Blank Range is a Nashville based rock band.
Matt Novotny - Drums, Background Vocals
Grant Gustafson - Baritone Guitar, Vocals
Jonathon Childers - Guitar, Vocals
Taylor Zachry - Bass, Background Vocals
Marooned With The Treasure, the debut album from Nashville-based American rock band Blank Range is immediate. A rush coming on so fast the adrenaline blinds you to the fact that this really is about life or death. The songs are begging to be heard, pleading to be felt.
A fire is started with accelerants as singer Jon Childers cries out the first lyric of the album opener "86 My Mind". A drowned-out plea, wading through the confusion of modern existence. Childers was thirteen months sober at the time of recording, but the overwhelming memory of helplessness burns out of control in the spirit of the song. The chorus rings out
Can anyone see,
What I'm not seeing now?
You can tell me who to send my prayers to,
I will kneel, kneel right down.
Addiction doesn't spring up because of one particular event or trauma but the loss of his father at 16 years old undoubtedly changed his course forever. Childers perspective has changed. He recounts, "when you're consuming zealous amounts of a depressant everyday it's easy to lose the light. I was bummed on everything, probably myself the most, and the party had been over for a long time…" Addiction and confusion as themes pop up in "Opening Band" as Childers acknowledges his past with the lyrics
Well I took on earthly pleasures,
Til they stayed and staked their claim,
And I've got a couple demons,
That know me by my first name
The choice to change itself was the hardest part, but he hasn't looked back. "My life is much richer now than it was. I'm present for the good moments, and there are plenty of them, asserts Childers.
Childers deftly uses "Opening Band" as a multifaceted metaphor throughout the song, but for Blank Range, the phrase functions literally as well. Over the last three years the band has released two EP's and a 7" single while touring heavily, nearly always as support. Blank Range has spent meaningful time touring the country, learning from their contemporaries Benjamin Booker, The Wild Reeds, Black Joe Louis & The Honeybears, and the Mountain Goats, to name a few.
Grant Gustafson, the second principal writer, crafts songs that walk a line that meets to form Blank Range in the end, but the songs traverse a different path than Childers’. Gustafson creates a character of a situation, an emotion, a moment, and eternity. Human concepts to define the abyss and see it as beautiful or sad or panicked or manic or hilarious or everything all at once. No need for separation on the spectrum of what it is to be human. Nurtured on the works of Hesse, Camus, and Dostoevsky, Gustafson is fascinated by his own relationship with the world and finds artistic inspiration exploring everyone else's. "There was always something fascinating about finding beauty in your own interpretation of things, if that's a song, or whatever. I find myself being attracted to art that leaves open ends or asks questions. It forces me to experience something rather than just searching for some clear-cut intention," says Gustafson. In "Labor of Love," the character recites
To be marooned with the treasure,
Or just stuck up a tree,
It's a labor of love,
And that's all it's ever gonna be.
There is a rush of blood, a moment of breath-taken in the band's performance. In love with the drama of the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone or the dynamics of Wilco, Blank Range uses these striking tools to their advantage. In "The Season," Gustafson, along with bassist Taylor Zachry and drummer Matt Novotny, ebb and flow through the song, building to a dizzying vocal ending that breaks to a frenzied epilogue of frantic guitar screeching and heart racing bravado. Novotny and Zachry speak in silent tongues with sonorous sensitivity wordless as the dark clouds on the horizon; a calm before the inevitable. "We've become so comfortable with each other over the years that the risks are easier to take but even more exciting." Zachry says of his and Novotny's camaraderie. "We're very focused on bringing out the drama in the music, finding the ups and downs and really sculpting them," adds Novotny. Their rapport allows the songs to take on an almost cinematic spectrum of roar to whisper in the live setting, the excitement of staring over the edge of a cliff or wondering if the ancient wooden roller coaster will hold together for one last pass.
There is an urgency to Marooned With The Treasure. Something about it that feels like it couldn't have waited any longer to be said. The album was recorded live over four days in Durham, North Carolina at Overdub Lane with producer and bassist Brad Cook in December 2016. Cook is very much about capturing the evocative moment, documenting the surging freshness of group performance in unity, absolutely within the first two or three takes. Gustafson reminisces, "Brad seemed to have a distinct plan, like he knows our band so well and is able to zoom out and provide a perspective often lost when you're too close to the creation of something."
There is an element of personality in the chosen tools for Blank Range. Both Childers and Gustafson play guitars built by Gustafson's brother, Alex Gustafson, a skilled luthier in Chicago. The instruments aid in the band's unique translation of the music.
There is another time and another place for sympathizing with the depths inside, but if we never stare them in the face, it doesn't mean it ceases to exist. The passive sun-up sun-down has passed on to be but a memory lit in moments of reflection, and in history lessons, but there's no time for that now. Marooned with the Treasure pleads, through experience and examination, to keep eyes open! Blank Range has no answer, but how far have answers gotten us in the past? In the searching right now, we breathe. In the tornado alley, blue skies visibly precede the human concept of a natural disaster we currently find ourselves living through.
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