In 2017, following the release of their eponymous debut album, the North Carolina-based duo, Blue Cactus, were the toast of music bloggers worldwide. Like so many bands before them, that success led to a period of extensive touring, they took to music festivals and state fairs, played with country legends old and new, and generally spent time anywhere but home. As they spent more time on the stage, their sound travelled with them, writing the songs and finding the styles that would shape their second album, Stranger Again, due out this week via Sleepy Cat Records.
The band have described the record as, “a dive into Cosmic American music”, taking their music into ambitious new planes, where country-rock meets light psychedelia as the soaring vocals, meet twangy slide-guitars and propulsive almost prog-influences bass-lines. The otherworldliness of the music, is almost in perfect contrast to their distinctly grounded and human story-telling, throughout the record they tackle topics as old as music itself; loss and longing, self-improvement and self-expression, personal, political and human struggles, and the joys of hard work paying off. Particularly wonderful is the title track, recently shared as a single. The track explores the shifting dynamic of a long-term relationship, the importance of putting effort in to keep it working, and ensuring it remains, “in the intentional space” where the most intimate connections lurk. A bold and ambitious return, Blue Cactus continue to push their vision of the classic country sound, they might be strangers now yet give this record your time and it might just be the start of a beautiful friendship.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Blue Cactus?
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Blue Cactus is Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez, partners in life and music. We’ve been playing and writing together for almost a decade with Blue Cactus as our primary project since 2017.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
The first time we played as a duo in a Raleigh pub would probably be our first show. We were writing songs for the project, but still didn’t have a name. Steph made fun of the little blue cacti embroidered on Mario’s western shirt and the sound of “Blue Cactus” had enough of a ring to it that it stuck.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Like many other independent artists, we dabble in different art forms– from printmaking and poetry to video production and photography– but they all come back to supporting the music we make. In the onset of the pandemic, we didn’t want to have anything to do with music. We didn’t write it or really listen to it. Just before everything closed down, we had been so wrapped up in climbing the proverbial ladder that we got completely detached from the world we are a part of. We’re not trying to romanticize COVID, but it took something this drastic to stop us from spinning in our hamster wheels and tune in to all the beauty and horror we live in every single day. We write music because it’s a form of therapy that helps us process trauma. Music is the way we connect to ourselves and others with a similar lived experience.
We write music because we can’t help ourselves. We need it.
FTR: What can people expect from the Blue Cactus live show?
Our live shows hinge upon the intuition and trust that we’ve built over the course of our years of working together. Our band are all good friends who we’ve recorded and toured with. They lock into the thing we do as a duo and amplify it in the most tasteful way. We also have two closets dedicated exclusively to our costumes and have a lot of fun curating our stage wear.
FTR: What’s next for Blue Cactus?
We’re really proud of the new record, and we’re hopeful that we’ll have some live shows throughout this year with our full band. One thing that the pandemic has certainly made clear is nothing is certain. All we know is that we intend to continue creating and performing our music as long as our bodies will allow us.
They Listen To…
The Weather Station – Robber
The Dead Tongues – Deja Vu
Erin Rae – Bad Mind
Ry Cooder & Manuel Galbán – Drume Negrita
The Roches – Hammond
Stranger Again is out May 7th via Sleepy Cat Records. For more information on Blue Cactus visit https://www.bluecactusmusic.com/