Monday, September 13, 2010


There’s a day-glo, cartoonish ennui to Sebastian Blanck’s photo-realistic art; the native Baltimorean’s images feel pastorally representational, removed from precepts of everyday  actuality, like random stills plucked from Richard Linklaker’s film Waking Life. In sharp contrast to the abrasive, confrontational hardcore Blanck made as an early member of Black Dice, solo debut Alibi Coast (Rare Book Room), packs a punch similar to his gallery-ready canvases: gauzy, soft-focus melodies, strings-section mists, laconic chord progressions, and verses where syllables are routinely stretched like bungee chords. The album - which owes stylistic debts to maudlin, 60s/70s navel-gazing troubadors like Gilbert O’Sullivan, Simon & Garfunkel, and Harry Chapin - starts off with lead single “I Blame Baltimore.” Over incisive acoustic strum and evocative auroral pianos, Blanck’s rich, quavering baritone sets a scene of estrangement that begs the question: what’s Baltimore got to do with it? So in a late July email interview, we asked him.

Voguing to Danzig: “I Blame Baltimore” seems to be one of those songs that references a place in the title but not in the lyrics in a direct way, so the connection has to be personal. What’s the song about? Why blame Baltimore?

Sebastian Blanck: I grew up in Baltimore, and I wanted to pay tribute to my hometown. I  think it’s amazing how much setting can inform a story. I like the baggage that naming a city can give to a song. Baltimore has so much character; it certainly had a huge effect on how I see the world. I guess that’s what I really blame Baltimore for.

VtD: Can you tell me about the “I Blame Baltimore” video? It kind of reminds me, in a way, of Smashing Pumpkins’ clip for “Rocket.“ The idea of climbing into a rocket ship and leaving Earth and everything you know and everyone you love behind is a heavy one, sort of the ultimate in loneliness - it really underlines that message that “Baltimore” seems to project: that separation really hurts. Who came up with the concept, and where was it shot?

SB: I’m a huge science fiction fan; so is Ben Syverson, who directed the video. Ben came up with the original concept, and we sorted out the story together. We liked the idea of making a video for a road song and really exaggerating the distance that was traveled. Ben did all the CG effects himself. I was thrilled about the idea of going to space - even if it is just for a couple of minutes. The final shot of my wife Isca walking as I parachute down was shot at our house in upstate New York. I imagine that floating through space and seeing Earth from above must be the most incredible thing that anyone has ever seen. It  probably is lonely, but I imagine it is a magnificent, peaceful, and magical type of loneliness.

VtD: From what I understand, you’re an accomplished visual artist; Alibi Coast is your debut album. How did this album come together, and what were you inspired by? What’s the significance of the title?

SB: I have been showing and selling paintings since 2001. After a few years I hit a crisis point in my work. I felt completely blocked and  unsure of what to work on. I started writing songs in my studio instead of trying to think of what to paint. I was introduced to Jorge Elbrecht, of the band Violens (link:, and we started recording some of my  songs at his place.

Then, in 2007, my brother Toby died in a drowning accident. Alibi Coast was written in reaction to his death and my son Hudson's birth that same year. It was a very confusing time. I would  be giggling with my wife and new born baby one minute, and we would  all be crying the next. I felt compelled to try and understand what happened to him by writing about it.

The circumstances of Toby's death were kept from my family and me, so it was a way to piece together some narrative of what happened. The album doesn't have a  clear story line, but through writing the songs, I was able to picture him in the last few months of his life. It’s nothing more than a declaration of love for him. Alibi Coast basically means that distance is the best cover.

VtD: The songs on this album are really gentle and tender; in a way, they feel like diary entries or fragile menagerie pieces - things to treasure and keep safe. How has it felt for you to perform these songs before audiences?

SB: Since many of these songs are about the death of my brother it can be very difficult to sing them at times. However, there is something wonderful about performing music and playing with a band that can transform words of sadness into something positive - especially when other people identify with it. It lets you know that you’re not alone.

VtD: You were in an early lineup of Black Dice; do you keep in touch with those guys? Have you heard their last couple of albums?

SB: I do keep in touch with all the members of Black Dice, past and present; I just saw the Dice play a show in Brooklyn about a week ago. It was amazing and very different from their last album (2009‘s Repo). I think the music is taking a surprising direction; there seemed to be a lot more emphasis on singing which I thought was great. Hisham Bharoocha, who is now writes and performs as Soft Circle (link:, actually plays drums on my track "Answers"; I was trying to finish off the drum part and thought it would be fun to hang out. It was the first recording we worked on together in 10 or 11 years.

VtD: Are the Rare Book Room Records offices actually full of rare books?

SB: Rare Book Room's offices are filled with records and CDs. The RBR studio does have tons of old books and magazines in it; I think [producer/label head] Nicolas [Vernhes] was a philosophy major in college. I always end up looking at old issues of MOJO magazine when I’m there.

Alibi Coast is out now on Rare Book Room Records.

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