When you look at Andrew Starr and Pansy’s new collaborative record “SandBath” on bandcamp, information is sparse. It does feature a dedication to their friend Jordan Blaauw, however. “See the stars? That’s what you are,” it says. This dedication is fitting, because it was Jordan’s death that inspired their latest creation.
Andrew Starr, whose real name is Cam Frank, recalls the first time they met Jordan Blaauw. “I think the first time I met him he was like ‘you wanna read my poem?” they remember warmly. The two met through local music, “probably Virgo shows I think…My fondest memories are of hanging out with him at the Upper Room,” they recall. From then on, whenever they ran into one another Jordan would readily offer up his own work.
So for Frank, seeing that same poetry displayed at Jordan’s visitation conjured up powerful emotions. “There was a poem that was displayed on the screens at his visitation that was something about ‘the poppy seed cries its last tear,” Frank remembers. “Which was weird to see,” they explain, understatedly. Jordan Blaauw died April 17, 2017 from an accidental overdose of heroin, likely laced with fentanyl. “He hadn’t done it for five years; that’s how he died because he’s like ‘I’m going to take the same dose that I normally do,” Frank tells me. Blaauw had confided in Frank about his struggles with substance abuse. “He was pretty open about it though. He was open about anything, if you just asked him about it…He liked to talk, I liked to listen… I’m not good at talking,” Frank tells me. Still, knowledge of Blaauw’s past didn’t lessen the impact of his death.
Frank remembers being on the porch with their friend Donny when they found out about Jordan’s death. “Donny is just like ‘you know Jordan Blaauw?… he’s dead.” Their first reaction was disbelief. “No he’s not… what are you talking about?” they said. Donny was also in shock. “Yea no, he’s dead,” he responded. Frank wanted to know more, but Olin didn’t have any details. “I just went inside and went upstairs to my room and got on Facebook,” they recall. “I remember at first his cousin…posted the name of the drug dealer and everything,” they say. “I don’t think they ever did anything to press charges… but how can you press charges when you’re, you know, illegally buying H?”
Jordan dealt with mental illness for much of his life, and it was a struggle that surely contributed to his substance abuse. Cam learned about this issue from Jordan himself as their friendship developed. “Schizoaffective disorder is a weird thing… it gets clumped into a bunch of different mental health disorders, it’s just really unique,” Frank explains. They remember it as possibly the only thing their friend wasn’t completely open about. Blaauw’s obituary describes schizoaffective disorder as a disease “in which symptoms are a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.” It also explains that “when Jordan’s symptoms came on, they sometimes occurred simultaneously or at different times.” Frank observed that “you could tell when you looked in his eyes that there was something going on in his head.” They are reminded of something another friend posted on Facebook after learning of Jordan’s passing. “Every time you’d see him it seemed like he was just in a different world… just walking through a field but he’s actually walking down Lake Drive… He’d be in his own head, probably just writing poems,” Frank remembers.
Cam became familiar with the most challenging aspects of Jordan’s mental illness too. The friends both lived in Easttown, and often ran into one another, sometimes by accident. So Cam was puzzled after noticing that they’d stopped seeing or hearing from Jordan completely. “He disappeared for like a month,” Frank remembers. When the friends finally did reunite it was during an unintentional encounter at Early Bird Cafe. “I was like ‘hey like what’s up, where ya been?’” Cam remembers. Jordan answered in turn, “I’ve been in the mental hospital. I thought I was Muhammad for a while, I thought I was God,” he said. Jordan told Cam exactly how it went down. Blaauw had dropped acid and somehow ended up in the pedestrian overpass crossing Michigan St. on Medical Mile. “I was in there and I was just yelling at people that I was God,” Cam recalls him saying. “Then I called my Uncle, and he picked me up, and then I went to the mental hospital for a while,” Jordan concluded, emphatically. “Oh that’s where you went man, nice to have you back!” Cam told him. Blaauw responded sarcastically, “well turns out, I’m not actually Muhammad…but, that’s fine.”
Frank remembers Jordan’s passing as “one of the first deaths…that really took me out of reality for a minute.” It also forced Cam to confront some of the harsh realities surrounding death. “Yea it was weird, just accepting death and that this will probably happen again. I’m only 20, this will probably happen like five more times before I turn 30. People die every day,” they recall. Frank also recounts their personal experiences with death leading up to Jordan. “My Grandpa died… and my Grandma died when I was in like eighth grade or ninth grade; actually that took a pretty heavy toll on me,” they remember. Frank also recounts a recent conversation they had with their other (still living) Grandfather. “We sit down to eat, and the first thing he asks, he’s like ‘Cameron, are you happy in life?” Frank was caught off guard. “I was like… ‘I’ve never talked to you like this before Paul,” they responded, still surprised. “And he’s like… ’I’m related to you, I’m not gonna shoot the shit. Are you happy in life?’” Cam recounts. “My Grandpa’s probably heard through the grapevine about… my mental health stuff,” Frank explains to me. “Are you happy?” Frank’s Grandfather asked again. “I am right now just because I know that I’m going to die.” It was an explanation that Frank still ponders. “He has a strange way of thinking, it’s the Irish-Catholic thing. He’s excited for death because he’s like ‘I get to see God’… he’s very optimistic,” they explain. The certainties that comfort their Grandfather evade Cam, however. “I don’t know what I feel yet,” Frank tells me.
Reeling from the death of Jordan, Frank was inspired to begin work on what became SandBath. “I remember when he first died I tried writing a song… and then I was like this seems way too forced,” Frank recalls of beginning the process. “I think it was just a way to release feelings,” they conclude. It took a little time for the songwriting process to begin in earnest. In June of 2017, concrete songs started to develop. One of the first songs to manifest itself was ‘Blood.’ Asked what the song is about, Cam tells me, “Blood is about …death, and overdosing, mostly, and life after death. It’s about vomiting your soul out.” Matt Hagger, also known as Pansy, elaborates. “It seems like a lot of the symbols… tie into addiction as well,” they add. Quoting the song they read, “the blood is red, the blood is thin’…. it shows the thinking process, then it shows the sort of the what would happen if you actually did get wrapped up in…” Cam interjects with a line from the song. “You are not enough, Ahhhhh!’ It’s based around a lot of Catholic guilt too. I grew up Catholic.” Cam quotes another line from the song that was borrowed from scripture. “His hand will come and strike you down again’… for being addicted to drugs, I guess,” they reason.
The same theme presents itself on album opener “Baby Rattle Requiem,” a song that quixotically features the sounds of their cat Alice meowing at the beginning. Alluding to one of the song’s key lines ‘I want to be a puzzle piece,’ they say, “that one’s very much about drugs, and wanting to be a puzzle piece when you’re ostracized for having an addiction.” Hagger continues, saying “A lot of people that have addictions… they’re probably literally splitting themselves like a puzzle piece, you know what I mean? They show one version of themself to one person, one to another.” Hagger also suggests that drug addiction shouldn’t be so difficult for non-addicts to empathize with, at least to an extent. “I think, maybe as people we’re very addicted to routines, we’re dependent on them… We’re always seeking something that’s comfortable, something that feels better than what we have right now,” they say. “That’s why people turn to drugs!” Frank responds in turn.
Frank objects not just to the ostracization of addicts, but also to the criminalization they experience in the United States. “Addiction is very frowned upon in society when it very much should not be,” they assert. “In Amsterdam… drugs are legal because people are gonna find a way to get drugs anyways, but rehab is free,” they point out. How should society treat addicts then? “Welcomed and comforted,” Frank states matter-of-factly. Frank points out that all over the world, countries are learning how to properly address addiction. “Argentina and a bunch of places… cut down on a significant amount of overdoses by making safe administration places a thing,” they state.
On the song “Pull You Down,” Andrew Starr and Pansy captures both the coursing highs and crushing lows of existence, and tie together all the themes of their record. Frank describes the song as “almost like prose, written to somebody.” Frank elaborates on some of the most important lyrics in the song. “I stopped smoking for a really long time… ‘old time crutches came in handy,’ and I started smoking again.” Continuing to recite they say, “we’ll look at the sky and point at funny clouds and chemicals will course through our veins.” To Cam the chemicals are dopamine, “because I’m happy,” they explain. Finally, “the night comes around and the weight of the world pulls me down.” Cam says that this line represents getting “really anxious and depressed all the time and… just falling back into old traps.”
Still, not every song addresses Jordan directly. ‘Sunburn’ is about a childhood injury Cam obtained after spending all day out in the sun. “My skin peeled off like a little snake,” they recall painfully. Another track titled “Drone” is just that, a drone. During our conversations Cam and Matt also refer to the great wealth of material that didn’t make it on the record. From the track ‘Smelling of Flowers’ they recall one lyric that went “don’t let the things you were raised on dictate your life… stop and smell the flowers today.” It’s a message that the authors wrote as much for Jordan as they did for themselves. “I sang it too much like Bjork,” Cam explains of the line’s omission from the album. Still, to Frank, Jordan’s presence pervades the entire album. They describe Jordan’s contribution to the record in this way. “It was just kind of felt, it was a presence in the room,” they tell me. Cam is certain that “a little bit of the Blaauw,” is contained within the recordings of SandBath . “Maybe Jordan was speaking through Alice the cat at the beginning of ‘Baby Rattle,’ meowing.”