Week in Pop: Donovan Blanc, False Priest, Old Smile, Pie Face Girls

Sjimon Gompers

Raleigh, NC's Pie Face Girls are one of the most phenomenal, counter-culture groups right now; press photo courtesy of the band.

Donovan Blanc

Catching up with Donovan Blanc; photographed by Christian Porrovecchio.

Catching up with Donovan Blanc; photographed by Christian Porrovecchio.

Regular Impose readers will no doubt be familiar with our coverage of music from Joseph Black and Raymond Schwab who have worked under the monikers Honeydrum & Donovan Blanc, the latter of which still is very much active as we present the second, much anticipated DB record The Color of Hearts. Following up the debut Donovan Blanc Captured Tracks released self-titled from 2014; Joe & Ray show off a sound that has been gestating & incubating in the band’s creative repertoire over the past three plus years. This is the album for everyone who loves 70s singer-songwriter album rock. This is a record for everyone who loves disco infused anything from the 70s—but above all, The Color of Hearts is a full-length for all who prefer a strong degree of sophistication to be served with their pop culture sounds.

The cycle begins with “Never Let You Down” that captures the dimensions of your favorite AM radio hits in a higher resolution. The title track itself is proof & testimony of this anachronistic approach that Donovan Blanc utilize here where the “The Color of Hearts” imagines Joe & Ray embodying your favorites timeless hits by the Stylistics, Temptations, et al. The modern/future classics keep on cooking on the hip-shaker “I’ve Never Loved Someone (Like You)” that radiates with all the rhythms of a beach-party-bonanza that could rage all night. The hedonism is matched with the soft & sentimental loverly pause of “The Hardest Part” that offers up something for the slow-dancing set with chorus lines like, “the hardest part of loving me is being true, then the hardest part of being me is loving you…” That soft pop style only gets deeper & more immersive with the gorgeous “Where Do We Go From Here?” that does not sound a day past 1975, further reinforced with the MOR radio mode of “You Made a Fool of Me” that is the penultimate idea of what a proper hit would have sounded like before the uptight 80s automated everything. The twang reverberates on with the porch rocking torch bearing number “Breanna” that bares the sentiments of the soul, as the midnight oil burns & pearls of molten wax fall down the tapered pillars of “Burning Candle” that moves the album into full grand romantic movie mode. “Let’s Stay Together” is one of the most non-70s sounding track as “Let’s Stay Together” drives with a confident degree of charm & power steering that brings us to the funky disco closing of “You Must Have Known” where all the amorous underpinnings remains as The Color of Hearts ends with a suave & classy dance party. Join us after the following listen for our interview with Donovan Blanc’s Joseph Black & Raymond Schwab.

From Honeydrum, your Donovan Blanc self-titled debut to The Color of Hearts; what have the two of you discovered about yourselves as artists, humans, etc?

Joe: We have both changed a lot since Honeydrum and even since Donovan Blanc’s self-titled LP, which I really think of as one blurred-together period. We are more relaxed and focused these days which has made a big impact on our process. The biggest change has been a renewed focus on why we write music and what we want out of it, or rather the feeling we expect it to deliver. When you’re pumping releases out as often as we did with Honeydrum, everything becomes foggy and there was never really any respite between that period and Donovan Blanc, so some of that fog was still hanging around for our first LP.

Ray: We’ve both grown as humans in that time. We have our shit together and live more comfortably now, so that gives us the time to sharpen skills and really sink our teeth into what we’re doing. What that’s allowed me to discover is that it’s possible for me to live a comfortable and satisfying life as a musician and that I don’t lack the discipline to work hard on something that I value.

Tell us about how you two made this super sentimental dance record; it is pure emotion & pure energy.

Joe: I started writing these songs on a trip to California a few years ago, shortly after the first LP came out. Last year, I began working on them with Ray and it was a slow, thoughtful, and delightful process. In the past I’ve been consumed with the need to write music often and pump it out quickly, but these days I find myself seeking complete sentences and cohesive thoughts. Honeydrum was an ongoing stream of consciousness and our first record as Donovan Blanc was an exercise in trying to filter that stream. This record helped us fine-tune that mechanism and allowed us to really focus on production.

Ray: In the last couple of years, we had talked about directions that we could head toward. Before releasing something new, it was important to know that there was a unique quality about it that complemented the last record well. Last spring we started working on three songs “The Color of Hearts”, “You Made A Fool of Me”, and “Where Do We Go From Here?” that started heading toward what we wanted. There was no deadline to meet, so we worked on them at our leisure. Taking time to find the threads that could connect them. The writing and recording of the rest of the songs drew out over the rest of the year. This time around, it was much less distressing. There was a healthier and more efficient workflow. That gave us a better chance to get the result we wanted.

I feel like this a record that almost every 70s producer & singer-songwriter would idolize. What are some 70s LP favorites in the Donovan Blanc camp?

Joe: In the past few months Christoper Cross by Christopher Cross, Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and Oates, Mr. Natural by the Bee Gees, and Initiation by Todd Rundgren have been in heavy rotation.

Ray: There would be too many to list, but one that deserves an honorable mention is The Bee Gee’s Spirits Having Flown [Highlights: “Spirits (Having Flown)”, “Love You Inside Out”, “Too Much Heaven”]. When one thinks of the The Bee Gees, what comes to mind is Easy Listening radio or maybe “Stayin’ Alive” being spun by a bar mitzvah DJ. You’re not wrong for being put off by either one of those things. But still, you would be missing out on so much if you don’t look further into the oeuvre of The Brothers Gibb.

Favorite 80s records that you two are obsessed with?

Joe: Nearly Human by Todd Rundgren, Rita Lee by Rita Lee (the one released in 1980, not 1979), Jazz From Hell by Frank Zappa, and H20 by Hall & Oates.

Ray: Again…too many to list.

Donovan Blanc's Joseph Black & Raymond Schwab; photographed by Christian Porrovecchio.

Donovan Blanc’s Joseph Black & Raymond Schwab; photographed by Christian Porrovecchio.

Current sounds that are dominating your worlds?

Joe: Usually after an album is finished, I try to cleanse the palate for a month or so. Since we wrapped up I’ve mostly been listening to Harold Budd and Andrés Segovia.

Ray: I’m pretty unaware of what’s happening now. There are a few things I really enjoyed, though. Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition, John Adams’ Violin Concerto, Brian Eno’s Reflection. In the last few years, the way I spend my time has shifted away from aggressively seeking out new music. I would have shuddered at the thought of losing that desire. But now that it’s happened, I don’t really give a care. Spending that time playing is much more satisfying.

Upcoming events & releases that you two are excited about?

Joe: Paul Thomas Anderson and Woody Allen, whose works I always enjoy, have both begun filming new pictures. Also, the English translation of Killing Commendatore, although I’d imagine that’s most likely not coming out for a little while.

Ray: A film that I’m really looking forward to the release of is Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin. His work as a writer and director is remarkable. The writing on his show “The Thick of It” is something I’ve been fawning over for a while. Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, and Peter Capaldi are the Dream Team. We’re all looking forward to finally seeing what the new season of Twin Peaks will be like. Though I would have been more excited to see an entirely new show created by Mark Frost & David Lynch. Also looking forward to whatever mischief that scamp Anthony Weiner is gonna get himself into next.

Spring & summer plans?

Joe: As of now, visiting my sister-in-law in California and finishing a solo record that I’ve been working on for a little less than a year.

Ray: Holidaying at Lake Annecy.

Most important areas of activism that people can get involved in right now to make a difference in these weird times?

Joe: I am not one to seek out musicians’ views on politics, the same way I am most certainly not interested in politicians’ views on music. Suffice it to say that I was not thrilled on November 9th, 2016. I think that over time, the world favors the morally righteous, even though it occasionally takes a turn down a dark path.

Ray: The times are weird, but the writing and production of The Color of Hearts was not influenced or affected by the election in any discernible way. Therefore, it wouldn’t be helpful to discuss political topics and express feelings that aren’t relevant to the music. Instead of taking a cheap shot at the President, I would like to take this opportunity to urge everyone to read Ben Lerner’s Leaving The Atocha Station. It was the most hilarious book I read this past year.

Donovan Blanc’s new second album The Color of Hearts is available now via Bandcamp.

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