Interview: Ballet School
Ballet School, a multi-national synth pop trio based in Berlin, Germany, is currently out on their first tour of the United States with Montreal dream pop group Seoul, supporting their great debut album The Dew Lasts an Hour. They stopped by the Larimer Lounge in Denver Sunday, and I had the chance to talk to frontwoman Rosie Blair before their set. We talked about Ballet School’s origins, turning down trips on time machines, and the Cocteau Twins.
So how’s the tour going so far?
It’s going really good. It’s our first time properly in America, we’ve only ever played both coasts and SXSW and that’s it. So this is our first time coming through proper America.
Are there any standout dates at this point?
Yeah! Kansas City, totally. It was amazing, it really reminded me of Ireland. Everybody was super friendly and chill. It was an awesome show — it was packed and every time I said “KANSAS CITY!”, everybody was like “RAAHH!” [laughs]
So you’re from Ireland, originally, but you’re based out of Berlin now, correct?
Yeah, I moved to Berlin in 2010, wanting to do music proper. I’d always done music, but sort of on the side. I just decided to try and make a project I was working on at that time a sort of career, but that project fell apart quickly after I moved to Berlin. That’s why I moved there, to work with some producers for that project. When that fell apart, I decided I really wanted to do my own project, so I started looking around for musicians and Michel [Collet, guitarist] was the first person I met that actually showed some potential. We immediately got really serious about the project, worked every day — sent out like 500 e-mails to blogs and started a little Bandcamp and made T-shirts, you know, the whole nine yards. Good things did happen, we did a support tour for The Rapture, and that was our first full UK tour. This was all before we were signed, and we did little self-releases, one of which was “All Things Return at Night” and we did a video for it and I think someone at Bella Union saw it. They started expressing interest at that point and then signed us the next year.
There’s a lot of Cocteau Twins influence in your sound. Is it exciting to be working with Bella Union (Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde’s label)?
Yeah, it definitely felt like the right place to be because of that reference point. Cocteau Twins are one of those bands that don’t have a lot of imitators, because they’re so idiosyncratic and unique. I definitely wanted to make music that really challenged me. I felt like all the bands I was in as a teenager, like twee projects or stuff influenced by riot-grrl, weren’t very challenging to me as a musician, in my heart of hearts. It’s like, when you write one of those songs, it’s always going to sound like twee, you know what I mean? It’s always going to sound like one of the first-generation bands in that scene. I don’t think there’s much point in referencing certain scenes so directly. So we were like, how do we take the ethics of what was going on with that and develop it musically? And I think the precedent of that was Cocteau Twins, who quietly put out really excellent records throughout the ’80s and were a very unique band. I think Michel’s guitar playing is really influenced by Simon Guthrie and other musicians that were kind of trying to push the limit of what was going on at that time. And now there’s a whole new layer to explore, because effects are beyond what they were in those days, and Michel’s got such a unique touch. Like, all those weird sounds on the album are guitar. Everybody’s like, “that’s a synth,” and it’s so not. [laughs]
So you’re kind of influenced by the ’80s. If you had a musical time machine where you could go back to any musical scene and take part in it and see all those bands, what scene would that be?
Oh, I don’t know. [long pause] I mean, that’s interesting, because it reminds me of something I read that said the best time to be is now, and you shouldn’t desire other times. Your moment is the best moment, because it’s yours and you have to enjoy it and take it for all it is. Sometimes if you think history is repeating itself, you get super jaded. You can’t look at things that way.
For sure. So would you say there’s a big difference between touring the United States and touring Europe?
Well, in the United States, there’s a lot more driving, obviously. At our level, to be honest, there’s not so many things that I would notice, because we’re still playing small clubs everywhere and we’re still playing venues a lot of bands our size come through. For me, it’s pretty similar, I gotta say. It’s the same feeling.
How’d the tour with Seoul end up happening?
We were thinking about touring in the spring, and we thought just because we hadn’t toured any of these places before, a co-headlining tour might be the best thing to do. It’s like pooling our collective audiences. Seoul are a good little up-and-coming band and it’s their first time touring the States too.
And it’s going well so far!
Yeah! We’re real buddies now and we’re looking out for each other. It’s cool to be on the road with another band because you’re all in it together.
So are there any German or Irish bands that you’re really into but haven’t really made it to the States that we should be paying attention to?
Oh my god [laughs]. Let me see. A lot of the bands I know in Ireland are little bands that aren’t quite ready to tour the States. They’re great little bands, though. But who should be getting attention? [thinks, pulls out phone to look at her music] I don’t know, a lot of the bands I’ve been listening to are American. I’m not sure whether you guys are already hearing about certain people. It’s hard to know what level of exposure some groups are at. Like, I really like Nicole Dollanganger and think she’s really interesting, and I thought she wasn’t very well-known because she’s not on Spotify, and then I go on her Instagram and she has, like, 100,000 followers. [laughs] So I’m like, oh, she’s doing alright.
It’s kind of hard in the Internet age to know who’s big [laughs].
Yeah, it is! But, let me see, who do I know? I can’t really remember anybody’s name at the moment, just because I’m so tired. This girl Magic Island is awesome. She’s from Berlin, and I really, really like her. She’s just making her own music and being awesome and has great taste. She’s playing all the local places we played. She’s great, man, I’d like to see her tour in America. I think she could do really well.