Darkwave trio Bootblacks from New York City are playing at Out From The Shadows IV Festival in Portland, OR this year so we thought we’d have a chat! They’ve been around since 2010, although their full length albums were released in 2016 with Veins and 2017 with Fragments (both of which are available to stream in their entirety on Bandcamp). They’re on the dancey, more new wave side of postpunk, but they also have a surreal, sometimes shoegaze feel to them as well. They have several different layers, so it makes sense that they have a vast list of influences from Depeche Mode to Bowie. These days Bootblacks have become a staple for modern post-punk playlists across the globe and it’s really no surprise why – the songs stay with you, they’re so captivating. Their latest release as of March 2nd is a remix of fellow NYC band The Harrow’s “Chandeliers” featured in The Harrow’s new remix compilation “Points of View”.
P = Panther
B = Barrett
A = Alli
2018 is going to be a big year for you guys! A west coast tour including OFTS IV in April and then a European tour in October. How excited are you? When were you last on the west coast and in Europe?
Alli: Yeah we’re all really excited for the stuff we have coming up this year. Opening for Clan of Xymox in March is a real honor, playing Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Germany in May is a big deal to us, and of course we always love returning to the west coast and Europe. We go to Europe almost every year, but we haven’t been to the west coast in a couple years, so we’re really looking forward to seeing some friends and playing some great shows. We’re really happy to be involved in the OFTS fest with such a great line-up, and are really grateful to Dave for everything he does for underground music.
How did you guys first get started back in 2010? And how did you come to settle on the name Bootblacks?
Panther: Alli and I previously played music together in San Francisco prior to moving to New York in 2010. The idea for the band came together while we were on tour in Europe with another band. We both wanted to do something different, musically, and were looking to move somewhere else. Luckily those things happened at the same time.
The name comes from a book about New York, where bootblacks were terrorizing 19th century New Yorkers with muggings, scams – sort of Manhattan’s version of the Dickens’ Oliver. That was fun for us because we had just moved here. When we found out it was a double entendre for a type of S&M I think that sealed our decision.
Are you all originally from New York? What’s your origin story?
Barrett: Born in Queens. Raised on Long Island, basically across the street from the Nassau Coliseum. Never lived anywhere further than 30 miles from Manhattan. Having access to such a vibrant musical and artistic culture is imperative. I’ve traveled all over the world and found many cool places, places I’ve been very comfortable in, but nothing quite like NYC.
P: I’m from LA. Insert judgment accordingly. I was lucky to grow up with parents who had great music taste, and to live in a city where I was able to see some really incredible music when I was young. I do consider New York my home now.
A: Grew up upstate NY, moved around a bunch in high school, had my first goth band in Louisville KY at age 15 (and have been in one band or another since that age), lived in San Francisco for a bit, made my way back to NY in 2010.
What have been some of the best cities in Europe to play at and why?
P: Leipzig, Germany is a wonderful city – the shows are always great and I’ve developed life-long friendships there. All the cities we’ve played in Poland, including Warsaw and Wroclaw, have been super fun. Most recently one of my favorite shows was in Nuremberg. And although of course all the usual suspects (Paris, Berlin, and the larger cities) are fun, it’s the smaller, less-known cities, promoters and venues that stand out, because they’re so unexpected.
A: I agree with everything he said. One example: we played a small city outside Dijon, France. When we pulled up we were shown to a large barn-like building with dirt floors, and told we could “make the stage wherever we liked.” We all kind of gulped and thought, “what have we gotten ourselves into,” but we just got to work and set everything up. When it came time to play the place was packed full of people dancing until 6 in the morning, and it turned out to be such a memorable, awesome show.
B: I absolutely adored playing in Leipzig. What a crowd. You could really feel the excitement, appreciation and energy from the stage.
What are your three favorite albums?
P: Right now, in no particular order: The Lodger – David Bowie, Empires and Dance – Simple Minds, Discreet Music – Brian Eno.
B: The Downward Spiral – NIN, Disintegration – The Cure, Depeche Mode – Violator.
A: This changes weekly, but here goes. Songs from the Big Chair – Tears for Fears, Loveless – My Bloody Valentine, From the Lions Mouth – The Sound. And Join Hands – Siouxsie. (Sorry 4)
Do you have a particular process when writing music?
P: The process we’ve been guided by so far is allowing each person to write spontaneously and not anticipate what the other person’s response should be. So far it’s allowed us to generate melodies, song parts, and tones that play to our individual strengths, while still creating a cohesive sound. The spirit of collaboration has been really central and extremely rewarding. I think we’ve benefited from not having an individual independently guiding our songs.
Who or what inspires you most?
P: It would be an impossibly long list. I find it exhausting and overwhelming how many wonderful books, albums, and creativity is out there. What makes mortality frightening is that I’m not sure I can come close to getting to it all.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve witnessed while on tour? How about the strangest/most bizarre?
A: I mean, we’d have to sit down for a beer, because I’m full of stories. Here’s a crazy one. Years ago, we played a small village in France called Guemene-Penfao. We played in a small bar, which got totally packed with people of every age you can imagine (3 years old to 80 years old). We had a great time, but after the show we had a shy, quiet guy approach us and ask us to come back to his house, right around the corner, to see something “special.” My answer to this question will be “no” 100% of the time, but he was so insistent that a group of us finally agreed to go. This guy had built a sound installation in his apartment that took up an entire room. It consisted of GI Joe characters, guitar strings attached to small hammers, clock gears, music boxes, makeshift drums, toys, on and on, and when he turned it on the entire room came to life and played a song. I was absolutely floored, and it is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, to this day.
B: This may seem like a common thing for most bands, but seeing strangers bouncing to your songs, singing the lyrics back to you, will always be crazy and awesome to me. Other than that, I’ve certainly drank some crazy spirits in various parts of the world.
P: Gonna have to pass on this one. Need to save material for my fallback career as a stand-up comedian. I will say it does bring me great comfort to know that without fail there is always a wild incident every trip and that there are plenty of hedonistic maniacs out there keeping the world outrageous.
If you could tour with any band that’s still playing, who would it be?
P: I really love The Liars and The Horrors. All the fundamental bands that are still playing like Simple Minds, OMD, New Order. We’re playing with Clan of Xymox, who is definitely on that list. Total dream is of course Depeche Mode, so give me a call, Dave.