BirmingFAM Fest Preview: The Blips

This weekend, the first annual BirmingFAM Festival will go down at TrimTab Brewing Company with a incredible assortment of local bands, vendors, and fun to be had by all. Tickets can be bought here for the festival, which is happening September 11 & 12, and you can use the code MUSICBHAM to get 20% off of your purchase!

The Blips exploded onto the scene in early 2020 in a big way, forming one of Birmingham’s most impressive supergroups featuring Eric Wallace of Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, Chris McCauley of Holy Youth, Wes McDonald of Vulture Whale, and the singer-songwriters Taylor Hollingsworth and Will Stewart. After taking a pandemic-fueled break, they released their self-titled album in April of 2021 that accentuates all of their individual strengths into a tight-knit rocker of an album. Ahead of their performance at the BirmingFAM Festival this weekend, I talked to Eric about the band’s formation and the power of music to create inclusivity and accessibility through The Firehouse Community Arts Center:

So, my first question is simple — with this being one of the most formidable Birmingham supergroups around, how in the world did y’all make this happen and find the time to make this album?

You know, that’s a great question. Chris [McCauley] just has an amazing talent of putting all of the coolest people in the room to collaborate on things. He and I go way back; he was instrumental in helping me set up the Firehouse nonprofit, and I just remember him texting me saying “Me, you, Will [Stewart] and Taylor [Hollingsworth] need to start a band. It just took a text message! In the fall of 2019, we had a couple of practices that really just turned into going over to Wes [McDonald]’s studio to write songs for an hour, and it just came together so easily that we didn’t quit.

That’s insane how simply it happened.

No kidding — it’s unbelievable. And when you do try to put a band together, so much gets lost in the tedious details of just trying to be a band. Thankfully, we’re just really good at quickly getting our ideas together to write these fun songs; nothing ever seems to get lost in translation between us. We just have had a really clear idea from day one about what we wanted to do, and we’ve stuck to it and it’s been a blast.

So, with all of those cooks in the kitchen, what does the songwriting process look like for the band?

We basically just work with an “anything goes” mentality — if you’ve got a little bit of an idea, just start playing it. All of us are in a room together playing and it just evolves into a copmleted song. As someone who’s been in a dozen bands, there’s a songwriting graveyard where old ideas just die and hang out, and so we pretty much brought all of those ideas to life. We just throw them in the pot and it’s awesome, because Wes is an awesome drummer, or Taylor can rewrite a guitar part on the fly. I think from start to finish, our record took around two months to make. We just throw ideas out and run with it!

That’s interesting — does that mean there’s a record on the way?

Yeah, we’ve got ideas for the second one bouncing around right now. Hopefully we’ll get into the studio by the end of the year and get it out soon.

I’ve been asking this of all the local bands I’ve talked to: are there any Birmingham locals that have your ear right now?

Oh hell yeah, there’s so much good stuff out right now! The Bouquets are insane, and so is Snake Church. We had them at the Firehouse recently and it was just insane. There’s also a new project of an old guitar student of mine called Post Consumer Waste that’s got some really cool stuff coming out soon.

I want to take a minute to talk to you about The Firehouse. There’s been a huge shift from it being a DIY-oriented show space to becoming an incredible community nonprofit designed to bring music lessons and knowledge to Avondale. What made you want to shift into this realm?

Man, it’s a couple of things. Teaching has been something that’s really been able to support the touring lifestyle for me, and I wanted to be able to have my friends that are also in bands get to use that as well; being able to teach music when I’m not on the road is fantastic because of its flexible and the personal nature of it — the teacher-student relationship is so cool.

But also, what makes music so cool, and especially regional music, is that it’s something that’s passed down from generation to generation. As a former young person (laughs), it’s really fulfilling to watch younger people take what you’ve learned and discerned not from just playing music but being a musician and applying that to their life. I realized when I really got into this that the only folks that could afford my lessons or to learn where white, despite me teaching out of downtown Birmingham. And it felt dishonest and not like a true representation of the community and inclusivity that music can provide. So with the nonprofit, I wanted to emphasize the communal aspect — with its creation, all members of the community can come learn that might not otherwise be able to participate. And I think that inclusivity and accessibility are two really cool and important things that are essential for music to serve its true purpose.