Interview: The Blank Tapes

The Blank Tapes - Photo courtesy of The Blank Tapes

The Blank Tapes – Photo courtesy of The Blank Tapes

The Blank Tapes is both a person and a band. The person is 31-year-old Matt Adams. The band is whoever happens to be playing with him on any given night.

A Southern California native and currently a Los Angeles resident, Adams was in need of a change of pace when he moved to the Bay Area in the mid 2000s.

“I fell in love with San Francisco as a kid,” he said. “It felt like the right thing to do.”

And so Adams packed up his hopes and dreams and plethora of instruments and made his way north. The laid-back Adams, whose slightly unkempt hair is contrasted by piercing sky blue eyes, has a slowed-down, methodical way with words and a willing laugh. It’s as though he’s always contemplating something deep.

Adams’ initial introduction to music was in elementary school, when he took piano lessons. Yet it wasn’t until he picked up the guitar in high school that he became serious about being a musician. It was at that time that he claims he “became pretty obsessed with writing songs.” Although before he even began playing guitar, Adams knew that music was something he wanted to do.

“When I was eight-years-old I wanted to be like Axl Rose and Slash [combined],” he admitted.

While he primarily considers himself a guitar player, Adams said that foundation of music in piano regularly works its way into his songwriting, influenced heavily by the idea of piecing music together through chords, which he likened to putting together a puzzle.

Although he wrote songs in his teenage years, Adams never performed with a serious band, yet still managed to do a lot of home recording.

“I never really formed a proper band so I pretty much invented my own band,” he shared, referencing how recording provided him with the means to “create” a band.

That’s not to say he never wanted to be in a band, but it always worked out that Adams would play all the instruments on his recordings.

The idea and formation of The Blank Tapes surfaced around 2003–something which was inspired by a stripped-down approach to music, one that utilized an 8-track and cassette tapes. The name itself was a reference to the handful of tapes Adams always seemed to have scattered around. Judging by the tapes strewn about his house, it appears not much has changed.

“I like having those limitations to work within,” Adams said of the lo-fi qualities of recording with an 8-track.

Yet now, more than a handful of years later, Adams said the direction of The Blank Tapes has changed, and is—in fact—in constant flux. After a handful of both “official” and non-official albums, Adams is constantly reinventing the way he writes and records.

“That goes to the next phase of The Blank Tapes…I’ve kind of grown out of [limiting my approach],” he explained. “I’m definitely open to recording on any format.”

This method still includes cassette tapes but also expands to encompass newer recording technologies, such as Pro Tools.

How Adams grew from playing alone to having a “band” wasn’t exactly something he set out to do, rather he started playing with friends and people he knew and it just kind of happened. That’s not to say he never wanted a band; he was always looking for other members to play with, and when it finally did come together, it was without much force or effort.

“It was all really organic,” he said. “It’s all pretty circumstantial.”

Yet he made certain to point out that the lineup itself is never fixed; instead the members playing alternates based on availability of various people.

“It’s always changing. It’s never quite the same,” he said.

This flexibility in lineup makes it so Adams can virtually play anytime or anywhere, without having to rely on a fixed set of people and their schedules to accommodate him. The most current incarnation of The Blank Tapes includes Pearl Charles, DA Humphrey and Will Halsey, but that can also change, depending on who is available for any given gig.

Adams says he between 150 and 200 fully-written songs, with another 100 or so in various states of completion. Yet in spite of the vast number of songs, he said he still struggles with the lyrical aspect of songwriting.

“Music comes 100 times easier than lyrics,” he admitted. “I would have all of my songs completed if it weren’t for lyrics.”

As for inspiration, he draws from personal incidents and emotions quite a bit, but also relies on inside jokes and lighthearted humor to write. But regardless of the topic, he maintained that he never forces himself to write.

“Songs usually come when I let them come,” he said, but insisted that he goes through wet and dry spells when it comes to writing.

“Lately…I’ve just written songs on demand,” he shared. “Usually it’s nothing planned.”

And his ability to play multiple instruments also makes for interesting and unpredictable songwriting experiences. While guitar is his main instrument, Adams also has tried his hand at drums and percussion, bass, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, glockenspiel and more – the majority of which are scattered about in his home.

“That’s the cool thing about playing different instruments,” he said, referencing the fact that each instrument makes for a separate kind of songwriting experience. In recent years, Adams has taken to writing songs on the ukulele, which he described as convenient because of its portability.

As for his musical influences, Adams isn’t one to keep up to date with “the next big thing.” In fact, most of his musical inspiration comes from what was being made in the 60s and 70s.

“My parents didn’t really listen to that cool of music,” he said of his experience growing up.

But he still managed to get into all sorts classic bands, like the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Not only that, but Adams extended himself further, seeking to find and devour any and all music he could get his hands on.

“And then I came to the part where I’d done so much research and reaching out,” he explained.

It was then that he gave up on attempts to keep up with all the new music coming out. Also, as he became more engrained in the local music scene and began playing with other bands, Adams found that he mostly listened to the music of his peers.

“That became my focus and still is,” he said.

Aside from music, Adams has always enjoyed art, and drawing in particular. The majority of his album covers and fliers are designed by him, and if not, he enlists the help of friends. In that way, he’s able to incorporate his two major passions, although in a competition between the two, music always wins out.

“The most fulfilling part about music is when you create a song. Right when you record it and you’re hearing it flushed out.” He paused for a moment. “When something is so fresh you can listen to it 20 times in a row.”

The Blank Tapes play tonight at Die Frühperle in Berlin. The show begins at 22.00.

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