Personal Investment: Blind Liars Explore Self-Worth and Authenticity on “The Ringer” Album
For Blind Liars, a debut album provides a vulnerable outlet for understanding one’s self-worth.
The Ypsilanti indie-rock quartet unearths deep emotions from the human psyche—including shame, disappointment, and loneliness—to reveal an authentic sense of self on The Ringer.
“A decent amount of what we have on the album deals with failure and loss and picking yourself up from it,” said Schala Walls, one of Blind Liars’ lead vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. “The very act of writing this music was kind of an investment in my self-worth, so all of the songs kind of reflect that.”
Alongside bandmates Jon Root (lead vocals, songwriting, keys, guitar, bass) and Eric Bates (drums, bass, guitar), Walls channels personal experiences of social alienation due to neurodivergence and queerness across eight cerebral tracks. (Bassist Mari Neckar joined after the album was recorded.)
The Ringer features intimate ballads, howling sing-alongs, and emotional tales steeped in ‘60s prog-rock, shoegaze, and a kitchen sink-full of other influences.
We recently spoke to Blind Liars about the band’s formation, its newest member, the album’s theme and sound, the writing and recording process, upcoming album release shows, and future plans.
Q: How did you form Blind Liars while attending the University of Michigan in 2007?
Schala Walls (SW): This would have been my freshman year of college, and I had a little bit of a demo that I had been working on since high school. I would often go over to my outgoing friend’s dorm to try and gain friends that I could not gain on my own and sat near Jon. I sort of conned him and Kyle into joining my band.
We did my first demo that’s up on my SoundCloud somewhere. “Autumn Changed to Fall” is one that we released [later] as Blind Liars, but it was a rerelease of one we had done freshman year. We were doing that and we didn’t market ourselves, but we’d play house shows now and then. We had a reputation for having frantic energy, which is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to have a reputation for. One time we were at our friend Aaron’s house playing a show and our other friend Tony was watching us play “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” By Arcade Fire. He was like, “Hey, these guys rule, but their drums suck.”
Eric Bates (EB): I specifically remember getting a text from Tony that night that said, “Oh my god, my friend’s band is covering Arcade Fire; you’re not going to believe this.” That was the first time you had crossed my orbit … and [Tony] convinced me to come to one of your house shows after that. And then I saw them and had the same reaction of “Wow, these guys are really good. It’s a shame about the drums, but otherwise, they’re a really good band.”
SW: It was me, Jon, and Kyle, and we would all trade drums, which was not a great idea.
Jon Root (JR): I ran into [Tony] during welcome week that year … and I was talking about how we’ve got this band and how we’re trying to do stuff. He was like, “Anytime you’re doing something just let me know.” I was like, “We should get a better drummer,” and I was trying to be humble, but at the same time not trying to be insulting to my current bandmates. I was like, “We should probably find somebody who can do this more permanently,” and Tony was like, “Oh, I’ve got just the person.”
EB: I joined the band my last semester at U-M, so I had seen you a year before that. When Tony was like, “Hey, my friend Jon wants somebody to join his band,” and I was like, “Yeah, I remember that.” I remember sitting in my car doing a preliminary phone interview with Jon, and then I showed up, and the rest is history.
Q: What’s the meaning behind your band name? How does it represent your music and artistry?
SW: Our former bandmate Kyle was always very big about the cadence of a band name. Honestly, it’s just words, and it has a mellifluous flow to it. Kyle said, “It has to sound like Led Zeppelin,” and I said, “I don’t understand what you mean.” He’s like, “Make the band name Led Zeppelin, but not Led Zeppelin,” and I couldn’t figure out what he meant, but I’m pretty sure he meant it had to occupy the same metric footprint as Led Zeppelin. You have one that’s just one accent and then a strong accent and a weak accent, and we laid out a bunch of ones that were like that. “Blind” is just a strong one-syllable word and then “Liars” is a little bit of diphthong, sort of halfway between one and two syllables.
I want to be clear that this is not any implication that these are people who happen to be blind. The idea is that you would be lying so hard that it's totally without abandon, just like lie after lie after lie. I’ve definitely been there, not that it has anything to do with the band name. There’s a performative aspect to just being like “I wonder how long I can get away with this current thing that I’m spinning and the adrenaline sort of makes it sell better, so that’s what we’ll go with.”
JR: It’s when you say something that you don’t know if it’s true because you actually don’t know, but you’re asserting that it’s true.
Q: Bassist Mari Neckar is the band’s newest member. How did you meet Mari and when did you bring her into the band?
SW: I met Mari through the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti transgender community. Our first real interaction was in September 2020 on a trans Discord server when we were both celebrating our first hormone replacement therapy anniversaries and realized we were nearly transition twins. But that doesn’t have anything to do with Blind Liars.
I posted some early Blind Liars singles and music videos to the music channel there. Mari found them extremely relatable and loved them so much that we both started talking about music composition and playing bass and thought, “Hey, maybe we should jam together sometime.”
In October 2021, back when it was still unsafe to have indoor rehearsals, Blind Liars would do acoustic jams in public parks and invited Mari to “come hang out and maybe bring an instrument,” which was secretly an audition. Mari met the rest of the band, really hit it off, and had a lot of fun learning and playing Blind Liars songs. This became a weekly occurrence … and before we knew it, Schala’s plan had paid off, and Blind Liars had a new full-time bass player.
Mari is definitely my big sister, even though I think I started hormones a little bit before her. It’s extremely reassuring to me to have her around since sometimes I panic about being a trans woman and whether that means I have a future or not. It's a trauma from when I grew up, but seeing her there lets me know I can make it.
Mari Neckar (MN): I took a few years off from 2013 to 2020. I’m getting back into being a useful part of a working band, and it’s been great. It’s been inspiring connecting with people, connecting with fans, and connecting with other bands at our shows.
Q: How does Mari contribute to the band’s indie-rock sound?
SW: She’s just wicked good at bass. I always identified strongly as the bass player, but she’s got all my parts note-for-note or even often improved note-for-note. As an example of synergy, we’re both huge fans of Tony Levin. For example, we both love his work on some of the Peter Gabriel tours. It’s great that she’s into bass parts as weird as I am. Otherwise, I don’t know if we would have gotten along musically. She plays actual double bass, which is hard for me because of the bow. That’s given us some incredible sounds that I wouldn’t have been able to make on my own.
MN: When I started to learn the songs they wrote, that was really cool because our styles are pretty similar. These are basslines, but they weren’t really written with bass in mind; they were written for cello or something else, but they’re just played on a bass. I made it a goal of mine to learn everything note for note because I just love it the way it was. I was like, “All right, we’re going to write new stuff where I get to express myself.” This was already done, but it’s so perfect. I just want to embody it, and being in this band has helped me develop my skills and my musical vocabulary a lot more.
Q: Your new album The Ringer explores processing failure and loss, understanding your true self-worth, and trying to pick yourself up back after that. How did writing and recording the album’s eight tracks help you address and tackle those feelings and experiences?
SW: In my case, creating this album also included grace and acknowledgment that mental illness and queerness have played big parts in my life. Mainstream society and culture are promulgated mostly by cishet people without severe mental illnesses.
So that feeling that I’ve always had that somehow things aren’t “made for me” isn’t just the youthful thing people told me it was. I really am alienated, and it’s OK to feel that way because I am under real strain. I don’t think I would have learned that without making it through “The Ringer” and “pt.2.”
Because I think of myself as privileged, it was very difficult for me to accept that I face challenges like this. It seemed like admitting that would be taking up space somebody needed. The healing process was learning it’s OK to feel like shit, so I guess it’s a theme I want people to take home. If you feel alienated, you are alienated, and it’s OK that that takes time to process.
Q: The title track spotlights a star kickball player’s struggle with feeling confident in their abilities to play the sport. It also symbolizes how people may feel like a “ringer” in other aspects of their lives. In what ways have you felt like a “ringer” in life? How did those experiences inspire this track?
SW: This one is really vulnerable for me. I’m an intensely shameful person, so it’s difficult for me to talk about being proud of anything. I excelled in schoolwork, even though my behavior was pretty bad. I had assumed that would translate to a successful career of some kind. When I hit full-time work, though, I found the tasks were more boring, less organized, and tended to make money for people I hated. As a result, work can be intensely unmotivating, and I find myself not living up to my ideals. The “ringer” experience generalized is when you really put your identity into some preconceived notion and have that dissonance when your actual performance doesn’t line up.
Q: The title track also references the baseball players Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Tim Wakefield along with a fictional knuckleball pitcher named Min-seo. How do they represent the confidence in life that people aspire to have?
SW: The baseball players are a good example of something that brought me catharsis to write. Those are … god-level baseball players; the sort of people, where, at the time, it was accurate to say basically nobody on earth was as good at baseball as them, so it’s supposed to be funny. To say “All I ever wanted to be was like Honus Wagner” is to admit some frankly delusional beliefs about self-worth. I struggle with this a lot. I can think I’m a genius and can think I’m some kind of subhuman, but it’s usually black or white or one or the other. Failure can be extremely difficult to process. If I fail, then I’m not a genius, and if I’m not a genius, then … that’s ridiculous, of course, but I do often feel it. This was a way to poke fun at that thought and strip it of some of its power.
Min-seo is a special case. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sneak baseball past my band again, so I wanted to shout out some knuckleballers. The knuckleball is an amazing pitch, but as the fastball gets faster and faster, nobody can really justify training on something so fringe as the knuckle. As a result, knucklers have to be defiant and stubborn almost to the point of idiocy. I find that extremely romantic. In the context of the song, not only does “the ringer” want to be like world-class knuckleball players, they’ve now picked the most quixotic goal possible: Be a world-class knuckleball player. Tim Wakefield was the best knuckleballer when I was growing up so he got in.
Min-seo is a cameo from another story. I had never known anyone else with the same opinion I had of knucklers and their forlorn hope. But a few years ago, I was playing Butterfly Soup, a lesbian visual novel by Brianna Lei. Min-seo is a rebellious fireball of a pitcher who also happens to throw knuckleballs. There’s an extremely gay throughline about how knuckleballs are difficult to catch. It’s a lot.
Q: “Together” recounts the tale of a woman who takes on too much, burns herself out, and then resents everyone along with herself. How did your personal experiences inspire this track, Schala?
SW: This was just barely pre-transition. At the time, I wasn’t writing from my perspective, it was just sort of a fictional character. I was burned out at the time … and until a couple of weeks before the song, I hadn’t even realized it was happening. It really built up, and I was just totally wiped out.
There’s just a weird spiral of resentment toward yourself like, “How did I get here? How dare you make me do this thing? Why are you trying to help me?” There’s no good or fun in burnout, and I was seeing it happen to a lot of people in my life. The pandemic was really hard, but it’s not like life was easy in 2018.
There’s a bit of dance that I do for the hook between the verses that’s just kind of being pulled around by puppet strings. That was very much the feeling of like, “Nothing I’m doing is satisfying anything. There are external forces that move me this way.”
Q: “Alarm Clocks” represents the grief Jon Root felt after a friendship ended and his high school band broke up one summer while he was in college. How did writing that track help you process those losses and move forward?
JR: It’s my goal that “Alarm Clocks” helps folks find hope and perseverance in moments of rapid change and instability. Writing the song wasn’t a wake-up call so much as a document of that rude awakening. For my first couple of years at college, I felt like I was living somewhat of a double life holding onto my hometown and key friendships there while I was also struggling to adjust to the academic rigor of a university. At home, I felt like a big fish, and at college, I felt like a minnow. Due to many factors both within and outside of my control, which one was more welcoming had seemingly reversed over a few short months.
“Alarm Clocks” was written in an environment of great personal uncertainty, but conversely I’ve always been confident in the bones of the song. Except for a couple of lines in the second verse, it came out pretty much lyrically complete in the first couple of sessions. It’s one of only a couple of songs I’ve ever written melody first—a method I usually struggle with. Coming up with a recording that lived up to that potential was a struggle.
Q: What was it like to refine “Alarm Clocks” sonically after all those years and see it evolve into the version it is today?
JR: Fortunately, Schala provided several great additions that helped shift the song into a higher gear. We also tried the song in a few different arrangements. The wordless refrain comes from an acoustic arrangement I made trying to create an EP with nothing but my voice and an acoustic guitar, but I wanted to find a way to keep the spirit of Schala’s bass part in the song. Eric brought double drum fills that start in one and finish in the other.
The chiptune “Digital Clocks” put the final bit of frosting on it with the chorus guitar hook coming directly from that arrangement. I suspect the end result could be a bit chaotic for the uninitiated, but I wanted it to be worth repeat listens, and I think it achieves that with no loss in energy.
SW: It’s awesome seeing this one altogether. I think it captures our kinetic energy, and it’s cool how it goes into “Snooze,” which is such a vibe. After years and years of playing this, my partner pointed out something I had been doing strange in the backup vocals. I’m always learning! There’s a whole hook that didn’t used to be there. I never would have imagined that in a million years, but it ended up coming out of a chiptune version that I did.
Q: The album closer “pt. 2” feels like a companion piece to the title track, especially because it shares some of the same lyrics. Why did you decide to revisit those same lyrics on this track? How does “pt. 2” help the album “symbolize an endless loop of failure and interaction” and encourage listeners to “play the album on repeat?”
SW: “pt. 2” is the most ambitious song we’ve released to date. I intentionally conceived of it as a long song. I wanted a big, bombastic, artsy closer to an album that really goes for it. This is the kind of thing that got me excited as a kid. If you play “pt. 2” directly before “The Ringer,” though, as happens on repeat, it ends up as an introduction for “The Ringer.”
The first lyrics on the album are “There it goes,” but the last lyrics are “Here it comes.” The failure comes in between. Somewhere between the end of the album and the beginning, the ball has come and gone, and the ringer failed to hit it. Looping the album is therefore an endless cycle of accepting failure and then failing again and grappling with it and then accepting it. Ultimately, more failure is inevitable, and you’ll have to deal with it again. That’s not necessarily pessimistic so much as realistic—at least, I think so.
As for recurring themes, that’s also more of an album preference from when we were kids. I love it when one track from the album has bits from another or when themes come back several times. Having it at the end is perfect because it helps tie the whole album together. Interestingly, “pt. 2” also ended up helping me process divorce, which is another situation where an imagined future doesn’t line up with reality. It ended up resonating in a way I just realized. I didn’t understand any of this while I was writing it.
Q: What was the writing process like for The Ringer? How did those tracks evolve while working on the album? How did your love of ‘60s prog-rock, shoegaze, and other genres help influence the album’s overall indie-rock sound?
SW: Several of the songs are reworks from a long time ago, so technically, we’ve been writing “Alarm Clocks,” “Only Words,” and “Immortal Punk” for about 15 years. It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come since then. I think our newer versions all feel like they bring something to the table that wasn’t in the original more orthodox indie-rock versions. Our tastes have become more subtle, so for example, “Only Words” now has a delicate intro with some programmed electronic instrumentation, and “Immortal Punk” almost sounds like Krautrock—none of which we would have done at the time.
With prog-rock, the inspiring part is the attempt to always push the envelope. [We believe] there are still new amazing sounds to be heard out there and not just iterations on what we currently have. I tried to pack in every musical trick that I had but tried to be extremely careful to make sure things sounded natural at first blush. The art is in doing something someone hasn’t heard before and having them not necessarily even realize it. Prog sometimes gets accused of being sterile or [known as] “musician’s music.” In our case, I think the fact that I’m hamming it up so consistently silences any accusations like that. I couldn’t be unemotional if I tried.
JR: The recording process for The Ringer started with “Together” and saw us playing somewhat outside of our typical roles. Schala played the rhythm guitar throughout, and I wrote the initial seed of the bass part while Eric played the final part and he programmed the drums. Since the bass part had so much movement, I challenged myself to write the simplest hook I could for the lead guitar and settled on a two-note pattern.
While “Together” is pretty far from a prog-rock song, the process behind it set the exploratory tone for the recording of the songs that followed. “Second Chances” includes some shoegaze influence with a bit of glide guitar through the middle of the song. “Snooze” is as much of a production experiment as much as a song, but I’ve always wanted a coda for “Alarm Clocks” and loved the idea of putting a bunch of hooks and motifs of the record together around the “golden ratio” of the album.
SW: The recording sessions started with “The Ringer” and “Together” in 2018 and then lasted through early 2022 finishing with “pt. 2.” Memories from houses and apartments we’ve long since moved away from are woven through every song. Members have been through health scares, divorces, coming out of the closet, transitioning, and so much life.
Q: What do you have planned for your upcoming album release shows, including July 29 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti and August 5 at Lager House in Detroit? What will it be like to share the stage with The Honey Pot and Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts at Ziggy’s and The City Lines, Twin Deer, and Olivia Schotthoefer at Lager House?
SW: We will be playing The Ringer in its entirety at both shows. The climax of “pt. 2” is a cathartic and intimate moment with the audience, so it pays to give it all the preparation we can. We should be able to play live favorites like “Everything Was Beautiful,” too.
JR: It’s exciting to share the stage with The Honey Pot since we were scheduled to do so before in Detroit last winter, but they had to drop out for health reasons, and we haven’t seen them yet. Their records are so textured, it’ll be amazing to see how they translate that to the stage. Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts are friends from my high school days, and they have amassed us an impressive collection of excellent songs mixing classic rock, Americana, and punk—“Us,” “Shake So Easy,” and “Lost the Light” are particular favorites of mine.
We had a great time playing with an acoustic duo iteration of The City Lines last August, and I contributed some arrangement advice and a guitar solo to their song “Different This Year” on their recent release Analog Memories. I’m excited to see their expanded lineup hit the stage. Twin Deer released a tragic, beautiful, and sneakily catchy debut last year in Not Real But True and really brings those vibes to their shows.
Q: What’s up next for you? Any plans to write new material or go back into the studio?
SW: We just debuted “Run Wild,” one of Jon’s new songs, which invokes Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead, at Metal Frat in Ann Arbor. He also has a couple of other great songs in the pike.
I’m working hard on some straightforward pop since I just finished up an emotionally intense and taxing album. I’m also scheming up a huge sad concept album. I try, but the pop songs are still coming out pretty twisted.
We’re going to take a bit of a rest in August, but we’re going to be recording as soon as possible. We plan on releasing singles not initially attached to a longer album. We’re extremely proud of what we made, and we’re interested in seeing what we can accomplish in a shorter format.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.
Blind Liars perform July 29 at Ziggy’s, 206 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti, with The Honey Pot and Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts. The band also performs August 5 at Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave. in Detroit, with The City Lines, Twin Deer, and Olivia Schotthoefer.