Even at the age of 19, musician Michelle Blades was no stranger to frequent hops and jumps between countries and states. But after living in Europe for a year, the singer is returning to her musical stomping grounds in Arizona and will play a show at The Trunk Space on Dec. 11 while visiting.
Born in Panama, Blades — now 23 — moved with her family to Miami when she was in kindergarten. After graduating from high school, she threw a dart at a map to decide where to craft the next piece of her musical career. It landed on Arizona, so she moved to Phoenix to kick-start her journey. Blades has been living in Paris for a year now, cultivating her musical palette while touring in England, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland.
Blades first released a solo EP in 2009 called “Where the Water Boils.” She released an album in 2010 called “Oh, Nostalgia!”, and in 2012 she released “Mariana.” She formed a band named North Dakota when only two out of about eight musicians showed up to one of her rehearsals.
“We ended up just jamming and making noise, and we ended up having a lot of fun, so we decided we could continue,” she said. “At the end of one of these little jam sessions, I yelled out ‘North Dakota,’ and that’s what we were called. It means nothing.”
Blades has adopted a comfort with spontaneity and a fondness for travel, and she recently returned to the United States for a month-long tour before she heads back to France. On Dec. 11, she will perform in a collaborative band called Sex Tape at The Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix on a tour that includes stops in Orlando, Fla., Tallahassee, Fla., and New Orleans.
JRC, owner of The Trunk Space, said in an email that Blades used to play there often and held two “very well-attended” LP-release shows.
“Michelle’s voice has a certain timelessness and warmth that makes any sized crowd feel like an intimate show,” JRC said via email. “She also has an excellent knack for songcraft that sounds simple and elegant without ever being lazy. She is also a genuinely friendly person and that comes through in her stage presence.”
The two other members in North Dakota are Emily Hobeheidar and Mo Neuharth, but Blades is playing at the Trunk Space with her roommates from France — Malvina Meinier, Victor Peynichou and Marius Duflot. The show will open with Tobie Milford, whom JRC said played a sold-out night at the Musical Instrument Museum.
Blades said they will feature more of Meinier’s music “so she can get a little more exposure in Phoenix.” Meinier has also been nominated for an Oscar for her film score work, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Blades said she and the other musicians collaborating on the tour come from different bands, but they learned a few of each other’s songs to play at the Trunk Space. The amalgamated group named themselves Sex Tape for shock value when fans try to find their music online, since they have not set up any music pages or recorded any music as a group, Blades said.
“People will try to look our music up, and since we’re only an ephemeral band … they’ll just get a bunch of nasty sex tapes,” Blades said. “We thought it would be really funny.”
JRC added that the Dec. 11 performance will showcase Blades’ growth as an artist. He said in the email that Blades’ music has since gained “eclectic conceptual expression … (and) she is using a ‘larger vocabulary.’”
“Give the show a chance,” JRC wrote. “Maybe someday you’ll be able to say, ‘I saw her way back when…’”
Aside from working with her friends on her ever-evolving musical style, Blades said her wanderlust has been her greatest inspiration, and her music has changed since she has been in Europe. Blades said being an “outsider” — even though Blades speaks five languages and first spent time in France at 19 — has made her more introspective. She said her music transformed from “quiet, folky stuff” to “Sabbath-inspired … loud and angry” music as she experienced a shift in perspective after moving from Phoenix to France.
“I just wanted to make noise, and make up for the stuff that I left behind,” Blades said. “So we recorded an EP (where) I completely put down everything acoustic or the ukulele — and I’ve really been playing electric guitar … But I still try to have a twist of elegance to it because the folk stuff that I make is definitely delicate… My music changed a lot, and now it’s more into psychedelic but ballerina.”
Along with her voice, her first main instrument was the ukulele, but since then she has incorporated electric guitar, drums, keyboard, synth, bass and has even dabbled in playing the harp.
Blades has experienced the highs and lows that come with being an expatriate and a musician. From waiting nearly eight hours in a line to get a national identity card — “Imagine being at the DMV, but everyone’s ruder, there are no chairs and the bathrooms are Turkish toilets,” she said — to touring in the States with people she appreciates as musicians and friends, Blades continues to hone her music to fit life’s frequent transitions.
“I don’t have any message (in my music),” Blades said. “I’m no Bob Dylan, but I just hope it moves somebody, because it moves me to play. So as I’m standing on a stage in a room with other humans that I don’t know, or that I do know… I just hope that they observed something in their mood, or at least at the very basic level were entertained… I think music is one of the last sacred things we have.”
Blades said the band has another European tour coming up in the spring and is set to tour in Germany in April. In the near future, she said she sees herself living in Paris and producing music that adapts to her dynamic style.
“I don’t necessarily care about fame,” she said. “I just want something that keeps me alive so I can eat and play music.”
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Correction: Dec. 10, 2013
A previous version of this article stated Blades released an EP and two subsequent albums with her band, North Dakota. The EP and albums mentioned were actually created apart from her work with the band.