Jillian Scheinfeld talks to LA’s Blondfire at SXSW
Polaroids by Sam C Long
If you haven’t yet heard Blondfire’s silky, electric indie-pop, you’re missing out. The lead singer, Erica Driscoll, champions the band with her killer vocals and dreamy, effervescent melodies. Growing up in Michigan with a pianist mother, Driscoll was introduced to the piano, guitar, and violin at a young age, and draws musical influence from a range of 80s British rock and Brazilian bossa novas.
Blondfire dropped their new EP, True Confessions in early March, and are currently working on cranking out a new album to follow up 2014’s Young Heart. Driscoll’s easy-going vibe was never more apparent when we met in the alleyway of a bar on East 6th street in Austin where she had just finished one of her killer sets. We spoke about her SXSW experience, writing music solo (previously she wrote as a duo with her brother), and her creative process behind True Confessions.
Tell me how your SXSW has been so far.
It’s been really fun so far! We played one show before this one, last night at 1 a.m. at The Iron Bear, which was our official showcase. It was so funny because it’s a total gay bar and before we went on there was a band full of guys and girls in thongs, covered in glitter and gold rocking out. It was a great scene. Then we played our show and it ended up being really great—you know you never know with the sound but it worked! Before we played, it was so late, I didn’t know if I’d have the energy to rock out.
I was going to say, are you used to staying up that late?
Yeah, but normally just doing chill stuff like watching Netflix, never really performing.
Yeah, most of the bands play so late here. I know it’s part of the novelty, but it can’t be easy.
You get a second wind, though, somehow, no matter how tired you are. And then you’re wired after you play, and need a glass of wine to wind down.
What’s your writing and recording process like?
For every song it’s always different. A lot of the times I’m inspired by hearing a certain chord progression or a keyboard sound. I usually start with melodies because they come really fast to me, and then the words follow shortly after. It’s this weird, magical thing to me, because sometimes you don’t know where the song comes from and then you start vamping the lyrics out and things start sticking and making sense. Other times, I’ve had it where I saw a phrase or a word and thought that would be a cool concept for a song and that will take me somewhere.
Your great EP True Confessions just came out. What were some of your feelings while recording and your mental state in general that influenced the sound?
You know, I’ve been touring for the past couple of years before and on the road a lot. I got to a point were I needed to write more music. The way we’re touring in a van and a trailer, it’s hard to find moments to concentrate and write when you’re always around people. So, I took some time off of touring and went back and listened to a lot of bands that inspired me to do music originally.
New Order, Depeche Mode; I’m really into a lot of 80s British bands. I just went back and thought ‘Why do these songs affect me?’ and started going to this really free mindset of trying stuff and not being so stringent about the direction I was going in. The topics are a little darker and edgier than the last record. And it’s not necessarily because I was in a darker place—but my favorite bands, like the The Smith’s, have dark lyrics with light-sounding music. There’s definitely a sense of danger and a little more intensity this time around.
Very cool. So, I know you write music with your brother.
I did, but I don’t play with him live anymore. We’ve been playing together since we’re little kids and learned instruments together. On Young Heart we wrote all the songs together and it was a really collaborative process. So recently he decided to go on tour—he has another band with his wife and wanted to explore other projects. It was time to separate a little bit and do our own thing. He was involved with two songs with me on this EP, but even though I love writing with him so much, it’s been fun to just look at myself and think ‘What’s the direction I want to go in right now?’ It’s challenging, but it’s also really exciting because you’re free to take the chances you want without any input.
Totally. You’re half Brazilian? You must’ve grown up with some great bossa nova music.
Yup! My mom’s Brazilian and my dad is American. My mom was really influential with me playing instruments. Her brothers and sisters grew up playing lots of instruments, so she had my brother and my sister and me start playing really young. She was always singing and playing Brazilian music in the house—a ton of Veloso and Jobim. Funny enough, being in Brazil turned me on to a lot of great British bands because I would visit my cousins when I was 12 and go to dance clubs and dance all night. Especially growing up in Michigan, there’s not much to do when you’re underage there. It was awesome to visit my cousins and see this polar opposite place and culture. They would play stuff like New Order and the Pet Shop Boys and that’s sort of how my love for music really crystalized.
What are you looking forward to most this year?
Just finishing up this album—I have a lot more songs written than what’s on the EP. Definitely going to put out some more singles and videos. I shot this video for one of my singles “Pleasure” all by myself on my iPad. It’s a super psychedelic song so I did a psychedelic video. I was trying to make teaser clips for when the song came out, and it started turning out really cool. So, I got excited and collected tons of footage around my house and my neighborhood and created a video.
That’s awesome. How’d you find the right recording app?
I straight pillaged the app store! I did another video for True Confessions where I shot a lot of the footage myself on my iPad, and the rest my brother and his wife helped shoot the full band footage. All in all, it’s been really cool to do all this stuff on my own.
Jillian Scheinfeld is a journalist living in Brooklyn/Catskills. Be social: @jillianschein