Bay area dj's Blue Sky Black Death recruited The Casual Lust vocalist Yes Alexander to collaborate on Slow Burning Lights. The album was released last November and has received acclaim for its haunting sounds and beautiful vocals. Amos Mac sat down with Alexander in San Francisco around the time of the release. Here's a portion of what transpired.
Interview and photos by Amos Mac, contributor
The Sky Report: Blue Sky Black Death are a hip-hop act and your past work with The Casual Lust has a very intimate, folk sound. How did this unlikely collaboration come about?
Yes Alexander: Blue Sky Black Death knew a girl that went to one of my shows with The Casual Lust while I was recording and living in Portland. [They] needed a [female] vocalist and they kind of wanted to spawn out into the indie world, as in fly away from the underground hip-hop rap circuit that they were more inclined to produce. With that they found me, and I was only supposed to be on a couple of tracks but it went so well I ended up being on every track. So they flew me up to Seattle, with Kingston. Young God was in San Francisco, so the 2nd half of Slow Burning Lights was recorded in SF.
TSR: Can you talk about the recording process of Slow Burning Lights? Did you write the lyrics, or was it more of a collaboration?
Yes: When I went up to Seattle, actually BEFORE I went to Seattle, Kingston sent me a couple tracks - and I had no idea what the fuck to do with [them]. (Laughs) It was so confusing I had no idea how to sing to this type of music. I'm not like a gospel singer singing trip-hop, you know? So I was very nervous. I went to Kingston's home studio. He played one of the tracks he had sent me, and he was like "no, that’s not really what I was looking for..." (he's hard to read.)... So, Kingston played me another track and the same thing happened. My confidence was sliding out the door. Then he played me this completely new track and [we] let it resonate for like 20 minutes, and within that time period I wrote a whole song, right there, and I sang it to him an he was like "THAT'S what I'm looking for." I had to completely mellow out my voice, which was even harder than singing really intensely and really loud. It was hard for me, and EXCITING.
TSR: Are there any plans for a tour?
Yes: Well no dates figured out, but this is the first time Blue Sky Black Death have had a desire to tour and I think its going to be fantastic. Touring is my favorite thing to do in the whole world and I'm really excited to do it with a new band, with new energy.
TSR: Do you plan on working with The Casual Lust again?
Yes: Yes, we recorded at Different Fur studios in San Francisco in early summer 2008, and we're just waiting for the mix to get mastered and shop the album around. Both of my band mates are in other cities - Seattle and Olympia - so its difficult. With that project, it’s a huge endeavor to get together.
TSR: What are you working on right now?
Yes: With Blue Sky Black Death we already have a few songs for the next album that we're pushing out. We wanna have it done in the next few months. The next album is gonna [have] more energy, it's gonna jump out more. I'm not saying it's not as dark as Slow Burning Lights in some areas, but its kind of mind blowing and I'm really proud of it.
TSR: Will the next album be the same style as this one? What elements might go in different directions?
Yes: I think we've gotten more comfortable about working with each other in the creative process, like I understand where they are coming from more. With that I think we're gaining strength and we're able to push the bar in terms of going to places that might be scarier, which is a really great place to be.
TSR: Is it hard to pinpoint what genre Slow Burning Lights falls into? How would you describe it?
Yes: It’s like we have this background of trip-hop, dirty beats mixed in with these strange samples. You can categorize different parts of our music, but to categorize it as a whole is kind of impossible at this point. Some say indie-pop, some say trip-hop, but it’s not really. I guess if you blend in everything together...
TSR: Your voice is absolutely gorgeous. What female vocalists have inspired your work?
Yes: From Nina Simone to Janis Joplin to Siouxsie. Even when I was younger, Tori Amos, Neko Case, Joan Jett, going back into the 80s rock and roll movements, definitely all the 80s pop, then like Madonna, performance-wise, even how they can make an impact with quote unquote "selling out" makes a difference.
TSR: What is your favorite track on the album?
Yes: It’s hard because I feel like we have a separation between the more dramatic ethereal tracks to the more poppy feel good music almost, but I think overall the most solid track is "Secrets." I think it’s the best track because it just evokes a certain emotion that makes you makes you not want to stop listening. I think people will really like it.
TSR: So you wrote all the songs on this album, what kind of things inspire you when you are writing lyrics?
Yes: Death, Sex and Heart. I think everything kind of evolves around that.
Slow Burning Lights