Blankfile – ‘We wrote a “let it go” manifest for all the bad things that happened to us’

Words: Miljan Milekić

For more than a decade now, Belgrade band Blankfile had been a staple of the Serbian underground scene. Dedicated and hard-working they were never afraid to steer the pot, and try different things, raising the few eyebrows of the hardcore purists along the way. And now, here they are, with their brand new EP ‘Truth Be Sold,’ raging and screaming over their signature blend of hardcore and metal. We got with singer Petar Novaković and bassist Dušan Jovanović to discuss their new music, their messages, and much more.

Blankfile / Photo: Andrej Nihil

First of all, let’s talk about ‘Dog Will Bark,’ your latest single/video. I know it’s one of the fan-favorites from the new EP, but can you share the story of the song and the video?
 ‘Dogs Will Bark’ is actually a remake of the improvised song we played as an opener at a couple of our latest shows. It was only a riff and a punchline at first, but we eventually wrapped a whole story around it. I think the song’s lyrics are pretty much self-explanatory, but if I have to break it down, it’s dedicated to all arrogant pricks who are intruding on other men’s free will and are first to cast out those not obeying the “rules and principles.” Now that I think about it, in the context of the latest events, it is a critique of the cancel culture, before we even gave it a name. We, also, needed a video feature to reflect that same attitude, so we chose a production that would not result in “another” hardcore video. We wanted to send a message that we take uniformity as an anti-thesis to the hardcore principle.

As I said, the song is taken from your new EP ‘Truth Be Sold,’ released last September. So, tell me more about it – what’s the idea behind it, and why now?
Petar: We have written the EP as some kind of a “let it go” manifest for all the bad things that happened to us and challenges we have passed through in the last 10+ years. Thanks to such experience we’ve been able to identify a few repeating social patterns, showing up just in different shapes and with a different face, sucking our energy out, over and over again. We just felt an urge to say “enough is enough” and to move on, leaving all those deficiencies behind. Why now? Maybe, better to ask ourselves, why didn’t we do it before?

‘Truth Be Sold’ is by far your most ambitious project so far. So. tell me more about the writing and recording process.
Dušan: ‘Truth Be Sold’ came at a very strange period in my life. I lost my job due to Covid and all of a sudden had a lot of frustration and a lot of time on my hands. I sat down and learned how to record at home and started creating demo tracks. This opened up a whole new dimension for us and a totally different way of working. I know this isn’t a new concept, but it was new to us because we used to do everything together in the practice room. During the lockdown days, the guys would send me their raw riffs which I would then turn into demos. Then there would be a lot of back and forth with them providing their feedback and me tweaking the songs. We’ve never, as a band, had this level of cooperation on any of our previous projects. And we never finished the songs so quickly. This album was a perfect storm of events.

On this record, you worked with Shane Frisbey and Peter Rutcho from The Brick Hithouse Studio. Is it safe to say that working with such high-profile names was a bit out of your comfort zone? Did you at any point feel any additional pressure because of that, and the finances involved in this project, or it was just an even bigger motivation to go all-in and do your best?
Dušan: I think that working with The Brick Hithouse was like working right in the middle of our comfort zone. Everything felt natural and seamless. The songs were already finished before we even spoke to them and we were confident that they had the potential to sound great. My main worry going into that deal was whether we would be able to communicate all our ideas long-distance. We’ve had breakdowns in communication (no pun intended) with people in the same room, so you can imagine my worry when we decided to work with some guys over the Atlantic. Luckily, they’ve been in the music business for ages, and, having produced some of our favorite bands, they knew exactly what we were looking for. You could say they read our minds while producing our material. It was one of the best collaborations we’ve ever had.

The EP was preceded by another single – ‘#O4TF,’ a massive thank you note for everyone who was there for you over the years and a bit different message for the ones who weren’t. Why did you feel the need to write a song like this?
Petar: It was not our intention to make it so dramatic, but to make a strong and clear statement. I let too many toxic people have access to my life or to have influence over my decisions, dispersing my energy and love, instead of focusing it on the few who truly deserve it. Our band was working in a very similar environment. So, this is somehow a thank you note, but also a method statement for our future actions. The guys feel it, too. I, also, see it as a note to myself, keeping me at peace with what was and what is now, for the first time in a long time.

I think I already know the answer to this one, but how frustrating was it to release what you believe it’s your best work to date, which I agree with, and to be able to bring it to the stage, the only place where hardcore can be fully appreciated?
Dušan: The pandemic hit the whole world hard. And a lot of people around the world suffered because of it. It is strange to have this material and not being able to play it for people, but all we can do is be patient. Hopefully, after this is all over, people will flock back to the clubs eager to experience live shows again. And we will be there to blast them with our new songs and the new energy that we’ve been accumulating over this past year of isolation.

Do you have any idea how will hardcore shows look like once the events are back? I’ve recently spoken with Dave Smalley from Down By Law and Don’t Sleep, and he just couldn’t imagine shows without getting down with the crowd, without mosh pits and everything. What’s your take on it?
Petar: I have high hopes there. As Dušan said, we just need to stay responsible and be patient for some time and the shows, real shows with crowds and moshpits, will come back. They have to. Nothing can substitute that feeling and, for sure, one year of abstinence will not kill it. In that new normal, the shows might be less in numbers, but I’m sure they will be sick!

Blankfile / Photo: Andrej Nihil

Three years ago, you celebrated ten years of being a band. However, I know you were on the scene even before that, and you actually count the time since the moment Blankfile started to take the path you’re still one, rather than simply a formation date. What was the motivation for such a decision, in a time when many other bands try to use their time on the scene as another badge to their name?
Dušan: Blankfile
existed even prior to 2008 and there is even an album from that period. So, if we wanted to flex, we could wear an even older badge. But we chose 2008 because that is the year a new core of the band was formed. Yes, other band members have come and gone, but there is still that core group of friends in the middle of it.

As you said, you went through quite a few personal changes. How hard was it to keep the continuity over the years, and still go strong after all these years?
Dušan: There have been a few personal changes over the years. And all of them hit us hard, every time, without exception. You lose time searching for a new member. Then, there is a period of adjustment to each other because everyone brings something new to the table. They have their own creative energy but you have your vision for the band. But even though we are always walking on a tightrope, there are some fundamental ideas that we as a band are not ready to compromise on.

Apart from your own music, you are also active on the scene through MTA Promotions, bringing bands from all over the world to your city – from Comeback Kid and Lionheart, to Mad Caddies, Deez Nuts, and Thy Art Is Murder. What was the motivation for getting into it?
Petar: Bands touring through a city is a fundamental basis of one city’s underground scene; one cannot progress without the other. Back in the day, Belgrade had a quite strong local scene but needed someone to take over for the seniors and we decided to step in. Started small, with friends and friends of our friends, and finally got to the point we are contributing by having major hardcore and metal acts coming to Belgrade and exchange with the local scene. Looking from this point in time, maybe we could have become bigger if we had stayed focused on just being a band, but I believe we have built something much bigger here.

Blankfile / Photo: Andrej Nihil

Do you have any especially memorable shows?
Petar: Too many to pick one because each one was somehow unique. Deez Nuts are the nicest people we’ve met, Lionheart the craziest. Thy Art show was the biggest surprise, in a good way, Mad Caddies, in the opposite. Three years in a row we organized Hardcore Fever mini-festival, featuring Nasty, Bane, Comeback Kid, Expire… maybe that would be a story to be told.

How important is it to be there in the trenches and keep doing it? How do you find the strength to do it, especially in times when it sometimes feels like chasing windmills?
Dušan: I feel like, as with everything in life, you have to try to set realistic expectations. We know that there isn’t a big audience for this kind of music in Belgrade so we know what to expect upfront. We’ve rarely made any money from any show that we organized, but we knew that going into it. All we can hope for is that everyone involved, from the bands to the audience, will have a great time. It’s never business for us, it’s always about seeing bands that we love performing in our hometown. That’s why we do it. That’s how we keep ourselves from burning out.

So, I know this is a bit weird to ask at this point, but what’s next for Blankfile?
Petar: It is weird to plan anything, given the fact we are in the most unpredictable period ever. But, you know, we, as a band in a small local hardcore scene, have mastered the ability to struggle and to fuel our efforts with sole faith and enthusiasm, so we will get through these strange times, I’m sure. Doing our thing, not giving up. If not blocked by force majeure, more videos will come, new merch, maybe we’ll try some of those popular online performances….and if nothing else, at least we owe you that hell of a post-covid show, and to go out with a bang.

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