by Kaelen Bell
There are a lot of things to find fault with in 2019 – devastating climate shifts have become a reality more quickly than many expected, right-wing fascism is on the rise, and social tribalism has pushed us further and further away from existing within a collective consciousness.
If there’s a band coming up today that can understand the social isolation and anxiety that come with living in 2019, it’s Blessed. The Abbotsford-based quintet has been performing together since 2015, creating music with a force and precision that feels invigorating and rare.
Though he’s reticent to explain the overarching political and personal themes on the band’s forthcoming debut album Salt, guitarist and lead vocalist Drew Riekman says one of the band’s driving forces has always been to leave the stifling conservative environs of their hometown behind.
“[Fellow guitarist Reuben Houweling] and I have been playing together since we were 12 and 14, and I think our dream was always to travel,” Riekman says. “I think that’s still a major operating principle for the band – getting to leave the Fraser valley and see all these places.”
Riekman tells me about a 2017 article in the Abbotsford News about the conservative backlash to local school resources that helped teachers address issues like sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The idea was essentially ‘The LGTBQ are frightening us’, so you can imagine the kind of environment that Abbotsford can be,” he says. “It definitely has a church on every street corner, and [this conservative pressure] is around you in weird ways.”
However, Riekman says that Abbotsford’s generally conservative population has created an insular, eager and self-reliant music scene. It’s a scene that Riekman says can be difficult to break out of, but he credits it with giving him the skills needed to push Blessed beyond the Fraser Valley.
“The people that stay and participate in the local scene are some of the most passionate and driven people I know. You have no municipal support, basically no financial support, so it’s up to you and your peers to make it happen,” he says.
Creating art in a place where outward conservative ideals push continuously on the small ecosystem of DIY artists has also made Blessed, in the face of their growing success, very aware of what message they’re bringing to the wider world.
“I think making concise and direct albums and knowing what’s worth putting into the universe has merit,” Riekman says. “It’s something I struggle with internally, like, do I believe that what I’m saying has worth in the world? Do I need to scream into this void as well?”
This emphasis on brevity and careful consideration of what needs saying led the band to its debut’s lean 10 song track list. It’s a refreshing thing to see in 2019 – that in the face of bloated 21 track albums designed to pillage streaming services, bands are still capable of making a carefully considered record.
That isn’t to say that every track is a two-minute jolt like first single “Thought”, as some tracks on Salt near the eight-minute mark. Instead, it’s an example of careful editing and an understanding of what a song or album needs. A bit of sprawl can be engaging when it’s done with purpose.
“I heard this term recently – content exhaustion – that I really like. People are so pressured to keep pumping things out that it kind of compromises the balance between quantity and quality,” says Riekman. “At the very least what you can do as a creator is hone in and make something you’re particularly proud of.”
Riekman says Salt covers ground previously unexplored by the band, stretching their dark post-punk to create a more varied work than fans might expect.
“I guess we don’t use what we’ve created in the past as a barometer for what we make in the future, and this record is what we wanted to make and what we felt represented where we’re at,” he says.
He says the reaction to the singles released so far has been overwhelming, and that the band is itching to get back on the road following a much needed tour break that ended up stretching to nearly eight months spent at home.
“You know, after three years of pretty hard touring, you want some mental space from it, but eight months might have been a little too lengthy. We’re all feeling super grateful that this thing is out.”
The drive to see the world is still pushing Blessed beyond the confines of the Fraser Valley, and, with their highly anticipated debut arriving on April 5, there’s little doubt their DIY roots and clear-eyed vision will only send them further and further.
“We’ve always operated on the idea that if we can release things we’re proud of, fill half a venue and keep from going broke, we’ll be fulfilled.”