We’re living in a pretty cool world where a band as singular and weird as Blues Control
can flourish, playing live all around the Northeast (or more) and dropping a new LP right
when you’ve worn out the grooves on their last one. And for as peculiar as their noise
may be, the beer-and-cigarettes crowd gets down just as hard as the chin-stroking
tastemaker set, quite a feat for a duo whose drummer runs on AA batteries. With a rep
like this, one might expect Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho to be reclusive, self-important,
capital-a Artists, but spend five minutes in a basement with these two and you’ll be
blushing for even having that thought – these are two of the sweetest, friendliest,
most down-to-earth individuals you’ll meet. If you don’t believe me, just read what
Lea has to say.

Would you say Blues Control is the coolest name of any band you’ve been in? Where’d it
come from?

I guess this question would be better suited for Russ, since I’ve only been in two bands,
this one and Watersports. (Russ was in a handful of bands previously.) I jammed in a
cover band in high school – we mainly just did Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” – and I
tried jamming with people I knew in college, but it never amounted to much other than
awkward hippie jams or bad hardcore songs. I had been classically trained since I was 5
(won my first international competition at 7, played at Carnegie Hall at 11 as part of a
young artists showcase) so I always thought that the problem was me – that I was too
rigidly trained or whatever to be able to play “real” music. It was pretty depressing
actually. It wasn’t until I started playing with Russ on a whim that I realized I had the
ability to play music I actually liked – it was a complete shock to me how well we worked
I don’t think about the names of our bands that much, they just fit our sense of humor.
Russ came up with both, but it’s one of those things where we’ll just be drunk and hanging
out and he’ll start blabbing funny stuff, and some of it will stick with me, and I’ll remember
it the next day. With Blues Control, it just became a long-running joke that we had a rock
band “on the side” while doing Watersports, but BC didn’t really exist until a long time after
we came up with the name.
Some people have told us that they think Blues Control is the most genius name of recent
time, while other people have said it’s the worst name they’ve ever heard. That’s cool with
me, can’t please everybody. I don’t think you can really appreciate the name unless you’re
into old bands like Blues Magoos, Blues Addicts, Blues Project, Blues Image, etc. There’s tons
of them from the 60s/70s. If you’re 18 and have only ever heard of Blues Traveler and Blues
Explosion, then maybe it doesn’t make as much sense, but I think that shit’s funny too.

What were the first Blues Control practices like?
We actually booked our first Blues Control show before the band existed. Brian Osborne (NY
musician/promoter) asked us to play a show at The Lucky Cat as Watersports, but we had
just played a bunch of local shows, so we didn’t really feel like playing another. Because
Brian is a nice guy, we didn’t want to say no, so Russ came up with the bright idea of asking
him if “our other band Blues Control” could play instead of Watersports. Since BC was just
a joke in my mind, I assumed Russ was joking, so I jokingly said “yeah, ask him.” This
decision was made really late at night just before I was about to pass out. All I know is,
when I woke up the next morning, Russ had stayed up late drinking a beer and putting up
a ridiculous Blues Control webpage. It involved a psychedelic rotating donut gif, a few
stock photos of “hard liquor,” and a red-eyed Buddy Guy wearing a Reebok beret. He also
put up an mp3 excerpt from a one-off jam session we did with our friend Talbot, but all
cut-up and slowed down, to make it seem like a real band. It was a pretty amusing thing
to wake up to. Russ sent the webpage link to Brian, and surprisingly, Brian said “ok,” so
we suddenly had to start writing a set. We assumed it would be a one-off thing, so over
3 or 4 afternoons, we just tried to come up with some things that would amuse our friends,
but also hopefully sound good. The show went pretty well, and somebody there asked
us to play another show a couple of weeks later, and then somebody else asked us to play
a third show, and then a friend of ours heard a recording of our first show and asked to
do a tape release of it (our first s/t tape), and things just snowballed from there. We
had no intention of playing more than one Blues Control show and certainly no intention
of doing any releases.

What made it become a “real” project, then? Was it a reaction from your friends, or your own
interpretation of what was possible with Blues Control?

Well even though we first had to get over the initial disbelief that we were going to play
the show, in my mind Blues Control became a “real” project the day we finished writing
music for that first show. What I mean is that even though we didn’t take ourselves that
seriously back then (and still don’t to this day), we always took the music seriously and
put a lot of time and consideration into it. The music itself was never a joke – we just
didn’t see ourselves as Trying to Start a Band. Still today, we think of it as an art project
first and foremost, but without any of the pretention or seriousness that the word “art”
can sometimes imply. Having said that, part of the art project is to play on the idea of
being in a band, so sometimes the lines get blurry between what’s real and what’s not.
A lot of our early concepts came from the fact that we were just two people trying to
sound like the bigger, heavier, more advanced rock band that we knew we would never be.
Once we started getting positive reactions, the only difference for us musically was that
we started to get a lot more opportunities to work on music, either for shows or records,
and therefore we were able to develop our initial ideas a lot further than we initially
expected we would. But the basic concepts and approach were already an inherent part
of the project by the time of our first show. A lot of that probably has to do with the
fact that we were already used to working together in Watersports, so collaborating on
a new project came easily.
But whether or not we are considered to be a “real” project by other people is a totally
different thing. It really just depends on who you’re talking to – sometimes when I’m
sitting at my dayjob, I start to wonder how real my music projects really are.

How does a Blues Control song come about? How much of it comes from improvisation and
jamming versus written parts?

It’s so hard to really know how it happens to be honest. Everything comes about
differently – one song will come together really fast, almost without warning while we’re
jamming/improvising during practice, but then another song will feel like we’re pulling teeth
to finish it – we’ll labor over it, together and separately, and try multiple versions of it in
live shows over the course of a year or something. There are a lot of songs we’ve written
that we’ve played live a few times and then discarded – no recording of it, no memory of
how to play it – just because we start to dislike it. We usually write everything together,
but we don’t always see eye-to-eye on things, so it can be a slow process sometimes.
Also, none of our songs are just full-on completely random improvising – there’s always a
planned structure to everything, even if that structure allows for some improvising in a
certain section, the main structure is always planned out.

I know Russ has done some vocals live, but do you foresee any Blues Control songs with full-on
vocals and lyrics?

Hah, it took me a while to figure out which vocals by Russ you were even talking about!
I’m assuming you mean the whistling and vocal stuff in “Glen Fandango” (which coincidentally
we are recording this weekend as part of our upcoming 12″ E.P. on Richie Records). I
actually have done vocals several times live and recorded in the past, but it generally
(thankfully) goes unnoticed because whenever we incorporate vocals in our songs, it’s
more about using the voice as another instrument to add texture to the whole song. We
aren’t opposed to the idea of full-on vocals and lyrics at all, but we would never do it
unless it sounded good, made total sense in the context of the music, and we had something
verbal to say. So far, that scenario hasn’t happened yet. We always feel like we have
more than enough things to say musically, and never anything to say lyrically. We do put
a lot of consideration into our song and album titles, but that’s a different thing. I can’t
say that we’ll never use real vocals and lyrics in the future, but I can say that we’ll never
add them just for the sake of having them. Who knows what will happen tho. It probably
just depends on what kind of music projects we end up working on in the future.

What are the advantages to being a couple as well as a band?
Well, we can’t speak for anyone else, but Russ and I feel that there are a lot of
dis-advantages to being a couple as well as a band! But a lot of people I talk to assume
it must be the best thing ever. And it is a really amazing experience at times, but it’s not
always the healthiest thing because the band dynamic is inseparable from the couple dynamic,
and vice versa, so one thing is always affecting the other, either positively or negatively.
Luckily, Russ and I were dating before we started playing music together, so the basis of
our relationship is the romantic one, not the band one.
The main thing is that we spend the majority of our days and nights together. The advantage
is that we don’t have to miss each other in order to do music stuff. We’ve toured with people
before who spent the whole tour talking on their cellphones, trying to stay in touch with loved
ones. I know that must be hard. The downside for us is that spending so much time with a
significant other can get intense and create tension where there wouldn’t normally be.
Another advantage is that Russ and I can completely relate musically and socially – since
we experience it all at the same time, there’s no explaining necessary, and we don’t have to
struggle to keep our band life outside of “the house.” But like I said, having no separation
between the band and the relationship can get claustrophobic. We make sure to give each
other alone time, and also prioritize some of our common interests that don’t involve the band.
Another nice thing is that there are a lot of ideas that come to us at random times, like when
we’re shopping at a drugstore, or making breakfast or something. It’s not like we think about
the band 24/7, but something random in real life will just trigger a musical idea occasionally,
and then it will translate into band practice.
Despite the occasional downsides, Russ and I are still extremely grateful to have such a
close creative relationship. The fun times are really amazing. It’s kind of a crazy lifestyle
but it suits us.

Based on that, do you think the life-span of Blues Control will end up much longer than most
bands? Will Blues Control be around as long as Russ and Lea are?

It’s hard to tell what the life-span of most bands is these days. Since it’s so easy to record
at home and put up a MySpace page in 10 minutes, it seems like there are a lot of people
who just start tons of bands every day without really having a reason to (other than
ego-stroking and trend-hopping) and they all come and go really fast. But then it also seems
like more and more older bands are reuniting (or just refuse to quit even after 20-some years),
even tho in most cases I would say that the bands don’t really have a reason to exist
anymore. But regardless of the negative side, I don’t think that lifespan is a direct indication
of anything – there are bands/artists who were active for a short period of time who I think
completely justified their existence (Harry Pussy, SSD, Nick Drake, Electric Eels, etc.), and
there are bands/artists who were active for a long period of time who I think were amazing
throughout most of their careers (and in a few cases are still amazing today) such as Neil
Young, Prince, Laraaji, etc. It’s not so much about duration of time as it is about knowing
when the project’s purpose/relevancy has run its course. I have no idea how exactly one
can tell when a creative entity should be laid to rest, but my hunch so far is that it may
just be a matter of following one’s creative instincts rather than ego, and avoiding any
decisions that involve desperation or careerism as a motivation. The only reason BC still
exists right now is because we still have things we want to express and we’ve been lucky
enough to be given a steady stream of opportunities to express them. I’m positive that
as long as Russ and I are in a relationship, we’ll always be working on some sort of creative
project together (musically or otherwise), but I’m also positive that regardless of how long
our relationship lasts, Blues Control as we know it right now will not last forever. I hope
the music stays relevant forever, but the mental image of the two of us trying to “rock
out” when we’re sixty-four is not appealing.

I’ve got a few finicky friends who can’t really get into any esoteric or strange music except for
Blues Control. What do you think it is about Blues Control that finds so many staunchly rock-based
music fans getting down with it?

That’s flattering to hear, but also surprising to me – it’s never that easy to tell who is or
isn’t able to get into our music. I feel like it goes both ways: On the one hand, I think our
music is less difficult than some indie-rock purists make it seem. Most of our influences are
“old,” which may make it sound foreign compared to more modern aesthetics, but it’s not
always necessarily “difficult.” I think there’s a huge difference between sounding “different”
and sounding “difficult.” On the other hand, we know that what we do is so different from the
prevailing modern indie rock aesthetic, that we are constantly surprised and grateful that
we have as many supporters as we do. But if you look at the larger picture, no matter how
many people get into what we do, we will always be an obscure band. It’s not like we’ll ever
sell that many records or make any money on touring. I’m not complaining by any means,
just putting it in perspective. Russ and I had absolutely no expectations regarding music at
all (even the way Watersports started was an accident too), so we just feel incredibly lucky
to be where we are (wherever that is) and we’re flattered that all the people, musicians, and
labels who we respect like our music. That in itself is what I am most grateful for. Beyond
that, everything else is just icing on the cake.

You did a Winter-themed 7″ single are there any other thematic releases on the horizon? Or
something I may have missed with your other records?

We don’t have any plans to do another release as explicitly theme-based as that 7-inch was.
But all of our releases in the past have had overarching “concepts” (for lack of a less-pretentious
sounding word) in some way or another – just in the sense that we were trying to create
records that were meant to be “albums”. We never just slapped some songs together and
called it a release. All of our early tape releases were recorded at live shows, which back
then were always written to be continuous sets of music, which is why those early tapes all
consist of pieces that purposely run into each other. We continued that method of writing
for Puff because we wanted the whole thing to be cohesive and virtually nonstop from beginning
to end. Then with the second s/t album, the goal was to break out of that and do something
with definite song breaks but with a psychedelic surreal party vibe that tied everything together.
That album is purposefully audacious and fucked up. Then with Local Flavor, we were thinking
in terms of “travel” themes, or movement in general. For me, the whole record from beginning
to end works as a cycle, like a 24-hour day – by the end you’re (hopefully) ready to do it again.
But I also hope the record evokes the general feeling of moving through life and places, and
that includes mundane things, like an alarm clock on a Monday morning, or more abstract things,
like the claustrophic drone you experience during an airplane ride. Outside of concepts tho,
we always try to write songs that can stand on their own. Obviously, the advantage of
instrumental music is that everyone has their own personal impression of what something
sounds like – it doesn’t have to convey a very specific idea, as long as the album has a
cohesive sensory meaning to someone, then I’m happy.

Do you feel a connection to any of your Siltbreeze, Holy Mountain or Woodsist label mates?
Is there any sort of camaraderie there?

Siltbreeze is the first and only label where we’ve felt any sort of camaraderie with other
labelmates. That largely is due to Tom Lax’s knack for surrounding himself with nice, funny,
awesome people. We’ve made so many great friends through him. But it’s not clique-ish.
If it were, I wouldn’t be into it. It really just feels like an accidental support group for
nice, open-minded weirdos. Holy Mountain and Woodsist were both great to work with,
but most of the contact we had with other bands on those labels had all to do with
other social connections, not really so much the label. Our experience with Holy Mountain
was generally less interactive than with the other labels, but only because JW lives on
the west coast. It’s harder to get to know someone when you’ve only met them a couple
of times over several years. We became good friends with Jeremy at Woodsist after
working with him on Puff – he lived 10 minutes away – but we don’t personally know any
of the bands on his label except for the ones we turned him on to (the Siltbreeze bands,
Kurt Vile, etc). Band camaraderie isn’t always the most important thing tho. We have
no regrets or complaints at this point about anything – we’re incredibly grateful to have
worked with all three labels.