July 13 2011 10:37 AM

The Blow blurs the line between music and art

Khaela Maricich will perform at rock clubs and art museums on this tour.
Photo by Chas Bowens

Khaela Maricich doesn’t consider herself a musician, which is funny because she’s the sole member of The Blow.

While she isn’t a master of any instrument, she most definitely can sing and knows a good beat when she hears one. As a seasoned performance artist— she was once an artist-in-residence at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art—she also knows how to put on a good show, and these days that’s what The Blow is all about.

“Because I don’t really focus on playing instruments, I’ve been more interested, or aware, really, of performance and what you can do with it,” Maricich says. “In the whole history of performing that I’ve done, I’ve taken an experimental approach to it.”

The Blow’s current project could easily be called experimental. It’s not released any new material for more than five years, but Maricich is touring with sound and installation artist Melissa Dyne, doing a performance-art piece that looks, sounds and feels like a modern-day indie-pop band on tour. The piece explores the very nature of pop music.

The show will combine music (including older songs by The Blow, as well as a bunch of new demos), monologue and, of course, Maricich’s brand of performance art. She says the show will be constantly evolving throughout the tour depending on audience reaction, but she confirms that the music will be pure pop.

“For all my experimentalism, I’m pretty true to the pop format,” she says. “I’m a pretty straight-laced pop musician. Playing the hits is kind of one of the themes of this performance, so they will get played.”

Since everything about this reincarnation of The Blow is totally new, from the lineup to the sound, it’s unclear how the live show will take form. Even Maricich herself seems unaware of what she’ll say or do.

“I’m always pretty open to letting things develop with an audience watching,” she says. “I’m just exploring it as I go.”

Tour dates have been scheduled at both rock clubs and art museums, in an attempt to test the collaboration on different audiences.

“We’re really interested in what happens when you take something out of one context and put it in another,” she says. “Just the way it’s perceived so differently. It’s the same thing, but people behave so differently.”

The Blow didn’t always exist as a solo performance-art project. It used to be a duo, until Jona Bechtolt left the band shortly after the release of their acclaimed 2006 album, Paper Television. Bechtolt went on to play in YACHT, the Portland, Ore.-based electro-pop outfit. As a duo, the pair worked well together: Bechtolt wrote the music while Maricich wrote and sang the lyrics. Her childish, breathy croon was a suitable match for Bechtolt’s hooks, and the two were able to craft some pristine pop songs, including the infectious “Parentheses.”

Bechtolt’s departure left Maricich alone to rethink what The Blow could be, which led to her collaboration with Dyne. Dyne’s role is crucial to the success of the current tour, particularly because Maricich doesn’t play any instruments. Without musicians on stage to make sounds, someone’s got to do it, and that’s where Dyne comes in.

“She’s got amazing ears, so she does all these secret tricks, like changing the sounds or adding a different sound and making it three-dimensional acoustically,” Maricich says. “I’m on stage and she’s in the back by the sound person interacting with me, shaping the sound and the space.”

The two hope that each tour date will be wildly different and that they get feedback on the new music and the show itself.

“We really like to experiment,” she says. “With this tour in particular, it’s going to be like a million degrees all the way across the country and we’re going out with demos. It’s not going to be like the shiniest, fanciest tour of The Blow. It’s, like, really punk. We’re just, like, ‘Fuck it—let’s see what happens.”

The Blow performs with He’s My Brother She’s My Sister at The Casbah on Thursday, July 14. khaelamaricich.com/wordpress