Lisa Brokaw and Joe Camerlengo will revisit the full-length via a 'weirdo karaoke' concert at It Looks Like It's Open on Saturday
Left to her own devices, Lisa Brokaw would almost never release music. Joe Camerlengo, in contrast, records in a seemingly endless stream with bands Van Dale (which also includes Brokaw on guitar), Classical Baby, Brat Curse and more. Averaging the numbers out, then, it makes perfect sense that The Album, the pair’s full-length debut as Blanket Boys, would take the better part of 18 months to bring to life.
And yet, it remains a minor miracle that the album happened at all.
Work on a Blanket Boys full-length started in 2018 and then languished to a point where “we didn’t know whether we were going to play music,” said Camerlengo, who joined Brokaw for a late-February interview at his East Side home, where the pair was in the midst of assembling music for Blanket Boys’ Leap Day concert at It Looks Like It’s Open on Saturday, Feb. 29, which will feature the two quietly singing to pre-recorded backing tracks sans guitar — “almost like weird karaoke,” Brokaw added.
“[In 2018] I was going through a weird time where I was like, ‘I need to take a break from music,’” Brokaw said. “I’ve had a few of them, but that was one of those moments when I told Joe, ‘I’m going to sell all my guitars. I don’t want to do this anymore.’”This but with a computer is how it can feel working in journalism, at times. Sign up for our daily newsletter
Around that time, organizers with the Nelsonville Music Festival called and offered Blanket Boys a pair of slots on the fest’s 2018 lineup, which the pair accepted, leading to a frantic two-week period during which Brokaw wrote a bulk of the songs that make up The Album, which surfaced digitally on New Year’s Day. “A lot of the stuff that ended up on the album was, in some sense, written frantically, because I was like, ‘Shit. I need songs to fill a couple sets,’” Brokaw said.
At the time, the singer and guitarist was in a fractured state of mind, which is reflected in songs that read at times like breakup tunes. “I know I can be hard to love,” Brokaw sings on one song. “Prince of the Forest,” in turn, counters its genteel musical backdrop — the delicate tune even opens with chirping crickets and bird calls that suggest a twilight walk in the woods — with some of the album’s most cutting words. “Looking for the cruelest thing to say,” Brokaw sings. “Always more comfortable pulling away.”
“A lot of [the record] was written during this very specific time in my life when it felt like things were imploding,” Brokaw said. “There were changing friendships and just the general feeling of everything breaking all around me.”
The music rarely wallows, though, projecting a sense of comfort and healing even when the words suggest otherwise, a balance the pair traced in part to the differences as people. “A lot of times we think totally opposite,” said Camerlengo, the more naturally effusive of the two. “I’ve heard [Lisa] say a few times, ‘Oh, that’s where you were going to go with it. We’re just totally opposite brain because I was going to suggest this.’ I think I always want to go brighter, and she always wants to go darker. It’s like the sun is down as opposed to the sun is up, almost.”
“We both come in with songs that we’ve written, but I think Joe puts a brighter layer on top of my darkness,” said Brokaw, whose natural inclination toward soft, fingerpicked acoustic guitar shapes Blanket Boys’ gentle sound. “And then he’ll come with a song that’s all major chords and I play dissonant stuff in front of it. I think that’s where we hit that medium.”
While much of The Album can be traced to a time with which Brokaw has long since made peace, there are elements in the songs that continue to reveal themselves to the musicians over time, such as a lingering subtext about fumbling toward adulthood. In the Brokaw-penned “Anybody,” the narrator folds laundry and starts waking earlier in the morning to begin their days. “I’m not a kid anymore,” she sings. Then there’s Camerlengo’s “Sustainable Living,” a song he wrote months ago and has only recently started to unpack the true meaning behind.
“You have this built-in confidence when you’re in your early 20s, where you go, ‘I’m playing this music. My friends love it. There are other bands that are more famous than me that suck, and I’m going to be a fucking rock star.’ And then more and more you grow into … this standardized adult living, this sustainable, normal living, where it’s like, ‘Yeah, I have this full-time career and I’m trying to balance that with going back to school or buying a house, or I have pets or I have kids. I have all these things and I can barely maintain my friendships. I can barely pay for my car. I haven’t read in three weeks. What does that mean? I need to read more. I need to exercise,’” he said. “You have all these weird, adult parts to living, which you didn’t think about when you’re 21 and in a rock band. And if you didn’t play music your life would be that. I could take all the music out of my life. Every week I think about it 10 times: ‘What if I just didn’t do any of this bullshit? Wouldn’t it be so great if I didn’t spend this time that doesn’t exist on this weird art that nobody asked me to make?’
“But then other times I will just as quickly find myself engulfed in it, and I’ll be in hour four of looking at some weird song, trying to make it weirder, and I’ll be like, ‘Didn’t I just tell myself I was going to stop doing this?’ And, to a certain degree, it’s like, well, why do you do Blanket Boys? And it’s because if I didn’t do Blanket Boys, my life would be the same but without Blanket Boys. … Not having this weirdo rock and roll around me, it would strip the unique value out of my life and days.”