Photos by Taylor Flynn

Will Blackburn is best known as the frontman for alt-rock band Stop Light Observations, but he has been working on his own stuff for years, bridging jazz and soul with a tinge of folk. 

He just finished all the tracking for a solo EP that will go to Coast Records to be completed. Every member of psych pop band Little Bird performed on the upcoming record, and bandleader Jay Hurtt helped Blackburn produce it.

“Stop Light does such a high production value for our genre. We definitely keep our stuff pretty polished and clean, but my solo record will have a lot of nuance to it. There will be audible moments where if you were to be hyper analyzing it, you would say, ‘He should go back and redo that one word so it’s perfect’ — but that’s the point of this, not being a perfectionist. I had to push myself to not get caught up on the little things here and there.”

With another solo show at Tobin’s Market under his belt this year after several performances at the venue with groups like Psycodelics and Fox Hunt, Blackburn can’t help but think about the nature of the new normal for gigs — that some styles of music haven’t functioned the same with the lack of live interaction derived from the crowd.

“For my solo stuff, I don’t need a crowd that’s jumpy and buzzy and high energy, but with Stop Light, that’s like the whole deal. It’s gonna be a different show if I have a really good crowd, but I always do my best and due my diligence to practice, practice, practice, so no matter where I am and who I’m playing in front of, I can still give in the same way. It’s not giving just for others—it’s also for yourself.”

He looks at groups like Susto or Little Stranger who are in the honeymoon phase of touring again, and how it’s reaccepted to gather large crowds together. And he considers how it all could go away again. 

“I see artists in town that got hit more heavily because they were newer, and they didn’t have the infrastructure around them to allow them to financially float through the pandemic.” Blackburn has been grateful for the room to breathe and refresh, but with things ramping back up, he realizes how fragile it all is — that small, local musicians won’t make it through another crisis. 

“I am cautious about being overtly optimistic about the nuanced effects of the pandemic because I know how hard it has been on people. And I know we live in the world where we are expected to be shiny, happy, smiling faces — where everything is glamorous and wonderful — and we do it quite well.”