Jack of all trades

Mike Blanchard

Photo By Larry Dalton

It isn’t often that you find an Americana musician, a magazine editor and publisher and an auto mechanic rolled up in one person. But Mike Blanchard wears all of those hats. The onetime frontman for local rock band the Tattooed Love Dogs now performs with his wife, Laurieanne, in an Americana duo called the Neighbors. The two Blanchards also publish Rust, a bimonthly free magazine that covers arts, crafts, old cars, bikes and other cool things. Blanchard edits Rust and pens the occasional libertarian-flavored editorial. He also works at Barber Bros., an 18th Street import garage and hangout that specializes in Alfa Romeos and Volvos.

What was the original idea behind Rust?

My wife, Laurieanne; Brad Gleed; and I came up with the idea because we were always coming up with interesting, weird things and finding interesting guys. Laurieanne said, “You know, you ought to start a magazine, and tell everybody else all these same stories you’re telling me.” So, it’s worked out well. It’s sort of a general-interest magazine; it reflects what I’m interested in.

What are you interested in?

All different kinds of stuff. We’ve had bullfighting, hatchet throwing, racing—I went to the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis; we go to Bonneville. Mostly, my interest is old, vintage, interesting things. We’ve had articles on antique swords. There’ll probably be some articles on firearms of one sort or another. I’m interested in meeting old guys with interesting stories and things people have forgotten about. It’s sort of a chronicle of the things that we do—there’s always an artist feature, book reviews. My dad writes a column on craftsmanship; he’s a master craftsman and engraver.

That column’s by your dad?

Yeah. He just finished repairing a box for James Garner’s wife, a 300-year-old tortoise-shell and silver box. He also made the championship trophy for the Cypress Point Golf Club.

You have a lot of car-culture stuff, too?

A lot of car culture, what we might call lowbrow culture. It’s kind of a neat mix; there are guys who were around in the ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s who are still doing it, and then there’s a whole group of young guys. A lot of them started out in skateboarding and punk-rock and rockabilly music. And there’s this component of rockabilly, punk-rock, tattoo culture and ‘50s and ‘40s vintage hot rods, which is kind of an oddball thing. And there’s a lot of art involved in it.

You’re working on a project car now?

I’m just finishing up a 1920 Ford Model T racer I built from three other cars out of scratch, and it runs basically with a stock engine, but I’ve added several racing items, like the exhaust and the intake, things that would have been common on a Ford racer back then. It’s a flathead four, 172-cubic-inch, very similar to what people would have run as a dirt-track racer in the 1920s. This will be my second car that I’ve built from scratch in the last couple years. The first one was my ‘73 Alfa Berlina that I built from a bare shell.

The collision of art and car culture that came out of Los Angeles in the ’60s—Ed Roth, Von Dutch—how much does that aesthetic govern what you do?

It is a big collision of art, and in a lot of ways, that’s the attraction for me—the fact that it’s a blend of mechanics and art and machine aesthetics. It brings a lot of that form-follows-function type of aesthetic. A lot of things that were designed to be made easily, with little consideration for the aesthetics, in fact turn out to be beautiful because the form is so functional that it has this perfection to it—there’s no fat on it. It does perfectly what it was designed to do.

If you look at a can opener, an egg beater or a toaster from the ‘20s or the ‘30s, it’s a beautiful object, and people collect them because they have style and they have a rightness about them and the shape is pleasing. They echo the female form; they echo shapes from nature. And once we went through World War II, where things had to be manufactured without regard to aesthetics, they needed to be purely functional and made as cheaply and efficiently as possible. We’ve never gotten away from that manufacturing ethic. There seems to be sort of a return to it, in that there’s a big retro feel. You see things like vintage guitars and certain types of cars—Ford with the new Thunderbird and [Chrysler] with the PT Cruiser and the Prowler. And they’re trying to return to that 1930s beauty in function, in mechanical and inanimate objects.

We’re very interested in art and music and mechanics and that melting pot where all of them come together and you see guys building these beautiful hot rods.

And your current band?

I have a band with my wife, Laurieanne, called the Neighbors. We’re playing a lot of traditional music and a lot of what you might call hillbilly or Western music.