Interview: Le Blonde

Gerard Marcus

Despite describing themselves on their BandCamp bio as “two dark hearts [melding] opposing vibrations in a windowless room in Brooklyn,” Le Blonde is actually a pretty friendly and hilarious duo. Audi Martel and Eric Stamile have been coming up with wonderfully mopey, dreamy electro-shoegaze tracks for a few years now, and their recent single “The Voices” might be our favorite one yet. But apparently it’s not theirs.

We sent them a few questions over email about their musical backgrounds, the origins of Le Blonde, and their songwriting style. They responded with a discussion of Eric’s imaginary bodybuilding career, Poltergeist, and the day one of their songs caused a worldwide iTunes crash. We left their formatting intact despite not really being in line with our style guide. Sometimes caps-lock is the only thing that’s going to get the point across.

ThrdCoast: Tell us a little about yourselves, your musical backgrounds, and where you’re from.

Audi Martel: I’m from Detroit. Other than taping myself singing Olivia Newton-John songs into a Panasonic as a kid, quitting guitar when I was four because it hurt my fingers, assigning a song to every person and memory I’ve ever had, and being a Dinosaur Jr. groupie for one weekend of my life, I don’t have a “musical background.” I never really thought I was “good at music” until one day I sang something to someone and they said, “Where’s that voice coming from?” Then again, you could say that about Rick Astley, so who the fuck knows. I don’t think I’m a great singer. I just have my own voice. Everyone does. It just takes a lifetime to embrace it. I don’t want to sound like anyone. AND I really don’t want to be a great singer. Quivering jaw. Vibrato. Good god, have you ever watched The Grammys? People singing with their hands. I can’t. I’d rather sing like Dylan.

Eric Stamile: I’m from New York. I have a long and sordid history in music, but if I had to give the Cliff Note version it’d read: “Eric Stamile, after being disenfranchised with the world of bodybuilding, randomly heard the B-side to Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire,” aptly named “Eric’s Theme,” and immediately took it as a sign. He turned to the piano where he was classically trained for many years, and eventually auditioned for the prestigious Interlochen Summer Music camp in Michigan as a child. Crushed by the news he wasn’t accepted, he purchased his first drum machine at age 14 and his classical training went straight to shit.”

AM: You were never a bodybuilder. You look like a wet noodle.

TC: How did the two of you meet?

AM: One sunny summer eve I was driving back to the city from The Catskills, sunroof down, wind in my hair, singing my fucking heart out (“Sisters of the Moon”). And I thought to myself, this thing I love, why haven’t I been doing it? I vowed the second I got back to the city—I didn’t care whose band…what kind of band, I was going to sing, because someday I’ll die. And nothing will matter but a few moments of happiness. That exact moment, I got a text from my best friend’s husband, Gabe McDonough, “Did you get my message about singing? My friend in BK wants to start a band.” It felt predestined. Six months later our cover of “Sisters” was in the company of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, David Lynch, Grimes…BLAH BLAH. It was bonkers.

ES: Gabe’s role in the whole thing was so crucial, because he had the foresight to see what a good match we are. Besides occasionally contributing from LA, Gabe is Le Blonde’s unofficial band shrink. He handles our neuroses effortlessly. If I were to equate it to a Depeche Mode situation: he’s two parts Andy Fletcher, one part Martin Gore, and a pinch of Dr. Phil.

TC: What led you guys to the project that is Le Blonde?

AM: We started emailing each other about music before we met. At first it seemed like a weird fit: a shoegazing Mac-head with a guilty love for Tony Toni Tone who was currently listening to Amon Duul, Blind Lemmon Jefferson, and Darando. I’d also been learning the banjo and writing acoustic guitar songs that were more Sibylle Baier than Le Blonde. Eric had no issue with my 90s R&B, but he had this electronic background and I hated electronic music. I think we were both thinking, how is this going to work? But we got drunk together and I personally think if you put two real music lovers in a room together they will find a common ground. We realized, musically, we met somewhere on the floor of our teenage bedrooms, brooding and staring at the ceiling. We both loved Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Roxy Music, The Smiths, Echo &The Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine.

ES: Well, to be fair, my background was really more hip hop-leaning than electronic, and that was mainly from my time working in Atlanta’s urban scene. Early Outkast and Goodie Mob were huge influences of mine at the time. I wasn’t making Euro trance music, which I’d say we both have equal disdain for.

TC: Are there any specific inspirations you can point to?

ES:  We love effects. We love writing with a ton of Tape Delay on the guitar and just letting the feedback inspire us. One of my favorite vocal effects is in the movie Poltergeist when the girl’s voice was being transmitted through the television. I always thought that was fucking amazing and that really stuck with me. When we first started doing Le Blonde, I drew from Audi’s pagan spirituality so I treated her vocal performances as apparitions. When you listen to “Let It Burn” or “Sisters” there’s a ton of reverse reverb on the vocals, so it sounds like she’s being beamed in from another realm.

TC: What subjects do you like to talk about in your songs?

AM: Le Blonde’s always seemed to be these four things: Driving. Haunting. Woozy. Ethereal. Lyrically, I’m inspired by pain, self-destruction, the struggle for control between the opposite sexes, afterlife, mysticism. I’m also inspired by nature; it can be pretty graphic. Musically we draw from landscapes. I’m so visually driven it gets ridiculous in the studio. Like I’m yelling at Eric, “NO! It needs to sound like a rattlesnake coming at you like a New Year’s Eve noisemaker, but on acid. God! What don’t you get?!” Poor Eric.

TC: Tell me more about the dynamics between the two of you when it comes to songwriting.

AM: We’re some kinda crazy yin and yang. Even our astrological signs are opposing. Pisces/Virgo. I’m earthy. He’s electro. This meeting in the middle makes our sound. It’s a synergy. Neither of us would sound this way alone. I’m always making him simplify or break music rules, because frankly I don’t know the rules. He never makes me feel inferior about that. More than anything, he praises my simplicity as genius. He’s the ultimate anti-hater. He has taught me so much about music; I’m forever indebted. He’s so talented, but completely modest.

ES: You’re making me blush. Audi’s relatively new at production so the cool thing about working with her is that she has the exact same kind of beautiful, ferocious love for music that I felt before I started making music. She’s going strictly off the vibe, which is always a good thing for someone like me who’s obsessing over what preamp to use. She brings a ton of analog warmth into the process. Did I mention she’s the Queen of the Ebow?

AM: FUCK YEAH. Did you just call me a vibe rider? That’s awesome on so many levels.

TC: Do you have a pretty standard flow for creating a song? For example, do you usually sit at a piano, write a melody, develop the music and lyrics, do a recording at home, play it live to tighten it up, then go into the studio to produce the final version? Anything like that?

AM: It’s different each time. We sort of feel our way. “The Voices” started on synth, but it was a fucking nightmare. It’s the first thing we wrote. Speaking of Poltergeist, that song is possessed. It almost broke up the band. It may have also broken iTunes since its release date was THE ONLY DAY IN INTERNET HISTORY THAT ITUNES CRASHED WORLDWIDE (which is awesome for sales by the way). We struggled with every element of that song. It became something we had to overcome. “Let it Burn” we wrote in two days. Same with “Peacock.” We started it on the Jazzmaster, with Gabe. It’s my favorite Le Blonde track.

ES: I actually can’t listen to “The Voices” anymore. Not because it’s a shit song, but just because the process it took to finish it was so grueling. Maybe one day. “Let it Burn” is still my favorite and where I think we both see Le Blonde heading.

TC: How do you know when a song is done?

AM: Not sure we do. It’s our Achilles’ heel. We can’t let go. Eric is worse than me, because he’ll hear some weird hiss or harmonic, which only rats and dogs can hear, and he’ll obsess over it. I like everything dirty and imperfect, like it is in life. He could obsess over a kick for years. I can’t let songs go for different reasons. Releases feel like break-ups to me. Like this thing brought you so much joy and now (insert mouth-made fart noise) it’s a deflated balloon pathetically fading away. I love the creative process. I hate sharing.

ES: Yeah, we take forever. It’s our white whale. We’re our own label and marketing so we release stuff when we feel like it’s ready, and that can be a bad thing sometimes.

TC: Outside of music, what's your favorite art form?

AM: Witchcraft.

ES: Beercraft.

TC: Who’s your favorite artist in said art form?

AM: I hate the word favorite. It’s my least favorite word. I love too much.

ES: Buzzcrafting. I am the master of that art form.

TC: What do you guys do when you’re not busy being Le Blonde?

AM: Watch old episodes of The Facts of Life on YouTube. We call each other Tootie. It’s a long dumb story.

ES: I’m also big into Gilmore Girls these days.

TC: What can we expect from Le Blonde in the near future? Summer tour? New music?

AM: We just started working on some new stuff. Eric wants to tour. Not me. Decades of modeling fucked my head. I don’t want to be watched. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t wanna entertain you.  I just want to be. BUT we always meet in the middle, so we’ll see…