Web exclusive: Where are they now? The Blake Babies Q&As 

John Strohm

NUVO: How old were you when you started playing music?

Strohm: I started playing drums at 12. I played drums in bands through high school and then switched to guitar during my senior year.

NUVO: Who were your music idols?

Strohm: I loved the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed … the Clash. Paul Mahern from the Zero Boys was my real musical idol. Later, I became obsessed with the Replacements, Husker Dü and the Minutemen.

NUVO: Was there a point in time during the Blake Babies when you felt you had “made it” in the music biz?

Strohm: Things took off very quickly for the Blake Babies. We were all 19 when the band formed, and within two years we were touring or recording almost all of the time. I started to feel like we’d “made it” when we started consistently selling out shows out of town, getting our videos in rotation on MTV and getting seriously courted by major labels — all of which happened around the same time.

NUVO: How did you meet Juliana Hatfield?

Strohm: We met at Berklee College of Music as freshmen. Freda [Love] and I thought Juliana looked like someone we should be in a band with, so we had a few drinks and followed her to her dorm room. Turned out she thought the same about us. We played together for the first time that night, and had a set of material within a month. That was in early 1986.

NUVO: Any thoughts on the reunion album and tour?

Strohm: I loved making the reunion album. It really brought back the best things about the band; we worked together really well in composing and recording the material. The tour was somewhat less satisfying. We fell into old behavior patterns and didn’t have as much fun as we could have. The shows were great, though.

NUVO: Any thoughts looking back on the experience of being a teenager in a buzz band?

Strohm: Well, we were in our 20s before anyone gave a shit. But it was very, very exciting to have people pay attention to our music. It was really very intoxicating. It’s hard at such a young age to keep everything in perspective. You develop a thick skin. I loved being a part of a community of musicians.

NUVO: How did your Indiana upbringing help create a foundation for dealing with success and/or life in general?

Strohm: I was a part of a very healthy music scene while in high school, and I actually did some touring with my high school punk band. I learned the business in a very grass-roots way, which helped when the Blakes started getting interest from labels. Early in the band, I knew way more about the music business than Freda or Juliana, but they both learned pretty quickly. Truthfully, we didn’t know very much, and we had a few missteps. My parents were very supportive, which is crucial.

NUVO: Who was your favorite Indiana band you played with when you were in the Blake Babies?

Strohm: The Datura Seeds were my favorite. Early on, we played with Jot, which was enjoyable. I think we played with Right to Left as well, which is a favorite.

NUVO: Any regrets?

Strohm: Only one. We were offered the first leg as main support on Nirvana’s Nevermind tour. The leg was six or seven weeks in Europe. The band was breaking up, and we just couldn’t get it together. We were huge Nirvana fans from “Bleach,” but of course we had no idea how big they would be. At the time, it just seemed like another tour. That’s really the one thing in my life I regret. We went to Europe the following spring with Buffalo Tom, and the posters showing the Blakes opening for Nirvana were still up in some places.

NUVO: What’s your favorite memory from the Blake Babies era?

Strohm: We did our first tour in a very cheap van. The van broke down six or seven times around the country, and we probably spent $5,000 to keep it on the road. Our last two shows of the tour were New York and Boston; we really wanted to make the Boston show because it was a huge benefit with us, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Galaxie 500. Right after the NYC show, our van broke down in a giant cloud of blue smoke. Our friend went and found us a van by 6 a.m. — borrowed from the band Das Damen. We showed up just in time for soundcheck in Boston, and the guys from Sonic Youth — our heroes — immediately became very interested in our van. Turns out it was the van they toured in from 1982 until 1987, which they had sold to Das Damen the year before.

Freda Love

NUVO: How old were you when you started playing music?

Love: I started playing violin in [the] sixth grade orchestra. I was super into music at this age, listening to my mom’s [Rolling] Stones and Beatles’ records constantly, and the classical music I was playing at school was almost totally uninteresting to me, so I quit orchestra after two years and never picked up a violin again. Notably, I was in orchestra with Josh Bell, my exact contemporary, and I think this helped solidify my decision to quit playing classical music. It was just so clearly his destiny and so clearly not mine. After that, I messed around with guitar, made a feeble attempt to learn bass and then finally at around age 17, John Strohm taught me how to play a drumbeat.

NUVO: Who were your musical idols in high school?

Love: My biggest musical idols in high school were probably Dale Lawrence and Paul Mahern. I listened to the Gizmos and the Zero Boys constantly, and I saw the Zero Boys every chance I got. Dale had a post-Gizmos, pre-[Vulgar] Boatmen band called the Satellites, and I saw them all the time too. I loved Paul and Dale’s voices and their songs, and I was inspired by the fact that they seemed to me to be productive and energetic and not waiting around for anybody to do anything for them. Sometimes I’m still amazed that my high school idols later became my friends, peers and collaborators.

NUVO: Was there a point in time during the Blake Babies when you felt you had “made it” in the music business?

Love: I wish I had felt that a little bit more than I did. It always seemed like what we achieved wasn’t quite enough, and Mammoth (our record label) was sort of perpetually disappointed in us. That said, there were moments that were really exciting and fun, like seeing our first video on MTV or being featured in the “Village Voice.” There was also kind of a moment in time. We’d been touring so much, going back to a lot of the same places repeatedly and then there came a point when we were filling clubs that we’d never filled before, and the shows felt much more happening. That was satisfying: feeling like the hard work was paying off. Then we broke up, of course.

NUVO: What are your thoughts on the reunion album and tour?

Love: I loved doing the reunion album. It was so surprising to me what a piece of cake it was being back in the studio together, and I was also surprised by how much I liked some of the songs. John and Juliana are truly great musicians, and I kept feeling really lucky to have a chance to play with them again. Playing with John is like playing with Neil Young or something; he is really such a guitar god. Geez, maybe we should do another reunion album?

NUVO: How did your Indiana upbringing help create a foundation for dealing with success and/or life in general?

Love: The Boston music scene was full of bands with managers and labels and agents, and the whole rigmarole, and my background in Indiana was with bands who were accustomed to doing everything themselves: booking shows and tours, making flyers, putting out records — everything. So, when we started the Blake Babies in Boston, I’d say John and I were able to bring some of that Indiana DIY spirit to what we were doing there, and we didn’t think anything of playing in a used clothing store or putting out our own first record and selling it ourselves through 20 different distributors.

NUVO: Who was your favorite Indiana band you played with when you were in the Blake Babies?

Love: We played some shows with the Vulgar Boatmen, who are still one of my favorite bands ever.

NUVO: Any regrets?

Love: I wish I’d been kinder and more appreciative back in the day, and I wish I’d switched to decaf. It might have made a big difference.

NUVO: What funny memories do you have from the Blake Babies era?

Love: Did Strohm tell you about our gig in a maximum-security prison? We played with a band of lifers. Ask Strohm to tell you the Carl Bernstein story. I just can’t do it justice. Then there was the week we spent staying with Henry Rollins in Venice Beach ... He made the best coffee.

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