The Blue Hour’s humble beginnings as Seattle street kids helped shape who they are and is still found in their music today. They have many magical stories that are just as intriguing as their beautiful music that blends and bends many different genres to create something uniquely theirs. Their latest release ‘Always ‘ is masterfully composed bringing together some of their past and present experiences with a hint of influence from Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and early 4AD acts like Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil.
“We saw so much beauty despite the desperation and danger (which was very real and always just around the next corner), living in abandoned houses, stoops, and the like, dancing the nights away at Seattle’s new wave clubs. You wouldn’t think it, but some of the places we found to sleep in were downright magical.”
Without further ado, I’m going to let you dive straight into this one as The Blue Hour’s Brian and Marselle tell their story better than anyone else could. Torched Magazine is pleased to have had the opportunity to ask a few questions about their life on the street, how these experiences helped shape them and their music, and the inspiration behind their latest release ‘Always’….plus more!
TM – Hi Brian and Marselle – You say that you met as teenage street kids. What are some of the experiences you shared during this time? Has it manifested itself into your music today?
Marselle – Absolutely! Our time as street kids shaped who we are and is actually very present in our music. There are so many stories—we saw so much beauty despite the desperation and danger (which was very real and always just around the next corner), living in abandoned houses, stoops, and the like, dancing the nights away at Seattle’s new wave clubs. You wouldn’t think it, but some of the places we found to sleep in were downright magical. For example, Brian and I slept on an air vent below the George Washington statue at the University of Washington. Warm air blew from the parking garage below, keeping us warm. And, almost nightly, we would be joined by the ghostly reverberations of a saxophonist practicing somewhere in the empty lot below. We would wander through those sounds and gothic campus buildings and feel like lords and ladies, despite being penniless street kids. The song, “On the Wall” has several references to that experience.
“Fire on the Rooftops” also tells the story of spending the nights between dance clubs and an abandoned house we lived in for a while. That spot was pretty precarious. The ground floor was filled with the sort that you might expect, drunk and dangerous. But us street kids, decked out in our best club-wear, would scale an empty staircase (the risers had been removed), balancing on pegs. It was like a moat that kept us safe from the people below.
“One More Mystery” is about asking for help, begging for change. Just a few coins, a minor kindness was all it took for us to live one more day. We found that kindness time and again. It fed us, kept us warm, shaped our belief that the world can be good if given a chance.
“Block out the Sound” tells a darker story. It’s about all of the doubt, danger, and darkness that drives someone to the streets. But, ultimately, it’s about rising above all the noise.
Brian wrote “Lost Landmarks” after we visited our old haunts and found that so much was gone, changed, gentrified. It was like our history—the magic of that time—had been erased. And yet there were still little reminders, saying that our stories were true.
TM – Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Brian – We Then we lost each other. One day, we missed meeting up and we didn’t see each other for many years. A while back, Marselle found me and we began writing stories and music to try to recapture, revitalize that sense of otherworldly magic we’d shared long ago. Most of all, we wanted to tell stories about finding beauty in squalor and glamor in the everyday, of overcoming the darkness of the streets.
Marselle – When Brian and I were street kids, we shared a deep love of music, dance, and magic. A lot of our mutual roots come from those days, but over the years we developed our own unique tastes as well. I’m a huge fan of Kate Bush, but being a Seattle girl my first album was Heart. And I love to dance, so I’m really moved by a good beat. Of course, the early 4AD bands are constants, providing the soundtrack to much of our lives. Both of us have so much respect for so many artists that it’s hard to really pin our influences down.
Brian – My influences are pretty far-ranging. One the one hand, I love the textural soundscapes created by musicians like Coil, Current 93, Brian Eno, etc. But then I’m drawn like a moth to the flame (or a cat to catnip) with the 4AD’s dreamy production of This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins. But, then again, another side of me is fascinated by singers with character in their voices, like Nick Cave, Marc Almond, and Gavin Friday.
TM – Do you have any hobbies outside of music that help to rejuvenate your creativity?
Marselle – Well, Brian is an amazing writer and loves to play with words. He has published several short stories, which tend to find their way into our songs. The track, “False Moon Glow,” for example is adapted from his short story, “Imitation Moon, Imitation Night.” For my part, I love to paint and have worked with oils and acrylics. I’m drawn to texture and depth, which really influences the way that I write music. I am fascinated by the way that harmonies play off each other like light on a canvas, the way a song can become a landscape or a dreamland.
TM – What was your inspiration behind your latest release ‘Always’? Could you briefly describe your music-making process?
Marselle – Actually, the story of how “Always” was born is pretty remarkable. Brian and I had both pretty much quit music for years, but we decided to show our daughter how to write and record a song. So we dusted off our keyboards, tuned the old guitar, and wrote what would become “One More Mystery.” The song stunned us because it was the type of music we had always dreamt of writing, and we had fun doing it. We decided to write another song and before we knew it we had an album’s worth! With “Always,” we decided to keep referencing our street days because, to us, that time was transformative and magical. With all the images and excitement of that time period we have had no shortages of material to write about. We love telling our stories.
Brian – As for our process, I usually write several “draft” songs in moments of explosive inspiration, then refine them after Marselle gives me input on what works or doesn’t work with her ear. I’m one of those people who sees the studio as an instrument, so I typically sit down with a DAW (depending on the song, I’ll switch between Ableton or Logic … sometimes GarageBand when I need to get ideas out quickly) and I’ll sketch out an idea. Usually, it’s just a verse and chorus with some effected guitar and keyboards. After that, I’ll put more time into layers and textures and beats. Marselle needs a song to move her—literally, it needs to make her dance—before she disappears into her recording space overlooking a swaying birch forest to write the melodies and harmonies. After that, I’ll add more sparkle and punch to push the song a bit further. It’s a very productive process. We wrote and recorded Always and the Kyoto Song single in around three-four months.
TM – What was it like sharing the stage with notable bands like The Church and Sex Gang Children?
Brian – It’s funny. I have always suffered from imposter syndrome. So playing with notable acts has always made me a bit anxious—as if they are going to peek into my sample bank and out me for being a miserable hack. Instead, I’ve often found them to be just people, approachable, mostly friendly and interesting. Probably the best part of playing with big acts is getting the opportunity to connect with someone else’s audience. It’s so hard sometimes to reach beyond your own circle—particularly these days—so, when given the chance to find new ears, I’m always thrilled and thankful.
TM – Is it hard to balance your everyday responsibilities with family and careers with The Blue Hour or is this something that has just fallen into place? What has the feedback been like for this new album?
Marselle – Well, yes. Yes, it is. Everyday life can fill up your calendar in a hurry, but making music isn’t work, it’s fun—it’s an escape from the daily toil, a place of magic and possibilities. So, we make time for it whenever we can. Being a duo, the Blue Hour is also “our time,” so it’s something that is very precious and isn’t going away any time soon.
Brian – Having taking such a long break from music, I had no idea where to start with promoting our music. We turned to the very capable hands of Shauna McLarnon from Shameless Promotion PR. I discovered her because she was promoting several of the emerging dream pop acts that I admire. She has done an amazing job raising our profile and finding our audience—I have nothing but praise to heap on her.
TM – How has your music evolved over the years?
Brian – I think that the evolution has mostly been in myself rather than my music per se. For example, when I was young, I was a bit punkish and felt very bound to reject “the rules”—even if one of those rules was song structure. So, my early songs would create the same type of texture and space, but then meander without a through line to guide the listener. Over the years, I’ve broadened my musical tastes and come to embrace “the rules” in order to find a common language in which to write songs. The songs on “Always,” are very textural, but are crafted on traditional pop structure, which I think invites listeners to experience the song.
TM – Are there any current bands you’ve been enjoying that you can recommend us for our own playlists?
Brian – We have been really enjoying John Fryer’s band, Black Needle Noise. His new album, “Lost In Reflections,” touches on so many of those beautiful vibes of This Mortal Coil. We recently heard Charlotte Gainsbourg’s new single, “Deadly Valentine,” the other day while driving—if a song makes you stay in your car after finding a parking spot, it’s a good song! And, given all this talk of our days as street kids, we can’t fail to mention the Seattle swamp grunge band, Dead on Cue. Given our love of ethereal music, this recommendation is most unexpected … but earlier this year we played at an art gallery with them. They had the whole room was dancing, including us. There’s just something irresistible and insistent about them.