Blackout Balter – New Music
Blackout Balter’s origins reach back to 2014, when frontman Phil Cohen met drummer Chris Dorsey at a neighborhood block party. Sharing affection for ‘70s underground rock, the two swapped demos and, within weeks, were in a studio working on the songs that would ultimately become Twist and Bend. They finalized their lineup after finding keyboardist/guitarist/Ivy League grad Misha Kostandov through the local scene and bassist Amelia Gormley, a Berklee College of Music grad and a founding member of the band New Highway Hymnal.
The single “Heavy Hand” is the first single released by Blackout Balter with artist Dave Keuning of The Killers. The recordings took place in Las Vegas at Battle Born Stuidos and were produced by Robert Root (who produced and mixed The Killers and Imagine Dragons).
Blackout Balter frontman Phil Cohen states that “There’s really no one like Dave. He’s an amazing artist, but – most importantly – he’s an amazing guy. After arriving in Vegas and heading over to Battle Born Studios, I remember looking out the window and thinking, ‘Man, I really hope Dave shows up!’ Sure enough, a few minutes later, Dave arrives carrying a big cello that literally says, ‘Old German Cello’ on the case. When we started working on ‘Heavy Hand’. I was amazed with how quickly things came together. The first run-through of the song was near-perfect and I couldn’t hold back my excitement. I remember saying something like, ‘Did you just pull that solo out of your ass?’ Dave said something like, ‘I started humming melodies over the song, then I had a good idea of what I wanted to do on the guitar’. It was all very surreal.”
Interview With Phil Cohen
How did the band members meet and/or end up getting together (and staying together)?
“Shortly after I came home from Afghanistan with the military, I moved to the Boston area and met Chris at a neighborhood block party. I had heard there was a good drummer who lived in our neighborhood; and, after Chris and I met, he found out I was a songwriter. I passed Chris a bunch of very rough songs, and Chris loved them. Within a few weeks, Chris and I started playing music together. We weren’t Blackout Balter yet, and everything was still early; but— around that time—I started grad school at MIT. While I was at grad school, I met Misha. Misha had just finished up grad school at Brown, and decided to move from Providence to Cambridge to start a company with some friends, one of which was a classmate of mine at MIT. I introduced Misha to Chris, and the three of us started playing music together. We cut some early demo recordings together, and these demos are the recordings that ultimately found their way to Dave Keuning. After grad school, I met Amelia through the local Boston scene. She was in an amazing band that I admired, and I loved the way she played bass. When the four of us started playing together, everything felt right.”
What are some of the group’s favorite moments in creating music and performing?
“Hands down, recording with Dave Keuning and Robert Root at Battle Born Studios, The Killers’ personal studio, is one of our favorite moments as a band. This was a total dream come true, and I think our excitement shows through on Twist and Bend. As far as performing goes, shows have always been an opportunity for us to take risks and test things out. Everything from new songs to audience interaction. I love that each show is a discrete moment in time that really can never be re-created–they’re all unique, and they’re all a once-in-a-life experience for the band and everyone who is in the audience. There’s a certain beauty and passion that comes with this outlook, and I think it all stems from this primal connection that people experience, when they experience music and other forms of art together. On some level there’s a certain catharsis; and this catharsis is especially beautiful when you experience it with other people. This is live music to me; and this is what I enjoy most about playing shows. But we’ve played some really sh***y shows! [laughs] One show, in particular, stands out. We were in NYC, and somehow the schedule got out of wack. It was a very small club and we were last to take the stage. We were scheduled to hit at 11pm, but we ended up taking the stage after 2am. I remember everyone in the joint either being drunk or asleep at the bar by the time we jumped on stage. I think the folk-rock bands who were on the bill with us put everyone to sleep. [laughs]. The first thing I did when I got on stage was step on my distortion pedal and push my guitar against my amp for feedback, to wake everyone up.”
What else does the band have going on in the future and what would you like to have going on in the future?
“We’ll be touring soon, and we’re looking forward to releasing some information on this front soon. We’re also always working on new music, and I’m very excited with the direction we’re heading. Ultimately, though, we’re swinging for the fences, and we want this to be huge. Not because we want to be famous and look cool, but because we want to connect with people, share our art on a large scale, and do something important for this world. I’m on this weird personal crusade to make being a rock musician a respectable profession to parents around the world. [laughs]. I laugh when I say this, but it’s true. When a high-schooler, or even a college student, says, “Hey, Mom and Dad—I think I’d like to be an engineer,” Mom and Dad say “That’s delightful, little Johnny.” But when that same kid says, “Mom and Dad—I think I’d like to be a professional musician,” Mom and Dad’s heart skips a beat and they say, “Are you sure you’d like to be a musician?” You’ve heard the story before. In full disclosure, a lot needs to take place within the Music Industry to create this fertile ground—the Industry has many, many issues. But, personally, I’d like to start moving this conversation in the right direction.”
What has helped everyone in terms of staying focused and evolving creatively?
“Well, we’re still relatively new—let’s not forget that. It’s easy to stay focused in the short-term, and much harder to maintain focus in the longer-term. But, I think this motivation has a lot to do with a team’s leadership, both within the band itself and within the larger team via management and the other great folks we work with. We’ve worked very hard to ensure our team is right, and I’m very happy with it. On the creative front, it’s all about continuing to be a real person and live important life experiences. If you’ve ever wondered why many bands write sh** music as they progress and get older, there’s a clear reason for this. They grow content, get soft, stop listening to other music, stop living deep experiences—I could go on and on. Life is about staying sharp. Great—have a kid, but stay sharp. Great—dive into Corporate America, but, by all means, stay sharp! Don’t throw in the towel and make excuses for not having time for your true passions. I make it sound like this is easy, but don’t get me wrong—it’s not. Society tells us that it’s good to grow complacent—“Settle down and carry a briefcase to work. It’s what you should do.” But that’s bullsh**, and I’m not settling down anytime soon. It’s a state of mind. And this state of mind is important to evolving creatively.”
Where do members of the band like to discover and experience music?
“First and foremost, we’re music lovers, so we’re always out on the scene, watching shows, interacting with other bands; interacting with other music lovers. I don’t know what happened to the days of going to a rock club any random night of the week to check out the bands on the bill. All of us in the band still do this. I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and I said, “Let’s go to The Middle-East,” [a club in Cambridge] and he said, “Who’s playing?” I said, “I have no clue, but that’s the beauty of it.” Whenever I can, I go to my favorite rock clubs, and what I find is always inspirational. This is how we discover and experience music: with the people, and that’s the way we like it.”