Interview by Amber Henson
Though I’ve never read JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (I simply don’t think I have the stomach for it), I am aware of narrator’s description of how when you love a book, you’d love to speak to the author. This came to mind because after listening to The Submarines song "Submarine Symphonika". The song spoke to me, and I don’t mean that it whispered sweet nothings in my ear, I mean that it actually seemed to be directed at me. After seeing The Submarines at their record release party, I decided that I needed to interview them, if only to get the chance to say, well, thank you.
Which is precisely the way I started off the interview. Most interviews with The Submarines are started with a confirmation of how they came to be. I already knew the story, but I’ll tell you. Blake Hazard (the lady of the band) was living in Boston, making music. John Dragonetti was doing the same under the name Jack Drag, which was, it seems, him and his projects all at once. I asked if one day, in Boston, John had set eyes on Blake and said ‘Boy, I’d like to have a complicated relationship with that woman’ (you’ll see).
“No, that came later,” answered John, laughing, “I mean, we had mutual friends, and Boston is a pretty small music scene.”
“We had mutual band mates,” Blake added.
“Yeah, just a lot of friends in common, I had this band Jack Drag for quite a few years, and the fellow that I played bass with played with Blake.”
Blake smiled. “I heard a lot of John’s music too, a particular record he did called Aviating I really liked, and I had a lot of songs ready to be recorded, and so I approached John. He agreed. So we worked on that, a couple songs at first, and then we thought okay let’s do the record, and then we started falling in love.”
But obviously the story doesn’t end there, and, though now there is a happy ending, there were bumps to come.
John continued: “When we met we each had our own projects, but we also kind of like couldn’t be apart, and so Blake was like ‘I’ve got a European tour coming up, yeah be in my band’ It was just awesome.”
After touring they moved to Los Angeles, and soon afterwards broke up. They were living in different places, but were both still recording their own music in the studio John had at his place. Somehow, they wound up hearing what one another had been making: songs about the break up. This new understanding led them to get back together, and eventually get married. As a wedding present, one of their friends mastered the tracks for them, and that became Declare a New State.
But when exactly did they become ‘The Submarines’? Blake started the answer: “A couple of years ago.”
“Yeah, it was after we sort of started compiling the songs,” John went on. “So it was a record and then it was a band. Both kind of fell into place around the same time, but we were never like ‘We are The Submarines’.
“We didn’t even contemplate playing live, or anything like that,” Blake continued, “And we were lucky enough that the people who put out our record loved it when they heard it and they didn’t hear us play live before they offered us the deal.”
That was a couple years back now. Their new record, Honeysuckle Weeks, is a somewhat lighter, but still contains a few darker tones. But when they tour, they have to play the stuff from the old album, which contains a lot sentiments that they may be over. I asked them how they felt about having to play songs about emotions they’re done with.
Blake started: “I feel like in some ways the new record was a reaction to, you know, the previous record where obviously there’s a lot of melancholy and a lot of darker songs.”
“Which I love,” John added.
“Which we both still really feel,” Blake went on, “but I think after touring with that and playing those songs for so long and kind of wanting to just freak out a little and have more fun, we were really to just have a good time, though I think there are still some of those contrasts on the new record.”
John agreed. “Oh, sure, but I think that with the first record, I mean, playing those songs, especially in the beginning at times, like we had already sorted a lot of stuff out, I think, like before we started performing that stuff but it definitely at times would all of a sudden like kind of hit, you, like, you’d start really thinking of like, where it comes from, but you didn’t want to start balling your eyes out or something on stage.”
“No, of course not,” Blake sympathized. “But there has been a lot of emotional intensity too, and revisiting them now, in some ways I feel . . .”
“I think we can approach them more as, hey, these are just songs, and hopefully they’re good songs and we can enjoy playing them, and still tap into what’s there,” John finished.
“There are some songs I have a hard time playing now, yeah.” Blake added.
Before things got too personal, I asked about the tour they had to play these songs on. I interviewed them right before the tour ending show at the Echo in Los Angeles. I was curious what they had gotten up to since I knew there had been a certain amount of drama. Speeding tickets, for instance.
“Yeah, we got speeding tickets on the way,” Blake was smiling, “There was a kid in a gas station with a pistol in a holster in South Dakota, that really kind of blew my mind. But yeah, we had like a number of debacles. We got turned away from the border when we tried to do our show in Vancouver. Actually, our label is Canadian, so we were trying to reason with them at the border saying well—”
“She had it out for us, man. There was no way, our paperwork was not in place. And then we ended down in DC, like when we were doing the East Coast and stuff, and we were originally gonna fly back to the West Coast, but we drove from DC to Seattle.”
“Yeah, in one go,” Blake added.
“We left Monday morning we drove Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, got to Seattle Thursday. I feel like I’m only now starting to recover. I feel like I’ll sleep for like 48 hours starting tonight, after this show. It’s gonna be like narcolepsy.”
“No, but we’re gonna go for it tonight. And then the resting begins.”
After some joking around about them going on tour with other married couples, and having an extra touring bus that would be solely for the kids of the bands, I got to my last question, which was about how they were a part of the new reincarnation of the ‘Wall of Sound’ concept. John answered first.
“I feel like I’ve seen the cycle happen again. And I’ve seen new bands take these approaches with guitars and they, like bands like The Chameleons and My Bloody Valentine and stuff like that, so it’s kind of interesting to see that happening again, so yeah, I mean, maybe it is a phase right now, I don’t know, also I think people are just getting more savvy with their home studio stuff. No one knows where to stop. Like, ‘Wow, I’m gonna make the next Pet Sounds.’”
Blake laughed. “It was just such a challenge for us in the studio to, to say okay, we’ve finished it.”
“I mean, I don’t know what the next album will be like, maybe it will even be more minimalist.”
So there you have it, ladies and gentleman. In a couple more years The Submarines will be on the Marriage Tour with Joy Zipper and Mates of State, followed by a bus full of babies, promoting their new album where it’s just Blake’s voice and John playing a tambourine. You heard it here first.
The Submarines - Live - Dec. 5, 2008
More by this writer:
The Thrills - Teenager
Jon Foreman - Fall and Winter
The Billionaires - Interview
Colorstore - Bonefish: The Legend of Mahogany Cass