Like kids tearing into a piñata, Black Blondie's leading ladies greet a new box of their merchandise with uncommon zeal.
"I want this one for myself," keyboardist Tasha Baron said, pulling a striped skirt out of their stash before their "Making Music" appearance at the Whole Music Club last week.
The skirt was just one of many unique items of clothing -- acid-washed jean jackets, coolly used hoodies, etc. -- which the band scoured from thrift stores, discount shops and even their own closets. They then emblazoned their lips-shaped logo onto all the attire.
Singer Samahra Daly noticed a piece missing from the newest box, however.
"I wonder why they couldn't use my bra," Daly asked.
"It was probably too small for the printing," Baron deadpanned.
The colorful merch bin makes several symbolic statements about Black Blondie's DNA. Like the fact that the clothing was sassy and girly but not at all sissy. Or the way the band recycles vintage styles into something edgy and hip.
The best point to make, though, is how the women in the jazzy hip-hop/R&B/rock quartet (ages 27-28) clearly poured a lot of time and energy into the pile of clothes. So you can imagine the kind of thought and care they piled into Black Blondie's debut CD, which finally arrives with a release party tonight at the Triple Rock -- more than three years after the group hit the scene with an immediate buzz.
"We have a lot of nervous breakdowns in this band," admitted Baron. "We care too much about everything we do."
Effusively titled "Do You Remember Who You Wanted to Be," Black Blondie's debut is the kind you'll never forget, even if it's not your cup of bold, multiflavored tea.
Vocally, Daly comes off like a cross of Erykah Badu, Cyndi Lauper and the group's namesake, Blondie's Debbie Harry (the "black" refers to mood and sound, not race). Musically, the tracks veer from dark and steamy R&B grooves to jittery space-funk to -- in the standout cut, "Dirty Ashes" -- a frantic modern urban symphony. And lyrically, there's stuff here that could make your heart pound or your mouth curl up into a smile.
One reason the record took two years to make was simply the perfectionism. There were "probably a thousand sessions" with producer Ben Durrant, Baron exaggerated.
But, she added, "Everything in the world happened to us during the making of the album. We'd record some tracks and really think we were getting close, and then we'd have to break for something else."
That first something-else was the departure of co-founding vocalist Sarah White, the former Traditional Methods rapper who moved to New York in 2007. Without White, bassist Liz Draper said, "We had a lot of songs we had to just throw away."
Once Daly stepped out as the lone frontwoman -- which, she's not afraid to admit, she always wanted to be -- another round of recording was ruined when she came down with pneumonia.
Finally, the sessions were hit with the tragedy that already defined many of the lyrics: The death of Daly's mother, Sandy, following an eight-year fight with ovarian cancer.
"In the end, they told her she had two years to live," Daly said. "So I had to come to terms with it for two years -- sometimes angry, sometimes in denial. The album really helped me work that stuff out."
Several of the darker songs offer hints of what Daly went through. The soulful opening track, "Hunger," is built around a line her mom said as she struggled with treatments: "If we're not allowed to eat/ Why do we still have hunger?" And the gloomier-sounding "World Won't Rest" is all about grief. Said Daly, "The hardest part about grieving isn't what you feel. It's that everything else has to keep going in your life."
Daly is certainly happy the band kept going.
"I don't know if I would've been able to get through it without making music," she said. "It was one way I could express myself vs. standing in a room screaming my head off."
Although the Black Blondians are generally not interested in talking gender -- especially with a rotating cast of male drummers (Hyder Ali's Kahlil Brewington plays on the album, while Greg Schutte and Joey Van Phillips will fill in at gigs) -- they did say the group benefited from its femininity during their many trials.
"I'm sure we could all still be close friends with more guys in the band, but something about this made us closer-knit," Draper said.
Trained at Perpich Center for the Arts, Draper played around with Daly during high school and then got to know Baron at the University of Minnesota and West Bank School of Music, where both now teach. Baron also played for several years in renowned local hip-hop troupe Heiruspecs.
After three years in Black Blondie, the trio is able to laugh at some of its darker experiences now.
The members erupted over memories of Daly's rocky affair with her husband before they were married, a saga recounted in the long-in-the-making opus "Knife Fights and X-Mas Lights." When her man was in the crowd one night, Daly added some lyrics on a whim that are now permanently part of the song: "Oh, boy, don't you know what you want?/ Don't you know what you got?"
Said Daly, "When he finally told me he loved me, I was like, 'What were you thinking, you dumb ass?' "
With a subtler tone, Baron added, "So that song has gone through a few different transformations. But that made it better in the end."
You could say the same thing about Black Blondie.Random mix
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