Q+A: Tony Blankets of Restless People on Family Edition

October 14, 2009

In one form or another, most of the members of Restless People have been in our magazine. Whether it's when we wrote about Professor Murderin F41, Michael Bell-Smith in F61, The Brothers production duo in F53, or one of the million and a half times we've covered Tanlines on this very site. Now the dudes have a site/free online-only record label/collective called Family Edition. Thus far they've released music from Restless People, mysterious lo-fi weirdos Newborn Huskies, an upcoming series of original ringtones and also a YouTube video of a dude at NASA trying to give another guy a high five. After the jump read our conversation with Restless People member Tony Blankets about the label, music and what may or may not be an actual story behind a certain Rolling Stones album.

What is Family Edition? It looks like a free, digital only label.
Yeah, basically. I guess calling it a label would be a little bit of a stretch. It was like, let’s just have a portal, the stuff that we’re recording and the different things we’re working on, let’s just be able to just finish it and put it and have people check it out. But also do it in the style of a label or in a curatorial way, so each thing has its own page. Mike [Bell-Smith] does the design. It’s the Family Edition idea. Each thing has its own page and artwork and look to it, but they’re all falling under the same umbrella.

Do you do it online out of convenience, or is it more of a cost-related thing?
It’s the quickest way for us. With Professor Murder or the other things we’ve done, it hasn’t been too oriented toward a physical release or like, What’s this gonna be, or how is this gonna come out? Most people are going to hear or listen to things online, so let’s just cut to the chase and get it out there and people can check it out and see what they think about it. There was no five-year plan, it was just like, We got this stuff, we’re psyched on it, let’s just throw it up and let people check it out.

Is this label going to become the primary outlet for the music you guys make?
I think we’ve all come to grips with the fact that none of us are gonna get rich making music at this point in our lives. So it’s like, let’s just find the easiest means to make stuff, which we’re gonna do anyway, and have people check it out. Tanlines has an EP they’re working on for True Panther and Restless People has demos and we’re talking to labels about stuff. We’re all still pursuing different avenues of getting stuff out, physical and non-physical releases. This was just a cool way where different permutations of the four of us [could work together] and it all sort of centers around Eric [Emm]. Eric’s a producer and he has a studio and Mike has the design thing, so between the people involved it’s a cool synthesis of all those things.

Can you tell me a bit about the stuff you’re putting out there? The Restless People release made a lot of sense, and then you released Newborn Huskies, which seemed to come out of nowhere.
Yeah, like, what the fuck is this? That’s the mysterious Family Edition product that seems to have very little relation to the other things. It involves Tanlines and Restless People. The thing about it is that we have these groups and entities between the different people involved. I think we all kind of want to have the freedom to do whatever. Mike and I have been doing that type of thing for a long time. Since we’ve known each other it’s been like, What if we start writing songs like this and played a show as this band? Mike and Jesse [Aaron Cohen] had the 424 Sound Monster project years ago. I don’t think any of us take it too seriously or worry about, You’re in this band, I’m in this band, who’s in that band? The lines are just sorta blurred. It’s just a way to facilitate that and just throw stuff up. The lines don’t have to be too clear on that. I think of it as a factory, different products pop out, you don’t really know what the hell is going on.

With Newborn Huskies, is the band a secret? Is it just you guys? It all seems mysterious.

I won’t put too fine a point on it or be too precious about it, but at the same time, I don’t really want to attach names or individuals. What that project is—the next couple things that we’ll put up on there will be more EPs from Newborn Huskies. The first one that’s up there now is the introduction and it’s not geographically—there’s British songs and American and these old punk songs and old hardcore songs. But we have a couple EPs that are going to be done geographically. What’s the word I’m looking for? Localized. There’s going to be a D.C. one and a Boston one. We’re just going to do a bunch of them. It’s this old punk and hardcore songs from these different scenes done in this weird, off-brand, lo-fi acoustic way. There’ll be a couple more of those. There may be 48 of them. I think it’s pretty open-ended. It’s fun to mess with people’s ideas, Oh you guys are supposed to sound like this or sound like that, and be able to play around with it a little. We’ll see. It probably just confuses people that it doesn’t sound like the other thing. They think it’s on the wrong site or it’s a broken link.

It is kind of shocking. You come to the website and there are these cut-outs of huskies and you’re like, “wait a minute, where am I?”
It’s a different aesthetic, visually and musically from the other stuff. I know for me, for a long time, in terms of music, I always felt like I had to make this kind of music. Like with Professor Murder, for a long time we would play stuff at practice and be like, That’s fun but that’s not Professor Murder, that’s not what we sound like. So we’d shelve stuff. Then as time went on, we realized we can play whatever we want, we don’t have to sound like the stuff that’s on the EP or the stuff we played at this point. I think we’ve always kind of been open to the idea of playing around with musical influences and playing around with different set ups and instruments. Everyone’s kind of got their varying abilities with different things and instruments and beats, so it’s fun to mix and match that and play around with it.

There are a lot of smaller labels putting out singles and it seems very temporary, it almost seems like you guys are reacting to that by saying, Oh yeah? Actually this is more temporary, here you go. We’re not even putting anything physical out there.
I think you’re right, but that might give us more thought or agency than we really deserve. If we had a bunch of money laying around, we’d make 7-inches. I think it’s an economically-determined thing. It’s like, this song is finished, we can play some shows, or get the money together, max out a credit card, make a 7-inch and sell a couple of them, or we can just throw it up there and let people check it out. I may be the most persnickety about this stuff, and most people are like, Family Edition, what the hell? That’s just a website. I’m like, no, this is our gang, this is our thing, we gotta do X, Y and Z. I guess that probably makes me the odd man out. We’re open to whatever, I think if we had the wherewithal—it’s not like anyone’s opposed to putting stuff out, for sure. Restless People wants to put stuff out. I remember when the first Professor Murder EP came out and we had a CD and stuff on vinyl, after having played music for so long and not having anything but crappy demo tapes, it blew my mind that people would come over and I’d be like, that’s my record.

I imagine that’s a pretty great feeling.

Ohhh, what do you guys wanna listen to? How about my record? No, I think at the same time, no one’s really terribly attached to having a physical copy. It’s cool if it makes sense for the project. I like that with Tanlines, they have a YouTube page and they make videos for their new songs. It’s acknowledging the fact that people listen to music in a different way now. We’re not all lined up at the record store on Tuesday waiting for the new releases. Someone says something and you go to YouTube and put it in or you try and find a copy of it. You can fight that or acknowledge it and roll with it.

I think you guys have done it in interesting ways. You brought up the Tanlines YouTube page and you’ve also got Family Edition, but most bands or labels are going to put up a Myspace page and there are some songs that you can listen to on our player and here’s where you can order the record. Ever since Tanlines started doing the YouTube page, it always struck me as a good way to use the millions of ridiculous options the internet has for us to use for free.
That’s exactly it. Newborn Huskies made a YouTube page with the live versions or the studio versions of the songs that are people covered on there. It gives it kind of a cool curatorial aspect. That’s what the project is for me. These songs that were important in terms of, we went through different—like in high school, I was a ska kid for six months, then I was punk and a hardcore kid and all that shit. I think it’s cool to be able to acknowledge that stuff. At 30, no one’s in a rush to label themselves, but I think it’s okay to go back and acknowledge the influence that all this stuff had. I think the thing about is, the things that I liked at 15 that I still like at 30, that’s kind of the idea. Like 95% of the shit I listened to and bought then, I wouldn’t listen to or wouldn’t want to—Oh my god, all the money I spent on crappy 7-inches and shows. But some of it holds up really well. So with that project it’s kind of—people might not think it has any melody to it that it’s just noise. But if you go back and listen to the stuff, there’s a lot there, it’s a lot more melodic and interesting than you might think at first glance.

I think it speaks to the idea that growing up you can listen to whatever you want and you’re constantly shifting around, and then for some reason as an adult you’re supposed to identify yourself by the kind of music you like and stick with it.
That’s the weird thing. Things just kind of ossify. I can remember a point, I couldn’t pinpoint—but I was like, I’m tired of saying I like this but I don’t like this, and because I like this, I don’t like that. It’s very freeing at a certain point. I think the way most people listen to and obtain music now is more like that, it’s just a free-for-all. A lot of the music we’ve done is kind of like that, it’s not about a genre, it’s not about this or that, it’s kind of like, We listen to everything, so it breaks down the walls. It doesn’t have to have a guitar, it doesn’t have to have a beat. It’s freeing. But for some people, that’s anathema. You should just play the song that way, but I don’t think any of us could really jive with that.

There’s so much out there and it costs nothing to find out about new genres at all. So obviously everybody’s going to be taking a bit from everything at this point.
I was talking to my friend the other day and she was saying that her brother is in high school, and I was saying that I had seen the Metallica documentary and really liked it and she responded, I think my brother likes Metallica, but my brother likes everything. He’s likes the new R&B and he likes Metallica. That’s the 21st Century high school kid. I don’t think it’s even like 15 years ago when I was in high school. You had to align yourself. With file sharing and the internet and the demise of the recorded music industry, now it’s just like everyone likes everything.

I don’t know if you can even talk about this in these terms, but what sort of releases are coming up from Family Edition?
We don’t really have stuff mapped out. There will be the EPs that are finished, the Newborn Huskies, the Boston one. Tanlines is finishing up a mix of unreleased stuff that they’ve done that I’m pretty psyched on. A lot of the stuff they made the first six months or year of being together with guest vocalists from all kinds of places, that’s gonna be pretty cool. Jesse’s been putting that together and that should probably one of the next couple things we put out there. When they got together—Jesse and Eric—they were doing remixes and making songs and beats and stuff and now Eric is doing vocals on a lot of stuff live and with their EP and everything. At the time, that wasn’t the case, so people would come by the studio and sing on them, or they would send people beats and get stuff back. They have this backlog that they haven’t really been able to do anything with. Jesse was like, it’s going to be the Tanlines’ Tattoo You because Tattoo You was made entirely of Rolling Stones outtakes and they didn’t even get together to make the album, they just pasted together a bunch of stuff they’d done, which I had never heard. We should probably research that, because Jesse might have just made that up. That’ll be the first thing you find when you look it up. Quotes from Mick Jagger, like, we just put that shit together, we didn’t even record. So that and more Newborn Huskies and then we’ll see. The cool thing about that is that we have things like Tanlines stuff they haven’t released and Restless People and old P Murder that we didn’t do shit with. There’s a fair amount of material that we’ve done or are planning to do. It’s cool to set up a way to put stuff out where you don’t have to jump through all the hoops or wait six months for records to come out or print.

Q+A: Tony Blankets of Restless People on Family Edition