Lisa Brokaw and Joe Camerlengo discuss Blanket Boys' international fame (for real) and what it's like to live in a simulation (maybe or maybe not for real)
Lisa Brokaw and Joe Camerlengo, who make up indie-pop duo Blanket Boys, live in a simulation. At least, it can sometimes feel that way.
“It's a self-soothing thing I tell myself — that we're in a simulation, so anything that doesn't make sense, good or bad, I'm like, ‘Well, it's a simulation,'” Brokaw said in a recent interview.
In the relatively short time since Blanket Boys released its beautifully melancholy 2016 debut EP, Lake Hope, a number of nonsensical occurrences have served to buttress Brokaw's simulation claim.
“This South Korean rapper randomly contacted us and asked us if we would do a hook,” Brokaw said.
“We have a bizarre, unspoken international recognition,” Camerlengo said. “We have since the first Blanket Boys release.”
These simulation-esque happenings began a couple of years ago, when, out of the blue, the Blanket Boys Facebook page started getting followers with unpronounceable names from around the world. Neither musician knew why, so they Googled themselves and found that a YouTube account with hundreds of thousands of followers (TheLazylazyme) had recently uploaded a Blanket Boys song, “Never Know,” to its channel.
“It's this girl that posts sad songs,” Camerlengo said. “I don't know how she found it, because we've never promoted our music in any way, shape or form since day one. But somehow she found the first EP.”
The “Never Know” video now has almost 87,000 views and dozens of positive comments, like, “This is making me feel so sad but so … comfortable with it at the same time.” After the release of Blanket Boys' equally good 2017 EP, Monday, the same YouTube channel uploaded the EP's gorgeously downtrodden title track, which now has about 78,000 views (signature comment: “This makes me wanna eat cake and cry”).
And that's how South Korean rapper Hunger Noma became aware of a Columbus duo with two EPs to its name and a handful of live performances under its belt. “He sent us this track [‘A Dot of Wish'], and we recorded our hook on it,” Camerlengo said. “His verses are all in Korean. We just sang, ‘I'm fadin' out' over and over on the hook.”
Brokaw, who plays guitar alongside Camerlengo in Van Dale and once fronted 2017 Band to Watch Grunge Dad, used to be roommates with fellow guitarist Camerlengo, whose current and former bands include Van Dale, Classical Baby, This is My Suitcase and sideman roles in Mary Lynn and Brat Curse (in addition to being named Alive's Best Musician in the city last year). As their time as housemates came to a close, the pair focused on writing and recording a Blanket Boys full-length.
Late last year, Brokaw and Camerlengo capped their final week together as roommates with a morning performance for WOSU's “Broad & High.” Afterward, they pondered how to spend the rest of the day. “Then we're like, ‘Let's take the Asian rap money and go get tattoos,'” Camerlengo said.
The two now have matching tattoos of a sketch Brokaw made depicting a shrugging skeleton wearing a polka dot shirt. The full-length, though, is still in the works due to some earlier hurdles. “Last year around this time I kind of lost my mind and was like, ‘I have to step away from music for a while,'” said Brokaw, who was playing constant gigs with Grunge Dad (the trio later disbanded) and spending time in Van Dale and Blanket Boys. “I think I was doing too much music.”
“You went from never having fronted a band to, a month later, being the hottest band in Columbus,” Camerlengo said.
“Me trying to wrangle my brain is a recurring thing. I think this past time I handled it a little better,” Brokaw said. “In the past it felt like a Kurt Cobain move, like, ‘I'm gonna sell all my guitars!' And Joe's like, ‘What are you talking about?' This time I'm like, ‘I'm not getting rid of anything. I just need to sit here for a second.'”
Not long after Brokaw decided to take a break, Blanket Boys was offered two slots at the 2018 Nelsonville Music Festival. The duo agreed to play, and wrote a new song for each day the band was scheduled to perform: “Saturday” and “Sunday.” Those two tracks, plus noise track “Sleep,” comprise Blanket Boys' new EP, The Weekend, which the band will celebrate with a release show at It Looks Like It's Open on Friday, March 15.
Camerlengo and Brokaw haven't given up on the full-length Blanket Boys album. In fact, Camerlengo said the record — an “experimental, tape machine dream” — is the best thing he's worked on. “Lisa's material on it is so strong. Her songs are the best songs I've ever heard, and I've thought that since the second she showed them to me,” Camerlengo said. “Because her stuff is so strong, I always think I have to match it. I can't put a bad song in and then have Lisa's song, which I think is as strong as Elliott Smith material. It's legendary songwriting right next to me.”
The timing of the release of the new album, though, is anyone's guess. “This album could be done in three months or three years. Whenever we open up the sessions we find tracks we don't remember doing the last time. The other day we opened some song we heard a million times, and all of a sudden there were six different organ tracks,” Camerlengo said. “We live in a simulation where our past selves are recording things our present selves never remember.”