At close range with Blank Range

Blank Range is a new quartet out of Nashville, blending gritty vocals with bluesy guitar licks, a colorful flavor of cosmic country and good ol’ rock & roll. The four-piece has just dropped their debut album Marooned with the Treasure via Sturdy Girls Records / Thirty Tigers. Blank Range have toured in support of Death Cab for Cutie, The Mountain Goats and the Drive-By Truckers and will be out with Jessica Lea Mayfield and the Mountain Goats this August. Get to know this exciting quartet a little better.

Who is Blank Range? Please introduce yourselves.

Blank Range comprises Jonathon Childers (guitar), Taylor Zachry (bass), Matt Novotny (drums) and Grant Gustafson (guitar). We’re a rock and roll band from Nashville, Tennessee with some real fire in the midst of all that smoke. We’re avid listeners, and we synthesize all our influences and musings to find our personal take on the power of a song in the context of the here and now. We all sing.

Congratulations on your debut full-length album. We’re more than excited! What’s it about?

Thank you very much! We’re so happy we finally get to share it. Marooned With the Treasure is a rock and roll postcard to right now. It’s a dynamic, cathartic soundtrack introduction to Blank Range.

What’s the story behind the album title?

Marooned With the Treasure is a lyric from “Labor of Love” that we really liked. It’s a thought-provoking image. Something about it brings me to the true nature of freedom in humanity, a sense of arrest due to societal confines or explanations that we’ve come up with throughout human history. Not so much scientific understanding. Really just the concept of dogma on all levels. Making sense of existence in the midst of all its absurdities. We had a few different meanings that we talked out in deciding to choose it as the title but also like leaving it open to interpretation and hearing what it means to other people.

Did you have clear ideas or visions on how it would be from the get-go, or did the album gradually evolve as a process?

This is the most quintessential ‘snapshot’ album that we could probably get at. We wrote most of these songs in August of 2016 at a cabin in Southern Wisconsin. We had a late summer writing retreat into the woods at an old cabin and came out with about 13 or 14 songs.

Spending the rest of August and most of September touring the West coast and scenic parts of the Southeast made quite a lasting impression on us. We got the photo for the album cover on that run. We came home and went into the studio and put the whole album down in four days. The vision realized on this album is the importance of immediacy, the present moment, the emotional power in the imperfection that is humanness.

Care to shed a little more light on the recording sessions?

We recorded with Brad Cook in Durham, North Carolina. Brad is a prolific force in music. He played in Megafaun, Hiss Golden Messenger, Sharon Van Etten and countless other bands. He has a great ear and an unforgettable personality. He’s a stellar friend. He had been asking about what we were working on and suggested trying some things out with him. He brought us out to North Carolina and had us rehearse at his place for a day to hear all the songs and then we went in the next day to Overdub Lane in Durham and started cutting. He really helped us focus on the songs and just getting in there and playing them live. Brad aimed to capture the immediacy mentioned earlier, like these songs couldn’t wait any longer to be played.

The sound was also sculpted in no small capacity by Chris Boerner and James Wallace, who helped engineer the recordings, and James played on the album.

What would be your preferred setting to ultimately enjoy the LP?

Brad Cook’s back room. He had the best sounding system I’ve ever heard.

How would you pair Marooned With the Treasure with a meal or beverage?

We’ve all really come to appreciate the crisp, refreshing bit of euphoria that is Topo Chico mineral water. Ideally, you would be in a place of overwhelming natural beauty where you could enjoy the smaller things while still attaining a more universal perspective, say, on the bank of a rocky stream surrounded by towering Redwood trees, or maybe on top of a boulder watching a devastating sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

You guys want to shout out to other Nashville acts to look out for these days?

Tristen, Teddy and the Rough Riders, Erin Rae, Harpooner, Andrew Combs, Banditos, Liz Cooper & The Stampede, The Lonely Biscuits, Faux Ferocious, Station Wagon, Airpark, Mark Fredson, Sunseeker and Futurebirds. There are so many friends making great music here in town. It’s impossible to name them all, but you don’t have to look far to find it.

What, in your opinion, is the most perfect debut album ever made and why?

I don’t know if I could name one, especially since there are four people in this band that all bring unique tastes to the table, but a few we like are:

Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen
Columbia, 1967

This collection of poems of the human experience was a slow burn for me, but made a huge impact over the years. He has the ability to destroy you with one line.

John Prine: John Prine
Atlantic, 1971

Same as the Cohen record, these songs are so special. It’s such a familiar but unique framing of life. John Prine is a devastator.

Television: Marquee Moon
Elektra, 1977

I remember being shown Marquee Moon in college for the first time, and I don’t know if I’ve stopped listening to it since. These songs are burned into my DNA.

Paul Simon: Paul Simon
Columbia, 1972

Is loosely a debut album but these songs have been important for all of us.

In light of recent events, what’s your view on the current political climate in the US?

On a grand, universal level, it’s rather absurd that our visions are so easily clouded by decisions and actions that sacrifice the well being of others as a result. Humanity, life and knowledge are not finite concepts; they are forever changing and shifting and redefining and reimagining. For me, one of the more important things to remember and to really work from is that, in the process of coexisting, ideas are what should be on the battlefields. Not people.

In our current political climate, the spectrum is seemingly very polarized. I heard a TED talk recently where a psychologist was studying the emotion of disgust and how that was reflected in the holding of political beliefs. People on one side are disgusted by the people on the other side. This seems to halt progress most of all. I think we have a responsibility to pull our world out of the gridlock of oppositional politics and group mentalities and to really start talking about IDEAS and stop accusing people. That seems so liberating as to make me feel certainly optimistic of our future.

And finally, if your music was a food, what would it be?

If our music was a food, it would be a cheeseburger with two Krispy Kreme donuts as the bun. It causes ones heart to race and their eyes to widen but leaves them tired and suffering from long term high blood pressure. Some of us are vegetarians in the band now, but that shouldn’t prohibit me from painting this picture because it’s right on.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Basia Bulat: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Canadian songbird Basia Bulat is back with her fourth album, Good Advice. Captured and produced by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James in Louisville, Kentucky, it follows 2013’s highly-acclaimed Tall Tall Shadow and two years of touring with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Daniel Lanois and Destroyer.

Bulat and James first met at Austin City Limits, and became friends while touring together in 2013. When it came time to record her new album, Bulat was determined to continue the experiment that began with Tall Tall Shadow – challenging her creative process, experimenting with different sounds. Despite a shared love for classic gospel, soul and country, Bulat and James resolved not to make a throwback record, instead transforming her slow acoustic demos into swift and bright pop songs.

In their review of Good Advice, Pop Matters wrote, ‘Bulat positions herself gracefully as a singer with more than one dimension, one that knows that being serious, sad, and joyful can happen in the same body simultaneously.” In a similarly glowing take, The Guardian said she sings “with the sorrowful stoicism of a classic country crooner – rhinestone-encrusted melodrama and misery cascade around her, synthesised gospel colliding with the stately majesty of Grizzly Bear or Beach House.’

We invited Basia Bulat to share with us five albums that changed her life.

* * *

Leonard Cohen:
New Skin for the Old Ceremony

I was in high school when one of my best friends introduced me to Leonard Cohen’s music, and since then it has always felt tied to my teen years and the kinds of friendships you make in that formative time. It’s still one of my favorite albums, and had an influence on how I sing and how I feel about singing – that there’s always got to be some kind of truth to be found in the song.


Cat Power:
You Are Free

There was a year where I listened almost exclusively to Cat Power. This album and The Greatest are two that will always be in my heart. I admire both her power and her vulnerability as a writer – the way she can express both in a single line made me want to write songs at a time when I didn’t think anyone would ever hear them.

Sam Cooke:
One Night Stand – Live at Harlem Square Club, 1963

I can remember so vividly the first time I heard the intro to “Bring it on Home to Me” on this album, and being floored by it. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful things ever recorded to tape. I always think about this album when I’m getting ready to go on tour – the energy in the room shakes you from the speakers so many years after it was recorded.

Belle and Sebastian:
The Boy with the Arab Strap

I love the storytelling on this album and the way the darkest lyrics are paired with the sweetest melodies. I connected to it so strongly the first time I heard it, and perhaps another reason why the record changed my life is because of how much I connected to the live show the first time I saw them…and every time I’ve seen them since. I think I’ve seen Belle and Sebastian in concert more than any other band!

Jim James:
Regions of Light and Sound of God

This is one of my favorite records of the past decade! I find myself putting in on in all kinds of situations…and it’s one of the reasons why I wanted Jim to produce my record. The ideas, both philosophical and musical, really resonated with me, and still do every time I listen to it. It feels like both an invitation and a mystery.

Bjørn Hammershaug
Originally published on, February 2016