The Bay Area beatitudes of Balms

Frankincense, myrrh & Balms; photographed by Naveed Ahmad.

Frankincense, myrrh & Balms; photographed by Naveed Ahmad.

Having just finished a two month stateside tour and a month sojourn in the EU; San Francisco’s Balms continue their victory laps that sprints on the heels of their long awaited debut album Mirror. The trio of Jared Padovani, Michael Ascunsion and John Kolesnikow are the flag bearers of everything that we have loved about Bay Area DIY scenes past and present. Their styles sits comfortably on course with the restless wiles of Weekend, the pride and purpose of Future Twin, the scuzz steez of The Oh Sees (back when they were still in the Bay), the wonderment of Wax Idols, the insomniac denizens of the Slumberland roster, the crafts of Cocktails and all the local lore that has ever played a Noise Pop happy hour at Bender’s. Mirror is the culmination of all this and more. It is the record to match the micro-climate majesty of everything mesmerizing and peculiar that has ever attracted anyone to the ineffable arts that still abound in the underground sects of the 415 area code.

Mirror is an all out adventure through the looking glass. "Nothing In" strikes first like the dweller on the threshold exiting into another world, leaving their mortal coil behind on "Bones", taking you to that proverbial other side with "Dark Rider". The listener becomes swept away on an adventure across the astral and earthly landscapes of existence and the unknown with "Planes", to staring into the expanses of the abyss with the rebuke of abandon "No One is a Way Down", right before reflecting on the intricacies of reactions and responses that inform "I Feel Fine". The title track "Mirror" grabs you deep into the trip where one feels like they are a character transported into a Gaspar Noé film where the entirety of life flashes before your senses in ways that you can barely describe cohesively to anyone in particular. Confrontations are felt with one's shadow self on "The Room", to the outstretched arm reach of nightmares, heroes and villains that run amok on "Hands Out", kicking into the wax dripping wick flicker of "Candle", that leads to the night drawing curtain dropper "Setting Sun" that twinkles like the last twilight solar ray of light before the moon takes over with its own reflective illumination duties.

Balms’ own Jared Padovani, Michael Ascunsion and John Kolesnikow were kind enough to share some reflective thoughts on their new album Mirror and more:

Meditations on the six year road that lead to the debut album Mirror.

Jared: Mostly I’m grateful that this album was possible at all. We took a lot of chances writing this record and for me personally Mirror actually does and says more than I could have expected. It’s a hard thing to sum up easily because so much of myself/ourselves live in this record. I think with Mirror we tried to capture a journey that we all have to go through with/against/for ourselves and can relate to in a million different ways.

This record’s existence makes me hopeful and the connection I feel when people identify/feel this music is really truly special. I’m very excited to share this record more and to write the follow-up.

Michael: We pushed ourselves as much as possible as a band for these songs and I think the result was a more mature and dense record. I think I'm most proud of that aspect, it reflecting the work involved.

Insights on how working with Jack Shirley affected the aesthetics on the record.

Jared: Jack is great for many reasons — but what I appreciate most is his pragmatism/no bullshit reactions to the recording process. He was a pleasure to work with and I don’t think I personally would have been able to capture this music in the way I did — especially the vocal takes — with anyone else. Can’t thank him enough.

Michael: Being able to record live just like how we practice helps capture the songs truest forms. Jack has it down for bands like us with speed and efficiency.

The book of Balms; photographed by Naveed Ahmad.

The book of Balms; photographed by Naveed Ahmad.

Reflections on the deep levels of introspection that inspired and informed Mirror.

Jared: The music was written through extensive jamming over the course of a year. Play all day, talk, edit, jam more, rinse repeat. It wasn’t always an immediate writing process and sometimes the last piece of a given song wouldn’t expose itself for months. Most of the final lyrics were written literally days before recording, but every song had a main vocal that drove the inspiration — melodically and lyrically. The album started as a feeling, something we were trying to dig deeper and deeper to uncover. It wasn’t until close to finishing the writing process that the concept exposed itself; confrontation/forgiveness/a conversation with the shadow self within. This has been a subject of my existential, emotional, philosophical journey for a long time. It turned out that that’s what Mirror ended up being about. We had already written the title track, so we arranged and built the album around this concept once the ah-ha moment happened.

Michael: I think a lot of it is a result of trying to make deeper, heavier music. It feels intense for us as the players so it's natural some darker themes are in there. We had a lot of pieces early on songs like "Dark Rider" and "Mirror" that informed the vibe overall-the rest was taking our time.

The revelations that materialized for you three during the process of creating Mirror.

Jared: I think that we pushed our creative boundaries in a lot of ways between each other. We all write our own parts and respect each others autonomy in the songs, so all of our voices are in the album — but there were certainly instances where we had to figure out how to make a given song work for all of us rather than just me, or just Michael and John, etc.

I drove the vision and the feeling I imagined for this record really intensely and that can be really challenging on both sides. Simultaneously, I was also trying to keep discovering. I’m always afraid of deciding things too early, so I like to keep the creative door open as long as possible in the writing process.

Window lit aura casting a light on Balms; photographed by Naveed Ahamd.

Window lit aura casting a light on Balms; photographed by Naveed Ahamd.

Further influences that guided the narrative of organizing the 11 songs on the album.

John: As the songs were being written we made a conscious decision to let each of them be as grand/epic and as long as they needed to be, so we ended up with a huge amount of material and a bunch of very long songs. We knew where most of them would fit in the track list right away, but organizing the remaining ones in the right order took a long time.

Since this album was clearly going to be an hour-long double album, we chose a framework that consisted of each side of the record inhabiting its own unique world, each of them a phase in the journey of self-discovery— sides A through D became, respectively; a dark and heavy expression of real pain and fear; the subsequent ethereal and meditative disassociation from that reality; the zero-gravity dance of self-confrontation that is the centerpiece of the album, entirely in waltz time and a concluding, back-to-earth section of acceptance of the experience.

In another more abstract sense, side A relates to earth, with the imagery of backyard graves and bones; side B alludes to air and water and has a sense of rising up into the sky; side C clearly references glass and reflections in the title track but also has a weightless feeling that reminds me of being in space and side D is the fire side, contrasting a tiny candle’s flame with a setting sun, and representing transformation.

Michael: Arguing over group text for months at a time.

Balms bathed in the morning light; photographed by Naveed Ahmad.

Balms bathed in the morning light; photographed by Naveed Ahmad.

Insights into future creative endeavors.

Jared: Tour more in the US, Europe (Germany especially) and Japan. And we want to make the next record(s)

Michael: Tour Japan definitely. Having the next record not be so hard to make.

John: Writing and touring and recording.

Summer hopes and wishes.

Jared: So light traveling and spending time with friends. Maybe a short tour.

Michael: Nickelback and Coldplay.

John: Save up to move to Europe — maybe…probably.

Balms’ Mirror is available now via Bandcamp, Spotify and everywhere.