"Dont' be afraid to rock." If you wanted to sum up the core principle behind the Los Angeles band TEST and their new album Brain In/Brain Out, that's it. The trio of rockers pulled together their own style that blends sounds and emotions from old school punk, the 00's New York rock scene, Brit pop, and other alternative genres to craft the aforementioned album, which came out last Friday. The layered and dynamic debut full length quickly followed the October release of their debut single, "Entertainment Tonight," which was only a teaser of what TEST has to offer. Just before the November 10th release of the album, lead singer Blake Stokes took some time to talk through the band's process, the biggest factors that influence his writing style, what's next for the three piece, and of course, good ol' fashioned rock and roll. Tune in now and get to know TEST!
ANCHR Magazine: How did you personally first get into making music?
Blake Stokes: I had my first band band maybe when I was 18, like right at the end of high school. But before then, my dad was really--he’s still really big into what’s new. He always had the radio on in the car. I’m 32 so when I was like young and he was driving me to school or driving me around, he’d have on whatever the popular rock station was at the time. My earliest car music memories were stuff like INXS, U2, Depeche Mode. Just dope stuff like that, but we’d also listen to the Top 40 station so it’d be shit like C+C Music Factory, and En Vogue and dope stuff like that. That was my first, me actually being aware of music and stuff like that. As a kid I was just super into it. I was a child actor though, I did acting stuff for a long time. So I wasn’t really thinking about learning to play an instrument. I loved music, I loved records, but I got to a point right at the end of high school where I’d been a child actor for a long time. From the age of 3 up through high school. I was just burnt on acting and I loved music, so I was like maybe I can do this. So the first band I didn’t play anything in. I just sang, and then right when I graduated high school, I wanted to play drums. My parents bought me a drum kit to surprise me. I took a year off between high school and college and just played drums every day in my room, and went out and saw shows and played shows in my little band. That’s how I started and it’s evolved rapidly from that.
AM: Very cool! How did you end up meeting the rest of the guys in TEST and starting up this band?
Blake Stokes: So Wayne, the bass player, I’ve known for a long time and he’s--I’m from Texas originally and so is he, and we met in Texas when we were both in other bands. His band members and my band members, when we’d be on the bill together, it always seem to be like he and I were closing the bar down. So we just started up a friendship and then my band needed a bass player for a summer. I asked him to do it, he said yes. It started as hey we need a dude for like 2,3 months. And we’ve been working together in different bands forever. I’ve known Wayne for like 10 years now. I met him bands and bands ago. Then Morgan, the drummer we met out here in Los Angeles. We’ve known him for 5, 5 and a half years now. We met him through just mutual friends and stuff out here. The band that Wayne and I had had just kind of fallen apart, and we just hit reset and weren’t really doing anything for like a month or two. We were like we just wanna be a three piece cause I’d learned how to play guitar at that point. He was a drummer looking to get down, and that’s how we all came together.
AM: Cool, so it was like a right place right time?
Blake Stokes: Yeah, absolutely!
AM: So I was going to ask if you guys have always been LA based, but you just mentioned being from Texas. Did you live in LA when you were doing the acting thing?
Blake Stokes: I’ve been coming out to LA since ‘91. That was my first trip out here to work on something. I went to UCLA out here. Basically I was in that other band I mentioned, and it was all Texas guys at the point so we’d really only be doing it on Summer vacations and Christmas breaks, when we’d all be back in town. So when I was graduating college and the other guy in the band was graduating, we just sort of said you know, if we’re gonna do this, we need to do this. Are we serious or not? So financially it made the most sense to reconvene in Houston, save up some dough, and then either go to New York or LA. I love Houston, my parents are still in Houston, everything I love about Houston except for the rock scene in Houston. If we were rap, hip hop, or DJs we would still be there, but we’re not so I was like we need to go to New York or LA. I have experience in LA, I know people in LA, so we’re not going completely blind into it. It was between those two and we chose LA. TEST has always been an LA thing though.
AM: Cool! And then you guys have the debut record out on November 10th. What can you tell me about that? How long did it take you guys to write it, what was the recording process like, and how collaborative is your writing process?
Blake Stokes: So it’s our first full length...we put out an EP early 2016. This is the first full length. There’s 10 songs on it, and we recorded the bulk of it over the summer. We did it with this producer named Joseph Calleiro. He’s dope! He’s got a mobile studio. We have our HQ, Headquarters, our own little demo, rehearsal space near downtown Los Angeles. He came out and we did it here, and dude we knocked it out in like 3 or 4 different weekend sessions. Where we would just work Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning. And just done! There’s 10 songs on there. Some of them are older. Some of them were written maybe right after that first EP came out, but there’s two on there that were written right as we were making it. We needed two more, and I had some demos. There’s chronologically maybe a year and a half to two years worth of stuff sitting on there, which is cool. Some things are 3 months old and we’ve never played live before. Some of them we’ve been playing live for a minute. In terms of it being collaborative and stuff...Our songs are written one of two ways. Either I do like a home demo myself and kind of play some rough drums, and play some rough bass lines and build a skeleton and bring it to Wayne and Morgan and we flesh it out and arrange it and stuff. The other half we all write together in the room. So someone brings an idea or we just start jamming and then go back and dissect the jamming. All in all, all three of us are very much on the songs for sure.
AM: Any songs you’re most excited for people to hear or to play live?
Blake Stokes: Yeah, there’s some stuff on there that I think, especially written towards the end, which I think is the direction we’re going. There’s a song on there called “Know Your Servant,” which is track 5 and the cool thing about that, I think that was the very last song written for the record. It kind of gets into some stuff that I’d always wanted to dive into, but we never really had, which was more instrumental noisey parts of a song. Like, I have a tendency to write really compact...like “Entertainment Tonight,” it’s very super structured. It’s a verse, it’s a chorus, it’s a verse, it’s a solo, it’s a drum solo, it’s the chorus twice, we’re done. Those songs are fun and my favorite songs from some other artists, but I just wanted to get fucking noisier and weirder and get into it. So “Know Your Servant” is long...I think it’s like 5 [minutes] and something and it’s got like 3 distinct noise passages, and they’re not defined. They’re sort of defined length-wise, like we know how long we’re gonna go, but in terms of what I’m doing, it kind of changes show to show, which is really fun. I love Primal Scream and one of my favorite records by them is called XTRMNTR and they do a lot of that where they just establish a groove. It can be real menacing but they ride that. It gives you kind of time to get hypnotized and overwhelmed by it. So “Know Your Servant” kind of does that, and it’s really fun to play live. Another song I think I’m really happy with, and I love the whole record, but I’m really happy with a song called “Bleached Hands,” and that’s the second single. Some people are calling it a ballad and it’s definitely the slowest thing on the record, but it’s kind of a different flavor for us. It’s got a bunch of whammy bar, bendy, hypnotic-y kind of stuff. It’s a different kind of thing for us, and it works really well in the set cause it’s a breather. A lot of our stuff when we first started was very down stroke, punky, and as we’ve gotten better, we can kind of expand. I think those two are new ground for us and kind of pointing to where we might head.
AM: Nice, very cool! You just mentioned Primal Scream as a band you look up to, but are there any other artists or even books, films, or other art forms that you pulled influence from for the sound on the record?
Blake Stokes: Yes, a couple things. “Know Your Servant” and “You Are Painful”--that’s another one with some noise passages I really like. But I love Blur as well, and Graham Coxon he’s the guitar player in Blur, and he’s one of my favorite guitar players, period. I think he’s fantastic. One of the things I love about him is how nasty he can get. A lot of people think of Blur as very poppy, and Damon can get super cheeky and stuff, but he’s just like this nasty, atonal noisey thing happening over there. There were definitely times where I was thinking about what [Graham] would do. Then speaking of books, bizarrely enough, the last song on the record, “Museum Piece” was the second to last song I wrote for the record. It came super super quick. It came after Lizzy Goodman just put out that book Meet Me in The Bathroom, which has been getting a lot of press, and it’s about the New York rock scene to 2001-2011. Which was right in my wheelhouse of stuff that turned me onto music when I was a teenager and what not. The first Strokes record came out when I was 16. For me, it was all these cool 90’s bands were breaking up or dying or kind of releasing crappy records. Then other than that, it was Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, or Korn and Limp Bizkit and POD and shit. It’s like to see a band like The Strokes when you’re 16 it’s like...They’re so big now and it’s so beyond that. But it’s easy to forget how, especially for a kid in Houston, how that was like what the fuck these guys look awesome, they’re playing aggressive stuff, but they don’t look like boneheads. So I was reading that book and it chronicles through interviews with The Strokes, and Interpol and Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and a lot of the people who were journalists and managers, and that whole scene...And I don’t listen to a ton of that stuff anymore cause I drove it into the ground when I was 16-20...but it reminded me, just one, how much I love that particular stuff, but more importantly how exciting and creative...like it felt like the whole world was in front of me in terms of like, just the possibilities of being young and being in a band. It seemed like there was a new cool band every week. Here’s The Hives, here’s The Vines. It kind of reminded me of that really youthful, naivety, super pumped to play music live. It was very regenerative wholesome kind of fucking cool positive energy that I was reminded of by that. I woke up after reading it the next day, and I have a little practice amp at the apartment, and I just started playing these chords for this other song that was a different thing. I was just thinking about that stuff, and it sounds kind of like that, but the feeling of that was really inspired by that book. I think the more you do this and get into the business side of things, you become more professional and all that, you can kind of forget the sheer pleasure of just plugging in and being loud, and having fun. It’s exciting and that book reminded me of that energy. That inspired the last song, for sure.
AM: Very cool! So it awoke your teenage spirit.
Blake Stokes: It totally did! And not in like a nostalgic way, like "oh man music was so much better when I was a kid." I don’t think that at all. There’s great shit everywhere all the time, but it just reminded me of this feeling. It just sort of was like getting gas in the tank again. Really good, high end, good to go unleaded premium gas. It just sort of put that back in my tank, and it was awesome.
AM: Yeah, I know what you mean. I have to check that book that out though! Are there any other albums that came out this year that not necessarily that influenced you, but that you’ve been enjoying?
Blake Stokes: Yeah, I love the new Sleaford Mods record, I think they’re finally getting a little bit of buzz in America. It’s these two dudes that are pushing 50, and their set up is one guy makes all the music on his laptop. It’s really sort of stripped down, post punk, industrial hip hoppy kind of tracks. And the other guy just rants. It’s singing, it’s rapping, it’s ranting. It’s this really cool amalgamation. Hyper English. And the dude who does all the music live basically comes out with his laptop and hits the spacebar to start the track. They did their first US tour back in April, and they played LA and I went and saw it. It was one of the best shows ever. That record is called English Tapas. And it’s awesome, I don’t think anyone is kind of doing it like them. Then there’s a band called Idles. That’s also an English band. They’re dope. There’s this thing happening in England right now..there’s a few bands that are doing very socially influenced, socially conscious, politically conscious but not politicized kind of music. It’s not love songs. It’s no let’s go get fucked up. It’s nothing like that. It’s just really sort of interesting. Sleaford Mods do it. Idles definitely do it. Their record is called Brutalism, that’s a dope record. And Slaves! They’re younger and they’re a little more cartoonish. The new Protomartyr record is really good, Relatives in Descent. They’re American at least!
AM: Very cool. Then do you guys have any plans for tour then once the record gets released?
Blake Stokes: Yeah, we just did a release show a little bit early. We wanted this band we really like, an LA band called Facial. They’re just fucking great, They’re another 3 piece. If I didn’t know them and someone just gave me their record, I would just enjoy listening to the album. Which is always a pleasure to say about bands you play with. Like I genuinely like your shit. But yeah we did it a little bit early cause we wanted them on the bill with us, and that’s what worked with their schedule, and we had two singles out by then. So we did that, and then we played Long Beach with them. Then just this morning, the three of us were in here working on the next thing. It looks like we’re probably going to do an EP early next year. There’ll be some shows later this month or even December. In terms of touring, we haven’t toured as TEST at all. It’s really been about staying here in LA, playing LA, playing Orange County. And writing and stuff, but we’re talking about doing a small San Francisco down to Tijuana thing maybe beginning of the year.
AM: Anything else you’re looking forward to coming up? Maybe a music video...you can test out your acting again!
Blake Stokes: Yeah, what I learned about that, I can always go back to that. My mom said, years ago when I was in this different band, “you know this music stuff is great, but I just wish you would get back to something more stable, like acting.” It’s like yeah, not accounting or engineering, but go back to that. Yeah, we plan to try to do videos for a while. This record comes out November 10th, and I say we’re working on an EP. I don’t see that coming out til maybe the summer. So all of fall, winter, and spring will definitely be about this. So we’ll definitely do more videos and definitely be playing. It’s looking like we’re gonna do a small little tour.
AM: Very cool! Any last closing comments before I let you go?
Blake Stokes: Yeah...you know a reviewer somewhere wrote that we write “unapologetic things” and I didn’t really know what they meant by that. But a band like us, or a band like Facial...there’s another band we like out here called True Rules. I think at least in America, maybe people are afraid to rock a little bit sometimes. I think that the indie world, the art rock world should maybe be a little less afraid of the rock part of that phrase. We definitely are into that. So don’t be afraid to put a distortion pedal on--
AM: Don’t be afraid to rock?
Blake Stokes: That’s right! Don’t be afraid to rock. You can still be smart and you can rock. Rock doesn’t mean dumb, it means fucking awesome.
AM: Very true.
Blake Stokes: You see video footage from England, or South America, or Japan and people go apeshit... like they sing the riffs in those countries. Then those bands come to America and people are standing around...I think Americans are afraid to let loose. They’re too worried about looking cool. You can love The Velvet Underground, but you can also jump and move. You have hips, you have a chest, you have feet, you can move!
AM: You should come to Chicago! We have a buzzing rock scene here!
Blake Stokes: Our old band played Chicago fucking forever ago...where did we play? We played Red Line Tap and some gallery in Boystown. We used to play Chicago a lot!
AM: There’s a lot of rock bands popping up over here that really let loose.
Blake Stokes: Yeah, and it’s fun, you know. It’s fucking fun to rock. Let loose a little bit, it’s good for you.