Mic CheckMusic

blankstate. Discusses a Recent Shift in Songwriting and Sound

Transitioning from bedroom-indie pop to emo-rock

a portrait of the band members in blankstate.
Left to right: Jacob Juarez, Seth Brown, Sam Grout (Courtesy of blankstate.)

Echoing doleful yearnings for yesterday’s lost loves and coming-of-age summers, Charlotte indie pop-rock three-piece blankstate. transports listeners through sun-washed memories of one-sided romances and adolescent days spent in the summer sun. 

It’s time we stop thinking about 16/ overthinking on the people we used to be…” the band’s vocalist Jacob Juarez canaries wistfully against bright chords and twinkling synth on the band’s 2022 break-out single, “Dinosaur Camp.” 

Times change/ you and I must do the same,” Juarez continues. “Always holding back that never-ending summer malaise/ you will live and learn to tell every difference in our aging face…”

 

At once longing and brightly colored, blankstate.’s 2022 album, The World Is Not Kind To These Things, features the soft, colorful and danceable sounds of bedroom-indie pop the likes of 2010 indie stars Boy Pablo and Ramona. 

Beginning with the band’s first EP release, alone in the end., in 2021, blankstate.’s discography showcases an ambient, melodic, and danceable sound on tracks like “lovely1” featuring Juarez’s heartsick lyricism and vocals, or flaunting nostalgic lashes of a lover scorned placed against glistening synth and rhythmic guitar on “say it back.” 

Building up their rapport as indie sweethearts, the band’s music videos serve as a visual continuation of blankstate.’s nostalgic, dog-days feel. The video for “goodnight” depicts the band frolicking in spring-green grass and parading kidnapped drummer Seth Brown around on a stolen shopping cart for an impromptu-birthday party. The “lovely1” visuals show them playing in the backdrop of a staged indie romance film.

Although blankstate.’s foundation of bedroom-indie pop has served as a helpful base to build a sound for the band, blankstate.’s recent single, “big bad news,” marks a shift toward more energetic, explosive and emo tendencies. 

Inspired by fellow contemporaries of the Charlotte DIY music scene, blankstate. has in recent months undertaken a new approach in both sound and songwriting, as the group has set out to work on a new EP that will build on this shift in sound. 

“I feel like it’s more of a local inspiration than anything, stemming from wanting to be more engaging live,” says Brown. “We started taking our indie songs and just playing them as if they’re emo songs, and we were like, ‘We should just write songs that are energetic from the start.’” 

The new project also sees the band implementing a more collaborative approach to songwriting, according to bassist Sam Grout: “This is the same process that we used to write [“big bad news”], just getting together and writing together, and I think that we’re getting a pretty good result out of it.”

From their humble beginnings as self-taught kids learning to play together in a homeschool cover band, blankstate. has become one of the most well-known bands in the Charlotte independent music scene. 

Queen City Nerve spoke to the members about their musical inspirations, opening for Judah & the Lion after winning a fan-nomination contest, and moving forward with novel approaches to sound and songwriting for their upcoming EP, among other topics. 

blankstate. playing an emo-rock show in Charlotte, NC
blankstate. playing at the Emo Royale Show on Dec. 8, 2023. (Photo by Lila Rosser)

Queen City Nerve: How did you all meet? 

Jacob Jaurez: Seth and Sam have been friends for, like, 10 years. I met both of them in middle school, and we just started playing a bunch of covers together, trying to improve as musicians and stuff. Eventually, I think I asked them one day, “Do you guys want to put a name on this thing, and just do it all the time?”

Seth Brown: We went to this homeschool co-op thing, and the last Friday of every month, they had what they called Jam Night — they set up a PA and a drum set and amps and mics and then people could work on music. We’d be like, “Do you guys wanna learn this 21 Pilots song and then play it at Jam Night?” which is how it started. 

Who came up with the name blankstate.?

Jacob: It was just a placeholder name, it really doesn’t mean much. I think the only thing that sort of made sense was that we couldn’t come up with anything, so it was kind of like “a blank state of mind.” We were like, “We don’t really like this, we can keep this until we come up with something else,” and then we never did. [laughs] It used to be two words, and then we were like, I guess it would be better if we stylized this [a single lowercase word with a period]. I like that a lot more. 

How did you all transition from a jam band that plays covers to a band that writes original songs together? 

Jacob: We started doing shows as a cover band, for a long time, ’cause we just weren’t that good at playing music — because we were young; we were, like, in middle school. 

Sam Grout: None of us were really serious about it when we started playing covers, especially at Jam Night. We’d rehearse how to play the songs, and then we’d go out and play them and just butcher them like crazy. [laughs]

Jacob: I think eventually, we realized the stuff we were trying to cover wasn’t stuff we wanted to be playing; it wasn’t the right vibe. We were like, “Well, what’s stuff we’re listening to?” I was listening to a lot of indie bands at the time — Rex Orange County and Boy Pablo — and it just kind of became the blankstate. sound for a minute. 

Seth: I feel like every band says this now, but it was partially a COVID thing, ’cause we couldn’t go anywhere and play our bad covers, so we were like, “We gotta do something else.”  

How old were you guys when you were writing your first album, alone in the end?

Sam: I guess we were probably 17ish. 

Jacob: I wrote “lovely1” when I was 15 or 16. By the time we wrote the rest of it, we would have been 18, 19. 

Jacob: “lovely1” dates way back years before it actually came out. “Gravity” as well, it was [written] very far back before we actually released it. That was maybe one of the first songs I ever wrote … way before blankstate. even existed. 

Was “lovely1” about a specific person or experience? 

Jacob: It was about someone who I was close to, and then I was like, “Hey, I don’t think that you’re putting as much into this as I am, and I don’t think it’s working out very well.” I think at the time when it was happening, I felt very attached to this person still, where I thought like, they’re not giving back what I’m giving, but I’m still so locked into giving where it feels like I can’t stop. But, uh, turns out that was a bad move. [laughs] 

By the time I wrote “lovely1,” that situation was well past, and I was just like, “I need to write a song about this so I can compartmentalize it, put it out, and never have to think about it again.” 

What would you say are the big differences between your first project, alone in the end., and the follow-up, debut full-length album, The World Is Not Kind To These Things the following year?

Jacob: Thematically, alone in the end. was just about how I was trying to get all of my thoughts on old relationships and situations out of my mind. Through looking back on them, I sort of realized, these have never gone well. Even in the relationship I was in at the time, I felt like I was messing up really badly, all the time. alone in the end. just came from this overall theme that relationships are very, very hard to navigate, and it was just kind of, like, that struggle consolidated into an album.

Sam:  How to be a bad partner five different ways. 

Jacob: [laughs] Yeah, it’s a tutorial. 

Jacob: The World Is Not Kind of These Things … after I had done [alone in the end.], where it felt very past oriented, it just felt very … It didn’t feel like current me anymore, it felt like all of this stuff that I had just wanted to get out of the way, so that I could write things about how I feel right now

I had always struggled in the alone in the end. era to write anything that was about the present; I couldn’t have an emotion and analyze it in real time and be like “How do I feel right now?” I think I just was not emotionally there, like mature enough, to do that. And the process of creating and putting out alone the end. helped me get to a spot where I could say, “How do I feel right now? And what can I say about it to help myself understand it?”  I was like, “I’m gonna write the whole thing and make it as personal as I can.” When I was working on alone in the end., I was always aware of how I could still make what I had went through kind of relatable, in a broader way.  

In contrast, when I was writing the songs for The World Is Not Kind To These Things, I wanted to make things as real and specific to how I’m feeling, and that way, even if it doesn’t connect on as broad of a level, whoever it does connect to, will be able to see how real it is, and if they connect to it, that connection will be way stronger. So I feel like, lyrically, there was a lot of growth between the two albums; The World Is Not Kind To These Things is a huge step up, lyrically. 

So how does that lead into “big bad news” and your new project?

Sam: This EP that we’re working on currently, it’s an EP of heavier music. “big bad news” is similar to the vibe of the EP, and it’s the same process that we used to write that song, just getting together and writing it all together at the same time, and I think that we’re getting a pretty good result out of it. Jacob kind of comes to us with a general idea, and then Seth and I will kind of write around it. I think because we’re focusing a lot on, like, different dynamics and syncopated parts, and it just works so much better if you’re all writing it at the same time. So we’re coming together and coming up with all of the music besides the guitar and vocals together, and we’re almost done with the writing process for this project, which is really cool.

What inspired your recent shift from indie pop-rock to more of an emo sound?

Seth: I feel like it’s partially just from the bands that we’re playing with locally, ’cause there aren’t really any indie bands in Charlotte besides like Deaf Andrews. We’ve been playing with emo bands and listening to emo bands and everytime we see them we’re just like, “We kind of want to do that.” I feel like it’s more of a local inspiration than anything — it really stems from wanting to be engaging live. Like, we started taking our indie songs and just playing them as if they’re emo songs and we were like, “We should just write songs that are energetic from the start!”

How has your process and inspiration changed in the time since your first release? 

Sam: I think one thing that has changed throughout our projects is just getting better at our instruments, and writing more complex and interesting parts. I think that, between [alone in the end.] and The World Is Not Kind To These Things, there was a big jump in what I was playing and writing. Being able to write parts that I wanted to write, but couldn’t really do so before, and then now, progressing into the newer music, it’s definitely taken another step where I’m able to write some parts that I really enjoy playing and I think sound pretty good. 

Seth: I agree. I think our music is like a ramp — because alone in the end, I knew how to play drums, but I wasn’t serious about it … For [The World Is Not Kind To These Things], I was a bit better, but not really, and then we put out “pale blue (cool version)” and I’m kind of happy with how I played on that. “big bad news” I feel very solid about. And then this EP that we’re writing, is like, hard. It’s  really, really technical stuff, and I think that’s cool. It shows progress on all of our parts.

What were some of your musical inspirations, both early on and later, that have contributed to your sound? 

Jacob: I think in early blankstate. time, I was listening to a lot of indie music, and then I kind of fell out of that. Pretty consistently throughout my life, I always loved emo music, and that kind of inspired this recent shift. Even growing up, all of my earliest music memories are my oldest brothers showing me Panic! at the Disco, like, “A Fever I Can’t Sweat Out” … One of my earliest music memories is hearing “Dead!” by My Chemical Romance. I’ve just always been super attached to the emo genre as a whole. Even now, all of the new stuff coming out in the emo genre is really good. That whole sphere of newer emo bands is so good. 

Seth: It’s funny because, for a long time, Sam and I, our whole personality trait was liking Panic! at the Disco and Twenty One Pilots. 

Sam: [Laughs] Looking back on it, we didn’t even know enough songs. 

Seth: I got a drum set when I was 8, and the reason I started playing the drums again is because I liked Josh Dunn from Twenty One Pilots, and I was like, “Let me learn ‘Car Radio.’” There was a moment where the only songs I knew on drums was like, the entire Twenty One Pilots discography.

Sam: I don’t know. I honestly wasn’t ever super into indie music that much, and I wasn’t really that into emo music when we started, I kind of just have gotten into that stuff more recently. I guess I really like Hot Mulligan and local bands [like] Moving Boxes, Weymouth from Raleigh, Condado from Greensboro, Sloth from Boone. Rosary from Wilmington are the homies, Kerosene Height from Asheville; there’s so many good ones. Eternal Forte from Myrtle Beach.

Jacob: Even just in Charlotte, you’ve got Between Two Trees, Leaving for Arizona. Wastoid is so cool, and Momophobia

Seth: True Lilith, they’re pretty awesome

Sam: I feel like we could go for a really, really long time just naming bands we’ve played with. 

Can you tell me a little bit more about the inspirations behind the “goodnight” and “lovely1” music videos? For example, what about that cake that has “May 2nd” on it in both videos?

Jacob: That was right before the first EP,  alone in the end., came out. In our music video for “goodnight”, that was the lead single, and we hadn’t fully announced yet that we had a full EP coming out.

Seth: The day of the “goodnight” video shoot, we were like, “Oh, we should put the release date on the cake, that could be like, our little Easter egg!” And we were like, shoot, we don’t have a release date. So we stood in the Dollar Tree candle aisle and we were like, “What numbers do they have?”

Jacob: We literally decided the release date standing in the Dollar Tree.

Jacob: I think it’s in the “lovely1” music video as well, that cake, which was just a reference back [to the release date]. The “goodnight” video was just kind of filmed out in a park, so it was just like, “Yeah, whatever, we’ll just shoot there.” When we were doing the “lovely1” video, we were decorating the space for the shoot, so we could do whatever we wanted and put in a bunch of Easter eggs to old and new stuff. The video has some references to the album which wasn’t yet out at the time, and it also has the cake and the shopping cart from the “goodnight” music video.

Sam: And Jacob was wearing the shirt that had the album title, before we had announced the album. 

How did you guys come up with the story for the “goodnight” music video, having Seth get kidnapped for his birthday?

Jacob: We were recording something at my house, and after we got done recording and Seth had gone home, Jacob and I were sitting there trying to come up with a music video idea for the song. We just wanted to incorporate a shopping cart somehow; we were like, “What if we just, like, kidnapped Seth in a shopping cart, and then took him to his birthday party.” That was the first idea, and it took 5 minutes to come up with.

And so then, we left my house and went to this abandoned parking lot right near Concord Mills mall, it’s full of old shopping carts, and we performed a heist to steal it.

Jacob: It’s still in my garage, that shopping cart.

Sam: It was like 80 degrees out that day we filmed the “goodnight” music video. And I was in a full suit, and I had a burlap bag over my head. It was so hot outside!

What’s the favorite show you’ve played, both in and out of town? 

Jacob: In town, probably Emo Royale [at Amos’ Southend]. 

Seth: That was the Amos’ show we did in December — us and our four other favorite bands. 

Sam: It was us, Moving Boxes, Weymouth, Condado, and Leaving for Arizona. It was so fun. That was one of the best shows we’ve ever done. 

Sam: Out of town is probably The Blue Door [a venue in Raleigh]. We were expecting like 100, 200 people maybe, and it was like, 40 degrees out by the time we were playing — us all together pulled 450 people to this show, in a backyard, and it was actually like the coolest thing of all time. 

Seth: Blue Door is my favorite. If we’re talking about our biggest show out of town, we opened for Judah & the Lion. There was this fan-voted contest thing where it was like, “We’re doing a local opener in each of our cities.” Basically, a bunch of bands submitted their music and then Judah & the Lion and their team listened through all of the submissions and picked their favorites. They picked three or four bands for each city, and then they put them up to a fan vote. 

a portrait of local emo-rock band, blankstate. performing at a show
blankstate. performing at Amos’ South End (Photo by Lila Rosser)

We found out a couple of days before voting closed that we were one of the bands picked! We didn’t even know [that we were nominated] before that; their email went to our spam box. 

Seth: We were posting on Instagram, being like, “Go vote for us to do this show!” I like, called people I hadn’t called for a long time, I felt like a jerk. [laughs]

Jacob: It was crazy. I was actually texting everyone. 

Seth: But we won that! And so, we played for 700 people in Greensboro, which is funny, ’cause that’s not really our crowd. 

What was it like playing for such a large crowd?

Jacob: It was really cool, it was really nerve-racking. We had a lot of technical difficulties with our backing tracks; our wireless stuff was on the same channel, so it kept interfering with each other. And like, all these random things that just kept going wrong. 

Seth: Luckily though, I don’t think we bombed that bad, because we’ll be playing in different cities in North Carolina, and people will be like, “I found you through the Judah and The Lion show!” And we sold, like, way more merch than you’d expect an opening band to sell — like all three of us plus my sister were selling merch at the same time, and we had a line. It was crazy. 

Jacob: And people kept coming up to me after the show and going, “Yo, your dad is awesome!” and I was like, “Wait, what do you mean, why do you know my dad?” And they were like, “Your whole set, he’s standing in the crowd, screaming, ‘That’s my kid! That’s my kid!’

Sam: That was really fun. I think now, if we were to go do that show, we would have executed it a lot better. We hadn’t played for nearly that many people before, we hadn’t really been on a big stage before. 

Seth: It felt freaking weird. 

Sam: We didn’t know what to check before playing, like, that was one of the first times our systems had gone awry. I think that if we were able to go back in time and do that show now, we’d have been able to enjoy that one more, but it was just like, the craziest, weirdest experience ever. 

People are like “What’s the biggest show you played?” and we’re like, “This one doesn’t really count.” Like, it does, but it was such a one-off thing that there’s no way — everything was so odd, we’ve never had anything like that before. 

Sam: Another thing that’s really funny, is Seth and I had seen Twenty One Pilots when I was like, 13.  Like years and years before, and Judah & the Lion was one of the openers — and during the set change, after Judah & the Lion before the main act went on, we somehow heard that he [Judah] was just in the walkway, signing things. So we have a picture of us [Seth and I], with him, and we thought it was really funny. 

Before the show, Jacob took the picture of us with Judah, and he printed it on a shirt and wore it to the show. And then when we got there, we first met Judah and we were like “Hey, look!” and the whole band was like “Oh, it’s the shirt!”, and we got the whole band to sign it, now it’s in the studio. 

Jacob: That was a really cool experience. 


SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.





Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *