The Final Vinyl Interview #1 Halsey Alexander (aka EWY1)

 

By Thomas Sayers Ellis

 

Halsey Alexander (aka EWY1) lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is a musician, visual artist, and Barista. With her husband, Matthew Alexander, she is a member of Blestian, a popular, up and coming local band that released its first recording, on cassette, in July. EWY1 has also added her unique sense of design-style to Heroes Are Gang Leaders, creating artwork for t-shirts, posters, and fliers. This interview was conducted between July 25 and September 7, 2017.

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TSE

You have what the older folks where I come from used to call a good hand and eye and ear, meaning all of your senses are quite collaborative in all of your work. I can hear your posters and damn-near see the music I’ve heard you play with Blestian. Talk about the roots of those practices and your decision to either keep them separated or not keep them separated.

EWY1

I’m really inspired in all my art making by Hip Hop. The three elements of hip hop, graffiti, emcee, and break dancing all have a structure or set of rules but everyone has their own style. You come to recognize that person by their style. In whatever I’m working on I usually set up basic rules and freestyle within those boundaries. With Blestian it may be a certain sequence but every time I perform it differently. From what I’m hearing or where I am I’ll filter or modify the sequence. For posters, I might start with a basic idea but it’s changing endlessly while I’m making it. I like to maintain a style of my own.

TSE

Your temperament seems to have a restless time machine in it and you have a soulful singing voice. I’ve also watched you sit and crawl into a particular mode of sound and stretch and “squeeze it in an infectious beat,” almost immediately. This might not be a compliment but I sometimes forget that what you are doing is electronic. Who are you plugged into pleasing when you play? You look mad when playing. Is there an attitude or mood that you try and cast out into the audience during a Blestian performance?

EWY1

It’s cliché to say, “I don’t care if nobody likes it” but I think to us just being able to make the music or get the people together is enough. I try not to look at anyone during shows. It’s a very different feeling being in that mode, on the machines. It’s hard to look up and smile at someone like I normally would when I’m playing something that may be a bit more challenging for listeners. I also do try to be a contrast to Matthew on stage.

TSE

A brief, playful history please of your relationship with “the machines.” Do they trust you?

EWY1

Once upon a time we lived in a castle on wheels and had a selection of music equipment. Last year it was disappeared by the city and we had to start from scratch. I might still be paying for my AKAI Tomcat and Roland SP404sx but they do the job and I appreciate having them. We’re saving up to add more gear to the sets. I could see my station being completely different at some point.

TSE

Talk about “disappeared by the city” and whether or not Blestian, the group you are in with your husband, Matthew Alexander, is city-friend or city-foe? This concept of the City as a magician or a remover of things interest me because things, even when “disappeared,” must end up somewhere––on a lot, in an auction, a song. Blestian is popular and rising. Give us a few highlights from its birth? Any disappeared thangs, real or imagined, hiding in Blestian songs?

EWY1

Basically if a rich condo owner calls the city because they don’t like how an RV looks parked legally on the street the city witches can come tow away your stuff, charge all these fees, design all these traps and when you don’t have money it’s possible to run out of options… Final destination: lost in an auction. It sucks but it happens and it happened to us. We’ve agreed best to just let go and move on. That happened pretty much when we first moved to St. Pete. I’m originally from here but it was new to Matthew. Despite our initial set backs, we would say we’re definitely City-friendly. There is something special happening here. I’ve never met so many people with their own stickers. We’ve made a lot of really great connections in the 2 years we’ve lived here and like you said we’ve been able to gain some momentum. Not only is the community of artists here so inspired but really motivational and supportive. Since our first show at the coffee shop we both work at, we’ve been able to play lots of shows pretty consistently in all types of spaces with bands from all over, we’ve played a music festival, recorded our first ep and put it out with personalized packages to order, and we just started working on some new recording. We do truly love being on the road together so that’s always lurking back in our minds. Maybe some mini tours coming up. I guess when it comes to what’s hidden in Blestian songs it really is up to the listener. I typically find the more I know, the
more I don’t know.

TSE

How was Blestian born and, in terms of human musical years, is Blestian a child, a teen, a ‘tween, a teenager, a runaway young adult, what?

EWY1

Blestian is Matthew’s brainchild conceived in Los Angeles in 2013. I’ve since adopted and Blestian took its first steps last year this time. I would say Blestian is a toddler. Motor skills developed and yet…lots of growth, progress, and changes to come.

TSE

Well, the co-parenting strengths of Blestian seems to be working and you guys have quite a loyal fan base in St Pete. It even feels magical at certain times in the performance, and that’s essential to being heard above the rest of the crowded field of bands. Have you guys ever tried to make a sound and then said, “Nah that’s not the Blestian sound” or “Nah, we’ve done that already. Let’s not be lazy or predictable.” Do you think you can recognize PB (Predictable Blestain) if it tried to creep in?

EWY1

Yeah, that’s happened.  I think I can recognize that. But also music is kind of a regurgitation of everything that’s happened already.  It can be predictable at times and not be bad.  Luckily, it’s fun work for us and we try not to be too precious about anything.  If it’s really fun for us to play it’s usually more fun for the audience.  Matthew can write a few songs by breakfast typically so we’ve got lots to work with.

TSE

Does “Love” help as in working with your partner? is there a reciprocal effect like a natural trading/exchange with Love and Art. Do you know how to get a new song out of him or an old one out of him in a different way or vice versa? Y’all ain’t fooling me…I’m just waiting to decode Blestian lyrics ten years from now.

EWY1

Love is the only way it gets done, it’s what creates everything, and murders everything else. I don’t know how he does what he does and he couldn’t do what I do. Musically we create pretty independently and love does the rest. It seems to be driving and fueling the collaboration and we’re all in for it.

TSE

We should make a mixtape of songs with the word “murder” in the title. While making set lists for two HAGL shows, I recently noticed the word “Kill” in two of our titles. I hadn’t noticed that before, hmm, odd, reoccurrence––despite all of the musical independence in HAGL. And what all of that freedom conveys on stage. Do you ever stray away from what is agreed or do you extend and outlast it? I often feel like HAGL songs are just getting to the good free-freedoms and then BAM, TSE has to stop the party. EWY1, Is you party starter or is your party stomper?

EWY1

I think both. More like a party host. If the party ain’t happening, I gotta start it up, if it gets too wild I gotta dial it in. Can’t let all the way loose. Gotta have some structure but still, have some fun.

TSE

Is that also true of the fliers and posters you’ve designed for Heroes Are Gang Leaders, structural fun? Which comes first, the chaos or the order or…? Sometimes you twist my eyes and make me aware of the limitations of the poetic line.

EWY1

It’s cyclical, one leads to the other and vice versa. Always turning the dials, continually tweaking. I try to start with an order but chaos reigns. It’s hard to stay in the lines. The words always leak into the art, forms are made in the words. It’s all blurry.

TSE / EWYI

Creative Inquiry Segment. Please answer Yes, No, Stop Trippin’, C’mon Dude, Dat Don’t Make No Damn Sense TSE, or…?…in response to each of the following––

Is blurry Servant

or Massa?

Yes

Can blurry bridge break beat?

No

How old is blurry and can it be taught?

…?

Does blurry have its own antenna or Space Fence?

Stop Trippin’

TSE

Really though. I saw this multi-category definition for Blestian today: “art emotional electro pop rock skate rock.” Would you say they got the order right and what would you say they left out? What shades of sounds?

EWY1

Ha ha I love that. I think we can fit it with everybody so we end up getting tagged with so many things. It could be that maybe simply electro pop does it.

TSE

Is Blestian ready to confront the possible coming of simultaneous, multiple realities and constant popular competing truths? Or does Blestian believe we really are So Far Gone in every aspect of life?

EWY1

Yes. We are ready for all that, let’s go. But also, we think it’s So Far Gone before it even started.

TSE

Say a few things about So Far Gone, Blestian’s first release, How the project came together and why the choice to release it on cassette. It’s a very attractive, no nonsense project––aesthetically. Talk about the cover. It’s very “BLESTIAN HAS ARRIVED,” remember our name––unique and familiar at the same time.

EWY1

As we added more songs to our catalog it seemed like there was a group of songs that belonged together and the newer songs were happy to chill for a minute. That family of songs we recorded in a Lil’ booth at Black Crow Roasters last September. Being our first release it’s what we have So Far Gone on record so we can continue moving. It’s all recorded Live, playing together, in one take. When we rehearse or write or even jam a lot of times we’ll record ourselves on tape. We wanted this release to be very much from us and the cassette is familiar and personal to us. We realize in this digital age many people don’t own a tape player, maybe in the car… maybe. You can download the album for free on our site. A cassette though is a tangible object, and like you said it makes a bold statement. Even if you have it on your coffee table or bookshelf you see it, walk by it, live with it. We’re taking some of your space and making you recognize it.

So far Gone by Blestian https://blestian.bandcamp.com/album/so-far-gone

 

TSE

You don’t sound like a two-piece band. You and Matthew create musical dimension and depth of sound very well. Live…you sound big and, yet somehow, none of that “largeness” got lost on the cassette recording. Once in a poem, I renamed cassettes “dinosaur-media.” Your nod to
the past is brilliant. Is there a vinyl release in Blestian’s near future? Or rather, what’s next?

EWY1

We’ve started to lay down a couple songs for what may be the next release, an LP pressed to Vinyl, an East-coast tour in the near future. Expect an increase in everything!

TSE

How often do you sketch, draw, tag these days? And there’s been a lot of activity, recently, as far as St Pete Graffiti goes. Want to do a listing of some of your favorite artists––like an EWY1 top 5 or 10?

EWY1

I try to always stay active but certain activities take over at times. St Pete Graff is growing and thankfully so. Forever the story has been a tale of two writers constantly beefing with each other. I’m so happy and entertained to see this is changing. Now there’s like 10 writers and only 4 are beefing, ha ha. Yeah, I’ll do an all time heavy hitters top 5 but I do have to say…seems like every day I discover a new artist or writer that is crazy original, inspirational, and killing the game, so…not particularly in order…

1 Stephen “ESPO” Powers
2 Margaret Kilgallen
3 Barry McGee
4 HORFE
5 Brian Chippendale

TSE

You’ve done about 8 flyers/posters for HAGL and a few of them have become band t-shirts that were liked so much that your hand/eye and our content/sound have become one. I am always excited when you agree to do another one for us. I have a dream-idea / imaginary show in mind for St Pete, so for the purpose of this interview can you make the flier for that show so we can Art-Speak it into existence by including it in this conversation. I was thinking that the line-up would be: They Hate Change, Mouth Council, Blestian and Heroes Are Gang Leaders. You can pick the venue and the times and cost and date.

EWY1

I’ll get started on it! Crazy you say that, I promise you I had a dream last night that Blestian was opening at a huge stadium Heroes show. You and I were standing back stage and you gave me a stack of white porcelain plates with your photos printed on them and told me to hand them out to people in the audience. Sounds like a crazy cool show.

 

TSE

Damn! I’ve never been to Amelie Arena but I know some of the recent history, interesting. In the flyer, it looks like a night sun splitting a coliseum, almost like something that might occur in an X-Men movie. For this particular flyer, did you imagine the drawing or draw the imagination first. You hide anything in it?

EWY1

It looks to me like an exterior shot in the film version of the dream I had. The Amalie to me is the coliseum of Tampa. I’d go to Hockey Games as a kid and watch the players beat each other up. Yeah, I hid bits of all of us in the flier. The background image of the Coliseum is a manipulated photograph: All of our groups manipulate sound. You take a lot of photos in black and white. Like on the plates you gave me in my dream, which is represented in the black and white blocks in the background image. Also, the way all our group’s names are around each other is like the seating arrangement in Mouth Council. Our name, Blestian, on the flier is a fade of colors. ‘B’ is the color of Matthew’s guitar used to record So Far Gone and write all of our first songs. ‘N’ is the color of his new guitar, a Baritone, tuned lower and used for our new songs. As for the price of a ticket and the length of the show…I’d say those meanings are the opposite of hidden…but still amusing…to me.

TSE

Ok, let’s switch genres or modes of expression for a moment. I’d love a three paragraph fiction about the following image, one where you either do or do not appear in the actual story, something off the top, inspired by some aspect of the image or memory of the making of the image…

EWY1

I don’t understand how in shows and movies how the barista is always reading a book. There’s always something that needs to be done, so many little things to keep up after. People tell me every day that they are jealous and they want to do what I do. What so many don’t realize is “making coffee” isn’t just that. Add cleaning dishes, floors, toilets, stocking, supplying, serving, remembering, repeating, respecting, being timed and then patiently listening to some nut justify to you why they don’t feel the need to tip you because all you did was pour them coffee and it only took a second.  I look at this picture though and first I think, I’m pretty lucky to have a day-job where I get to meet such interesting people, some who changed my life. Then I think…I would love to be able to only focus on the art.

TSE

Are you afraid to lose art, the ability to do it naturally…like if you don’t do it for a while it will vanish or become forced or take a long time to re-enter at a level you are satisfied with? I still get “scared” before going on stage (do you?), and once I had an argument with Susan Sontag. She went-off-on-me when I asked her if she liked her new book. Do you like your art?

EWY1

I do like my art. But I wouldn’t say I’m naturally good at it. I’m still working on getting better and when I’m busy with projects, fliers, music, it’s really exciting. Working and life can be discouraging but I always try to be light-hearted. I do get scared to share things or to go a while not showing
anything. Luckily drawing or doodling and jamming seems like something there’s always a little bit of time for–– though there’s something in me that wants to make something great or get noticed…

TSE

What toppings (musical, emotional or otherwise) would
you put on the perfect LP Vinyl Pizza?

 

EWY1

A boom
bap beat,
guitarmonies,

extra cheese,
and organ.

Thin crust,
extra
crispy.

 

Artwork by EWY1 for HAGL | Photographs by Thomas Sayers Ellis

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