Wyatt Blair Talks Head Space, Recording, and Cassette Culture
With Cassette Store Day coming up, it seemed more than appropriate to check in again with Wyatt Blair, co-founder of cassette tape record label Lolipop Records. Wyatt graciously gave some insight into his writing and recording process, new projects in the works, and just why the cassette tape format is so important to him.
Wyatt Blair: Yeah, I don’t really know what this new stuff is, but it’s been coming to me these last few weeks. I don’t know what to do with it [yet]. Once I write a few songs and get in the groove, it’s like a head space. Like on Point of No Return I was in a head space for like a year. Those songs were a year of my life, you know? I feel like I need it to be my complete head space or else it won’t turn out the way I want it to. So I’m trying to find that head space and find the songs [for the new album]. It’s like putting together a meal, you know? You’ve got to have the right spices. If you’re really feeling Mexican food, you can’t really get stuff to make pasta, and lasagna and stuff; it won’t turn out like Mexican food. You’ve got to get in that right head space.
BW: So is this head space for both the writing and the recording stages? Do you knock it all out while you’re in that head space?
WB: Yeah, it’s everything. I truly think that people are coining Point of No Return as revival rock, or whatever, but it’s just songs that are recorded with 80s gear, you know? I think I could play those songs on the piano, Elton John style, and it wouldn’t even sound the same. That’s how I view it. I mean, I did [the 80s thing] intentionally, but they’re just songs.
BW: As far as recording those songs with 80s gear, were you recording and writing in Arizona for that album?
WB: Yeah, basically. They were just skeleton songs that I had as voice memos in my phone. I was in a garage that just had music shit – drum shit. So I kind of grouped them together, structured them, and recorded them up in Prescott.
BW: Was there something in Prescott that put you in a unique head space for the album, or was that just where you happened to be at the time?
WB: Well, my folks live out there. My dad’s a drummer and collects drums. I grew up recording at my folks’ house, in the garage. That was like my zone, you know. My man cave if you will.
BW: But you’re in Southern California these days, right?
WB: Yeah, I grew up in Dana Point. They just moved out there recently. Maybe two years ago. So yeah, I was recording in my garage in Dana Point until I moved to L.A. in 2010. For my very first record, Banana Cream Dream, I had to leave L.A. for a week, and go to my parents’ house and record the whole thing in the garage. And I was like, “Yeah, I think this is just the way I have to do it”. L.A. is too hectic for me to set aside work and all the shit going on here. And I was like “I’m just going to go back to my parents’ house and set up in the garage, make a makeshift studio, and just do it.” And that’s what I did.
BW: When you say “makeshift studio,” what are you using?
WB: Super basic stuff, man. For the first record, I just used an eight-track tape machine. I did the whole thing on eight tracks. I didn’t use compressors or outboard gear. I had a mixing board, an eight-track, and a 57. I did the whole thing that way.
BW: You mic’d everything with an SM57?
WB: Yeah, I had a kick mic, and a 57. But the guitar, bass, and all the vocals are through a 57. It was super amateur.
BW: Do you consider Banana Cream Dream a joke album or is it just other people who have called it that?
WB: Yeah, it’s just supposed to be a record to make you laugh, and it’s really sarcastic. There are a few songs that are purposely stupid. I don’t think the concept really came across very well, but it’s supposed to be like a comedy glam album or something.
BW: But it makes sense. You and I have talked before about how originally, Lolipop Records was supposed to be a comedy label.
WB: Yeah, totally.
BW: But then we come to Point of No Return.
WB: On Point of No Return, I wanted to do it all digitally. I was like, “I’m not even going to touch a tape machine”. I’d never done a full record on the computer – I’d always done it on tape. So I wanted it to be a test to myself to make a record digitally. I brought my laptop, and that was really it, man.
BW: When you spoke earlier about how Point of No Return isn’t actually an 80s revival album, it sound like you’ve left the comedy aspects of Banana Cream Dream behind, and are saying the album is just sincere. Is that right?
WB: Yeah, but it’s still underlying. There’s some sort of satire on Point of No Return. I think I made it sound the way I did out of guilty pleasure. I’m not the kind of guy to make super dark and serious music. I like dark, serious music, but I don’t think that’s my output.
BW: Well, I’m excited to hear the music you’re working on when it comes out.
WB: Thanks, man. Yeah, I don’t want it to be too long. Like, I think I waited way too long with Point of No Return, so I’m going to try and just make it. I don’t want to think too much -- just make it and get it out.
BW: The annual Cassette Store Day is coming up, and I thought I’d ask you about your relationship to cassettes.
WB: Yeah, cassettes are like my whole life, you know? I run a cassette label, and we put out about five titles a month. We make all the tapes by hand, so I’m constantly dealing with cassette tapes in my life in a positive and a negative way [laughs]. I love them to death, and I think I’ve learned a lot about music through cassette tapes. I’ve met a lot of friends [through cassettes], and records that I’ve had on cassette have changed my life, just because I could buy them for five dollars. I could take a chance, you know, like “Oh, this looks cool. What the fuck is this? Yeah – five dollars is worth this chance.” Whereas, I don’t know if I’d take that chance for a twenty dollar record.
BW: That’s a great point.
WB: Yeah, there’s not really a lot of that outside the cassette world. I don’t think there’s a lot of people taking chances as much as they used to, so I think it’s great.
I like how you can’t skip the needle where you want, or skip the track. You have to just let it play through. Yeah, Cassette Store Day is awesome – I love it.
Listen to Wyatt's Point of No Return here.