It would be easy to dismiss a band like the Blakes as your average pretty-boy-garage-rock-stars-in-training. All three are undeniably attractive young men, rough around the edges, suitably clad in scruffy leather and denim, voracious smokers, and ripe with barbed wit and flirtatious bravado. Combine that first impression with the reality that they fled Seattle briefly for a failed stab at success in Los Angeles, and a flurry of press comparing them to the Strokes (guilty), and you have a premature backlash building against a band that is finally getting a fair shot at success.
But that first impression is just that—a shallow, surface-level perception, and an almost wholly inaccurate assessment. The Blakes are incredibly hard workers, earnestly committed to their craft, and practically academic in their obsession with executing the perfect pop song. It is this latter fact that makes it obvious why local label Light in the Attic Records snapped them up earlier this year—but more on that later.
When I stop by their practice space and recording studio in Ballard on a dreary Thursday evening, bassist Snow Keim answers the door, ushering me out of the rain and into an impressively clean, well-lit, and comfortably outfitted lobby-cum-rec room. The vending machine dispenses cans of Pabst, and the pool table is flanked by thrift-store couches and a gorgeous antique piano. Garnet Keim, who shares his brother Snow's disheveled demeanor and passion for spirited debates about the Beatles' Rubber Soul, is ecstatic about the results of their three days of marathon recording sessions. "We are already done with our next full-length," he exclaims gleefully. "I think we've done our best work yet," he adds, nodding toward producer Brian Brown, clearly wanting to share credit with their collaborator.
That the trio already has another record in the can is especially industrious, considering Light in the Attic is rereleasing the band's self-titled debut this month. (Initially self-released last year, it has been remixed and remastered, with two additional tracks included). The label is preparing to give the band a major push over the next few months, including four high-profile CMJ appearances and an extensive cross-country tour itinerary. The Blakes are ahead of the typical curve, and have no intention of slowing down.
"Ideally what we'd like to do is put out records every six to eight months like the Beach Boys did," explains Garnet the next evening over illicit cocktails at a Phinney Ridge speakeasy. Drummer Bob Husak is poring over the bartender's vinyl collection, periodically punctuating the conversation with his audiophilic endorsements ("Ernest Tubb—this is a fucking great record!").
"We had a hard time [in Seattle] in the late '90s because we couldn't play all-ages shows and we were underage," Garnet continues, recalling the Teen Dance Ordinance era, which resulted in their ill-advised detour to L.A.
"The last thing we heard before we left L.A. was [some industry maven] telling us, 'You know what's hot right now? Sugar Ray!' laughs Snow. "That was a good sign it was time to leave."
As you might expect from siblings who began busking together as teens "in front of the FAO Schwartz bear in Kansas City to earn money to get out of the city," the Keim brothers exhibit fierce fighting skills along with obvious affection. Once they made it out of the Midwest, they headed to Vancouver, B.C., but ended up moving to Seattle in 2004 when they couldn't secure work visas. They washed sheets at the Green Tortoise Hostel to pay their rent, eventually meeting Husak at a coffee shop where he worked and recruiting him for duty behind the kit. The band began working on demos, eventually self-recording an EP that they admit was "really, really bad." It took the lessons learned in L.A. and pure, old-fashioned woodshedding to shape them into the band that now packs Seattle clubs and stands poised to break out on a much larger scale.
When I ask them why they signed with LITA, all three members get so excited they start talking over each other. "Because they get it!" asserts Snow. "Who else would sign us?!" interjects Husak, only half-joking. "They understand that it's all about the songs," says Garnet. Indeed, this is the element that makes the trivial factors of image or buzz-bin status irrelevant when it comes to forecasting their long-term success. This is a band that has a laser focus on continuously improving the caliber of its songwriting—almost ruthlessly so. "We want to become better lyricists because we are thick as fuck," confesses Snow.
So what would success look like to the Blakes? "Success is when you feel happy," says Garnet. "Success is right now."