An Experience of Bliss
Interview by Violet Krause
Timing is everything, and good things come to those who wait. That’s what the members of Bliss embody with their recent resurfacing back into the Dallas local music scene, and oh have they been missed.
Bliss is back and more formidable than ever, after kicking off 2018 with their second performance of the year at Denton’s treasured Killer Tacos. Bassist/Guitarist/Vocalist Justin Peil and Lead Guitarist/vocalist Gabe Thompkins were able to catch up with Alt Philanthropy a few hours before they took the stage.
The duo sits and immediately dives into a stream of funny references ranging from Pearl Jam 20 to James Brown, before recalling a long list of humorous memories and then eventually how they all met in middle school after bonding over long hair and puns.
How did it all start? I tucked my legs under me getting ready for what I knew to expect as a whirlwind of moments and flashbacks. The duo leads with a recollection of early on memories and gabe immediately turns to justin and exclaims “You got a flee bass!”. Justin chuckles and nods in a agreement. “Yeah I totally got a flee bass and that’s how it all began.”
“We would all get together at my house and jam pretty much after that,” Gabe says turning back towards me “but we hadn't figured out how to gel our ideas together yet and really riff off of each other until after the first Bliss EP. Since then we’ve definitely gotten better at making it more of a collaborative effort and Justin has also kind of dived into it a lot lately,”.
Justin nods “Yeah, Sebadoh has been such a big influence lately on my songwriting process with personally just with getting more confident in that aspect”.
Gabe turns the conversation towards their own songwriting process as more of a group, and how they go about demoing tracks in a collaborative effort. “Justin and Jamie always take things into a cool new direction when I come to them with an idea,” he says sitting up, “and we all just get reminded of different sounds from other bands we’ll we listening to lately and it’s our go-to to just always build off from there,”.
He takes a breath adding “I was also always so impressed by Justin because he’d be like ‘Oh hey I got a piano’ and then he’d you know, kill that, and then one day he just got a bass and within a month he was kicking ass at it,”.
Justin laughs out loud. “When I was a kid I totally wanted to play drums and I remember practicing for about 7 minutes and being really bad and just quitting,” he says “Then I got a Queen song book for the piano and tried to master Bohemian Rhapsody before I even knew how to do anything, and so I then moved onto bass,”.
The group’s collection of inspirations is easy to imagine as a never ending abundance as they jump back and forth from references while laughing in tune with each joke. We got into conversation about what bands the group considered to have formed the platform for Bliss’s influences when it comes to sound and what really hits home musically.
“First song I ever fell in love with was Norwegian Wood by The Beatles, and to this day Revolver is still one of my favorite albums,” Gabe says earnestly “and of course Nirvana changed my life in middle school. I guess we bonded musically over a lot of the 90’s stuff in our group,” he says turning to Justin.
“You totally eased me into Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins,” Justin adds “and then that inspired me to look into a lot of those groups”
“Psych seems like such a big deal right now,” Gabe says after comments on the band setting up to play inside are shared “we've been trying to experiment more with that aspect and see if we can combine it with our more 90’s grunge background and also try and take influence from more current bands like Royal Blood and Queens of the Stone Age,”.
Justin turns back to inspirations listing off the first few that come to mind. “My first great love of course was the chili peppers and their still my babes!” he says and Gabe jumps in with the start of another story before the two burst into shared laughter.
“I have this story of when I was younger,” Justin starts “and I was over at one of my friends house and their parents were playing the by the way album since this was around when it first came out, and I remember liking it so much that when my mom came to pick me up I grabbed that CD, and the one underneath it which was the Californication album and just totally took them home with me,”.
The group has put out a few EP’s and albums while in the meantime obtaining the goal to release an album every year. We get into the more technical aspect of how they prefer to handle their own music, and how the routine they’ve adopted over time.
“During practices we’ll record a lot of voice memos on our phones just while we're writing the songs,” Justin starts “so we get a bunch of different versions out that way, so we can just hear them build up, and then we actually go and record it. We recorded two albums and EP’s at January Sound with Ty, and actually then this last one we went to this lovely young lad named Brandon at OMA productions.” he adds sweetly.
“Yeah the goal is definitely to make an album every year,” Gabe adds.
“We’ve talked more about starting to record just ourselves and go more lo-fi with it,” Justin says when the topic of future projects is brought up.
“The first time we all recorded together was the 10 hours later ep, gabe talking, which was literally just 10 hours which is a nightmare,” Gabe says and Justin immediately sits up.
“Especially for being in a studio for the first time like me and jamie” He says over Gabe’s chuckles.
“So it means we recorded mixed and mastered in 10 hours,” Gabe says “And I still really like windowpain off that album!” Justin laughs.
“Gather round is the best song we’ve ever put out,” he states confidently.
We somehow get into conversation about tours and opening for all these out there artists, when gabe brings up the goals for the band in that aspect.
“I always wanted to set really low goals with Bliss though,” He admits “like to play a show to 100 people and it feel good was what I wanted and I think we’ve accomplished that by now. I definitely want to tour, and I kind of want to build that way”.
Justin jumps into the topic of projects that the group currently has in the works and how they’ve felt they evolved when it comes to the sound the group carried in their earlier releases.
“Hearing back this latest record I think our sound is still changing,” he says in a confident tone “and so were trying to find that medium of what our two sounds are really, since we have heavy stuff but also the soft sound every now and then.”
I ask how they feel about performing certain songs live and the decision process behind that.
“Well for me i mean were just constantly writing songs,” Gabe informs “even now we still have a bunch of new stuff that we want to perform it all live.”
Justin agrees recalling the number of times they go without practicing a finished song. “We get to the point where we have like 4 practices in a row where we just write new stuff and never finish the old song,” He laughs “so then it’s like okay what are we playing at our gig tomorrow?”
The conversation steers towards hobbies and life outside of the band, before making a full circle back to the new album that still under wraps.
“What I'm really into is how Justins been doing all of the album covers except the two EP’s since college,” Gabe starts.
“The name for the new album actually started out as an joke,” Justin smiles “because I had to make things for my portfolio for school, and so I was sitting on the album covers we were using and I ended up just putting 3 as the title and it stuck so that’s how that came about.”
The night is dark and chilly when we finally get up, but the authentically literal home that is Killer’s Tacos acts as a warm, beckoning haven for friends and family members of Bliss, as well as the other artists to dedicate spending their friday night at. Six groups/solo artists are set to perform that night, Bliss being the second to last act on the bill. The back room of Killer’s is assigned the role of being the makeshift living room, where family/friends are residents of the many chairs and couches shoved around objects like the prominent foosball table. Personal space is a nonessential luxury in this home. People that fabricate the audience sit almost on top of eachother on the couches, and friendships are inherited after the question of if the empty seat next to someone is taken, is asked. The deck located in the backyard is illuminated with lights strung from trees, and the scattered patio furniture are occupied by groups of friends braving the chill air to laugh, smoke and hold smooth conversations.
Bliss is now setting up on the modest sized stage, and I manage to achieve a spot at a table tucked away into a corner that directly faces the group as they perform. The room suddenly swells with the eager residents of the patio and other listeners, most of everyone standing to dance near the stage. The music starts and doesn't stop, noise being a constant thing even in-between songs when members switch instruments or take a second to tune. Each song launches the audience into a wave of thrilled bouncing and swaying. The group opens with the renowned anthem ‘Kings Of The Stoned Age’ that seems to perfectly coexist with the colored lights sprayed across the group. The floor shakes under the joint dancing and vibrations, slightly rattling the now unoccupied tables that are just used to hold purses and coats while everyone joins the sea of bodies.
The stage presence each member has encompasses each other in a way that allows them to remain personal, while still being essential to construing the group's presence as a whole. The group members all have their own recognizable personalities on stage, which are exposed to the audience almost subconsciously in their own way. Drummer Jamie finally emerges and holds a strong magnetic pull throughout the group's performance, in the way that compliments his normal modest and introverted personality, while also carrying such fluidity it’s only obvious to be a second nature. Bassist Justin radiates an organic comfort while performing that even Geddy Lee would be envious of, while transitioning onto guitar and vocals for certain songs adding his own independent sound to the groups flow. Gabe Thompkins thrives under the fluorescent lights, the indication that this is what he considers home is a shared understanding between him and the audience. The intimacy between him and the songs the group performs is prominent enough to make you recollect on your own life situations, the songs acting as the perfect soundtracks. The group plays a successful show that leaves everyone warm and happy after dancing surrounded by friends and family.
The group gave us a list of some of their favorite songs, so be sure to check out Bliss’s top pics over on spotify and keep an eye out for their upcoming third album!