One of the most common statements we interviewers hear from bands as we go about our work is, "We are just like a big family." Sometimes, a musician will try to strengthen the statement by saying something like, "I know a lot of bands say that, but we really are."
In the case of the Blueflowers, they didn't need to say anything at all, because these guys really are like a big, weird, dysfunctional musical family. Front-gal Kate Hinote and guitar player Tony Hamera (a real-life couple anyway, with a baby on the way in September) play the role of Ma and Pa, while acoustic guitarist Dave Johnson is the odd but cool uncle. The rest are the kids. Keyboardist and backing vocalist Erin Williams is the bubbly daughter, while drummer Jim Faulkner is the son who stays in his room doing stuff nobody knows about, and bassist Erica Stephens is the dark, brooding sibling.
Stephens and Williams share a house, and its basement is the band's rehearsal space, decorated with a photo of the band taken by a professional family portrait guy (one of those that you see in the mall), plus framed posters of Marilyn Manson, Skinny Puppy and Iron Maiden. These very obviously belong to Stephens, not Williams. On the surface, the pictures seem oddly out of place in a Blueflowers rehearsal space. Actually though, there is a darkness to the band's "folk noir," much like Nick Cave or even Tom Waits. The band isn't gothic and it certainly isn't industrial, but the imagery isn't inconsistent with the Blueflowers' moody vibe.
The Blueflowers formed out of the ashes of Ether Aura, a shoegazer-y sort of band that made a few waves between 2004 and 2007, before infighting took its toll. Some guys were ousted, and the remaining peeps changed the band's name to the Blueflowers. That move also happened to correspond with a change of musical direction.
"The sound from Ether Aura was more produced and more electronic, although not electronica," Hinote says. "It had more programming and stuff. We were never going to release music like that again, so we changed."
When asked what movie best fits the mood and style of the Blueflowers, it's telling that Hamera picks any number of David Lynch films, while Hinote goes for Blazing Saddles. Musically, Hamera is pretty much on the mark. Listen to "Surrender" from the new Stealing the Moon album, and you can easily imagine it fitting into Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet — some mad bastard directing a dimly lit band in a deserted nightclub. Sit them in a room and have a conversation though, and you might as well be around a campfire, farting with a bunch of cowboys. They laugh and talk over each other, they play off of each other, and it usually builds to the point where there is so much noise that Hinote, taking the mama role again, throws a few stern glances around. It's really fucking bizarre to see, yet — for these guys — it works.
It's also the dichotomy that exists between the personalities of the band members and the music they create that makes the Blueflowers so fascinating. These guys are goofs. They are funny and genuine, but they are undeniably goofy. Put instruments in their hands, and what they create is delicate and, honestly, beautiful. Hinote has a voice that at times recalls the earthy and honest splendor of Joni Mitchell, but she can slip into a Siouxsie wail and then operatic Kate Bush majesty. It would be easy but untrue to think that Hinote's voice, which is stunning, is what makes the Blueflowers sound so good. She certainly adds an ethereal quality, but she can't take all of the credit.
The secret to the Blueflowers' sound is the willingness to embrace space. These guys are not brilliant virtuoso musicians (or, at least, they don't play that role with this band). Rather, the band members are able to see past their individual attributes and come together as one magnificent whole. "If it emotionally affects people, that's the best compliment," Hamera says. "This music isn't hard to play, but the combination of all the elements makes it what it is. Nobody ever says, 'You really jammed that guitar solo!' to us."
That's all well and good, but what is it that drives these five cheerful souls to create art that is so melancholy — gorgeous but incredibly sad? Though Hinote claims that the songs aren't super-sad until she gets her paws on them and writes the lyrics, Hamera says, "It satisfies me to be able to create that kind of feeling. To me, it's all joy."
That is consistent with a band like the Cure, whose members appear to be equally dippy when interviewed (although, in contrast, Morrissey is dour on record and in person). Hamera stops short at calling the Blueflowers' music an outlet. He states very clearly that, if the Blueflowers didn't exist, he wouldn't be burying his head in his pillow. Rather, he gets genuine joy from creating art that inspires real emotion. "We don't feel depression as a real emotion, but to me if you can make something that strikes you like that, that's what is beautiful about it," the guitarist says. "Creating sadness is the art form, not that we live it."
"I'm a crier when it comes to music and movies," Faulkner says, relatively quiet up to that point. "There are a couple of Blueflowers songs when I come close, but I collect myself because that's too much. I can't cross that line. The girls cry a lot though."
Seeing the Blueflowers live is a real experience. The members pour themselves into the performance, though it's hard to take your eyes off Hinote, who usually has her eyes clamped shut as she throws her soul into every note. What is she thinking about behind those eyes? "Please make this note come out right," the singer says. "I'm able to let go now, but for a long time I couldn't. I just didn't want to sound like Chewbacca. We once did a show at the Magic Bag when we were still Ether Aura, and it was our first show with Dave. I went to sing a note, and it was just not the note. I couldn't sing that song again. I was terrified. Now, I'm more comfortable."
The Blueflowers' third album, Stealing the Moon, is about to be released. Their debut, Watercolor Ghost Town, had remnants of Ether Aura. The second, In Line With the Broken-Hearted, with its "folk noir" sound, took huge strides away from the first, and Stealing the Moon picks up where the second left off. This is a band that has now found its feet and is confidently marching forward. Whether you're listening to them play or listening to them in conversation, it's apparent that these guys are a genuine unit.
"We were playing in New Jersey and I overheard a mother tell her son, 'See, that's what happens when everyone in a band works together,'" Johnson says.
Brett Callwood writes City Slang for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].