Music as affirmation: an interview with Darryl Blood

Music as affirmation: an interview with Darryl Blood

As part of our Inner Worlds series we talk to US based musician and composer Darryl Blood about his creative process, the link between mental health and music, and how being an introvert has informed his music.

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“Music, or more specifically, creating music, has been a very important part of my life for so many years. It’s hard to think of my life without it. I want the music to take me somewhere.

Darryl Blood is a singer-songwriter and composer currently based in LA, but with a history reaching back across the USA to the Boston noise-rock scene of the ’80s and ’90s where he played with bands including Turkish Delight and Neptune. A solo artist for some time now his most recent album, 2019’s Parse, built around tonal points rather than traditional song structures and retain an experimental approach with swathes of melody washing against discordant shores.

Music as art

For Blood it has been a life in music, exploring instrumentation, tones and structures, which began – as it did for so many of us – with his parent’s record collection and a brush with the Beatles. He said, “My earliest memories of music that I can remember came from the records my mother used to play. Artists like Roberta Flack, Bette Middler, Carol King, Leo Sayer, Sly & the Family Stone, Jim Croce, Jethro Tull, Doobie Brothers, Chicago. She was a really big fan of Soul and Motown. I think driving around in my mom’s ’60’s Rambler listening to the radio was a big part of that experience too.

“I think Beatles’ Revolver was the album where I really took notice, and started to realise that songs could transcend just melodies and catchy choruses, to become art. I had this record player where you could turn the balance from left to right, so I could hear the isolated musical arrangements, right down to where you could hear the edits, like the cow bell that suddenly comes in and out on ‘Taxman’. It was like the magic curtain had suddenly been lifted. Once I heard The White Album, I was obsessed. There was no turning back and got me excited about the idea of multi-tracking. I knew then that I wanted in.”

Darryl Blood as a young child

The oldest of his siblings by some margin it was from an older cousin that Blood was introduced to New Wave, to punk, and more. But it was also a voyage of self-discovery with a compass set by music radio, and membership of the Columbia Records and Tapes Club. It wasn’t long before consuming music gave way to a drive to create something. Blood said,  “I put together my first cassette of original songs when I was 12. I had two cassette decks laid side by side; one deck would have a rhythm track of me playing chords, which I would play back while recording another live instrument or vocals onto the second deck. If I needed more tracks, I would repeat the process. I didn’t have any drums or percussion laying around, so I took an acoustic that had no strings, strapped a tennis racket over the sound hole with shoe strings, and would bang on it with paint brushes.

“I started my first band with a friend of mine, Geoffrey Lagadec. We had convinced a freshman drummer to back us up on stage and performed under the name Vicious Fishies at our high school senior talent show. We later changed our name to the Wholesale Crew and recorded some songs to cassette. Geoffrey sang all the songs, played guitar, did the drum machine programming and I played bass. We later recorded some songs under the name Rainhouse, at a home studio in Cambridge. This time we both traded off main vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards. This was notably my first “studio” experience. We both parted ways musically when I went off to Salem State College.

“While I was there, I met Patsy Bugden and we formed a couple of musical projects over the years while we were together; Houses and Trees (ambient/electronic) and Spelunker (indie/singer-songwriter). In Spelunker I mostly sang and played the guitar, with occasional drums, and she played bass, sang backing vocals and flute, with occasional keyboards. We put out a cassette of our efforts called “Au Clair” and played a handful of live shows.

“I attended Salem State for two years as an English Major before dropping out. I relocated to Boston in 1990, hoping to get in to Mass College of Art, but was never accepted. That next year I moved into an apartment with Dave Nelson in Brighton, who had graduated from UMass Amherst, along with my friend Geoffrey. My cousin Michael had introduced me to Dave back in Weymouth during my high school years and we had remained friends. He was a DJ at UMass, and he turned me on to great artists like Renaldo and the Loaf, T. Rex, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads, Fred Frith and The Residents. Dave had decided to take up drums, so we would jam together in our living room, often playing along to Neil Young’s “Harvest” album. We would often go out to shows, and soon we got the bug to form a band, which would later became Turkish Delight.

“During my time with Turkish Delight, I also played in a band called Neptune as their drummer. Jason Sanford was the leader singer and founder of the band. He had welded all of these instruments out of scrap metal, which were strung up like electric guitars and were able to be plugged into amps. Throughout the ’90’s I also managed to be in several other musical side projects, most notably La’Brador, Red Delicious, the Stuffings, and a band I started with my two younger sisters called Kitty Power.

“After Turkish Delight disbanded in 1997, I followed my path as a solo artist. I took some of my home recorded demos I had done under the name Tiltmaster and recorded the basic tracks in a home studio in Chicago. The resulting CD, ‘Swan Girth’, was released under my cousin Michael’s record label BlueSanct in 2000. That same year I started work on my next album, ‘This Isn’t Goodbye’, this time under my own name. It would be my last days spent in Boston, as I prepared to move to Los Angeles in 2002, where I live now with my wife and two sons.”

For a life which has been heavily seeped in music Blood has found time has pulled him more toward creation than consuming, and his own exploration is still firmly rooted in the depths of music history rather than the shiniest and newest releases. He said, “I think I’m still stuck in the vintage music of the ’60’s and ’70’s, or new music that reflects those tastes. I also have a soft spot for the ’80’s, but usually from specific pockets, mostly out of nostalgia. I don’t listen to a huge amount of new music these days, nor am I that eclectic in my tastes. I’d be horrible as a DJ. I’m usually content to catch up on everything that has come before. There are only a handful of current artists that I’m excited to follow, so most of my discoveries are still based off of recommends or happenstance. I just don’t devote much of my free time finding music. I figure the good stuff will reach me eventually. I’d rather be creating.”

‘The creative process comes in many ways’

The creative process comes to me in many ways. There’s the type where I’m actively trying to write something, and there’s the other where ideas just come to me and I try to capture them. I’m definitely an introvert, and I think I can come off as being reserved, depending on the situation. I’m not great in large crowds, and prefer to meet with very few friends at a time. It takes effort on my part to open up and be social in larger groups. I’m much happier to be a fly on the wall.”

Darryl Blood musicianIntroversion is more common among creatives than might initially be thought – the idea of the strutting rock-star and the desire to perform more naturally pulling our assumption toward gregarious, outgoing extroverts making up the music scene. But Blood, like many others, sees himself as being introvert by nature and needing time alone to recharge his energy. The conflict between introvert energy, and the desire to share art is something Blood is aware of in himself and something he has found circumstance has directed as much as his nature.

He said, “I never aspired much to be a front man, so putting myself on the path to be a solo artist seemed a bit counter intuitive since I did not crave the spotlight. But my desire to express what I wanted was greater than taking a back seat, so I took on the role as more of a means to an end.

“I’ve dreaded playing out live as a solo artist, with just myself and a guitar. I’m not much of a dynamic performer in that sense and don’t consider myself a folk artist, which I think was assumed whenever I would get behind a guitar by myself. I prefer playing with a full band since it made it more of a communal effort. I also wanted to represent the fullness of the arrangements. Nothing compares to the collaborative energy you get from playing with other musicians. But as the years went by, raising a family, it became increasingly difficult to devote the time to maintaining a band, so my solo releases have mostly existed as recordings. Many of my songs have never been played live in a band format.”

For those who are introverted or more solitary in their creative practice the emergence of digital technologies and the advances of home recording and releasing may seen to be a dream come true. Through them artists can create directly and on their own pieces which in analogue times would have needed collaboration, and the acceptance by gatekeepers to get it heard by more than a few people in your direct geographic vicinity. It’s eased the path in a practical sense but raised a new set of challenges – especially for introverted creatives who may not feel drawn to the ‘always on, totally open’ nature of promoting themselves online.

Blood said, “The digital environment is just another tool to process music, as was the invention of magnetic tape before that. On one hand, it’s a lot easier to create and release your own music, especially out of your own home, compared to yesterday’s standards, at the faction of the cost. The necessity to work with other musicians is a creative choice, because there are so many sounds at your fingertips these days. So when I choose to write alone, I can. But when I want the feel and input from other musicians, that’s a collaborative effort, and with that brings compromise. Letting go of creative control can also be surprising and rewarding in many ways. But how the music gets out there is still an equal challenge for any artist, at any level. The market is so flooded which talent, I’m just amazed anyone gets through.

“I think things like social media have given me opportunities to work with musicians I might not otherwise have worked with, especially in the global sense. I’ve recently done some collaborations this way, trading files, working digitally. But all in all, I think the challenges feel about the same as they were before, it’s just that the technology has adapted and changed to fit the demands of the market. It’s weird, we’ve come very far in some respects as a society, but in other ways, we’ve taken a few steps backwards, especially in this new digital age. We’ve created more of a distance, and isolated ourselves from true communication. Social media is a tricky beast though. It’s narcissism at a different level.”

‘Where my true self exists’

Much of Blood’s solo work is deeply atmospheric, not only conjuring soundscapes but often a sense of nostalgia for times we may not have directly experienced, or a longing for places we’ve never been or perhaps known but to which we can never return. Even the tracks which start somewhere accessible and familiar take many unexpected turns, can edge toward uncomfortable and often challenging, but let us stretch at the close with the sense of a journey well taken.

Blood said, “My music usually never reflects much of the outside world, it’s very introspective and centres mostly around relationships. Even the environments I create feel conjured up. I’ve steered away from politics for the most part. The music I create just feels like another world, apart from the world I’m living in. It’s a world I’m trying to rewrite, analyse and understand. It’s escapism. It feels like a double life where my true self exists.”

As well as a way to feel authentically himself music has been a way through which Blood has navigated his mental health, and a way to contain and cope with depression, and make creativity and productivity a positive. He said, “I had a bit of a nervous breakdown shortly after I quit Turkish Delight, and subsequently Neptune. I had also just ended a relationship and it was one of the lowest moments in my life. Too many breakups at once. My world just caved in. I literally couldn’t get out of bed some days, I was physically shut down. On top of that, I had this job where I was a foot messenger, so I would wait around with my dark thoughts in a mall waiting to be paged. It was a huge spiral.

Darryl Blood of Turkish Delight

“I think I’ve lived with depression my whole life, or as long as I could remember. My mother struggled with mental illness which prevented her from being the nurturing mother I would have wanted. I was always disappointed by that, felt like I missed out, but it could have been much worse. I know in her own way she did her best to raise me, but as I got older, her care become more neglectful.

“My mother was diagnosed with MS in her thirties, which I think exasperated her mood swings. All of this compounded into a very toxic environment. My mother separated from my step father by the time I was 14, and the family dynamic just got worse from there. The best solution I could find was to go off to college, and just remove myself from the situation.

“I think I’ve done as well as I could to keep my depression in check through the years. I’m happier when I’m productive, keeps the blues away. I mostly channel it through my music or art, but even that process can become a bit of a bottomless pit. It doesn’t completely solve it, but it keeps it departmentalised.”

That productivity has had challenges along the way as circumstances change, but whereas once aspirations to make music the main career it has through necessity and experience become more about the creative process than building toward fame and fortune. Blood said, “Back in my 20’s, music was much more of a life style. It was just always in the fore front of my mind. It was a big part of how I really started to socialise and make connections. Jobs were just a means to an end to help finance this musical habit, and aspirations to tour were much bigger than keeping my job.

“Now, I’m lucky to just have that urge to create something that moves me. It’s a tricky balance, because devotion to the health of your family and having a meaningful career is much more important to me these days. By default creating music has moved into the “hobbyist” stage of my life, pretty much because music has not panned out as a stable career. It’s just something that I continue to do steadily on the side, as long as its within my means.”

Music as an affirmation

“After recording music all these years, it’s like staring at a mirror. It starts to feel a bit narcissistic. Introspection becomes a broken record. It’s a writing style I’ve become comfortable with, speaking from my own point of view, but I try my best to break out of that mould and not let it define me. The kind of angst I was expressing in my twenties, has dissipated and evolved over the years. It’s certainly mellowed.

“Nowadays, for me, when I sing about relationships, they’re mostly dealing with family dynamics, careers, or lack thereof. But regret and loss is never too far behind. I tend to hold on to those feelings, and they resurface in my music. I’m trying to get past regrets, but it’s still a process. I’m still evolving and accepting my fate. Still trying to feel comfortable in my own skin.”

With an often introspective tilt to the music, and having found music settling in alongside other aspects of life, the many paths to releasing music have been ones Blood has explored. Being more DIY in his approach has meant taking on responsibility for aspects which don’t necessarily come naturally. He said, “I am the worst when it comes to self promotion, so as a result, my music doesn’t really get much exposure, which makes me feel like my music has been a bit of a failure. But I also understand that this is not entirely true. It’s taken me a while to understand how I measure success, and what it means to me. I’m fortunate to be in the position that I’m still able to create music. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done.

“I’ve continued to make music after all these years, but sometimes it does feel like I’m creating in a vacuum, or for a very small audience of friends. What keeps me writing and composing is this innate need to create. I really enjoy the creative process, and I feel fortunate to have worked with so many talented like minded musicians over the years. Subsequently, those collaborations have ultimately lead to friendships, which is probably the most valuable outcome.

“I’ve been drawing since a very early age too, but I don’t think I’ve been as satisfied with my visual output as much as my musical output. I went back to college to study illustration and animation after I dropped out of the Boston music scene. But as a career, illustration never really panned out for me, and I realised I wasn’t much of a visual storyteller. I didn’t feel compelled enough to hone in my skills to be a commercial artist. Music always seemed to preoccupy me, but ironically I never seemed to find a way to take it to a level where I could actually make it my career. It was a bit of battle for a while trying to choose what side I was on.

“Just a couple of years ago, I scored my first film (J.Horton’s 2018 indie horror The Campus – retitled Deathday), and it was revelatory. The collaboration between matching music to film was so exciting for me. It was like this light went off in my head. It had never occurred to me that I could be a music composer for film, so it was a huge personal victory. I got this rush of inspiration to follow that path. I’m still trying to figure that out, and see if I can keep my hand in it, but like most careers, it takes years to see how it actually pans out.”

Summing up a life in music Blood says music has been a part of who he is but the process of creating has also a means through which to understand himself more deeply, and to accept and access his true self. He said, “Music above anything else has been like an affirmation for me. An assurance that I could be okay with who I was, and come to terms with the experiences I have had. I suppose in place of music I would need a therapist to cope.

“Maybe by now I would be well along into another career. Perhaps I’d be a gardener or a janitor. I really have no idea what I would do if it wasn’t creative in some way though, and that’s been with me since a very young age. Having that creative place to go has always filled the darkest corners of my mind.

“Music has felt like a compulsion for me, so maybe without music, I’d be compulsive in other ways, possibly for the worse. I could have easily picked drugs or alcohol. Or religion. I know one day I will not be able to make music, or art, but until that day, I will be content to just create.”

Find Darryl Blood

Darryl’s next album Broken Book is due for release soon – make sure you’re following him on social media and Bandcamp for latest news. You can also catch him live streaming from his studio on Instagram during lockdown with the next show on Friday 3 April.

Turkish Delight’s two albums – Tommy Bell and Howcha Magowcha – were reissued in 2019 and are available on CD and digitally here.

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Inner World is our regular feature about creative natures. Through conversations with artists we explore what it means to be a creative, where creativity comes from, and how creatives interact with their inner world and the world around them. If you would like to be featured or have a suggestion for a conversation get in touch.

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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