An Interview with Blossom Hall’s Nancy Paraskevopoulos
Just a few days before Cincinnati-based garage-pop band Blossom Hall is set to perform at Final Fling, WMSR Redhawk Radio’s Senior Editor Annie Eyre talked with Blossom Hall’s singer/bassist Nancy Paraskevopoulos about musical maturity, risk-taking, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Pyre.
Annie (WMSR Senior Editor): How did you get into playing music?
NANCY: Oh my gosh, I’ve been playing music forever. One of my first memories is writing a song in my backyard—I was probably three years old?
My mom’s a musician, my grandma’s a musician, so it’s always been a big part of my life.
That’s so cool! What kind of stuff did your mom and grandma do?
Well, my mom plays the viola, so she plays in string quartets and she plays weddings, and things like that and is also in a community orchestra. My grandma went to the Royal Academy of Music in London where she studied composition and piano.
So you play bass for the band, right?
Was that your first instrument of choice?
Well, the first instrument I ever learned how to play was the clarinet in fourth grade, and then I played that for like six years, and then I played tuba in high school—I’ve been singing the whole time, you know, and I just picked up the bass last year, maybe over a year ago? I just wanted to, and I thought the band could benefit from the sound.
Oh, very cool. So you guys have been together for two years—is that right?
Phil [Cotter] and I have been playing together in different projects for probably five years now.
So when did Blossom Hall become a full band?
Um, well yeah I think Blossom Hall, in this iteration, has been around for two years.
How did you and Phil meet and start playing together?
(Laughs) Phil and I met for the first time—he was working at a little music shop that’s no longer in business, called Stone House. Phil was working there and I needed a distortion pedal, so I went there and, yeah, I bought a distortion pedal from him.
We met again when he was running sounds for a solo set I did and—this is all probably in the course of one summer, it was like five or six years ago. And then I went to a show—I still had no idea who he was—and I went to a show and he was playing it, and you know he came up to me and was like “how’s it going? I ran sounds for you, I sold you this peddle, blah blah blah.” I had a band at the time called Nancy and the Garbage Party and it was a lot of fun, but it was, like, a total mess, and we had to break the band up. And I was telling him about that, and he invited me to play music with him!
And at first I was like, “no that’s weird, I don’t know you.” But then I heard his band play and I was convinced.
So we started out as a side project, um, and yeah—five or six years later, here we are!
That’s awesome! So, the other band you mentioned, was that the first band you’d been in?
I mean, when I was in my early twenties, I was doing cover bands and things like that, but the Garbage Party was my first band that was my band, playing my original music.
And what kind of music did you guys do then?
Well, Garbage Party was compared most often to The Pixies, so a little psychedelic, a little harder—definitely harder than Blossom Hall.
What kind of bands has Blossom Hall been compared to?
Probable The Zombies, Rilo Kiley, Blondie, maybe The Cars?
On your website, it says that you guys have a full-length album coming out this year.
That’s really exciting! What’s that been like as opposed to your EP that you have out right now?
I think that the album—man that’s such a good question! You know, the EP, we just really wanted to get something recorded and done to help us book shows. The album is more mature, so we’ve matured in our sound a lot.
And it’s more multifaceted. It’s got some more experimental numbers on there, which we’re really excited about, things that are a little more art-y. But it’s still centered, I think, in pop music, you know, like we still identify as a garage-pop band. But I think that on the album we definitely took some risks, musically, and I’m just really excited about it.
Do you have a favorite song that you guys have coming out on the album?
Yeah, my favorite song is easily the song “Pyre,” which is the title track of the album. It’s pretty heavy, honestly, it’s about domestic violence and it’s about being in, um, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship probably like ten years ago at this point. So it’s about that and being naive, and seeing the warning signs but staying anyway, like not really knowing what I was doing, but getting out of it. So it’s about personal power and moving forward.
I think that’s what a lot of our content is about. I think Phil and I both are very invested in our personal successes, and on growth, so a lot of that comes out in that album.
Phil’s songs tend to be a little less on-the-nose, I should say. I tend to write very factual songs—like “this is what happened.”
So do you guys write them more individually then? Or do you have any songs where you write them collaboratively, as well?
Yeah we have written a lot of our songs collaboratively, it just depends. So some songs I write by myself, and I bring them to Phil; some songs he writes by himself and then brings them to me; a lot of the stuff we write together.
We wrote a new song just for this album, it’s called “St. Louis.” Writing with Phil is a true pleasure, and I’m very lucky to have found him.
What it’s like to write collaboratively? What’s your songwriting process like with that?
I think the thing that makes it really easy for the two of us to write together is that we’re both pretty direct people. So we’re both really willing to take risks and just try something, you know? So even if one of us is skeptical with the other person’s idea, we’re like “okay, we’ll just try it!” And sometimes it works—sometimes it’s great.
So if we’re writing together, we kind of decide what a song is going to be about, and Phil will play an instrument and then I’ll just sing on top of it. So we’ll do like two or three rounds of just like improvisational freestyling, just both of us, and usually we record it. And then we go back, and talk about what works and what doesn’t, and then we’ll do some pretty serious editing, but that is a skill I learned in a creative writing class. To just write the same three things in a row and the writing just naturally becomes distilled when you do that.
So what has your favorite live performance been that you guys have done?
Well I’ll tell you this: They keep getting better and better. Probably my favorite live performance that I’ve ever done with Blossom Hall was just recently we got to play with Soften—so that’s Brianna Kelly and her band. And then Beams, from Toronto, who are probably—I think they’re my actual favorite band. So yeah, anytime that I get to enjoy the rest of the show is great, yeah!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Yeah I guess I just want to say that for anyone who is reading [this], whatever you’re going through, you can do it. Just take time and space for yourself. If you have creative projects, keep going! Don’t give up. And listen to Blossom Hall!
Blossom Hall will be performing at Final Fling at Uptown Park. You can see them May 2 at 6-8pm.