] out of the four records we’ve done.
Snow: We hoard our records the way the Gollum hoards his ring. We never released anything officially.
Garnet: We’ve been going to the post office a lot.
Snow: We’re getting fans in the post office. [They’ll say stuff] ‘These don’t look like demos, these look like press kits. A long time ago there was a little band called Soundgarden. And I was mailing their press kits, too’.
Q: They talk about stuff?
Garnet: Yeah, he told us the whole story.
Snow: [The guy at his post office says] ‘It’s all about numbers. Send enough out and there’s someone out there that loves your band and just doesn’t know it yet’.
We call him post office Buddha.
Q: Why the Blakes?
Garnet: I got it in a dream. We had two different names we were using when in L.A. One was Blu and we decide to do this one - Johnny Rockstar.
Snow: What about Call us Girls?
Garnet: We even had a theme song for that one. I had a dream that we had a band called the Blakes.
Snow: It was the Blakes or Pink Junior. The Blakes may morph into Pink Junior at some point.
Q: So no association with anything Blake?
Garnet: When Robert Blake shot his wife the helicopters were circling our studio. He lived a mile down from where we recorded our first record. It could have had something to do with of that.
Snow: Garnet was so traumatized.
Bob: We were recording that album right next to where they were shooting Passions – that daytime soap where they were all witches and weird stuff.
Q: Did you see the actors a lot?
Snow: All the time. We’d go to the pisser and see those actors.
Q: Did they look strange?
Snow: They were beautiful. I didn’t realize how beautiful actors were until you got up close.
Garnet: They looked like they were from outer space – a galaxy from far, far away.