Band To Watch: Charly Bliss
“We met in line outside the show, and he had a Coke bottle full of vodka or whiskey or something. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, and I remember thinking that it felt like a My So-Called Life episode. Like, it’s all starting…” That’s Eva Grace Hendricks, recounting the first time she met Spencer Fox outside of a Tokyo Police Club concert at New York City’s Webster Hall when they were 15. They were introduced by their mutual friend Dan Shure, now the band’s bassist, and kept in touch afterwards. During their senior year of high school, the two began making music together — “Spencer came up to me one day and was like, I bet you’ve been writing music and you haven’t been showing anyone. And he was right,” Hendricks says — and they ended up going to college in the same city, where they eventually started Charly Bliss. The band’s lineup is rounded out by Sam, Hendricks’ older brother, and their long history contributes to Charly Bliss’ undeniable chemistry.
It’s taken Charly Bliss a bit of time to get to the comfortable, tight-knit place they’re at now, at least in terms of gestation periods for young and buzzy bands. They put out their first release in 2013, a six-song EP called A Lot To Say that tipped its hat to their influences with Blondie and Pixies covers (“Heart Of Glass” and “Gigantic,” respectively); they followed that up with the Soft Serve 7″ a year later, three songs on which they further solidified their hook-filled, bubbly sound. Based on the strength of those early songs, the band started to land slots on bigger bills — over the last year, they’ve opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, and Tokyo Police Club (full circle!), and next month they’ll embark on a tour with fellow punk scorchers PUP.
Last year, when it came to the natural point in the life-cycle of a band to record their debut album, Charly Bliss was in a transitional period: They had just added Shure as a bassist, and went into the studio shortly after with Justin Pizzoferrato, who has been behind the boards for albums from Speedy Ortiz, Krill, Parquet Courts, and Dinosaur Jr. The result of those sessions was an album that most other fledgling bands would have killed to make, but Charly Bliss wasn’t totally satisfied. With a new member of the band assimilating to their ranks, dynamics were starting to shift and exciting possibilities began to emerge, and they felt they could do better. “That’s not to say that the first pass at it wasn’t great,” Fox explains. “It’s just that what we wanted the album to be changed. It became an entirely different creature altogether.”
After recording their first attempt at a full-length, Charly Bliss went on tour with Veruca Salt, an experience that allowed them to observe how well their songs resonated with an unfamiliar audience, and made them more aware of how they wanted their debut to sound. Following that tour, Charly Bliss consistently stayed out on the road and, in that time, wrote a few new songs with their current lineup that they felt better represented where they were at as a band. “Now what defines a Charly Bliss song as a Charly Bliss song is the four of us in a room together,” Sam Hendricks says. Fox adds: “The songs changed so much just from having a different bass player, and it was really nice to be able to record those with his imprint.”
So Charly Bliss went back into the studio earlier this year, reuniting with Kyle “Slick” Johnson (who recorded their Soft Serve 7″), reimagining the songs that had already become staples in their live sets while adding some new ones to the new mix. It’s some of the most vibrant, tightly-constructed, and (most importantly) fun rock music I’ve heard in a long while. There’s a drunken note on my phone from early last year that simply reads: “Charly Bliss are the best fucking band in the world.” I wrote it the third or fourth time I saw the band live, and I believed it wholeheartedly in that moment and I’m still pretty sure about it now. The recordings more than match the energy of their live shows, and even reveal new layers to Charly Bliss’ immense talent.
They’re a band that relishes in the brash and the bold; they don’t really do subtlety. Their lyrics are just as incisive as their hooks, and both play off each other in spectacular fashion. Charly Bliss make songs that confront life’s messy and universal anxieties — sex, love, jealousy, getting old — and render them both conquerable and inescapable. They’re also, weirdly and refreshingly, really fucking demented. On one song named after a popular fast-food ice cream establishment, Hendricks’ raspy voice opens: “I loved when your dog died/ It is cruel but it’s true/ Take me back, kiss my soft side/ Does he love me most now that his dog is toast?” Their songs are filled with those sort of dramatic snapshots — vengeful, wry, vividly imagined. Eva Hendricks describes the band’s lyrical bent as such: “Generally positive people saying super dark, fucked-up things, and being like, Am I right?,” which feels pretty accurate.
“Ruby,” the band’s first single in two years, was written as a thank-you to Hendricks’ therapist, who helped her get through a debilitating fear of fainting, and she uses songwriting as a comparable outlet: “The times when I feel worst about myself, I always think about when the last time was that I sat down and wrote a song,” she explains. “Not necessarily because I have so much to get down on the page, but just because it feels good to do something that you’re good at. And it feels good to do something that makes you feel powerful.” Charly Bliss’ music is similarly empowering and therapeutic — they take a familiar sound and inject it with vitality and passion. Or, as drunk me would write, they’re the best fucking band in the world.
Charly Bliss’ debut album is expected out later this year.