Blouse's Charlie Hilton: Making people feel something is the only success that matters

Categories: Interview
Photo by Tonje Thielsen

In 2011, Portland trio Blouse entered consciousness on the subtle wake of a daydream with their hazy and textured self-titled debut. Their momentum built as ad-nauseum '80s dream pop associations coincided with an aptly-timed spike in nostalgia. Now, having deconstructed to a more guitar-driven sound on their sophomore release Imperium, the general consensus of web-critic blather is mixed. Skeptics seem to think they've strayed too far from their "place."

But to anyone who has paid any real attention to Blouse from the beginning, they've always been a lot more than the sum of their comparisons. And "Imperium" is a testament to the band's diversity and strength in a more structured arena. Ahead of their Tuesday show with Dum Dum Girls at the Triple Rock, Gimme Noise talked shop, and even a little academia with charming frontwoman Charlie Hilton.

See also:
Interview: Dum Dum Girls

Gimme Noise: How are you feeling now that Imperium is out and has been on the road for a bit now?
Charlie Hilton: I really enjoy being on the road and meeting so many people. It really rejuvenates me to play in person and have all of these interactions, playing for actual people. I really find the meaning of playing music through those interactions. You can get a chance to see physically what's happening around you instead of just on blogs and reviews and stuff online.

How was your experience in Austin?
My personality really doesn't match the size and energy of SXSW. That said, we didn't play that many shows and so we really had a chance to see other bands and I'm so glad I got to see a few of the bands that I saw. It's just kind of fascinating just hanging out and seeing the spectacle.

What performances left an impression?
Oh my god this band called Bo Ningen, they are Japanaese and they played this showcase and it just blew me away both visually and sonically. It was incredible. They were really beautiful. I also saw this band called Cosmonauts that I had never heard of. It's just so cool to see music that you didn't even know about. I'm not really in the loop that much lately so it was nice to feel like I was discovering things on my own.

I read an article that hinted that the first album didn't really feel like yourself but that you're very pleased with Imperium. Is there any credence to that notion?
In the beginning, we were just listening to a lot of post-punk and guitar-heavy music. We didn't have a clear vision of what we wanted to do but just started working on stuff. We didn't anticipate the record going the way it did but it just happened pretty naturally. We ended up being given some equipment and started using it and we started using this old Alesis drum machine we had laying around and it naturally transformed into this dark, electronic record. And I think that the songs wanted to be that way. We were very happy with the way it turned out. I definitely think that it was true to what we kinda wanted to do and then for Imperium we wanted to try something fresh. It seemed like an important thing to do for a second record. It didn't seem like that big of a deal to change the formula slightly but it's been surprising to me how strongly people reacted. It's very hot and cold. I guess it is different but that's what I like about it.

If the polarity to Imperium doesn't bother you, then what's the most important measure of success for you?
Oh man. That's a tough thing for me to measure. It's probably going to sound really cheesy, but this is a tough industry to break and I feel really lucky that we've come as far as we have. I've been playing music since I was like 12. So I think what matters to me most is just going back to those interactions with people and just physically seeing that you are meaning something to other people and that they're listening to the record. I've met people who come up to me just, like, crying. Moments like that have been so meaningful to me and if that's not success I don't know what is. It's the most moving things, you know? I don't think any type of money or recognition by critics or anything would ever mean as much to me, that stuff doesn't last very long. It's easy to get addicted to that, and I'm sure for some people it's never enough. But, to really appreciate knowing that your music is in the world and it means something to people and maybe makes them feel something. That's the only success that matters.

There are admittedly a lot of changes on this record. Were they all calculated? Where was your head when you wrote it?

It changed a lot throughout the process because we took our time, especially with Jake's Unknown Mortal Orchestra touring schedule. We'd get into the studio, work on some songs and then take some time to reflect and go back. I think that's a really good thing to have when you're working on something because you get to think about it a little longer. For a good period of the time I was feeling pretty down. I went through a little bit of a depression and I was going out to this cabin every weekend and spending time in the mountains. I wrote a good portion of the songs out there. I was feeling bummed inside, just in this really natural way, it wasn't anything specific.

It's just life experiences and it gets really confusing sometimes, you know? I think it would be a mistake not to have dark periods sometimes. Some of the songs came out of that and then some of them came from a really playful, lighthearted place. We actually took all of the gear to the cabin and played songs up there and messed around. It really changed a lot. There wasn't any one mood or anything. I was also studying a little bit of art history classes at the local university and that really influenced things, like the title track. That's what the title track is about; it's about imperialism and takeover, specifically the Spanish Empire taking over Mexico. That really affected me I was obsessing over that idea and reacted to it.

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