Free Blood’s John Pugh and Madeline Davy Are Totally Done With Drum Machines

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Photo: Courtesy of Girlie Action

Beloved !!! singer-drummer John Pugh recently made indie waves with the announcement that he'd be leaving the band to concentrate all his energies on his stripped-down side project Free Blood. For last week's Fall Preview issue, we asked one question of Pugh and his Free Blood bandmate Madeline Davy — A lot of people are calling Free Blood “sex party music.” True or false?— but we decided to keep them on the phone to find out more. Pugh and Davy chatted with us about uncooperative drum machines, (truly) interminable recording sessions, and the practicality of hiding behind one's mike stand.

It seems like you guys have been playing around town for ages. How long did it take to record your debut?
Pugh: The first two songs took over a year. A lot of people were like, "This is unprecedented, no one does this, it doesn't take this long." Part of the problem was that for so long we had been operating on a very minimal level, just a drum-machine-vocals-bass kind of structure. Once we got into the studio, we realized we wanted to make an electronic-dance record with no electronic instruments, only acoustic. That just takes time.

Sounds expensive.
Pugh: Oh my God, so expensive. We'd record for a couple of days and then spend two months listening to it over and over and over again and getting 500 ideas of what we could do differently. We did a lot of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So how do the songs come to life?
Pugh: When we first started, all the songs were built around this old, ancient drum machine from the late seventies that I had — I think it was an Electro Harmonix Rhythm Machine — that was really primitive, and it was almost like the drum machine kind of dictated the kernel of the song. I still have it, but it's been stomped on so many times that it's not very reliable. It's kind of like having a really drunk drummer who's trying to play beats. We got another one that Korg made, but that one decided to die just outright. The lights went out and I lost a good, what, like four and a half years' worth of songs? Gone.

When was that?
Davy: It happened right before a show!

Pugh: Yeah it was the day before we were supposed to play Santos Party House, about two months ago.

So what did you do?
Davy: John rewrote everything.

Pugh: Yeah, pretty much the most insane thing you could do. I went out and got a brand-new drum machine from Guitar Center. I took it home, and in one night I rewrote all the songs as best I could. And the next day we played a show with the brand-spanking-new drum machine with literally just those songs on it.

And it worked?
Pugh: Onstage it sounded like a total clusterfuck, but my understanding is that in the audience it sounded fine. But yeah, needless to say I'm done with drum machines.

Davy: It's always like this fun collaboration with your man doing sound. On occasion we'll just have a mixer we run our vocals through to add a little reverb. And then of course the delay pedals. We use a Line 6.

Pugh: I'm trying to figure out something where we can each have our own delay pedal for our own vocals so we can have dueling vocal delays. In the studio I'm always like, "Can we make the vocals weirder or more reverb-y or something?" It may also be more about my own self-consciousness about hearing my own voice, a little bit. We both kind of want ourselves to be a little bit buried so we're not as conscious of what we sound like.

You must feel kind of naked onstage then, with no instruments…
Pugh: That's why we jump around.

Davy: When we first started doing this, I was terrified. It's a little strange not to have something to hide behind.

Pugh: We don't even have mike stands really, most of the time.

Davy: We're not that skinny anyway, John.