“You can tell when it comes out good. Boy, you can hit it and it rings out! Well, you know you got it.” —Joe Barrick, one-man band (1922-present)
Much like Oklahoma’s famous son Joe Barrick, a traditional one-man band in the hillbilly sense—strapped to the gills with assorted instruments and playing the banjo, harmonica and mandolin simultaneously—Vancouver, BC’s Blank Cinema is literally a band of one: Jake Fox. Unlike ol’ Barrick, however, Fox is 60 years younger and takes time to record each element of his solitary assault in his makeshift $3,000 apartment studio. But when his debut Fickle Creatures EP hits, boy, does it ring out. It rings with David Bowie’s grasp of the majestic, catches you with Weezer’s pop-appeal honesty, and confounds you with alien interpretations à la Talking Heads.
“It's not all just one lump. It don't come out like that. It sounds like separate pieces.” —Joe Barrick
Guitar, bass, keys, programmed drums, vocals—Jake Fox does it all, soundtracking every explosion and singing out each interior monologue in the Criterion Collection of his imagination. Fickle Creatures is an audio-only series of (zombie?) films rich with unexpected twists and real-life characters you wish were fake. Oh, yeah, Jake also acts as his own engineer, arranger, producer and fetches his own coffee. “I recorded the guitars by miking an amp put in the bathroom and covering it with blankets to make it sound clean,” Fox explains. “I recorded the vocals by singing into my clothes cupboard, allowing shirts to absorb reverberation.”
“No one tells me when to practice, and I can play any song I want without having to hope the rest of the band likes it.” —Joe Barrick
While Fox’s previous three-man band, Comic Book Fever, earned rotation on The Edge 102.1 FM, his solo work is more realized. CBC Radio 3 has already given Fickle Creatures two thumbs up, highlighting Blank Cinema on its site upon hearing songs like the thematic “Glamorama,” a potential radio smash inspired by the Bret Easton Ellis novel about an actor who surrenders control of his life to movie directors and, desperate for stardom, is gradually coerced into a life of terrorism. But, as Fox asserts in the song, “There will be no actors in my film.”
“Blank Cinema was supposed to represent a movie that I had complete control over in my own head, and how whatever ideas or themes came into it would be my own,” Fox says. “ ‘No actors in my film’ is sort of like [saying] honesty is more fun to watch and more entertaining than falseness. That’s why the cinema is blank. I would rather it be nothing than some false representation. Blank Cinema could potentially contain any story.” Think of Fickle Creatures as a cult indie flick starring marquee players charging a fraction of their usual fee. The EP offers accessible riffs, only to layer them with open-to-interpretation lyrics, forever challenging conventional song structures, building bridges where there is no water—and encouraging the audience to dance all the way across.
“I play better when you're dancing. It's hard to play for someone that just sits there.” —Joe Barrick