Nanobot Rock: Last year Bloodfeather released their debut album. It was a departure, sonically, from your previous incarnations, yet held true lyrically. How has that changed you as a musician?
Joey Todd: Changed. Lotta moving parts in there for such a short word. What do you think? What do you see?
NR: You’ve always been one to push the message lyrically, you don’t seem complacent with running on basic/rehashed word choice or delivery. For instance, in “W.O.T.C.”, from the debut, the inflection on your lyrics carries weight, while word choice keeps the listener hanging on each word in, I’ll be honest, a song that doesn’t feel like it should work or be as drawing as it is. Is there anything specifically that’s pushing you for that change?
JT: Rehashed? What, you mean like rhyming “fire” with “desire”? Please say yes, I might win a bet. (laughs) You know something? That’s actually our most popular song on the streaming services right now; by a wide margin. I would not have put that one forward for the big winner. Pleasant surprise. People love to throw around that “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” phrase. I didn’t think so many would connect quite so intimately with the “sex on drugs, through the medium of rock n’ roll” ditty. Cool beans. I’d rather people be fucking to my work than fighting. Oh shit, can I curse?
NR: We support freedom of speech.
JT: Cowabunga it is, then. Anyway, I think it’s just a product of the latest state of mind… (screams “a bag of burnt assholes”) …that I’ve tried to cultivate in a healthy way. Sorry. Just testing it out. You ever see a South Korean film by the name of Oldboy?
NR: I’ve seen pieces of it.
JT: God damned god-tier filmmaking. I read recently that it’s something of an entry point for folks into the excellent world of South Korean film. In many ways international film in general. English speaking audiences need all the entry points they can, man. There’s a whole world of foreign language cinema outside Hollywood. And we’re here, turtled up making Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Know your damn role, Rock The John Dwayneson. To the point, the people responsible for Oldboy‘s making did an interview I quite liked when I found it, recently. As you probably know, there’s more than a part or two of that film that one could call…and I’ll be charitable…unsettling. they were asked essentially why “gamble” on that kind of grit? Surely the audience just wants a relaxing feel good tale?
The fellas said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If someone wants to relax, go home. Run a hot bath. I don’t know why anyone would go to the cinema to “relax”. They’ve come to view art. Art, by design, is meant to connect and engage. Why can’t a film be popular and widely screened while also challenging it’s audience?”
I was tickled because that’s exactly how I feel. I think at the heart of the matter, that’s what people relate to. That grit? That’s the spice of life. What is worth a damn in life that is actually pretty? Birth isn’t pretty, classically. Nor is death, and in fact it’s more often than not semi sordid in one way or another. Cooking food? The classiest dish looks like a nightmare around step three. Sex? Come on… Oh? You’ve made love on a penthouse balcony, watching your Isis climax against the sunset over the New York City skyline like the goddess she is, and in that moment, you tasted life for the first time? Maybe…maybe…or…OR…was it technically NEAR a balcony, at an awkward angle, she was snorting, with you driving it on home with derpface and a double chin? I’m not saying it was one way or the other…but if I was a gambling man… (laughs)
Nah, but either way, I don’t think it makes the moment any less real or beautiful.
NR: Is your sound the romanticized balcony or the honest, near balcony snorting? How do you phrase your sound?
JT: I’d like to think of it as the honest awkward that comes to be remembered as gorgeous sepia tone ideal. I mean…if we do our jobs right.
NR: Well you don’t seem to fit the heavy rock sound, you’re not dark enough for emo rock, and you’re departing the generalized Oklahoma sound of your personal origins, yet here we are a year after your debut and you’re connecting exponentially with new fans who are streaming your songs at an impressive rate. Seemingly overnight you’re taking off. How are you handling all that?
JT: Oh honey, you want it darker? You ought to come down our way. I’ve got as much darkness as anyone else. I just keep mine right above the cheekbones. A little death around the eyes, yeah? (laughs)
I mean, if you wanna go way back to the beginning. I was a product of the Texoma hardcore/punk/emo scene. We were all steeped in it. Deep down I’m probably a little more Title Fight than Kings of Leon. And that’s an understatement. Everything I’ve ever been a part of has in some way been touched with punk in a major way. Maybe I’m just done trying to run from it, which is super cool, really. After we just decide to openly show our colors with no excuses or apologetics, that’s when we begin to connect to the widest audience any of us have ever experienced…it’s almost funny. I can hardly enjoy it or generally dwell too much for being so utterly humbled. It all just feels so surreal, to be perfectly honest.
NR: There’s a bit to unpack in that and a lot has happened in the year since the release of your first record. Let’s go back to right after the release. What kind of touring did you guys do in support of the album?
JT: Honestly fairly light; comparatively speaking. At the height of one cycle we had to part ways with Tijuana due to irreconcilable differences, and Dakota just wasn’t feeling road dog life. He’s got a massive passion for learning, we both come from families of educators, so he’s finishing his degree, and I wish him love and luck. Jacy Allen had come on board in the wake of Tijuana, and jumped straight into the show schedule. Fast forward through a couple dark journeys, living happily in ignorant, insane squalor, just to see our listenership skyrocket, and I’ve not only attained a best friend, but possibly the first REAL writing partner I’ve ever had. He brings me focus, I bring him chaos, and through that, we’ve written over the last year around 60 songs to consider for this record. But on simpler stages, he broke my alcoholic tether, and I’d love him just for that. We’ve been playing with a dear and infamous friend of mine on bass. We not-so-posi-stomped our way around North Texas punk alongside each other, back in the day. We go way back. He asked me to hold off on his name here for a little while longer because it would be “hilarious”. Respectable. The last two years have been one helluva decade, my guy.
NR: To have released one album, yet volunteer “a couple of dark journeys”, we can’t just ignore that, what happened?
JT: You’ll get it on the record. You’re an observant fella. I’ll let it tell you. Some of those stories I wanna keep for myself. Some of them remain a little too raw. Too bloody. 2019 was touched a little too much with death in our little family. I do want to speak a name, here. Jake Locke. Our tech, and the closest thing I ever had, and most likely ever will have to being a little brother. A few songs on the record we co-wrote with a beautifully mad genius (rapidly becoming something of a local folk hero) (laughs) by the name of Shannon Choate. I’ll just say it as he said it. Jake was a good kid. One of the best, in fact. He was like a punk rock monk. He traveled all around this hunk of rock with us for thousands upon thousands of miles, and everywhere he went, he spread the gospel of unqualified love and punk rock ethos, giving each in good measure. And man, the way that kid looked at us…he had this Gatsby smile that made you feel like you could do anything. He believed so hard, it MADE you believe. In short, he made me fall in love with rock n’ roll, again. I don’t know what made him do what he did, but I’ll be honest…I’m a little angry with him. Was he not listening? Actually, that’s not fair. Especially coming from me.
NR: The art, the lifestyle, the demands of working to make it in the world is often unknown to those outside the day-to-day. What happened to Jake?
JT: Jake battled the demon Suicide until it stole his last breath.
NR: That’s terrible to hear. I’m really sorry to hear that. It’s an all too common, almost unspoken, reality many deal with every day. What did that do to Bloodfeather? How did it change your approach to your next album, if any?
JT: I don’t want to linger here. I can feel the stitches opening a little, if you feel me, but I need to say something. I once heard an old Roman adage. ” Verba volant, scripta manent.” Spoken words fly, written words remain. While I’m here in print, and print is forever, and forever is where he lives now, it’s important to me I send something out his way. I’m so sorry I failed you, man. You always listened hard. I should’ve spoken clearer. I should’ve answered the phone that day. Forgive me. I’ll meet you there at the end of all these days. And for the record, when I do, hell is coming with me if I find out this was a cheap move to get out of paying for cleanup for that hotel room in Texas, you little twerp. (Laughs)
I could never truly stay mad at that kid. That Gatsby smile…man. Kid would make you feel like you WERE the green light. Thank you for giving me a second with the kid. Sincerely.
To answer your question, I’d like to think he passed us some of his spirit. It’s been refocusing…which in the saying…seems like too small a word. In a nutshell, we have one general series of watchwords that govern us. Keep us honorable. Keep us humble. It’s there I can feel Jake moving. Giving the occasional kick, and perpetually punk-checking us.
Rock n’ roll…art, really…it has to be done with a certain degree of honesty and reverence. Call it all cheese dick. If that’s how you feel, I’m not really concerned about it. What we do clearly isn’t for you. Enjoy Imagine Dragons. This is sacred to me, man. To us. The way I see it, when you have the chance to be heard, you better say something. Be honest and unflinching. No one is out there listening to feel more alone and alienated. They’re listening to connect to someone, anyone, who at some point felt exactly the way they feel or wanna feel in that moment. It’s the duty of the artist to make that connection. To make music that’s more important than yourself. To make the kind of art that convinces someone to stay alive another 24 hours, because a lot can happen in 24 hours. And if you’re not out there for that, then what the hell are you even doing? Look higher. Make your craft noble. Set a standard and cling to it like it holds you to life. Because it might for someone, out there.
NR: You say “us” and there have been some lineup changes. Heading into the sophomore record, who has their hand in the process, the sound?
JT: Bloodfeather will always have its core members at any given time, but it’s an important distinction to make that we have been and remain something more akin to a collective of artists bound by trust, love, and respect. This record has been liberating in the way that we’ve invited our friends to co-write at will with us. Just absolutely abandoning “no”, and hurling any worthy ideas at the wall to see what sticks. We’re also producing and engineering, ourselves. It’s made things so fertile and new…it’s like seeing for the first time, in a way.
NR: That’s a fantastic way to view things! What does that mean for the growing Bloodfeather sound? Who is leaving an impression on you as you move forward?
JT: We’ve come to find this year how desperately blessed we are to have such staggeringly talented individuals in the family, creating. We’ve got some numbers co-written with Shannon Choate. He’s touched by the gods, I swear. Future legend, the guy is the next Daniel Johnston. He and I have saved each other’s lives a few times. Absolute dream brother. Rachel Toews, as well. When I was coming up, I positively idolized her. Victoria Cook has lent us her golden pipes here and there. She and I went to high school together. She just dropped a phenomenal release “Double Standards”. Her vocal technique has to be one of the most flawless I’ve ever seen. We’ve been working on some stuff together with and apart from Bloodfeather, and I get so tickled at how many people ask if we’re siblings, as our timbres are so similar. I’m nowhere near the singer she is, but our tones have always shared an oddly similar tone ever since yelling A Day To Remember tunes on the bus together, junior year. Weird fact, we were in choir together and occasionally pal’d around in harmony with Taelor Dye of Maddie & Tae, who was also a classmate. Isn’t that the most random thing? Oklahoma, man. We’ve even been working on doing some writing with AJ Perdomo of The Dangerous Summer if we can line it up in a timely order, schedules permitting. My old friend Chase Theodos of Aerolyn recently rejoined the living and will have some input if I have anything to say about it. Josh Fleming from The Vandoliers has been an absolutely invaluable sounding board and source of support to us, and if I can get ole’ boy on a co-write I’d be tickled. Cash Money Records’ Caskey has shown love, and I admire him so much for his artistry and work ethic. He worked on a series of tracks with myself and indie artist & brother Zach Lawrence in Los Angeles last summer, and it’s through that association we were able to secure a stripped session at Trend Def Studios with Mike Gonsolin, who produced there recently efforts by Snoop Dogg, Limp Bizkit, and French Montana. Ada peer and dear friend Emily Sconyers has been present since we began this record cycle, and honestly, as a writer I’ve never been more impacted by a peer since the days I first picked up an instrument. Finding writers like that…it’s like being a member of some alien species. Maybe you were forced to leave your home planet to escape a world-ending cataclysm. You’re alone out there, trying to scrape by without ever hearing your native language spoken or seeing any of your kind for years and years…and then suddenly you run into someone by chance that’s not only from your world, but grew up three houses down from you. And you share this connection that no one else within millions of lightyears can relate to, and in fact, really only exists…ever will exist…in your shared memories. It can overwhelm the senses.
Certainly overcome pride…
NR: And that shared collaborative feeling is with Emily Sconyers?
JT: For me? On a molecular level.
NR: For you, for your process, for Bloodfeather.
JT: In many ways, those are inseparable. But on a personal level, certainly. Deeply. She’s changed everything. Humbling seems like a clumsy word.
NR: Being, somewhat, familiar with her sound and her works as an artist it really feels like you’ve got one foot in the rock pursuit, while keeping one firmly in your more…mellowed roots. Working with Emily, how do you see your sound evolving?
JT: I…have no idea…and I mean that. But I can’t wait to find out. I can only hope my influence is as helpful to her as hers is to mine.
NR: So it’s a “to-be-determined”. That’s fair. So then stepping back from that deep dive, how about her part in the recording or writing process?
JT: You’ll probably hear her on the record. She and I wrote Armistice Day together the day following after we kinda…What’s the word? When the jury is striving for a verdict…hell…oh, yeah…sequestering ourselves for a day and a night, feeling it all out. It was pretty much our first attempt at creating something, together. Ever since then, even when we’re miles apart…nah. You know what? I’m not gonna even begin to assume I can speak for a spirit vast as hers. As for me? I always feel her influence, lately. I’ve known her for a few years now, and I’ve been a diehard fan since she went on before me at Adafest ’17. I was coming off a stint far too long of riding hotel rooms and occasional strip club buffet around as a hired gun guitarist and occasional ghostwriter. Oh my god. It occurs to me the absurdity of the phrase “strip club buffet”. (Laughs hysterically, doubling over)
Oh, Canada…Jesus Christ, I’m deceased. (laughs)
God damn. Thank god we live in these exciting times. Bully for us. I’m sorry about that. I seem to really have garnered the giggles on that one. Might’ve pulled something. I tell ya this, show me anyone that says “sex work isn’t real work” and I’ll show you a dumbass.
Alright, I believe I was getting to the chapter in which punk kid Emily hands me my ass with a smile. So not only all that, but I was at peak alcoholic status. I’d recently spent a negligible amount of time in a local jail cell because of it. To soften any judicial blows, I decided to be proactive before my court date and do what my lawyer called “pulling a Ramirez”. I cut my hair, which, before you threaten my cred, was a sort of bastardized Keith Richardsian straight bangs affair. So, ya know…silver linings. I also enrolled in a final year of college. So between all the music responsibilities, coming to grips with what eventually became Bloodfeather, and study, I had very little time to do certain things. Perhaps like prepare at all for my set.
I arrived on the scene of my massacre just after her set started, and for its balance I was utterly transfixed in this strange limbo of an intoxicating entrancement while being completely aware that this postively radiant little shit of a songbird was currently wiping the floor with me. I was still stunned coming up to the mic. She was so stunning while her outfit and demeanor showed no signs of flash or decadence at all. Her smile that day could melt the gestapo. She took for her viewing area seating directly in front of me, head on, because of course she did. I remember setting the tone for my set with “Good afternoon, friends. Emily…Sconyers, everybody.
Im acutely aware of what I’ll now be following as well as be subconsciously judged against until I decide I’ve debased myself enough up here. So…thanks a lot for that, Emily.” If you wanna know how that set went, I closed with “Thank you. I’d stay awhile longer and play a few more…but I don’t want to.” If memory serves…
You see the thing was her wordplay, to say nothing of her melodies which themselves were complex yet positively sinful in their simple sweetness. The way she connects phrases is just…jesus…it’s just fucking fearless, really. She gives this vibe off that she’s just effortlessly tossing this stuff off, but seriously…Every single syllable she sends songward stings of a superior sense of subtle song crafting strategy. So, in every inflection she injects the often-neglected calculation for effect therefore, each stanza will make a connection, and every song a welcome infection. Again, it’s not that it’s effortless…it’s that it’s simply fearless and disciplined. You’ll be recovering from a catchy lilting chorus only to be hit by a section of devastatingly rapid-fire hip-hop-esque vocal delivery accompanied by an improvised fingerstyle rhythm on the guitar’s body. But one of the most insidiously subtle parts of the punchline in this velvet joke she weaves…I’ve painted a fairly intimate (if a little rudimentary) picture of what her work looks, sounds, and feels like, and I haven’t even spoken a word on what she actually says. The lyrical and emotional tone and content. Spoiler alert: Present in quality and quantity, and it all fucking slaps, my guy. She’s…just Emily…and Emily? Well she’s just…remarkable.
NR: As a musician, an artist, one is the product of a culmination of experiences. The collective lives of influence converge at the end result, the art itself. However, in your case, you don’t speak of influences the same way as when Emily is mentioned. In short, it seems like she’s something of a muse?
JT: What are you trying to say, man? An awful lot of things fuel me.
NR: That’s up to you to interpret.
JT: Let me ask you something. Can you whistle?
NR: I can whistle
JT: Meala-naidheachd, Bràthair. So can I…kinda, but imagine if I didn’t. Tell me how to whistle.
NR: Describe the color blue.
JT: My days and nights without her, if that answers anything. And it’s dark. Murky. An opaque sludge that devours light, and anything good, and warm, and just, and kind. A cold, lonely, deafeningly silent blue. Noli timere mortem, vereor ne silentium. There’s nothing to fear in death. Not for me. But that kind of blue claws at my back with icy fingers, vertebrae by vertebrae. It gluts itself on my courage. I really do fear that blue. It waits. It wants. It’s patient. It’s present. For now though, it can roar and snap and drool, but love holds the leash. I have to look after that leash, man. I have no choice.
NR: So you’re covering Blue Oyster Cult?
JT: You proud of what you just said? This where you wanna be when Jesus comes back? (Laughs)
NR: In all seriousness though, it’s quite obvious there has been a shift in your inspirations from where you were even a year ago. What influence, specifically, does Emily have on your artistic process?
Or you as a person.
JT: Something tells me they’re probably one and the same. I’m in new territory, here. I’ll admit. I don’t have a whole lot of answers on that front, definitively. I do know that when I look from last year to this, I’ve learned a few things, become aware of a few more, and as for the art, were it read as a chart, I think you’d see abruptly at a certain point an explosion of, like, seismic activity in my craft. That’s her. Kicking in the door of my heart. It’s hard to put a finger on, I’d say in vague terms I’ve gained a sort of ebullience I didn’t have. I’ve learned that I’m not wrong to marvel at the audacity of hope, which I feel is directly evident in the work itself. And on that end, she’s simply superb at what she does. Yeah, she’s young, but estimate her craft by that standard and she’ll eat your god damned lunch. I’m not kidding. She came outta the womb a fully formed artist, I’d wager. If you want a specific example, I could probably even cite specific lines I’m certain wouldn’t have existed without me being exposed to that way of thinking. She lit a fire in me. I want to influence writers the way she influences me. Because I can breathe again, cut me, and I’m finally bleeding in color. Been a long time.
God…the echoes of what might not have been…have happened…man. They haunt me. Gives me a chill, now and then. For all its ugliness, we’re so fortunate to live right here, right now, in this timeline. The mathematical odds are against it. Heartache notwithstanding, and God damn it, is there, sometimes, this really is the best of all possible worlds.
NR: You’ve spoken to gains and to changes, it’s almost definitive. How are these coming together for you as you’re recording, specifically lyrically, which has always been a specific draw to your writing, regardless of sound?
JT: Do you set any New Years Resolutions?
NR: My resolution was to spend more time with unfamiliar music.
JT: Man, I love that. I wanna talk more about that when we’re done here. That’s really, really awesome, man. I haven’t been much of a resolutions fella. I just can’t stomach lying to myself, particularly if it’s a paltry thing like weight loss or drinking more water. This year was different. Is there an artist in your life you maybe discovered early on that profoundly impacted you, and ever since then, they always seem to find their way back into your life in an intense way in a cyclical manner? Like they never quite leave, but sometimes they come back hard?
NR: There are a few for me actually. If I were to guess, with you I’d say Gram Parsons would be somewhere in the mix.
JT: Gram and I have an understanding, you could say. For me in this case, I’m gonna have to say it’s Jeff Buckley. Bono called him when he passed “A pure drop in an ocean of noise.” And he was. A pure artist. Too perfect for fate to allow him to stay. When you have people that make music in that way, usually for me, when they come around I am initially struck with awe as the first time I experienced them, followed by crippling self-doubt and depression. I’ll compare myself side by side, and come to the inevitable conclusion that I’m a garbage person that makes garbage music, garbage-ly. This time, for the first time, I felt truly secure in myself and my craft. Instead of despair, I decided I was competent enough to let him take me to school, so to speak. I allowed myself to be a student rather than an acolyte. It isn’t the most talked about facet of the dude, it’ll happen when you’re a singer with like a 4 3/4 octave voice, but he was a prodigious guitar player. I learned things by listening and watching. Found my way there. On the way there, I started watching interviews and reading his journal entries. The term grace was important to him. He taught me that religion doesn’t have a monopoly on concepts like grace. Faith, yes, but a different sort. Faith in art. Faith in self. Faith in life, faith in love. How fear of death could be conquered by grace displayed in ones faith in how much they love or are loved. That it keeps you from reaching for the gun too quickly and destroying things too foolishly. The way he described it was like a romantic stoicism. Letting things slide off your back because you are aware of your own purpose. That was my New Year’s Resolution. To live life with more grace. My heart aches. For personal reasons, every day. There’s a piece of me missing. Mucking about at some bowling alley somewhere or something. Having its own adventures. Not to paint the wrong picture. It carving out its own path is beautiful. Beautiful. I can’t help but feel so much pride in her…I mean, it… Beautiful… I have faith I’ll find it someday. I have faith I’ll repair the dam. Find the piece, if you wanna get all Shel Silvertein about it. Till then, I’ll go on hurting. Day in, day out. But even the logical parts of my brain are telling me that the only way to see it is as beauty. Longing can erode spirit sometimes, but isn’t it beautiful we get to feel something so pure? Life is a struggle, and the struggle is beautiful. The grace in me tells me that if I’m still feeling something so sharply, I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I just wanna yell it, spitting through a mouthful of busted teeth passed busted lips into the smug face of oblivion, ya know? I’m alive. Grace taught me that. I AM. Em taught me that. A wise man once said the existence of music is totally audacious because it creates itself as a language for something that can’t be expressed, but IS expressed. True. That. I believe by that token that life itself is totally audacious. The universe is infinite. Some scientists propose possibly even sentient. And it’s expanding. The Big Bang was a bang that banged so damn big that it’s still banging as we speak. In an unfathomably big way. To date, at least, this is the only place humanity has observed for hundreds of thousands of lightyears in any direction where life occurs…I mean…with 100% certainty, anyway. Of any kind. I don’t do math, but that kinda sounds like a miracle, to me. Grace taught me that, too. And I couldn’t have understood grace without its nature being whispered to me in dreams by a long dead poet and a disturbed little songbird. I may never be free of this particular pain. But I’ve been given freedom from fear, and not to sound like an ass, but even in lament, my art rejoices. I’m so insanely fortunate for it. I never thought I’d find out that the person responsible most for silencing me, was me. Let alone that I could be or should be rescued from that sort of bondage.
NR: As we move forward with the, justifiably, wildly successful Bloodfeather, in eager anticipation of the next album, any final words?
JT: Yes, just three.