Profile: Charlie Hilton of Blouse

Justin Spicer / April 13, 2012
Photo Courtesy of Capture Tracks

Nostalgia hangs like cobwebs. Every step you take, you’re running face-first into emotional tonality of utmost importance. Though it’s become a clichéd mark of musical criticism, it also serves as a useful tool in artistic endeavor.

It’s the chiffon tapestry that Charlie Hilton and the members of Blouse spread gingerly across their music. A band still in its recording infancy, their self-titled debut packed remembrance both real and imagined, leading to countless daydreams when the headphones went on and the lights went out. It’s the stuff of make-out parties and trying to relive moments you had no idea would become as indelible or engrained as they now exist.

So it stands to reason the sound of Blouse owes itself to childhood memories considering the band traces its roots to youthful ambition. “All three of us had been in bands since middle school, so it wasn’t exactly a new thing,” Hilton explains, “just a new combination of people. It felt like a really natural thing to be doing. Eat breakfast, start a band.”

Blouse began at Portland State when the newly relocated Charlie Hilton met up with Patrick Adams. Jacob Portrait, a fixture in the Portland music scene, soon joined and the band was born. But what of the trio’s curious name?

“Blouse has some very classic connotations. Jake had seen the word in a dry cleaning window while we were recording. It’s hard to think of a band name and we liked that instantly. We didn’t really intellectualize it too much. But I could probably write an essay on why it’s a perfect name for us.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward image also carries itself to the band’s visual aesthetic. “That 7-inch cover [from ”Into Black”] is odd. I found that photo in the national archives. I love how androgynous the kid is, the classic pose, and the leopard skin. It’s from the late 1800s and there’s no information about it. It seemed like such perfect imagery.”

Happenstance seems to define Blouse at this early stage. The band’s growing stature has also turned their choice of recording space into its own entity. “We love the warehouse,” Hilton exclaims. “It’s not home and it’s not a traditional studio. I think corporations like Starbucks call that a 3rd place (not home, not work)? A business called Architectural Reproductions used to occupy the space, so that definitely played a role in our sound. They left a lot of old roman columns, busts of women, giant faces, hands. Combine that with dripping water, broken windows, a skate ramp, a crane, and a basketball hoop–it was a very surreal environment.”

Photo Courtesy of Shayna Fontana, Kirsten Mitchell, and Ax + Apple

The easy tone of Hilton echoes the sentimentality of Blouse. The band seems comfortable exploring a brand of nostalgia that has become nouveau in recent years, yet the lack of irony or tribute imbues Blouse’s songs with authenticity.

“’Time Travel’ is about memory and expectation–the time travel that happens in your own mind. ‘Videotapes’ is about my childhood. I had this old camcorder and I shot dozens of hours of middle school and high school, but I’m hardly ever in the footage. I don’t remember a lot about myself, so the song is kind of a yearning to know my childhood self again. Everyone thinks it’s a love song. I guess it is, in a way.”

When asked about new influences the band has picked up on its time on the road (including a recent European trip), Hilton becomes coy. “It’s kind of hard to sum up. I guess you’ll see when you hear the next record.”

And how about that next record? “We’ve been touring almost all year and won’t be home until late May. The idea of recording all summer in Portland is like a distant oasis. I can’t wait.”


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