"We make bluesy, jazzy weird shit," proclaims Blame the Youth's Facebook page. The Charlotte-based quartet has been together in their current configuration for two years, and their influences are as diverse as the band's makeup.
"Everybody in our band has such a distinct style," says 23-year-old bassist and background vocalist Amber Daniel. "I'm really into neo-soul. Lead guitarist Alexa-Rae Ramkissoon loves heavy metal. Drummer Kynadi Hankins is all about funk. She just wants everything funky and syncopated and weird as hell. Lead singer Phoebe Gomez is into pop, but also into classic Meryl Streep-type stuff."
In case you didn't know, "Meryl Streep stuff" is now a genre.
"It's the type of stuff that I imagine being played in a Meryl Streep movie," Daniel says.
All of these elements coalesce into a rhythmic and rocking sound, which can be heard on Blame the Youth's two single releases, the smooth and soulful "Oasis" and catchy, aptly named "Earworm."
As Blame the Youth — whose members range in age from 21 (Hankins and Ramkissoon) to the ripe old age of 24 (Gomez) — prep for the March 4 release of their EP The Hourglass, Daniel sat down with Creative Loafing to talk about her generation, Charlotte audiences, and refusing to sex it up.
Creative Loafing: How did Blame the Youth's current line-up come together?
Daniel: Phoebe and Kynadi have been dating since 2012, which is also when they started playing music together. They reached a point where they said, "Hey, we need a guitarist." So they talked to their guitar teacher, who put them in contact with Alexa, who coincidentally went to the same school as Kynadi — the Northwest School of the Arts. So they kind of knew each other. Kynadi and I both worked for the same company, Music and Arts, where I teach violin and viola. Kynadi told me the band was looking for a bassist, so I bought a bass and learned how to play it.
What is your musical background?
I've been doing choir and singing around in the state since I was in the third grade. So I'm a classically trained vocalist, but my primary instrument is viola and violin. I've been doing that for about 12 years.
Violin and viola are both melodic instruments; so I hear the way melodies typically move. Those two instruments contribute lushness and thickness to music. So it helps having a background in viola to help create dope harmonies and melodies.
Does your band name come from the Bob Marley song "You Can't Blame the Youth"?
No, it doesn't. Our name actually comes from a Janelle Monáe song from the album The Electric Lady called "Givin Em What They Love." She sings, "I am sharper than a razor, Eyes made of lasers, Bolder than the truth, They want me locked up in the system, Cause I'm on a mission, Blame it on my youth."
That stood out for us, because we feel that everybody in Charlotte blames stuff on us. It's like we're the cause of so many of today's problems, and that's definitely not the case.
What are the youth being blamed for?
Frequently people are talking about our generation is the cause of many problems we face as a society. They say we can't communicate because we never put out phones down. They say we're super vain because we take selfies. They forget that they're the ones who brought us up.
It's easy to blame us because we're the outcome of what they created. We're the ones who are dealing with it, and overcoming what was given to us, and creating something better and different.
How do you create something that is better and different?
By taking what we have, and using our creativity to change it. There are so many negative things happening right now, and we're the ones who can take the negativity and find a way to make it positive. We create groups where we can heal together, and we create groups where we can create art and showcase it.
Do you feel that the band is an example of that?
Absolutely. Blame The Youth is an outcome of taking things in society that aren't that great, and creating something beautiful with it. We're creating music that a lot of people can connect to.
Do you think your generation is more accepting than previous generations?
Yes. Look at our band. We're definitely a group of diverse individuals. We have three black women, and a Mexican trans lead singer. That's a face of diversity that I've never seen before.
Given that the band's makeup is non-traditional, what kind of response have you gotten from audiences and venues?
We get the question often about how we feel being in an all-girl band, even though we're not an all-girl band. We try to make sure everybody knows that. We've had people say we'd be really big if we sexed up our image. I've gotten it from people who are close to us who come to every show, and they're saying, "If you're a little sexier, you can really make it." When we go onstage, we just want to be comfortable. We don't mind looking a little sexy if that's our personal style. But people say we should be onstage with our tits out on our chins, and that's not comfortable. I think we can make it without being sexy. I think that our music can make it on its own.
How would you characterize your audiences? What kind of crowds do you draw?
It's surprising sometimes. When we played the Evening Muse, it was a show for HRC, and we were seeing a lot of white lesbians. We didn't think they would like us very much because we're a pretty urban group. We don't get a lot of white people at our shows. But they loved us. So they started to follow us and go to our shows. Right now our pull is pretty diverse We have a bunch of different races and sexes coming together. Our music is not one-track minded. We have something that everybody likes.