In one of the most chilling scenes of one of this century’s most chilling movies, Daniel Plainview (as played by Daniel Day Lewis), confesses to his false brother that he is driven and tortured by his competitive nature — that he “wants no one else to succeed” and that “he hates most people.”
Based upon the novel Oil, by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood mined the innate and primal urges that impel individuals to seek conflict and dissonance within themselves and with others. Is it a question of capitalism, societal norms, or familial upbringing that creates an environment where we see our neighbors not simply as members of a community, but as rivals?
As part of her new musical project, Body Double, Candace Lazarou explores the same question — exchanging There Will Be Blood’s dusty Inland Empire backdrop for the late-capitalist environs of the Bay Area, a landscape that can feel just as spiritually desolate as early 20th century California.
Throughout the course Body Double’s debut album, Milk Fed, Lazarou returns time and again to the theme of inner motivations, juxtaposing the universal questions of human nature with admiringly candid bursts of personal self-reflection.
“I probably doubt the authenticity of other people because I doubt my own authenticity,” says Lazarou, whose first offering as Body Double will be released on September 18. “I’m a mixed-race person. I don’t have anywhere that I consider home. I grew up in the South, but I don’t have a Southern accent. Neither of my parents are from the United States. The identity I have — I don’t know how much of it I’ve constructed and how much of it comes naturally. I don’t know what the things I do to get by, and I don’t know what’s integral to who I am. Those are the thoughts that go through my head on a bad day, and you could safely say that most of this album was written on the bad days.”
That ability to probe the underlying currents of her condition is the absolute foundation of Milk Fed, a ferocious and fearless album that represents an assured, confident offering from Lazarou.
Prior to forming Body Double, Lazarou was the lead singer of Mansion, an Oakland-based post-rock band with a gritty, industrial sound that cared little bit about accessibility. After Mansion broke-up due to defections, drug use, and other turmoil, Lazarou set about reimagining her role as a creator. Her path forward was riddled with obstacles.
She had to process a litany of tragedies, including the Ghost Ship fire, which shattered her belief that Oakland’s DIY scene offered a sense of protection for artists, like her, on society’s creative margins. Lazarou also grappled with her guilt in feeling suspicious of the collective grief on display from the local artistic community, which brought her back to her own wariness over authenticity.
“I remember just like this outpouring of grief and feeling immediately judgmental about that,” Lazarou says. “I mean everyone was expressing a completely legitimate and respectful kind of grief and I kind of hated all of it. I don’t know where that bitterness came from. I think it was just easier for me to be mad about that than actually processing how many people died in the fire.”
In addition to coping with the trauma of the Ghost Ship fire, Lazarou contended with the death of Ronny Burke, her bandmate from Mansion who was fatally injured in a car accident in New York City. Throughout all this, she made the decision to get sober, a move motivated in large part to her benumbed and embittered reactions to those overwhelming life events.
“I was just so out of it,” said Lazarou. “I knew something had to change.”
With her newly lucid outlook, Lazarou embraced the full creative control of her artistic endeavors, an opportunity she was denied while in Mansion. Absconding to her bedroom, Lazarou wrote the lyrics and played all the instruments on a series of songs, building upon the menacing nature of Mansion while adding head-nodding grooves and up-tempo elements. Those initial tracks formed the basis of Milk Fed, a gothic collection of no-wave songs that almost feel danceable at times—imagine the New York City bleakness of Suicide infused with a jolt of the Buzzcocks’ sonic urgency.
The first single off Milk Fed, “Floating Hand,” has the same late-night, dark-alley vibes of Warpaint and the Dum Dum Girls. The song bristles and snaps under slicing guitar lines and distorted keys, with Lazarou singing from a disaffected, distant drawl. “Bitch on Wheels” is a slow-building opus, adding sonic elements as it progresses while never becoming bloated. A single throbbing bassline and waves of scratchy synths set the foundation for a song content to move on it’s timeline. With its Latin lyrics and death march drumbeats, “Head Axe,” feels like a souped-up séance, but it’s syrupy pacing avoids staleness — there is always a sense that something ominous lurks in the distance.
Milk Fed manages to keep your rapt attention because every song feels like it has just the right amount of effects — Lazarou made certain that the music had a hook and impressionable vibe, but cut back on needless flourishes.
“I wanted every one of these songs to have an entry point,” Lazarou says. “I basically wrote fully-formed pop songs, but then kind of let them disintegrate.”
That eroding spirit makes the songs on Milk Fed feel ashy and jagged, recordings that have broken apart and flaked under the weight of their own energy. That weight comes from Lazarou’s voice — a commanding and versatile instrument with multiple personalities — and the heft of her lyrics.
She sings of environmental degradation, social unrest, and other global developments, but ultimately Milk Fed is an album about the personal conflicts that drive a wedge in relationships. On the towering album closer, “The Party’s Over,” Lazarou details the “Scramble to divide us/Hand inside us/We recite the words you provide,” a typically candid introspection into the internal workings that sow divisions.
While Lazarou initially controlled every aspect of the creative process of Milk Fed, she eventually collaborated with bassist Noah Adams on a handful of songs on the album, and Body Double has now evolved into a five-piece ensemble featuring that duo — plus Chase Kamp on drums, Jascha Ephraim on guitars, and Mel Weikart on keyboards.
With the future perpetually uncertain because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lazarou has not mapped out the next steps for the band, but she’s insistent that Body Double will move forward in whatever capacity she sees fit. In an industry that still has a terrible reputation for slighting the efforts of women, Lazarou fears ceding any control of the project she alone founded.
Plus, an endeavor this personal can only be helmed by a singular figure. Lazarou will continue to wrestle the demons for us all, asking the questions about what fractures, divides and drives us apart. Her answers will surely be illuminating.