Image © 1999-2000 Blaq Lily
Experience The Neo-Celtic Sound
Music Reviews and Artist Reflections
Reviews and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2000
all images © Blaq Lily 1999-2000
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Last updated: 12 March 2000
Indianapolis, Indiana is the home of Blaq Lily, fronted by vocalist and wooden recorder player Arminta. Husband Raven plays guitars and also contributes vocals to the band's recordings. Earlier, performing as Jennifer and Michael Schwab with the gothic act Living Dead, they released a five-track EP. Blaq Lily's self-titled debut album features thirteen tracks, many of which are also available on a digital audio music compact disc available from mp3.com. The tracks from their most recent work—also available for preview at mp3.com—are being shopped around to major labels on a three-track EP entitled "Promised Land." The exotic instrumentation of Blaq Lily's Celtic-influenced music will appeal to classicists, while its Gothic touches will draw alternative-minded fans.
Blaq Lily is self-categorised as a Neo-Celtic group. Their music combines sensitive vocals with light rock-oriented acoustic instrumentation. Endorsed by Hohner, Inc., Arminta's performance on wooden recorder contributes a significant component to the band's unique sound. She is endorsed by the High Spirits Flute Company of Patagonia, AZ as well, makers of Native American cedar flutes like Arminta plays on the track "Love" from the group's debut album. Today's Blaq Lily also includes Alexandra who provides additional vocals, Celtic harp and keyboard; Daniel does drums and percussion work. We talked to the band about their music during the preparation of this review of their recordings.
Blaq Lily opens with a cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" where Arminta's emotive vocals and wooden recorder add a very enjoyable perspective to the sound. The remaining twelve tracks include several other covers including the secular "Broken Things" by Julie Miller. Many of the tracks are written by Raven and Arminta with various writing partners. When asked about artists that influenced the band's writing, Raven responded, "It's really hard to nail down the influences specifically but they range from Metallica to the Cranberries to Enya." The band's first album featured a different lineup. Besides Arminta and Raven, Djembe and conga were played by Matt Johnson; conga parts were also contributed by Tim King who also engineered the album. Guitar leads and bass were played by Jason Thomson. Dave Butler guested on bass in "Shame".
We asked the band about music they like listening to. Arminta answered, "The Ann McWilliams Band, the Cranberries of course, Vivaldi, Creed, Dakota Motor Company." Raven added, "I listen to a lot of indie stuff, I especially like The Ann McWilliams Band, the B52's, the Marvelous 3, No Doubt, and of course the classics." Alexandra then chimed in with, "Sting, Smashmouth, Sarah McLachlan, and I especially like the Chad Mitchell Trio."
The debut album has a folky feel resulting largely from the light acoustic or raw electric guitar, conga and wooden recorder sounds. Arminta's vocals are heartfelt, soaring at times with the music. Raven's additional vocals contribute to the texture of the recordings. Arminta writes about "The Other Side," "It seems that we all wonder what happens after death, since it is an inevitable end to the human condition. 'The Other Side' addresses this with our hope that all who listen to our music can now that they've been delivered from the evil land of Morder." The wooden recorder part here and in "Arminta's Song" amongst several others as in others on the album is highly notable and it is easy to see why Hohner, Inc have endorsed the artist.
Arminta told us about her musical training, "As a child I was forced to take organ lessons; I played clarinet in the high school marching band and then I found these great tapes that taught me how to do vocals." Raven took guitar lessons as a child, was in junior high marching band where he played flute. Most recently he spent a year studying with Kara Barnard who's been a nationally competitive fingerstyle guitarist for years.
The band's lineup came together for their work on the Promised Land EP. Alexandra is a classically trained musician. She told us, "I've been involved in all sorts of musical education all my life. I attended Luther college where I received my BA in vocal music education. I took up harp while I was attending there in 1993. I just did finish my masters in music (MM) in conducting at Butler University."
Blaq Lily's music is very intricate and songwriting is a key component of the sound the band achieves. Arminta told us, "Raven will usually get a tune going on his guitar and we will sit and brainstorm for story line ideas. Usually we draw from our life and what's going on at the time, but occasionally we'll draw from what we see a friend going through. It's a daily thing."
Raven added, "When we are actually in the writing stage we use a Sony TCM-353v to get our initial ideas down. Then we have a small digital studio in our home that we like to call Lily Pad Studios. As we work out the arrangements, we will go to mini-disk during pre-production. Until recently we've worked in a local studio that's owned by a good friend of ours, Rick Hajduk. We would go in and produce with Rick and we've gotten some really excellent results as he's an excellent engineer."
Arminta's emotive treatment and vocal energy are also evident in the folky ballads "His," "Broken Things," "Glass Intellect" and "The Gift." Secular themes run through the group's music and are treated sensitively with the accompaniment. The vocals are balanced with excellent guitar playing and recorder. "Peace" and "Drift Away" are the most richly produced and fastest pace numbers while "Shame" has a thicker more aggressive sound yet they share the soaring vocals and haunting recorder treatment with similar melodic themes from earlier tracks on the album.
The group most recently went to Nashville and recorded at The Sound Emporium in a project they just did with Tyler Music Group. Raven told us, "Will Smith produced us and I was quite frankly amazed as he did incredible things with our music. In fact Will shared with me a few weeks ago that he was amazed with the results himself because he got the idea from dealing with me in particular before we got down there that I was going to be a real ball buster. But he ended up saying that we were surprisingly easy to work with."
The title track of the Promised Land EP is notably more richly produced with striking keyboard and electric guitar parts accompanying substantially improved vocal treatments from the band's acoustic album. Again the recorder brings out the band's unique sound but the arrangements on the EP, with Alexandra's stunning backing vocals, are superb. "World Without End" has a lighter, but equally rich arrangement, with lots of vocals and wonderful harp and recorder parts. A new version of "The Other Side" concludes the EP. Electric guitar, harp and more extensive vocal arrangements significantly improve the track's sound.
Currently the band members work in the music industry but they do not dedicate full time to their music. Arminta is involved with distribution of a local arts and entertainment paper. Alexandra directs five choirs and teaches music classes at urban junior and senior high schools. Raven told us, "I'm a technical and sales rep for a pro sound manufacturer and music wholesaler. The job has some obvious perks for a working musician and besides it allows us to put more money towards the advancement of the band, plus my company is real flexible about time of for touring. I'd just like to mention that the other two members of Blaq Lily who were not able to be here for the interview both have sort of part time jobs. Daniel, our drummer, works part time in a music store and Keith, our bassist, is in real estate."
Living Dead was a heavy and harder edged gothic project Arminta and Raven did with Joel Nowacki (drums/vocals) and Jason Thompson (bass). Clearly secular in its themes, the Puppet EP includes five tracks that are a major departure from Blaq Lily's sound although they illustrate the effect that a richer production environment can add to the artists' talents—vocals and recorders especially. Arminta's vocals are more heavily processed and illustrate another aspect of her vocal style. "The Gift" is especially notable and the lightest and most like Blaq Lily's sound of the EP's tracks. The heavier music—with more spoken-like vocals and thick, buzzing guitars—may not appeal to all of our audiences.
Arminta told us the band would like to be signed to a major label, naturally depending on the terms of the deal. She said, "We're being shopped right now to the majors by Tyler Music in Nashville, TN!! Live performances are an essential ingredient in Blaq Lily's musical development. Arminta told us, "I really get into the performance. The audiences give me so much energy back that I almost always can't get to sleep that night." The concert buzz obviously affects the musicians as much as it does the audience!
Raven continues, "The band that we have now is so tight that I get a real charge out of playing with them just at rehearsals, then when you add a hyped up audience to the mix, all I can say is wow, it's a real gas."
Live performances affect all of the band similarly. Alexandra concluded, "The audience gives me a major performance high and I love the looks of surprise from people who have never seen us, when they see a harp in a pop rock band."
The artwork for Blaq Lily's website and that accompanies their recordings is striking. Arminta told us, "Our good friend, Nancy Vandercar from Dance with Nance Photography shoots all of our photos. She's really got a feel for what we want." Production is left to Raven, who told us, "I just take the great images that we get from Nancy, sit down with them at my PC and the next thing you know things happen. I've done all of the album layout. Another friend of ours, Ray Mills, from The Advent Project, designed our website and logo." The artwork for the Puppets EP was an original by Ravens' sister, Kat West, and the layout was designed by Jason Page.
The internet has had a profound impact on the band's development. Alexandra told us, "The MP3 exposure has been great and our website has been a great way to keep people informed of where our shows are." Arminta added, "There's no doubt that the web has brought us many new fans, we get e-mail from them all the them through our MP3 site and new people are signing up all the time through our web site for out email list."
Raven concluded, "Speaking of the e-mail list, we are running a promotion right now to build our contact base, so anyone who signs up and fills out the all the information is automatically entered in a drawing for a promotional copy of our three song demo EP Promised Land." Visit the band's Blaq List.
Clearly Blaq Lily are a talented group of individuals that are carving a their own way in today's dynamic music market place. With proven acoustic instrumental skills and a unique sound from the Arminta's wooden recorders coupled with Celtic-folk based songwriting, their music is making an impact on modern audiences. Check out the samples at their mp3.com website and watch this band in the coming months. They are going places and their music is certainly a nice listen.
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