The story of Blacksage
is as much about a relationship as it is about a band.
Guy and girl meet through a mutual friend at guy's show. Guy never really makes a move and feels like he blows it.
"I was super awkward because I was nervous and I was playing a show. I didn't talk to her and get her number. I totally dropped the ball," says Drew Scott, 27, our "guy," who was performing on a July 2013 night with his alternative hip-hop group Something CompleX (featuring
contributing photographer Joshua Emmitt Nielson).
Luckily for the guy, the girl, Josephine Olivia Herbst, 22, contacted the mutual friend for Scott's number.
They met up and started hanging out daily. "Been that way ever since," Herbst explains as the couple share a bench at Common Ground in Hampden on a recent Monday morning.
Herbst is also a musician, performing in local indie group Softeyes and as a solo folk musician. Three months into their nearly yearlong relationship, they decided to collaborate, and the result would go on to be called Blacksage. Scott handles the production, a task he shares with Joshua Emmit Nielson in Something CompleX, and Herbst is still singing, but the sound they make together deviates into a much weirder space , with songs pairing skeletal darkwave beats with equally dark lyrics about sex, drugs, and desire.
Scott says, "[Blacksage] is the project I've always wanted to do, dark and sexy music."
"It's just so much fun," Herbst enthuses.
Scott and Herbst's relationship was not just the cause of the band, but also a source of material and an inspiration. The six songs on the band's first release,
put out by Friends Records in April, draw on the experiences of their dating as they were happening.
"There's nothing made up about the songs, they're really intimate and real," Scott says.
"It's kind of a tracker of our whole relationship thus far," Herbst adds, "it's kind of a window into it."
One of the things that made this project work for a rapper/beatmaker and singer-songwriter is a flair for exploring the darker side of love and desire, a la Aaliyah or David Gahan of Depeche Mode.
"We're both pretty open people. And if we don't air it out, then it just kind of festers," Scott says. "We're very aware of that dark side, I think that's where we both connect on that. We tread that space very well."
Airing all that out offers its own sense of relief and release.
"That's how writing has always been for me, personally, and I think for you too," Herbst says, turning to Scott. "It's a way to cope with certain things."
"Yeah, they're like therapy sessions," Scott says. A beat later, Scott quips, "Can't afford that, so."
The couple don't go into too much detail during our interview about the more opaque shades of their lives. But it's all in the lyrics for you to hear.
"Consuming" places Herbst's equally enticing and eerily witchy vocals over elongated bass tones and employs a detailed analogy comparing cannibalism to physical desire. It is unapologetically goth, mixing creepily specific details with a foreboding soundtrack.
I feel close enough to tell you Hopefully you'll understand When I say I wanna eat your flesh Pull apart your muscular, rubber bands Spread apart your sinew Stretch your skin out to dry Bleach your bones as white as cotton Devour you from the inside
"Powder" has a bit more soul and bravura as Herbst recounts past drug experiences, with Scott's beat lending a more danceable but no less ominous feel: "White powder, dust, and grime/ Sweat you spent on lustful eyes/ Described in desperate lines/ I was too young to get wise."
That's an autobiographical account of Herbst's time before moving to Baltimore. When she was sharing this part of her life with Scott, one of the first instincts was to write parts of the exchange down and turn it into a song.
As context clues might tell you, "Sexsomnia" is about sex during sleep, but really that's a vehicle for talking about lust in a more general way. Herbst reveals a side of female sexuality that gives agency to women in its openness. The acts themselves are something they say they experienced and then looked up and decided to write about.
There are a couple of songs on
that hew closer to the saccharine. "Repeat" and "Be My Lover" address relationship struggles and deliver romantic pleas as old as pop music, but they don't feel out of place at all. The moody, bass-heavy production lends an icy detachment that blends perfectly with the rest of the songs.
All the songs on
were written in a three-month period during the especially brutal winter earlier this year. Instead of going out, Herbst and Scott say they would huddle up in a basement and work. They recorded with one mic in that same basement, and sent the tracks for mixing to Brandon Lackey at the Lineup Room, who beefed up the sound.
Jimmy MacMillan at Friends Records was already planning on putting out releases by Softeyes and Herbst's solo project. When he heard Blacksage, he fell in love and upped the output to three. A physical release was already more than Herbst and Scott were expecting.
"We were kind of just like, ‘This is so exciting and fun for us anyway, that whatever happens with it, that's fine,'" Herbst says. "And Jimmy being so excited about it just made us more excited."
Blacksage has already booked a bunch of local dates in June and hopes to do a mini East Coast tour in July and August. They're continuing to build their relationship as writers, constantly working on new songs, some of which are already completed.
Of course, there's also their normal, everyday relationship to tend to, a balance they're still trying to figure out.
"We definitely have to separate ourselves from [the music] at times," Scott says. "But I mean, it's fun. It's never like a chore to do it, it's a very natural, organic thing."
But, he says, "sometimes we just want to be a couple, go out on a date and not talk about music."
"And sometimes we feel like we're not being productive if we go out on a date," adds Herbst. "‘Ugh, we should be writing.' No, maybe we should be paying attention to our relationship a little bit."
"And that becomes a song," Scott offers, half kidding.
"Right," Herbst agrees. "It all feeds into itself."
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