A few years ago, guitarist Russ Waterhouse and pianist Lea Cho of avant-rock outfit Blues Control moved from Brooklyn to a Coopersburg, PA, for a dose of rural idyll. They continue to make their peacefully rebellious ‘piano-rock’, but these days with a more focused mind. We spoke of embracing the quiet life, communities and cute animals.
Interview by Brenda Bosma, photos by Christopher Schreck
‘We’re open to the element of confusion and surprise, but we always stay concerned with trying to make people feel happy with our music’
When you started out were there some basic values you wanted to protect with your music?
Lea: ‘We always try to maintain a certain element of punk in our music.’
Russ: ‘And an openness to outsiders. One of the reasons we started making music together was as a response to certain social and economic hierarchies. Even in subcultures you run across a lot of hierarchical social structures that just seem absurd. A lot of it is based on gender and economic discrepancies which often translate into a close-minded community. We don’t want to exclude people.’
You did a surprising collaboration with ‘celestial musician and funny bone therapist’ Laraaji. He tries to get people more connected with their playful nature. Do you care how people experience your music?
Lea: ‘We’re open to the element of confusion and surprise, but we always stay concerned with trying to make people feel happy with our music.’
Russ: ‘In the beginning we were booked alongside a lot of noise bands. I felt that the community started to get a bit too negative and macho. Our response was a more positive and subtle sound as an alternative to that.’
Are you still reacting against certain trends or issues?
Russ: ‘We’re not quite as reactionary any more.’
But if you could make a protest song what would it be about?
Lea: ‘It would probably be about fracking, which is something that’s encroaching not so much in our neighbourhood, but north of us in Pennsylvania and also in the state of New York. It involves the process of collecting oil that is harmful to the environment in the sense that it ruins water sources. Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon actually made a protest song about it. Maybe we could do a cover of that .’
Would you say you’re part of a certain community?
Lea: ‘We like to think we’re part of a lot of communities. We tend to be very East Coast, but that’s just geographically. I feel like we hang out with a bunch of different types of musicians no matter what age or gender.’
Russ: ‘We try not to fetishise things like age.’
You used to live in Brooklyn, but moved to a small town in Pennsylvania. Did that influence your music in any way?
Lea: ‘It has given us a lot of economic freedom, but also more space and time and focus.’
Russ: ‘There’s less social distraction. I would say living here is a total bonus for ourselves and our music.’
Any other perks of living in the countryside?
Lea: ‘We’re less stressed out. We exercise more, eat better, go out more. In New York there’s a lot of amazing green spaces, but it’s hard when you’re living there, juggling everything, to actually take advantage of it. Here you can just touch it.’
‘Even in subcultures you run across a lot of hierarchical social structures that just seem absurd’
You must also feel lonely in the woods.
Lea: ‘We do occasionally want to see a show or a movie that only takes place in the city. But we’re lucky enough to travel quite a bit, so it gets compensated by that. Honestly, we still haven’t reached a point where we’re dying to get out of here, even after two and half years. We usually get really psyched to get home and relax .’
Would you say there’s a tighter community in a village than in the city?
Lea: ‘We actually don’t really know a lot of people here.’
Russ: ‘We played at this local farmers’ market where we buy our produce. That community is pretty tight and was very welcoming when we played that day.’
Lea: ‘Actually, an older woman came and she had no idea what was going on. She booked bands in France in the Seventies and was asking if she could buy our stuff. That was a nice encounter.’
Do you think that to know what’s happening you have to live in a city?
Russ: ‘You have the slightest bit of advantage when you’re living in a city, but everybody seems to live their life on the internet anyways. We don’t want to be oblivious, but also don’t want to obsess over it.’
Lea: ‘Here there’s a five-minute delay .’
But what’s happening in the woods?
Lea: ‘Not much.’
Russ: ‘A lot of cute animals like birds, rabbits, groundhogs, chipmunks and squirrels. We love listening to the birds sing.’
Blues Control are at OCCII, Amsterdam on 20 June with Idiot Glee and White Fence guitarist Jack Adams, aka Fictional Boys or John Webster Johns. The show’s free for Subbacultcha! members