Following the release of their 2018 debut album Guess Work, wonderfully anxious pop outfit Blues Lawyer was forced to reconsider their original plan for the project, which was to stop.
See, the band was supposed to serve as an outlet for the songwriting collaboration between guitarist Rob Miller, of the defunct post-punk act Mall Walk, and drummer Elyse Schrock, of the awe-inspiring and groovy the World, who had originally planned to play a few shows and let the project fade away. To their surprise — and to our benefit — the two found a special channel in Blues Lawyer that allowed them to experiment with musical ideas that wouldn’t service their other bands. The songs they crafted were bare-bones and simple, lasting around one minute on average — short and to the point.
“We don’t overthink how we play or the songwriting, but the songs are about overthinking every other aspect of life,” says Miller. “I feel like that’s allowed me to write more as me and with my sense of humor than any past projects have done.”
Their ability to retreat from the languished, heavily-curated nature of performing music has made Blues Lawyer popular locally, and freed them to operate outside the confines of genre. They’re punk, but in an artful way, which heavily illustrates their taste for pop music. Each song is a self-conscious snippet of playful rumination on subjects ranging from mental instability to wasting time. Blustering atop the skeleton of jangle is the articulate skill of Miller and Schrock’s tunefully organized harmonies, which pay homage to the excess of catchy songs that the duo adore.
“We both really like pop music, unapologetically, and with our other bands we’ve never really been able to be full pop,” says Schrock. “I feel like Blues Lawyer has just been really lucky. We get a lot of opportunities with little effort in seeking them out.”
While it may be true that the band doesn’t spend much time planning their future, it certainly isn’t because they aren’t busy. The group consists of truly incredible Bay Area musicians with projects apart from Schrock’s mystifying The World, like bassist Alejandra Alcala who plays in the staggering no-wave of Preening and Nic Russo who performs as Dick Stusso, the melancholic country fallen angel. They’ve been described as a supergroup, though that charge seems to be rejected out of a preference for humility. The group operates when it can find a good time, not out of aspiration.
“It’s the first band I’ve been in that isn’t consumed by what it’s supposed to be, or by what it means to do it, or at what capacity we’re supposed to do it. We do it because we really enjoy doing it,” Miller says. “We’re like weekend warriors, basically, now.”
Scheduling band practice remains the toughest obstacle for the band, but that certainly hasn’t stopped them from a variety of accomplishments. In this year alone they’ve played dozens of local shows, including The Bay Bridged’s Phono Del Sol, created a forthcoming music video and are awaiting the release of their second LP Something Different, out on Sacramento-based label Mt.St.Mtn. in November. On their new album, recorded with Andrew Oswald at Santo Recording Studio, they’ve gone all-in on the minimalist aesthetic that Blues Lawyer has developed, according to Miller.
“Feels like we’re really letting our hair down with this one,” he says. “My past projects have always been brooding, and intense, and put a lot of thought into the songwriting, just to a fault. With this project we feel like the songs have always benefitted from being stripped-down and letting them do what they do.”
Blues Lawyer has become Miller’s main creative output these days, which he’s grateful for, especially the ability to write so directly. Leaning into a songwriting process that they’d developed as roommates, Miller and Schrock have always had predilection for saccharine pop songs. In past bands, neither would have felt comfortable talking about the meaning behind their lyrics and having any sort of discussion seemed entirely off-base. As they’ve aged, most of the band has moved into more involved careers, school and professional lives outside of music, marking a shift in the importance of music in their lives. This carries over into the content and accessibility of their songs, which profit from the vocalists ability to write so openly.
“Going through all this stuff in the past three years has made us more able to be vulnerable and just not care as much, and to say some embarrassing shit that if I was 25 I would never be able to put into a song,” Schrock says.