On their self-titled 2011 debut, Portland’s Blouse let synths and drum machines set a dreamy backdrop for singer/songwriter Charlie Hilton’s breathy delivery.
The trio’s sophomore effort, Imperium, switches things up by adding organic instrumentation to the mix. That not only infuses it with a newfound energy, it gives the undeniably charismatic Hilton a far broader palette with which to work.
I recently caught up with the lovely singer, who was holed up in a cabin about an hour outside of the Rose City.
Blouse plays with Austin's Feathers at the Void on Wednsday night.
Scott McDonald: How are you?
Charlie Hilton: I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted lately, but I’m feeling really good at the moment. I’m in the forest, and it’s beautiful. It has a strange way of making me feel better. It feels like home.
SM:Imperium just came out. How was the process compared to the first one?
CH: Any time you make a record, it’s a transition. It’s a totally new thing. And we did sit down and talk about it a lot before we just started recording. We talked about what it was that we wanted to do and how we wanted it to be different.
SM: Different than your debut?
CH: Yeah. We still love that record, but there are challenges. You want to stay true to yourself yet come up with something new at the same time. Jake, the producer in the band, came up with the idea early on to avoid the synths and drum machines as much as possible. So we made that a loose rule. We wanted to see how far we could go with that, and it ended up being really rewarding. We have so many things that influence our music and didn’t get to really explore that many of them on the first record. And we had the discussion about being aware that we might lose some fans that are really into the heavy synth thing. We had to be OK with that. We wanted a challenge, and we wanted it to be fresh. We weren’t deliberately trying to reinvent ourselves or anything; we just thought it would be fun. And it ended up being an enjoyable process.
SM: And why not?
CH: Right? So many people have equated us with the synth and drum-machine sound, it was nice to prove to ourselves that wasn’t all we were. But I think a second record is always a challenge. There’s something to compare you with now. It’s an interesting thing. When you’re coming out of nowhere, people have no expectations. But in any art form, I think creating can be a difficult and sometimes painful process. So to come out of this feeling good … and who knows what the next record will sound like? We don’t. I mean, it could be all synths [laughs].
SM: Has it changed the live show?
CH: These new songs are really fun to play live, but it’s still a pretty basic set-up onstage. Well, now we have one more guitar. But it’s been really interesting playing the new ones next to the older songs. Figuring out the overall flow has been a little more challenging, but I think it makes the set really dynamic, and that’s nice.
SM: Are you able to create while you’re on the road?
CH: The one thing about writing on the road is that you’re never alone. And when I write, in the beginning at least, I like to be alone. The only time I ever wrote on the road was when our flight got delayed, and they gave us each our own hotel room [laughs]. I wrote "Capote" from the record that time. It’s just such a different rhythm on the road. I had this grandiose idea on our last tour where I was going to write an entire record and it would be done by the time we got home [laughs]. That didn’t happen.
SM: What’s next?
CH: Well, we recently got a new booking agent, so we're going to do this West Coast tour in support of the record. Then, we’re planning on going to Europe in November for a few weeks. After that, we’ll just have to see.