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Blank Dogs
bklyn's elephant man
by: Cassie Marketos - April 13, 2009

Mike is probably not who you think he is. Get that part straight and the rest of getting to know the man behind prolific Brooklyn-based powerhouse of lo-fi-new wave, Blank Dogs, is cake. Just expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected in his case occasionally means the totally mundane, like taking the stage at his first ever live show last September dressed just as himself. No tricks, no costumes, no visuals – just himself and some serious vocal distortion. “Everybody was expecting masks and a spectacle. A light show and smoke!” he tells me, laughing at the thought. “But I just played it straight.”

And if you know anything about Blank Dogs, you know that playing it straight is one of the most unexpected things that he could do. Despite having unleashed a veritable landslide of vinyl across a half-dozen or more of Brooklyn’s best underground labels over the last few years, the man behind Blank Dogs has, until recently, remained stoically in shadow. Each highly limited and heavily sought after release existed in total dislocation from its creator. No liner notes, no photographs, no credits not even an entirely discernible set of lyrics onto which the avid fan could hang an identity. So why the sudden transparency? Mike shrugs. “It was too much. Too contrived.” A pause, then: “It’s hot under masks, anyway.”

Again with the unexpected: he’s funny. And it’s just our first beer. Mike quickly reveals himself to be the kind of amiable and dry-witted dude that would turn up behind the counter at your local record store (hint: he does). One of his most regularly offered responses is a bashful “I don’t know” followed shortly by a lengthy rejoinder. He does know, obviously, but he clearly doesn’t feel that entitles him to give long-winded explanations. The quirk is one of modest self-awareness and it’s charming.

Mike tells me that life as Blank Dogs began when a friend heard one of his songs and asked to release it. “I said okay,” he recalls. “And after that it just kind of snowballed. I’ve noticed this about life in general: if you stop being conscious and actually trying, if you just concentrate on all that you’re doing, then stuff happens. If something is good it will find its way to whomever needs to find out about it.” Easier said than done for most, perhaps, but Mike’s yet to prove anything to contrary. His music has definitely been found, and the resulting furor has been as big of a surprise to him as anybody.

“I just thought that I would put out everything. I never thought anybody would care, honestly. I just work really fast, and if I work on one song for a long time and labor too much, it’ll never happen. I just try to get it done, mix it, be happy with it, and put it out.” Record, release, and never look back. It’s a work ethic that has ratcheted up the expectations of an eager fan base, but Mike is quick to shrug off the idea of succumbing to production pressures. “If I give myself time to think about, I probably won’t do it,” he explains. “So I’m pretty subconscious about it. I won’t say that the songs are meaningless, but the meaning in them is something I’m not thinking about. They just kind of come like that.”

Given the organic nature of Mike’s musical composition - less premeditation, more “just letting it come” – it seems appropriate that he would have allowed his fans to similarly manifest his identity. Which they did, scrabbling heatedly amongst themselves by way of anonymous blog commentary and circulating visual paraphernalia of questionable resource: some grainy video footage and a single photo of a mysteriously shrouded man, neither of which were actually by or of Mr. Blank dog himself. In actuality, Mike’s roots are hardly phantasmal. He grew up near Seaside Park in New Jersey, dividing his time there between collecting cassettes and seeing shows at bars during the boardwalk’s off-season. He also played in his own fair share of bands, and, surprise surprise, spent a lot of time alone in his bedroom recording to a four-track.

“I had like nine different bands that were all just me,” he confesses, but when pressed to elaborate on the notable consistency of his artistic output, Mike is quick to stem the tide of any potential myth-making: “I don’t think I’m a special person. I don’t think I have the ability to write songs more than anybody else – other people just don’t realize that they can. Everybody thinks that I’m consciously trying to put out as much stuff as I can, and I think that they are subconsciously suppressing themselves not to.” In a generous display of self-deprecating humor, he is also careful to note that his creative proficiency is not necessarily symptomatic of some brooding, prodigal gift. “I can play every [instrument] mediocrely or worse,” he deadpans. “I know chords. And I’m a good bass player in a certain style. At every other instrument I am merely adequate. I can’t afford to be a perfectionist. I’m hard on myself about a lot of stuff, but not Blank Dogs.“

Perfectionism, it turns out, is one topic on which he is neither reserved nor reluctant to speak. In fact, he has a fairly distinct level of disdain for anything he considers to be overly precious or purportedly flawless. “This idea about recording and releasing stuff, the perfectionism aspect, I just don’t agree with,” he says. “I just find it boring. This My Bloody Valentine thing where you’ve got one record every four years drives me crazy.” What he prefers is the kind of music that would be found buried on a back-shelf somewhere, discovered by chance rather than calculated marketing, and his excitement on the subject is palpable: “My goal, if I ever had one, is to make music that I would have loved when I was 15. My older sister’s friends would put a song on a mix-tape and I’d be like ‘Woah, what is this?!’ and I’d find out all this stuff about it. You know, that’s the sound that I’ve always wanted to hear.”

In the near future, Mike won’t be finding himself with any shortage of opportunities to do just that. Aside from the upcoming release of another full length for Blank Dogs (on In The Red, a label he also sometimes works for), he’s keeping busy with multiple collaborations, most notably The Mayfair Set with Dum Dum Girls, and has a burgeoning record label called Captured Tracks. He’s also hitting the road on his first official US tour, accompanied by a full band and a stack of blinking audio equipment resembling some futuristic dream by way of “Bladerunner”. Despite everything, though, Mike is still refreshingly flippant about his band’s future. “I’ll probably do it forever. Why not? I can totally see Blank Dogs twelve years from now. It’ll just be these really boring dirges on piano with no accompaniment and everybody hating it.”

As for my inquiry into the possibility of opening up Blank Dogs to future collaborations, Mike merely looks at me for a second. Then, in an explosion of characteristic indecision, he offers only the following in response: “I don’t know. Maybe. Who knows! I mean, whatever.” Amen, man.



 
 

"My goal, if I ever had one, is to make music that I would have loved when I was 15. My older sister’s friends would put a song on a mix-tape and I’d be like ‘Woah, what is this?!’ and I’d find out all this stuff about it. You know, that’s the sound that I’ve always wanted to hear.”


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what it is

DIY, lo-fi new-wave with some undeniable pop melodies for those who like anything ever released by Factory Records, ever.