The “discovery” functionality on Spotify can be a harsh mistress. I’m not sure I love it, and it rarely loves me back. People are constantly recommending albums to me, but Spotify does it with a reckless impunity.
Still, every once in a while Spotify and I discover the magic, and it recommended Charly Bliss’s album Guppy to me. The first two lines on the first song, entitled Percolator, hit me like a 90s esoteric pop punch in the chin:
Come on, baby, get me high
There's always something new to buy
Side note: That’s pretty much what I say to Spotify every time I click on an album I haven’t heard.
A few seconds into the song I’m being impaled by layered, crunchy Jazzmasters and a jagged beat, a stop then a start and then a flurry of bent guitar notes and crash cymbals and an exclamation point snare; it hits a crescendo; then thins out to make way for Eva Hendricks’ voice.
I don’t know about you but the sound of a singer’s voice can be a deal breaker for me. The innate quality of a voice, the texture of it, the command of melody is really important. Eva’s voice is the antithesis of everything I expected, but in a good way; her sweet, high pitched melodically fine tuned gravelly squeak is the perfect compliment to the music – and the lyrics, a brutally honest lay as much heart on your sleeve as you can approach are the perfect foil to the sweetness.
And when Eva lets out a scream before a guitar solo, like it’s 1967, I was hooked.
“We wanted to make the kind of album to listen to when you roll down the windows in your car,” Eva told me via phone from her Brooklyn apartment, during a conversation that shifted from her endearingly squeaky voice to the evolution of the band to the powerful place women hold in rock music these days.
Her voice lends a lot to the signature sound of Charly Bliss – something that was hard to achieve in a musically rich and diverse place like Brooklyn. “It took a while to figure out who we were – living in Brooklyn it’s so oversaturated with creative people and incredible bands and artists – we moved here and got caught up in how can we fit in and make music – for me, I felt super intimidated,” Eva said, the insecure musician part of her rearing it’s ugly – and doubting – head.
“When we said fuck it, we aren’t going to sound like anyone else and we may not fit in super well – but we have to do what’s exciting to us – that’s when we started writing better songs and we didn’t hold back.”
“Guppy” is a critically acclaimed (7.8 on Pitchfork) set of 10 tight pop songs that’s a trip through Eva’s thoughts; she writes the lyrics and works with the band, which have a penchant for arranging. The band is incredibly close knit; it includes long time friends Spencer and Dan and her brother Sam, who plays drums. The four have known each other since childhood. “The band is good at hearing what I’ve started and we take it to another level together.”
Eva and her brother Sam were musically inclined from the start. “It’s so funny that we ended up in this band together,” Eva remembers. “Our parents are huge music fans and they wanted us to make music together. But because my parents wanted it we thought it was uncool.”
Darn parents, they’re always right.
Growing up, Eva also remembers how she never dreamed of picking up an instrument at first – mostly due to the fact that all the bands she liked were guy bands. It’s an important topic because there is a female renaissance going on in alternative music right now. I asked Eva about it, and she had some great insights. “I believe that if you don’t see it, you can’t even imagine it – you don’t see someone you can identify with,” she said. “The band that changed everything to me was Rilo Kiley – suddenly I needed to learn how to play guitar and write songs – something clicked in my brain.”
I thought, “I can do that because she can do that.”
Good thing. Eva’s songwriting connection with her brother Sam came together perfectly on the song Westermarck, which they co-wrote. I love heady shit like Westermarck, so I had to look it up. This calls for a quick tangent:
The Westermarck effect was created by Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck, who discovered that children who grow up together won’t be be sexually attracted to each other. But family members who do not know each other, then learn later that they are family, can be. Turns out that Eva had been dating a guy on and off for three years, and the relationship ended when her boyfriend’s hot cousin from Belgium – whom he had never met – started hanging out. “It felt to me like they were having an affair,” Eva told me. Westermarck is the musical culmination of a sad – and admittedly funny – occurrence.
“Maybe that’s the theme of Guppy,” Eva pondered. “It’s careening back and forth between trying to laugh at myself for things I hate about myself. In Westermarck the point is I was super jealous of the cousin – I think now that I listen back to it the saddest lyrics to me are on the happiest sounding songs.”
And that’s the magic of Charly Bliss.