Artist Spotlight: Blushing

Blushing is the Austin, Texas-based band composed of two married couples, Christina and Noe Carmona and Michelle and Jacob Soto. The group came together after Christina and Michelle, who met through their husbands, started playing music together in 2016, andby 2018, Blushing had released two EPs, Tether and Weak. The band then teamed up with Ringo Deathstarr’s Elliott Frazier to produce their 2019 self-titled debut album and its 2022 follow-up, Possessions, which also featured collaborations with Miki Berenyl of Lush and Mark Gardener of Ride. As soon as they finished recording Possessions, they began writing material for what would become Sugarcoat, their third LP, which was once again produced by Frazier, mastered by Gardener, and boasts lead guitar from the Smashings Pumpkins’ Jeff Schroeder on the song ‘Seafoam’. On the new album, Blushing’s dream-pop sound is as enveloping and more dynamic than ever, shot through with elements of psychedelia, twee pop, goth rock, and other shoegaze-adjacent subgenres. More than their blend of influences, however, what sets Blushing apart is the harmony they achieve between the density and warmth of their music: Sugarcoat is infectious, to be sure, but not without layers upon layers to unpack.

We caught up with Blushing’s Christina and Noe Carmona for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the band’s origins, what inspires them about each other, their collaborative process, and more.

Christina, you and Michelle started jamming together in 2016. What are your memories of that time?

Christina Carmona: We were already friends because our husbands knew each other, so if you think about it in a way that goes further back in time – Jake and Noe were friends from high school, they grew up together in a Texas town called El Paso and they played in a band together – so in some ways, Blushing was already kind of starting when you guys met each other. They met Michelle and me, and they both ended up moving to Austin. Our band is built so much on friendship – the friendship between the guys and then the friendship that Michelle and I developed on our own, and then eventually the four of us came together. Our band did start out as Michelle and I, she had some song ideas and we were like, “Okay, let’s try to make a band.” We started getting together for the first time, and it was like these little friend dates. I would light candles and buy beer or wine for her to come over; it really felt like we were dating each other, courting each other. [laughs] At first, I just thought I was going to try to play guitar, but I’m not a great guitar player, so I just decided to pick up bass. But once we started practicing at home – I think that’s probably where your memories kick in from what you remember about the band.

Noe Carmona: Yeah, I remember the girls were writing some songs downstairs, and they were so catchy and so cool. I kind of just invited myself into the band, I was like, “Let me help you write these songs.” I just wanted to be a part of it, but it was really the girls that sparked everything. They just have great chemistry and their creativity blossoms even to this day. We’ve almost been doing it for eight years, so it’s pretty cool to be a part of.

Noe, how were you inspired by Jake when you were playing together in high school? And Michelle, how were you inspired by Michelle in those early days before the guys joined the band?

NC: Jake is a couple of years older than me, and when we were growing up in El Paso, I was really interested in playing music, but I had just started my first band. I’d have probably been about 12 or 13 years old. He played in a hardcore band, and I saw a flyer and went to go see his band play, and they absolutely blew my mind. It was life-changing – it’s one of those things when you’re so formidable at that age, and you see that one band that kind of changes everything. His band was that band. I started my own band, we ended up playing with their band all the time, and we became really great friends. I don’t know if I inspire him, but he definitely inspired me. [laughs]

CC: Yeah, that’s how I feel about Michelle. If you see Michelle in person, she just looks really cool. She has really cool tattoos, she has a great style. Even when I first met her before the band started, I was just like, “Wow, this girl’s way too cool to be my friend.” And still sometimes I just look at her and I’m like, “You’re so cool and pretty.” So there’s that connection to each other on a woman-to-woman basis, but once we actually started becoming closer and writing songs together – I’m still inspired by how much of a hard worker Michelle is. Michelle is what I like to call a doer. I am a thinker, so I think about stuff, and sometimes I start a project with really good intentions, but I don’t finish it. I’ll still have the fabric or whatever I bought for a project hanging up in my closet a year later because I just don’t do things. But Michelle is like, “Okay, let’s do it. We have a plan. We’re gonna get it done tomorrow. This is what we’re gonna do.” She’s so organized and on top of it, and she’s such a driving force for our band in terms of all of our accomplishments. We just never stop, and she really keeps the momentum going. She still blows me away with her work process and her creativity.

There’s always a number of external factors that influence how your process changes over time – obviously the pandemic, the people you’ve brought in over the years – but in terms of your internal dynamic as a band, is it tangible to you how those roles are structured?

CC: At least through my experience, it’s been important for us to really understand the roles that we play in the band so that we can make sure that we are fulfilling those roles and we are doing our part, because it’s a four-person collaboration. I definitely don’t want to be someone who is dragging their feet or seen as someone who’s not contributing equally. The way that I see the roles – we all write music together; it takes all four of us to make a song. But in addition to the creative part, there’s also the business component of it. Jake is so good at networking and talking to people, making friends, making deals, and getting things done on that business side. Michelle is fantastic at design. She actually has a degree in graphic design, so having her has just been absolutely wonderful. She understands things like aesthetic or software like Adobe InDesign. She knows already how to do all those things that we didn’t have to learn how to do. Noe is really fantastic at touring. He’s just really good at helping everybody and seeing a spot where someone needs help and just diving in there and being like, “Okay, what do you need? I got you.” He can really take a load off of other people.

And then there’s just me, and I feel like I really try to practice a ton. I help out where I can when it comes to business and all of the other great things that they do, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to try to be the frontperson on stage. I play two instruments, and I just practice a ton and try to hold it down musically for the live show and constantly think about things that maybe we could do to improve that, which Noe is also really good at. That’s kind of how I think our roles work together. Would you agree with that?

NC: Yeah, we all kind of do our own thing. I think a big thing is also understanding what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. I’ve been in a lot of bands throughout the years, and you can’t have too many chefs in the kitchen.

CC: That same idea has also translated into our songwriting and the roles that we play in writing our songs. By this point in our experience together, it doesn’t take us very much time to write our songs anymore because we already know who’s good at what. If we’re working on a song, maybe we’re not gonna focus on this one element of it because we know somebody else is gonna come in and nail it with their part. So we’ve really refined, and I like to say that we’ve settled into, our songwriting. I definitely feel like we’ve been hinting at certain tones and sounds that came out in Sugarcoat, like they’ve always been there, but now we’re like, “Okay, this is how we’re doing it.” It makes more sense to us, it’s a bit more streamlined, while still being fully creative.

Is that partly why you were able to jump into writing new material as soon as you recorded Possessions? Did it feel like a new burst of energy, or was it more about carrying the momentum from your previous record?

CC: I think it was a little of both. A lot of these songs were being written as we were recording Possessions, so there was some carryover. For example, ‘Fizz’ was a song that we were trying to put on Possessions. But that was just a hard song for us to write because nothing was working. It was one of those songs that didn’t fall out of the sky ready to be written. [laughs] We’re happy with the way that it turned out, it just wasn’t meant to go on that record. It was meant to go on this one. So there was a lot of overlap with Possessions, and I think after that, then the burst came, and this whole other vibe and sound came. What do you think?

NC: Yeah, I think so. We’ve had bursts of creativity where everything just comes at once, where we decide, “Okay, let’s start writing a record.” We come up with 15 ideas, and they’re complete songs. We have a chorus, a verse, lyrics to it. We get those big bursts of creativity, and I’ve noticed that it kind of happens after we tour. We’re really inspired by all the people we’ve met and the music we’ve been listening to and we’re on that high. Because tour blues is real, man – you come home and back to your life and you still want that high, so I think that inspires us, too, when we’re writing songs.

What did you most enjoy about the recording process this time around?

NC: One of my favorite things is really the collaboration. If I have an idea, I’ll record it on my GarageBand or something just to get a feel of this idea, and then I send it to Jacob and Michelle and they come up with something, and we just go back and forth like that. It’s really cool to see that develop. I can’t wait to send them ideas, and of course, with their type of work ethic, they’ll have 15 ideas in like 10 minutes. [laughs]

CC: To take those demos and work on them, and then go to the studio and expand them – we know at this point that we need to get our songs to a certain percentage of feeling like it’s done, maybe 80-85% done, understanding that there’s going to be room for more expansion and more writing and changes that Elliott [Frazier]’s going to bring to the table or things that magically unfold when you’re in the recording process. My favorite part of the studio is watching the lead guitar get recorded because it’s just the most fun part of the process. You get to create really cool sounds, you get to experiment, you get to swap pedals out, turn knobs all the way up to 10, and just see what comes out. One of the great things about Noe, he’s such a fantastic guitar player and songwriter that Elliot can say, “Why don’t you play that same part, but play it in a different spot on the neck,” and he’s so good at adapting. I really have to think and concentrate and focus on what I’m doing, and then he’s like, “Change it,” and I’m like, “What? This is what I’ve been practicing.” But Noe way is so fantastic at being like, “Okay,” and just does it. I love watching that part of the recording process, and it can completely change a song.

How did you decide to reach out to Jeff Schroeder for ‘Seafoam’?

CC: We were talking to him after a Smashing Pumpkins show, I think it was October 2022. Two weeks later, we started recording the album. We were talking to him and just asked him if he would be interested in playing on one of our songs. At that point, we didn’t know which song, and he said, “Yeah, sure.” We thought, “Okay, well, is he really gonna do it? Or was he just saying, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll do it’?” So then, as we started really recording the songs, we started thinking what song he would like enough to maybe be interested in contributing. We had narrowed it down to ‘Seafoam’ – I was also maybe thinking ‘Slice’, because ‘Slice’ was the very last song that we wrote for the record, so it didn’t have as many parts to it at that point. But I think ‘Seaform’ was at 100% when we sent it to Jeff. I think we were all kind of like, “I wonder what he’s gonna do,” because we felt the song was already at 100%.

We followed up with him when the song was ready for him, and he’s just the most kind and generous person. He was on tour at that point, and he said, “I’m on tour, but don’t worry, I brought all my stuff with me.” I think it took him about a week to get it back to us, maybe less. And he recorded when he was on the road, so maybe he was feeling that creative excitement that we feel when we’re on tour or coming back from tour. But he sent it to us, and we were blown away by what he contributed. I love the lead guitar parts that he wrote and the solo that he wrote, and now I couldn’t imagine the song without it. It took it from 100% to 200%.

I think Sugarcoat is the perfect title for the album, but it really takes on a new meaning outside the context of the title track, which isn’t exactly optimistic. How did it end up sticking?

CC: I’ve already mentioned that we have a band full of people that can get things done quickly, but it’s also very diplomatic. We are two couples, after all, so we all decide on things together. We had a list of names that we were all contributing to – we have shared documents that everybody contributes ideas to – so we compiled a list of names we liked, adding to it for about a month. I’m pretty sure Sugarcoat was one of the names Michelle came up with. We were in the mixing phase at that point, and that one just felt right to all of us. Every single one of us really liked it. I love the themes of sugar in general because I have the biggest sweet tooth of anybody you’ll ever meet. [laughs] I really like things that are sugary and maybe seem cute but are kind of not if you dig a little deeper, like a Sour Patch Kid. It seemed like the obvious choice to all of us.

Do you mind sharing one thing that inspires you about each other?

CC: People ask us all the time, “What is it like to be in a band with your spouse?” First of all, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. But I truly feel it’s another form of intimacy to work with your partner creatively. When he’s making music – that’s who he is, at his core, is a talented musician – to see the way his brain works when he’s in his element, it’s a really intimate experience. Having that bond with your partner and really strengthening it, it’s just a different form of intimacy that I love. I get to see him in his zone, and I get to be a part of that. He’s such a great songwriter and he’s got such a good ear. I love the way that he’s open to changes and new ideas, and he really gets inspired more organically than I do. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because of my classical background – it’s ingrained in me to play other people’s music, to read sheet music, to take music a little bit more more seriously, and maybe I don’t feel like I have the autonomy to add creatively because that’s not in the dynamic markings of the music. That’s the world that I came from, and I’m changing now, and I’ve been changing over the course that we’ve been in the band. But I’m so inspired that Noe doesn’t have those restrictions mentally, and these ideas just come to him, or he’s inspired by something that doesn’t even seem like it would be inspiring.

NC: With Christina, we’ve been together for 12 years, and 12 years ago, she hadn’t picked up an instrument. She was playing guitar, and she had that feel, she had that muscle coordination, but when we started Blushing and she started playing bass, it just skyrocketed so quickly. My favorite thing about Christina is seeing her live. She’s just a natural, she’s so graceful and beautiful on stage. When you see videos and pictures, I mean, it looks like she was meant to be there. It’s just so effortless. She’s playing bass, she’s rocking out, headbanging. What really inspires me about Christina is her natural ability to be beautiful and graceful, but also have that punk rock aspect to her performance. It’s just so hard to do. You can’t really teach that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Blushing’s Sugarcoat is out now via Kanine.

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