BY TONY ABRAHAM Seattle based hard-soul/glitch-folk indie-rockers Motopony, led by former fashion designer Daniel Blue and joined by Buddy Ross and friends play Johnny Brendas tomorrow night (SUN. OCT. 16TH), promoting their debut self-eponymous album at Johnny Brenda’s. Phawker talked to Daniel (while the band was in the back of a van en route to Canada) about Motopony, music, the tour, Daniel’s artistic history, and the band’s explosion since the album was re-released last May.
PHAWKER: So before Motopony, you were a fashion designer with your own label. What sparked your transition to music?
DANIEL BLUE: In a lot of ways I think the label was just a transition itself, coming out of my parents’ home and into the world of art. It was a way for me to express myself while I was finding myself as an artist. I always saw it that way. But I do love design as well, it’s just another form of expression. I was working towards trying to be able to be that guy, whoever that guy was in my imagination.
PHAWKER: Do you still work with design at all or are you all focused on music right now?
DANIEL BLUE: Starting a band is really all encompassing, it takes everything you have. There are elements of design in it. I’m working pretty hard to get the merch up and running in a way that I find aesthetically pleasing personally. I spend a lot of time on that and also on designing a record cover and logo for the band and stuff like that. So while I am fully working on the band and not a clothing label, my design skill is employed.
PHAWKER: Where did the name “Motopony” come from?
DANIEL BLUE: It was an attempt to remind myself that the things around us are alive, even if they’re man-made. I wanted to call my motorcycle – I have this little kind of a pony like Honda Trail 110 from the 80s that I love, and I really just, I think we can heal the earth if we stop treating it like an object and objectifying it, give it some personality and let our imaginations to see it and the things in it as alive and develop healthy relationships with it, rather than just being consumers and devouring everything in our path.
PHAWKER: How did the band form?
DANIEL BLUE: I was writing a lot of poetry and they started to become songs. I remember a friend of mine asked me, “Is it time? Is it that time in your life that you’re gonna pursue this, cause that’s gonna be very different than you just living in a warehouse with a bunch of sewing machines and throwing parties every weekend,” and I was like, “Yeah, I think it’s time.” I just think making that decision opened up – you know, when the student is ready the master will appear kind of context, because suddenly I met Buddy Ross and this man in town told me he wanted to invest in my next art project, which I was like, “Well, it’s an album.” You know, it all began to pull together. Then we were getting radio play and playing shows, and it was insane. It just happened. But physically, Buddy Ross and I wrote the album through a series of emails and sitting in his studio conceived and put it together. I recorded a few sort of like solo tracks with a friend named Barton Carroll that we kind of tacked on in different places where we felt like they fit. Then once we had everything mixed and mastered and it was an album, we set out to build a band so I could play it live. Brantley Cady joined and we went through some struggles with trying to find a drummer, we ended up with a drummer named Forrest Mauvais who actually had been practicing to the CD, he had heard it through a friend. When we found him, he knew all of the songs which was hilarious. Consequently and recently we picked up another guitar player to play my guitar parts so I can just sing and be kind of a Freddie Mercury or Jim Morrison kind of character.
PHAWKER: The record was released in May, right?
DANIEL BLUE: Yeah, it was re-released by a group in New York – who wants me to tell you that they are not a label – called tinyOGRE. And they’re not technically a label, they’re working with Sony and they have a handful of bands. We had released it ourselves roughly six to seven months previous to that, in November of 2009.
PHAWKER: Everything is happening pretty quickly. I mean, MTV is calling you the “best band ever” and your song “Seer” is making its TV debut on HBO’s “How To Make It In America.” Things have really just been on the incline. What’s next?
DANIEL BLUE: We’re out here in the back of a van right now driving, heading to Canada right now to play our first show with Viva Brother, which is a rig out of the UK. We’ll be opening for them some dates in the Northeast. What’s next is, we put in the time to go out and prove it and develop a fan base in different markets and cities. Nobody’s really buying into the hype machine right now. I know I don’t. You hear about this or that, what MTV says – and that’s, I mean that’s wonderful, excellent, excellent press. Don’t quote me on acting like that’s not a big deal. But bands have to play live, and they have to rule live. So we’re getting better at that and also just getting out there and doing that. So what’s next is we just tour the shit out of the Eastern states, pretty much. And show you all what it’s about. In a real way. And not on your computer. Or your iPad. Or your iPhone. Or your Android. Or whatever the hell you listen to music on.
PHAWKER: You know HBO is not just TV. That’s big.
DANIEL BLUE: I can’t tell if your making fun of me or if you’re agreeing with me…
PHAWKER: Oh, no. I’m making fun of HBO if anything.
DANIEL BLUE: The truth is, I can’t deny that those are powerful things for a band as new as we are to achieve. It’s great that our recorded work is finding the ears of those people and that’s really due to the people we signed up with in New York, tinyOGRE. They’ve worked really hard and we’re super grateful for that. But we still can show up in Vienna, Virginia on a Monday night and be headlining and seven people are in the audience and it’s like, “Alright…well, this is different from when we play in New York or LA.” But that’s good, I think that’s healthy for a band. I’m kind of tired of it, but I’ll do it as long as it takes for people to get to know that we’re great people and we put on a great show.
PHAWKER: You describe the music as “hard-soul/glitch-folk.” What does that mean? Could you expand on that?
DANIEL BLUE: I think soul, what I imagine it, can sort of give in to this doo-wop or Motown-y kind of like – it can be a little sappy. And so we said hard soul because we wanted to sound cooler than that. No one wants to be called soft-rock, but we couldn’t really call ourselves a rock band. People associate us with that because of the “moto” in our name, anyway. These are folk songs, I wrote them on a three-string guitar, but then we added this glitchy, soulful, almost hip-hop hardness to them. So rather than saying hard rock we said hard-soul, and instead of saying folk we said glitch-folk because we’re not Fleet Floxes.
PHAWKER: This three-string guitar. I read that all the strings were tuned to E.
DANIEL BLUE: Typically. I mean, most of the songs on the first album are written with all the strings in E and then I capoed for different keys. “Wait For Me” was actually written with one of the strings tuned a full step up and one tuned a full step down. So it’s like F# E A, I think. That’s even weirder. But yeah, for the most part I find the simplest path to build a foundation for the melodies and lyrics. I just needed this tool to do this job, and it has this drone that has become a pretty integral part of our sound, which is awesome because I love that kind of hypnotic Eastern music schwarmy thing that happens, too. It’s real psychadelic in a way.
PHAWKER: How would you describe the feel of the album? What were you going for?
DANIEL BLUE: I was really trying to find a way out. I was feeling trapped by my culture and economy and my upbringing, my past relationships, my stories and narratives about what success looks like. I sort of had this hope and this dream, this desire to achieve and yet sort of being beset by these pretty hard questions about love and success and money. What do all these things mean? In a lot of ways it’s kind of my exploration of values. How do I become a man? I wanna win. I’m not gonna just lose and suck and fall into the groove like I’m watching so many of my friends. They’ll screw up their hands and be like, “Fuck it, I’ll just go get a job. Suck dick for money.” [Laughs] It’s like, “I guess I’ll just go be a slave,” you know.
PHAWKER: You just toured with Daniel Johnston, right?
DANIEL BLUE: Yeah, it was hardly a tour. We played three dates with him when he came into the Northwest. We played Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver B.C. I was thrilled, that was incredible. I got that comic book, the one with Casper jumping out of the plane that he sort of cited as the reason he crashed his dad’s plane. [Laughs] I made him sign it and he was not stoked about that.
PHAWKER: [Laughs] Oh, no.
DANIEL BLUE: He did it anyway. I don’t think I offended him, by any means, he just doesn’t like to be bothered. [Laughs] He’s an interesting guy. It was crazy to be up on stage with him – we were his backing band for some of his songs. I was just playing tambourine and trying to sing background vocals, which is not my strong suit. I’m most of the time sort of an attention hog kind of front man personality. I was laying back and slammin’ the tambourine just thinking, “I’m on stage with a legend right now. Who gets to say that they did this?” It was pretty intense.