Written By Jordan Reisman
Photo Courtesy of Michelle Blades.
Some people just don’t like to stay in the same place for too long, which is great for music because then “Born to Run” wouldn’t exist. It’s through songs like these that we learn how some of us need to make a calculated, pragmatic decision on where to go while others just go based on what they’re feeling in that moment. Michelle Blades of, right now Paris, but originally of Miami falls into the latter category.
Before settling in Bagnolet, an eastern suburb straddling the border of Paris, Blades was in a punk trio called North Dakota, based in (obviously) Tempe, AZ.
“I didn’t really pick it. I was in high school about to graduate in Miami and I didn’t know where to go to school and I didn’t know where to go in life,” Blades tells BTR of the jump from Miami to Tempe. “There was this big map…I was in TV production…on the wall and I brought darts to school. Now that I think about it, it would probably shut down the school. I took the darts and covered my face and I threw it at the map. The first dart landed in the Pacific Ocean so I re-threw it. The second dart landed in Northeastern Arizona and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll move to Arizona.’”
This kind of reckless abandon sounds like it could only come from an almost adolescent brand of decision making, and possibly a really good road trip movie. She admits that in order to make that choice that one has to be “either really desperate or super organized.” The move worked though, North Dakota has a few releases under their belt and still function as a band even with Blades in Paris.
When on a tour with her current solo project in 2010, she fell in love with Paris and the DIY/squat culture she found there.
“I was 19 and just amazed by the country, like anyone who’s 19 and comes to France for the first time would be,” Blades says of the idolize European city. “Then I loved it so much that I spent a year working, came back and I went on another tour. This time I kept in contact with the friends I made on the first tour. Last summer I came back to hang out with the friends I made, played a couple of shows, I already built a small following and met the people that were running this label, Midnight Special Records, that I now work with and record with. I moved into a big house with them and I live here now.”
The fact that squats and house shows exist in Paris is a testament to how accessible DIY culture can be, though Blades notes a few differences between the US and French DIY scenes. One was that in the US, most house shows are just parties that happen to have bands playing in a basement. In France though, she says that people will open up their apartments up to a band, make food and give you wine, and everyone will watch the show in silence so as not to disrespect the guests. Then after the whole set is over, they all buy your records and merch. Either Blades was still in the honeymoon period of her French adoration, or France just has the friendliest DIY kids in the world.
Another off-color style of living that Paris has in abundance, which isn’t quite as common in the States, is squats. While the Lower East Side and East Village of NYC used to be the mecca for squat life, gentrification pretty much leveled most of the real estate market and turned them into condos. Paris, however, has different squats for different types of people. Blades rattled off a few archetypes — people who are into boxing, art, drugs, and having shows. These late-teenagers/early-twenties Parisians do whatever it is their squat is based upon until they get kicked out, but can still fight for squatter’s rights.
The current incarnation of Michelle Blades, or at least as a musical persona, got started when she was still in Arizona playing around with synths but also in North Dakota. Then she found the right vessel for her new sound after moving to Paris, and started jamming with Victor Peynichou and Pilou El Louis, her current bandmates.
The current vogue of rock music in France is one that does not even bother speaking the native tongue, as Blades says that most bands in the country sing in English. The experimental aspect of Blades’ music throws a curve ball to some French audiences.
“It’s getting received pretty well. It’s really bizarre though because I can tell that I’m weirding a lot of people out because it’s not like what I used to do which is, you know, very storytelling-y folk,” says Blades. “This stuff is a lot more violent and just changes. There’s some shows where people, I see them react to the changes and they’re like, ‘YEAH!’ and I’m super happy about that but there are some people that are just confused. But that’s good, that’s what I wanna do.”
Though what Blades is going for might not always be understood, the variety of underground music in Paris is oceanic. She describes a vast garage scene happening, with a fervent legion of bands who exude an American essence in their sound.
When asked what would make something distinctly French, she answered, “There’s a particular sound and attitude that comes out of a band that’s really well-organized that plays here. There’s kind of an aesthetic that’s always…perfectly dark. The French wave music that came out of the 80’s is really dark and underlying, just nostalgic sound that I think only comes out of here, that people here could achieve.”
She attributes the country’s inherent darkness to a few different factors: France’s great education system which praises an inquisitive nature, Paris’s winters and constant rain, along with “its ancient culture that seeps into the young people accessing modern technology.”
Embracing “modern technology,” Michelle Blades has released a steady stream of music on her Bandcamp page. Some of it has been her punk-influenced material, and some of it has been synth-driven music which falls under the banner of “bedroom pop.” She says she’s most creative when everyone else in her house is asleep and when she’s still wide awake, with the added bonus of the vocals being very soft as to not to disturb anyone’s slumber.
The newest Michelle Blades EP is called Zoroaster & Two Devils, which is an allusion to the Persian prophet, Zoroaster. The two devils alongside represent the moral imbalance in Blades’s songs and on another level, the imbalance of mere sanity.
“The music kind of represents the reality. I just moved here, I have no family here, I have only friends. While I have friends here that are amazing, there’s still an intense solitude that comes with moving to a country on your own, abandoning everything you had going for you,” Blades explains. “I had a lot of stuff going for me in Arizona: a relationship, my band North Dakota was doing really well but there’s this intense solitude that nobody can cure except for yourself so I try to alleviate some of it with music and I think that’s why the songs are so much more violent than any album I’ve put out because I feel a violence in me that I’m trying to make elegant.”
You can listen to Michelle Blades’ elegant violence here.
Also, check out her music and the interview on Discovery Corner on BTR.