|bklyn's elephant man
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
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
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
“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.”
listen to "
DIY, lo-fi new-wave with some undeniable pop melodies for those who like anything ever released by Factory Records, ever.