AN INTERVIEW WITH DEAR BLANCA
People crammed into the living room, spilling into the kitchen, the door propped open so those outside could listen, too. Everyone was desperate to hear Dylan Dickerson, Cam Powell, Andrei Mihailovic and Marc Coty. Known as Dear Blanca, the Columbia based band made their way down to Charleston to play an intimate set at The Embassy Files on January 20th. Tearing through old favorites and integrating some new tunes, the band’s folk infused power pop kept audiences dancing throughout their entire set. After the show I caught up with Dylan and Cam to talk about their new album, old stories, and how to be the ideal ‘Dear Blanca dude.’
WHO ARE YOU OUTSIDE OF THE BAND?
CAM: We both have dogs!
DYLAN: I’m a super big fan of my dog and my bicycle. I sit on the porch a decent bit and spend a lot of time either writing music or thinking about how I should be writing music.
YOU GUYS PLAYED SOME NEW STUFF TONIGHT. HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM YOUR LAST RELEASE?
D: Our last record was a conscious effort to make a quieter record and it was involved thematically around this book of poetry that Cam’s late uncle wrote. Every song on that record was rooted in that book of poetry, either inspired by it or adapted from it. We’ve actually been working towards a new record, and I would say it’s a shift in the opposite direction. It’s pretty up-tempo.
C: On all of our records there’s a mix of louder songs, softer songs, and things that are more punk-y more folk-y, etc. We thought “what are the songs that we see people react to the most?” We could see visual reactions on the louder songs and it was like “what if we made a whole record of loud, not necessarily punk tunes, but a little more to that style?”
D: The more energetic tunes end up being the outliers on our records. In general, there’s a decent bit of volume to us in any capacity. [On] the last record, we knew we could make these bigger songs and wanted to push ourselves to try and embrace a quieter side of ourselves. We’ve always let that be the outlier and less frequently touched on quality of the band. The record is already shaping up to have an ebb and flow; it’s not going to be one consistent loud record the whole time. I prefer for a record to have its ups and downs and dynamics, but we want to toy around with the louder side of the band in general.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE BOOK OF POETRY?
C: My uncle passed away and my family was cleaning and found this book of poems that he had written in ‘89/’90. The end of his life was a tragic tale and the book of poems is like a lament[ation]; some hope in there for sure but [mostly] love lost, that kind of stuff. No one knew it existed until two summers ago. As soon as I got it I gave it to Dylan and I was like “Dude, it would be really cool if we took some of this and turned it into a small little concept record,” and Dylan just ran with it. There are some lines that are direct, and there are other things that are inspired by and adapted from those works. That record is definitely really personal for me because it’s such a direct link to my family.
HOW DOES YOUR SONGWRITING PROCESS WORK? DOES DYLAN DO THE MAJORITY OF IT?
C: Typical[ly], Dylan will come up with some type of guitar riff that leads to [a] verse and he’ll bring that to the rest of the band. Marc and I are the only two that live in Columbia. Andrei lives in Charleston so he doesn’t get to do a lot of the writing with us; he usually gets to add his parts in at the end. But, essentially, Marc and I take what Dylan has brought to us and we start crafting our parts and coming up with the rest of the song, how it transitions in the chorus, if we need to add a bridge or anything like that. Dylan plants the seed and it’s collaborative from there between the three of us and Andrei -- as much as we can get him involved. We would love to have him involved even more. That’s the plan for this record.
D: We had the songs written for that last record before he joined the band. We had been on tour with Secret Guest and found out he was such a great keyboard player and immediately I was like “I definitely want to bring him into record some,” and then he played on every song. After that I got so sold on his additions to the songs I asked if he’d start playing with us live and the rest is history. I really enjoy his contributions to the band both musically and personality-wise. Though our songs may not give you this impression we are a lot goofier than the lyrical contents.
C: We’re goofy and happy [and] our songs are sad.
D: They're heavy-hearted but that’s a real side of us as well. As far as just four guys hanging out together there's a lot of chemistry based off of enjoying each other's company and being pretty open to a lot of goofballing. Andrei is primo-goofball. He fits right in that level [in recording]. He’s so willing and capable of jumping right in there. We didn’t give him much -- I sent him an iPhone recording or some [bit] of a couple of the songs and then he came to the studio and I was like “Damn, that’s what you did with the little bit.” He’s a natural fit, which is how I felt with Cam. Initially it was me and Marc in the band, and then as soon as we played with Cam for the first time I [realized] this is an obvious [person] who’s not meant to just be a collaborator, but someone who is meant to be apparent fixture in the band and help us grow. I feel the same about Andrei. He’s such a Dear Blanca type guy. When he’s around I feel even more comfortable and inspired. Good company leads to good things.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN “DEAR BLANCA TYPE OF GUY?”
C: We’re all very goofy, we don’t take ourselves very seriously, we want to put on a good show, and we want to try to connect with people through that. But our number one ambition is not getting big or making money, it’s just doing this because we really really enjoy it.
D: If I have to scrape by for music for the rest of my life, that’d be alright as long as I can play the music I want with the people I want. It’s certainly a dream of mine to only play music and I’m making whatever steps I can do to do that, but I don’t care about ever being some sort of household name. Just being able to pursue it as much as we can. The goal is to continue to do a whole lot more. Transparency is a thing that we strive for as far as how we carry ourselves. We never once try to act like we’re cooler than we are. We know that we’re nerdy guys and when I’m on stage I almost intentionally try to be as not rock star-ish as possible. I’ll think the most absurd thing and instead of censoring that I’ll share it with the crowd cause I just feel like that’s the steeze I enjoy the most. I want people to see us and have a general idea of what we would be like as guys. I just never want to carry myself in a way that isn’t actually how I feel I really am. Andrei is the same way, he is 100% Andrei as soon as you meet him which I think is a charming quality.
GOING BACK TO THE BOOK OF POEMS, WHEN YOU WERE ORIGINALLY GIVEN THAT, WAS THERE A CERTAIN THING THAT STUCK OUT TO YOU THE MOST?
D: The thing that struck me the most was there's sort of a preface to the book that clarifies that some of them are meant to be songs and some are intended to be poems, but it doesn’t specify throughout the book which is which. I remember really feeling that the songs and the poems both had the cloudiness that comes with [that] post-relationship mindset. I almost felt like there was a narrative art [there]. It was a beautiful representation of how fucked up your brain is after [heartbreak] in the sense that some of the things you think and say are almost sappy then you would intend to be otherwise, but you’re so wrapped up in it. All throughout each [piece] there’d be a mixture of these really intensely romantic ideas [combined] with these moments of clarity. It seemed like in the midst of this intense heartbreak there’d be these revelations and epiphanies that would come out and it might just be a five word phrase! I never met this man but I felt like I had a really interesting glimpse into a specific time frame of his life -- it had the good and bad. When you’re directly dealing with something that’s breaking your heart, you’re going to have some thoughts that are golden and some thoughts that are clouded by your heartbreak. I thought that both of those were equally as important to include: the things that represented his moments of clarity and the things that felt his judgement was clouded. I thought both of those were equally as beautiful because they’re both super real. Everybody's been through bad breakup and had some thoughts that maybe two months later they were like “Wow that was a really dramatic thought,” but even though it might be a fleeting feeling, it’s something that everybody has touched on and it’s human. I like anything that makes you feel like you have an insight into someone's humanity. There is a lot of raw human emotion in that book of poetry and it all jumped out at me. He wasn’t filtering stuff. He was fully going in there and [saying] exactly how he was feeling which I think is admirable. It’s easy to try to center yourself in those moments, because you know that you’re not in the best place, but to go so far to publish that and bind that and set it in stone, that is a rare treat. A lot of people would be scared to share exactly what was on their mind. I thought it was really beautiful that he just laid it all out.
OUTSIDE OF THAT BOOK, WHERE DO YOU PULL YOUR INSPIRATION FROM?
D: A lot of times non-human things will inspire. [But also,] someone might say something that they’ll never think twice about that could inspire an entire song from me. Or [there are] literary influences as well.
C: The song that we described as a new song that we’d never played before tonight is basically about Dulna hanging out on our porch. I love our neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood that's still near a bunch of main roads so you hear sirens and it’s not back in the ‘burbs. You hear a lot of life happening around you. So that song is really just an observation about that. One of the songs off the first EP we put out in 2016 ‘I Don’t Mean To Dwell’ [is based off when] Dylan saw a dog take a dump on the side of the road after almost getting hit by a car and that inspired one main verse.
D: This shows our goofier side. I’ve brought that story up before and it’s always in that goofy context where I could easily avoid painting it that way but that's the truth, that’s where it came from. I was driving and I had this moment of shock thinking this dog was about to be killed and my heart sank into my chest. Then the dog literally used the bathroom on the side of the road and I [thought] “to stare death in the face like that and just move on and have a bowel movement is so strange to me.” Just the weirdness of the imagery got me thinking. I have a tendency to obsess over thoughts and things which I’ve gotten a grip on in my slightly old age but the thought was “from an animal's perspective, they don’t think twice. I would lose my shit if I almost got hit by a car and would be thinking about it for weeks.” I guess living in the moment is something people lose sight of. That song is dealing with the things that I waste my time thinking about when I could be enjoying the moments I have. Anytime that I find myself stressing before a show or while I’m on tour I [remember] “I want to be able to think about this moment in the future and about how much joy I had in it and not about the weird aspects of the day that were stressing me out.” Trying to manage anxiety. How easy it clearly was for that dog is where that line came from. We have a lot of weird anecdotal themes that come up throughout our music. It’s observational, some of it is a little stream of conscious some of it’s a little more directly narrative. Human interactions and daily observations seem to guide us a lot.
IS YOUR NEW RECORD MORE OF A CONCEPT ALBUM OR BASED OFF OF THOSE INTERPRETATIONS?
D: We’re only a few songs in, but the songs that I have written for it all seem to be a brief little vignette into different characters, [or] little moments of existence. Some of which are not based on any sort of reality. There’s a song I have written from a character that is completely fictional but [it’s] just me creating this moment in this fictional characters life and trying to think [about] how this character that I’ve created in my mind [would] react to certain stress factors in their life. I would say that so far, they all seem to be a little glimpse into various characters’ lives. [It’s] a growing series of vignettes but we’ll see. It could take a quick u-turn but at the point we’re at right now, that seems like the direction it’s headed in thematically. A little more broad, then something as focused as that book of poetry. I realized when I was writing a few of these I often will bring in these perspectives that aren’t my own, but I wanted to try and do that in a way that if you strung them all together it creates an interesting little line of events. It’s shaping together nicely.
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A BAND IN COLUMBIA?
D: It’s cheap to live there so you can tour a little easier based off of that.
C: There’s one really solid venue in New Brookland Tavern that we know when we play there they usually take care of us and we know that we’ll be able to pull out a good crowd especially if we have a few of our other friend bands on the bill, like Secret Guest, or our buddies Junior Astronomers from up in Charlotte. We know if it’s the two of us, or E.T. Anderson, who is also another great Columbia band, that’s going to be a big show. It’s fun knowing that we have hometown support. Columbia is interesting. It’s not a big music market by any means, there aren’t people getting record deals left and right, there aren't bands that are really blowing up. So the handful of us that are playing regularly are all pretty close friends and we try to help each other as much as we can and turn Columbia's music scene into something positive for those of us who are here. I think we all would like for some more stuff to pop up in Columbia, but we love [it].
D: To piggyback off of that, there’s definitely a strong sense of community in the music scene in Columbia. There [are] a lot of people who look out for each other, it’s pretty communal in that way. In the years that I’ve been there the scene has grown a lot, when I first moved there I didn’t know any other bands and since I’ve met so many people that I’m really excited about. When you see other people make creative things that you really enjoy it’s obviously going to inspire you to create, which is all you could ask for: a good source of inspiration. If you see somebody else killing it, it makes you want to get off your ass and write another song. I really enjoy Columbia in that way.