Under the layers of hooking melodies, buttery vocals and an assortment of different instruments pieced together in harmony are a rawness that makes way for relatability. This is what Blankslate music is made of, proof of the band’s dedication and the skill that they’ve been sharpening over the years.
Just as their name suggests, Blankslate was born out of the bandmates’ shared desire for a fresh start. All three members — vocalist Emma Troughton, drummer Tess Condron and guitarist Rylee Dunn — had previously been a part of their own respective musical endeavors with Condron and Dunn having been in several bands and Troughton singing in a competing acapella group. When they transferred to the University of Denver from different colleges, they were all yearning for a new connection to music and people.
“We were all seeking a new beginning, like when most people transfer schools,” Condron said. “We lived in this weird dorm room together and started jamming in our dorm rooms. We realized that was a little too loud so we actually found a storage closet in the basement of this weird dorm room that we were staying in. We emptied all the stuff out of that custodial closet and put a drum kit in there instead.”
The trio lived together when they formed Blankslate in the fall of 2018. Since then, they have built a discography of music and an unwavering friendship. “Our friendship is the band, it’s easily what comes first which I know a lot of bands and musicians don’t prioritize with each other. That seems like not something I want to be a part of,” Condron said. Troughton added, “Like any family system, I think there are times when interpersonally we go through stress and we have strife and we have a hard time sometimes ironing things out, but I think that when we prioritize the relationships, the sound is way better.”
With their seamless friendship, the band has been able to reflect their chemistry into their music. Dunn described how when the band began writing their own music, it came very naturally, allowing them to now have more freedom with their sound.
“I’ve always felt that the goal of it was to be edgier folk music,” Dunn said of the band’s sound. “I’ve always liked how folk music is really simple at its core and based around characters, narrative and storytelling… we always just had a really natural rhythmic pocket together and it felt cool to expand on that normal folk groove in a million different ways and have a branch off into different genres and influences.”
On their latest album, Summer on a Salt Flat, the band flexes their ability to blend genres of folk and pop in addition to a variety of vocal techniques, rhythmic ideas and instrumentation. The band described the album as a chronological look at the past few years of their lives. “It’s telling the story of finishing college, starting jobs, existing as a young adult in 2022, going in and out of relationships, stuff like that but without that being so cheesy and obvious at the same time. It’s kind of like a subtle undertone of what that point in time can feel like for someone because someone might relate to those feelings in a different realm in their life. Like someone that is way older than us or way younger than us… it kind of just signifies change,” Condron said.
Dunn, being the main songwriter for the group, explained that at the core of all of their music is this idea of storytelling and being able to relate to anyone’s particular experiences. “I’ve always felt like it’s just different ways of telling a story, like when you’re writing a news story or writing a feature you’re just writing about someone’s life or an event that happened — trying to tell that in the most engaging way to you and the person that’s reading it — and I feel like a song is the same way… we’ve heard a lot of different interpretations of [the songs on the album] already that we didn’t even think of. That’s the goal honestly, that’s ideal when that happens,” she said.
After four years in the making, with their latest album out, Blankslate is on a roll and has found its voice in the Denver scene. Starting off, it took some time to garner a following in a new city, Troughton voiced, “Especially with the three of us being transfer students, we didn’t grow up here, we didn’t spend years and years cultivating relationships that would extend into a fan base so it’s like, every Instagram follower we get, every person that comes to our shows or buys our merch is someone that is literally there because of our sound, not because of time we’ve had to be able to cultivate those relationships.”
Continuing to push through the barriers of entry, the band is now playing around three shows a month. They’re hoping to tour in the near future and continue to promote their latest album. On behalf of the band’s view of how things are going Dunn said, “We’ve done it for four years now — it’s just been a lot of repetition and a lot of commitment to it.”
All photography by Julia VonDreele