More than anyone else, I look forward to seeing new videos from Michelle Blades on my YouTube subs page. Her songs are stunningly inventive and keep getting better and better. She’s just released a new albumOh, Nostalgia! so it seemed like the perfect time to ask her about improvising, Panama and Kerouac.
How did you come to pick up the uke? What appeals to you about it?
I grew up around guitars my whole life and would always fiddle with them but they never really kept my interest for very long. Then one day when I was sixteen I was humming a tune while walking to a set of monkey bars by my house and thought a ukulele would be nice.. they’re small and seem like fun, so I bought one the next week. I never put it down, haha.
I guess the uke has such widespread traditional ways of being played, there’s kind of this expectation as to what kind of genres of music you play once you mention you play a ukulele. That makes it really fun to just experiment on them and kind of throw people off, play differently. They’re a fun thing.
I read you improvise most of the set when you play live. Is that true? How on earth do you do it?
Haha I don’t know. I just kind of start singing or playing whatever is in my head and follow along until some theme emerges and it falls together. Improvising feels like the best way to be honest or sincere about whatever you’re singing about.. It’s easier for me to just improvise a song and memorize it than sit down and write one. Most of the videos on youtube are improv songs I wanted to record so I can memorize them later.. haha. I think the best way to explain it is it’s like falling in love. It’s scary but you just want to go about it naturally without forcing anything and you don’t know what you’re doing but it all goes about quite well, usually, and nothing is grander.
What are your top songwriting tips?
Since I usually improv the stuff, I think Kerouac said it best when he created the “rules” for spontaneous prose. Here’s a few that would answer the question:
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
19. Accept loss forever
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You’re a Genius all the time
You were born in Panama and your uncle is Ruben Blades, how has that background influenced your music?
Spanish was my first language but when I moved to the states and learned english I was kind of enthralled with this new language. I got real into folk and post-rock and punk and whatnot and never really acknowledged my roots, I guess. It wasn’t until I was sixteen when I first started making songs in spanish and listening to my dad’s music and my uncle’s music and Devendra. I was still new to the uke and was still strumming G’s and Em’s but eventually I got real into classical Spanish and Flamenco music and all that crazy finger picking.. so it changed the way I played.
Just recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Cuban folk music. Pretty awesome.
Which three songs should everyone listen to?
1: Bur Oak by Bowerbirds
2: Jump for Joy (take 1) by Duke Ellington
3: Maria Cristina by Duo Sauces
3.5: By Balloon or Sinking Ship by Jordan O Jordan
You’re coming over to Europe soon, what are your plans while you’re over here?
Play music, make music, take lots of pictures and make friends! ..and stay as long as possible. I’ve never been there and I can’t believe I get to go to play music. Oh, and eat.