Amanda Blank Paints a Self-Portrait

Amanda Blank is part of a new wave of genre-hopping female rappers who also traffic in the business of party-starting. The Philly-born emcee is part of a crew that includes some of music’s coolest kids. She’s collaborated with M.I.A. and Ghostface Killah, is bffs with Santigold, toured with Peaches, and can cite Spank Rock, Diplo and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek as producers on her first album I Love You . She also does part-time in the notorious performance art band Sweetheart. Here she is backstage before a recent gig at Terminal 5, where she talks about the ghetto-ness of Philly education, dressing up like a Mormon, and being a woman in a man’s game.

Look at those nails! Damn, girl. I remember I wasn’t allowed to get fake nails when I was in junior high. All my girlfriends had them. I really wanted them too, because that was the style, and for my 8th grade graduation my mom was like, ‘Okay, you can get your nails done now.’ And ever since I would get my nails done. I stopped getting fake nails because it’s really hard to make artwork with them; it’s hard to play instruments with them. I do this when I’m touring because it looks good with the costumes, but, when I’m not on tour, I have really short nails. It’s hard to play the piano with these. These are long. These are thick. Only one girl can do them like this. She and I came up with this idea for me to have cat claws. These are straight up talons. They’re just for the show. But they have to look extra silly onstage.

I read that you get into character with your other band, Sweatheart, you dressed up as Mormons? Yeah, we wore these ye olde, high-collared, wool, to-the-floor, to-our-wrists dresses. We held hands. And it was so fucking unbearably hot in those awful dresses. And all I could think was “How do women wear these every day?” Because women still wear shit like that. They totally do. It was awful. And they’re totally ugly.

Are there other costumes you’ve put on in the past to get into character? Oh yeah. I’ve been everything from Scooby Doo to a McDonald’s French fry to a goth queen, to an ice princess. I’ve been covered in full-on body paint, like, naked. We do everything in Sweatheart. I’ve been a thousand animals. We really get into the costumes.

And you’ve worn a pregnant suit before. I’ve worn a pregnant suit. I’ve worn full-on fake plastic surgery. I’ve worn a fat suit. Sweatheart shows are really incredible. I love it.

Lykke Li guests on your recently released album I Love You. What was it like working with her? She’s great. That’s my girl. She’s a real girl’s girl. She’s fun to be friends with because she’s such a good chick. I met her through one of my best friends. We have a mutual best friend, this girl Mapei. She works with Switch and Diplo.

I figured as much. Speaking of fun, you’re pretty tight with Santigold and Trevor “Trouble” Andrew and all those guys, right? The thing with Santi is that she’s one of my best friends, in music and also completely outside of it. I lived at Santi’s house in Brooklyn forever, trying to finish my album, writing songs on her couch.

I understand you got kicked out of high school. I was always a good student, I just didn’t go. I was way more interested in doing other things. Philly public schools are fuckin’ — I couldn’t even take home my American History textbook because there weren’t enough books for the kids in class. It’s ghetto. It’s some hoodrat shit. That is some hood shit. I couldn’t even go home and study. All of our tests were open book because they had to be, because no one could take them home to study. That’s really learning something. Children aren’t taught to think critically. They’re not taught to approach learning in a thoughtful way. It’s all memorization. I have major issues with the Philadelphia education system. It was a nightmare.

Someone said you were a better rapper than you were a singer-songwriter. Would you agree with that assessment? Yes. I’m more well-versed in rapping. I think rapping comes more naturally to me. Songwriting is something I think about more. I don’t really think about it when I’m rapping. It’s hard to be that personal and intimate with your music. Writing fun, lighthearted things when I rap was easier for me. Writing vulnerable music is not easy for me. I hold back a lot, with the songwriting. That’s something I’m still figuring out.

What’s it like being a girl in the rap game? Interesting. I don’t get fucked with too hard. You definitely see the difference in the way people treat you. Or take you seriously. Most music writers are men, and most of them are white. That’s always interesting, having a middle-aged white man write 25-year-old girl pop music. Women in general are low on the totem pole, it doesn’t have to be music. I think women have to be tough to be taken seriously.

Amanda Blank, I Love You

Amanda Blank’s dirty, sex-charged solo debut is predictable electro-rap brilliance. Tracks from the Spank Rock protégé range from the album’s rapid-fire opener “Make It Take It” (a sonic lovechild of Santigold and Toni Basil) to the bass-heavy “Make-Up,” which dips into trance territory.

Blank’s old-school 2-4 rhymes hit hardest on “Lemme Get Some” featuring Chuck English, but indie sensibilities abound: sensitive-side ballad “A Love Song” gives the bad-girl hedonism a nice counterpoint, and the Lykke Li collaboration “Leaving You Behind” is a low-tempo affair that boils to a fittingly epic finish.

Music Reviews: Slim Twig, Amanda Blank, Kleerup

Slim Twig, Contempt! (Paper Bag) Meet actor-musician Max Turnbull—better known by his Rip Torn–inspired stage moniker Slim Twig—a pompadour’d Goth-dandy from Toronto. (Think Jack Skellington in 1950s Memphis.) On his debut long-player, Contempt!, Turnbull moves away from his avant-rockabilly roots found on early EPs in favor of more macabre fare, layering Elvis-like vocals over gritty, reverb-heavy samples and found sound. Surprisingly likeable, his track “Patty Ann” even adds hip-hop to the mix, one of many sonic curveballs from the new poster boy for indie-quirk. —Annie Clinton

Hockey, Mind Chaos (Capitol) The debut album from Oregon’s Hockey delivers a hat trick of electro-infused dance, pop and disco. But despite its spirited arena appeal, frontman Benjamin Grubin’s brand of alt-pop ultimately sounds like a poor imitation of the Strokes. Most tracks by the five-piece are at least palatable toe-tapping fun, but “Song Away” wavers over an abyss of generic sweetness—the Killers on MDMA, perhaps. —Carolyn Gregoire

The Lovely Feathers, Fantasy of the Lot (Sparks Music/Tommy Boy) After the release of their promising debut album, the members of Montreal’s preeminent pop brotherhood abruptly disbanded to pursue their graduate studies. Three years on, the Feathers are back like a really catchy phoenix rising from the ashes of responsibility and adulthood. From Fantasy’s exuberant opener “Lowiza” to the stadium triumph of “Loading Dock,” the Feathers once again prove themselves master crafters of melody, shouting lyrics that inspire, rather than annoy. Guys, don’t stick to your day jobs. —Ben Barna

Simian Mobile Disco, Temporary Pleasure (Wichita) On their sophomore effort, Temporary Pleasure, London-based producers James Ford and Jas Shaw serve up an exhilarating party platter of analog dance anthems, featuring an indie wet dream of collaborators from the Gossip’s Beth Ditto and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor to Telepathe. Standouts include “Off the Map,” which finally gives Jamie Lidell the dancefloor credit he deserves, and the plaintive-rap, Obama-spoofing stream of consciousness “Audacity of Huge,” featuring Yeasayer’s Chris Keating. The dance album of the year, it’s both immensely pleasurable and unfortunately temporary—thank God for the loop option. —Nick Haramis

Amanda Blank, I Love You (Downtown) Amanda Blank’s dirty, sex-charged solo debut is predictable electro-rap brilliance. Tracks from the Spank Rock protégé range from the album’s rapidfire opener “Make It Take It” (a sonic lovechild of Santigold and Toni Basil) to the bass-heavy “Make-Up,” which dips into trance territory. Blank’s old-school 2-4 rhymes hit hardest on “Lemme Get Some,” featuring Chuck English, but indie sensibilities abound: sensitive-side ballad “A Love Song” gives the bad-girl hedonism a nice counterpoint, and the Lykke Li collaboration “Leaving You Behind” is a low-tempo affair that boils to a fittingly epic finish. —Foster Kamer

Tiny Vipers, Life on Earth (Sub Pop) Tiny Vipers’ second album begins with a question: “Do you recall when the world was still young?” When absorbing the gossamer innocence of Seattle-based singer-songwriter Jesy Fortino, the answer is yes, yes we do. Beautifully cut off from the world, her lyrical poetry weaves together a narrative held up by lilting, folksy guitar melodies. A heady mix of haunting and longing, Life on Earth meanders dreamily from loves lost to places forgotten, at once earthly and ethereal. —C.G.

Kleerup, Kleerup (Astralwerks) Releasing his grip on Sweden’s soulless fascination with electro-pop monotony, multi-instrumentalist Andreas Kleerup leans instead on house beats, heavy string accompaniment and a gaggle of female Scandinavian compatriots (Robyn and Lykke Li, among others). Li’s gravelly squall is put to gorgeous use on “Until We Bleed,” while Kleerup’s “On My Own Again” and the moody, misanthropic “Thank You for Nothing” (allegedly inspired by a falling out with collaborator Cyndi Lauper) make this solo debut more unforgettable than an IKEA commercial. —Eiseley Tauginas

Santigold: The Golden Woman

Santigold’s show last night, at Terminal 5 in New York City, was packed with a sea of fans who had trickled in throughout the evening during both Trouble Andrew and Amanda Blank’s supporting sets prior to Miss Santi taking the stage at 10pm. I trekked uptown solo in a jiffy – with my friend, the lovely Amy Gunther joining me later on — making sure to catch Trouble Andrew’s performance at 8pm sharp. Trevor Andrew (his real name) is an old friend from my days with Burton Snowboards. (Long story short, I’ve been involved with the snowboarding world for 15 years. No need to get into that right this sec.) So of course arriving promptly was a must. Just in time, phew, and amazing per the usual. Nice one Trev! Amanda Blank was next up. She had on one of the craziest getups I’ve seen in quite some time — black legging with white Christmas tree lights attached. Sorry I don’t have a photo. Just Google it!

Between Amanda Blank and Santi set’s, Amy arrived and I ended up meeting, of all people, Lil Jon. Yup, that Lil Jon, sans crunk cup unfortunately. (Bummer. I’ve always wanted to see one of those things up close.) I asked him why he came and what he’s been up to. “Well, Trev is my boy, so I had to come. As for me, I’ve just been in the studio.”

Santi (who bought her first pair of snowboarding boots from me back in 2001 — true story) finally took to the stage donned in a shiny black and gold metallic suit. Her performance was jaw dropping; Terminal 5’s energy reached an all-out high when she, her band, and backup singers suddenly burst into Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On.” Santi said to the audience, “This song is so bad, it’s good! We love it and had to just throw it on for ya!”

Before the show’s end, I bumped into someone I’ve respected for years: Lyor Cohen, of Warner Music Group. Lyor is the man! Anyone who’s toured with Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and launched careers of a slew of notable artists for the past 25 years certainly deserves props. And always the gentleman … Lyor stood up from his seat and gave me a kiss on both cheeks to say hello.

Miss Santi’s closing song involved around five audience members, Naeem Juwan from Spank Rock, and Amanda Blank singing and dancing along. Hot Hot Hot! Thank you Santi for yet another incredible show. I’m already ready for your next one.