Last April, the SouthSounds Music Festival brought a cavalcade of promising up-and-comers from around the region to various venues around downtown Mobile. For Blue Healer, a three-piece band from Austin, Texas, it was an opportunity to introduce itself to the Azalea City.
Comprising David Beck (bass/guitar/vocals), Bryan Mammel (keys/vocals) and Dees Stribling (drums/vocals), Blue Healer had no prior knowledge of SouthSounds or Mobile. When the band finished its set at O’Daly’s, it had not only made an abundance of new fans but also made a connection with other regional bands such as South Carolina’s Susto. A month later, they returned to perform at The Merry Widow for a crowd of eager listeners.
“SouthSounds was great, but we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Stribling said. “It was really cool to see the big crowd with everybody loving it. We met a ton of people by name. When we showed up a month and a half later, there were those same people.”
Blue Healer play a variation of synth pop, a genre that evolved as an alternative to the ‘80s New Wave movement. Since going mainstream, many similar outfits have become stale from regurgitating the sounds and styles of their muses, but not Blue Healer. The group’s sound is such a departure from what is considered synth pop that it is hard to keep it in the genre.
One aspect that makes this group different is Beck’s tendency to switch between guitar and an electrified upright bass. Synth pop has a bad habit of keeping one or two instruments at a dominating volume, which can drown out accompaniment. Blue Healer, led by Mammel’s dynamics with the synth, allows all instruments to share the spotlight, leaving each song full and rich in a live setting.
“When we started, we knew that we wanted to do the big, distorted upright bass thing, because David had been experimenting with that for some time,” Stribling said. “We also wanted to get the right combination of tools to make it work. We also knew that we wanted to make it big in sound.”
Stribling describes Blue Healer as the first truly collaborative effort between the three musicians. Before, the three were performing together in another project. After that band folded, Beck, Mammel and Stribling decided to continue working together on something new.
With the exception of Beck’s occasional solo project, Stribling says he and fellow bandmates were more like hired guns in the Austin music scene. Even though they stayed busy performing, Stribling says none had experienced what it was like to be in a band where all the members had equal creative input for a final musical product. Blue Healer provided that outlet. Stribling says the group’s sound would not exist were it not for the creative team effort of the members.
“We feel like this is more of our own thing and we’re not employees of one band leader,” Stribling said. “It’s our own band this time around. It’s pretty cool.”
After spending the past year promoting their EP, Blue Healer is now on tour in support of its self-titled, full-length debut. The 13 songs are the culmination of three months’ work and DIY techniques. While he says Beck took on the role of executive producer, Stribling says the entire band provided input into the album.
Blue Healer entered Austin’s Fast Horse Studio with Beck manning the board alongside Jamie Wilburn. Afterward, the band tapped Mike Marsh at The Exchange Mastering Studios to carefully hone the ideal sounds of the album. Marsh was responsible for mastering albums for Phoenix, and Blue Healer wanted the same aural qualities.
“We went with him, because we wanted the same pop in the speakers that those albums had,” Stribling said.
Stribling notes there is a musical cohesion felt throughout the album, which he says is based on the creative process. Many bands create and record songs in various environments over an extended period of time. This technique can sometimes force songs to change due to changing perceptions of how a song should sound.
“Blue Healer” maintains a “coagulation” through the band’s desire to create the album in the same studio at the same time. The end result is an album that Stribling says was created in the “same mindset.” He says this allows the tracks to be powerful individually or as a complete album.
“They don’t sound different stylistically,” Stribling said. “Somehow, they sound like they’re from the same record and the same time frame from recording at the same time.”
“30,000 Ft.” is one standout. Mammel’s smooth, buttery synth provides a wave on which Stribling and Beck surf with their contributions. “Like Diamonds” shows some rock influences, which is rare in the synth pop world. The crowd pleaser “Luminescent Eyes” is a beautiful modern ballad showcasing the group’s talents both lyrically and instrumentally. Stribling said it’s a crowd favorite back home.
“It’s only two chords and floats on,” he said. “It’s one that people sing along with, especially in Austin. It always feels good when we play it.”
After The Merry Widow, Blue Healer will complete its initial tour in support of its album. Later, the band will prepare for a set at the Austin City Limits Festival in October. With Austin being home to a cutthroat music scene full of performers, Stribling admits that the group’s addition to the festival is “a giant stroke of luck.” Blue Healer will be back on the road with Ballroom Thieves through the end of the year. Stribling says fans can expect the band to work on a sophomore effort early next year.
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