Cinema for the Blind, a young, up-and-coming band based in Dallas and fronted by the singer/songwriting brother-sister duo Kruz and Blaze Bramlett, is gaining momentum. Kruz (16) and Blaze (13) have been composing music since they were six, and have each won competitions for their virtuoso-like abilities. Their songs include a wide range of styles pulled from “alternative and dance to rock and R&B with a fresh, soulful and energetic sound.”
Jose Rossy, a master percussionist who is currently touring with Pattie Labelle, has said that Kruz “can do anything. He can sing, he plays keyboards, he writes, he produces, he plays drums and guitar. I mean what else, at his age, are you kidding me?”
The two siblings were discovered by their uncle, Jeffrey Miller, a musician who owned and ran a recording studio in Hollywood, and who has since become their mentor. When he doesn’t lead behind stage, Jeff plays the bass at live shows.
Several months back Victoria (Viki) Arsova, 13, joined in, completing the team with back up vocals. Viki, a gifted artist and aspiring stage performer, admits that this is her first major encounter with the world of music; a world she has quickly fallen in love with.
Despite their young age, this talented group devotes most of their time to practice, working with remarkable focus and drive to get their music to the next level. They recently had the great news of securing a song licensing agreement with a music publishing company.
As the band is gearing up for a summer of live performances, Falchion sat down with them to discuss life, publication contracts, as well as some of their current and upcoming projects.
Falchion: How did you get started playing and performing music?
Kruz: I really just enjoyed everything musical from a young age. It’s taken me in a lot of different directions. And then a while back, I started practicing and playing with other people, which led to this whole band thing.
Blaze: I started piano when I was about five. I began with classical piano, then moved on from that when I was about nine. And then we launched the band, and we’ve been doing that about three or four years now.
Kruz: Longer than that even, I think.
Viki: Music has always been a passion for me, but other than performing on stage at school and doing musicals, I’d never had much on-stage experience. Actually, it was Jeff who discovered me for the music as well. He heard me singing with Blaze, and decided to bring me on. Ever since, I have immersed myself in keyboard and vocal lessons. I’m determined to catch up to Kruz and Blaze (laughs). This has been an immense challenge, but extremely satisfying and rewarding.
Jeffrey: We brought Viki on to be in the musical video we were doing. To perform a music video properly, you have to make it look real. You can’t move your mouth to the music, you actually have to sing along with it, otherwise it looks fake. So that’s when I heard her sing.
Falchion: Kruz and Blaze, tell me how did you figure out that you can play together? Was there an “aha” moment?
Blaze: It’s funny, I remember one day I was in the living room, which is now the music room, and we got a call from Jeff who said “yo, we should start a band!” And that started all this. I don’t even know how old I was, I just remember that particular moment. Before that I don’t even recall us practicing music together (pointing to Kruz) — other than classical piano.
Falchion: So, has music just always been in the household then? Something you two grew up with?
Kruz: Yeah, even some gifts I got as a child were a drum set, an inexpensive guitar, and then a keyboard. I didn’t really know what to do with those at first, but since they were just left there I eventually figured out the basics. That was enough of a reason for me to enroll in lessons and further my music development.
Jeffrey: I could give you a couple of stories when Kruz and Blaze were young. The first time I happened to notice Kruz’s unusual musical talent [was when] he was probably a year and half old. He would have these crying fits and the only way his parents could get him to stop crying would be to get him in the car, put him in the car seat, and take him for a drive so he could listen to music. And there were actually two CD’s he would listen to – Santana’s Supernatural, and the other one was this eclectic band called Avenue Blue. They were all guitar players but they played different instruments using the guitar. Really cool. So his parents would take him out and play one of those for him and Kruz would magically stop crying.
By the time he was two he could sing every note of every guitar solo on that album, with or without the CD. He didn’t even need to hear it, he could just sing it. That is when I went to the parents and said, “You know this isn’t normal, right?” I mean, many professional musicians wouldn’t be able to memorize that much and nail it, on pitch. I had a musical background. So I was sort of assigned to be the musical mentor from really early on. And then as he got older, we got him a little drum set, and he never really had to learn how to play, he could just sit and do it. He could play. It’s not like me – I took drum lessons, and it’s very difficult, because you have to be doing different things with your hands and feet. Kruz bypassed that whole learning process really, and could just do it.
As far as Blaze, we got Kruz into classical piano and he’d take lessons every week, so Blaze was just chomping at the bit at age four to start taking lessons. And so her mom asked her teacher if she could start taking them, but the teacher thought it was too young, that she needed another year or two. A couple of weeks later, the teacher happened to hear Blaze playing after one of Kruz’s lessons. At first she thought it was Kruz, because she was talking with the parents in the other room, and she asked “How did Kruz learn the music that quickly?” But Kruz was right there, they hadn’t even realized, so they went into the other room, and it was Blaze. After that the teacher said, “You know what, I think she is ready.” Blaze just has a natural feel for composition.
Blaze: I initially started because I copied everything Kruz did.
Jeffrey: Blaze’s sense of pitch is, I would say, abnormally refined. She can do anything in music she wants.
Falchion: Do you prefer performing on-stage or recording?
Blaze: I prefer on-stage.
Viki: I prefer on-stage as well. Although it can be nerve-wracking at times, nothing beats the feeling of getting out there and performing in front of live audience.
Kruz: At one point in the early days we went through a period when we’d had a couple of rocky performances, and that can rattle your confidence. So for a while I was more comfortable in the studio. But once I felt like I got back in the zone, I kind of do prefer performing live.
Falchion: So what happens when you make a mistake while performing live?
Kruz: We roll with it. And then we complain about it a lot after (laughs).
Falchion: I have noticed that you switch instruments a lot on-stage.
Kruz: Drums are definitely my core instrument, but they are not necessarily the most effective tool for song writing. I’ve played keyboard since I was five, but I was always wanting to play guitar. So I basically locked myself in my room for several months, just me and my guitar. I went from being a hack to actually really knowing my way around the fretboard. My sister, too, plays keyboards and guitar on stage.
Falchion: You called yourself “Cinema for the Blind,” which I find very symbolic. What is the story behind your name?
Kruz: Before we tell you about that, we have to tell you about the yearlong name debate. And when I say yearlong… I mean yearlong! We’ve gone through multiple name changes. I think our very first name was “Half-Mexicans.”
Falchion: Potentially politically incorrect, these days, but okay…
Kruz: Is it really, though? I don’t think of it as offensive. It’s just a fact, since my mom is Mexican (laughs). Afterward we decided it’s time to get very serious about our name. We threw around names for a while. And we came up with “A Thousand Paper Stars.” There was that thing people were doing online at the time, which was filling up jars with paper stars for good luck. I liked that, but we thought it was too long, which reopened the debate. I eventually brought up an older name I had come up with… fortunately it had been like a year and everybody was worn down. It was like a war of attrition.
Falchion: You wore them down.
Kruz: Yes, I wore them down. They said the name sounded rather good after we had been arguing for so long. I just thought “Cinema for the Blind” signifies the way in which music can communicate, visually, to people who are not able to see, either physically or metaphorically.
Falchion: That leads me to my next question. Tell me about your creative process: who writes for the most part?
Blaze: It alternates. We all write. As far as composing the melody – it really involves a lot of times coming up with a little riff. I would say most times we create a song around a little melodic line we have. Оther times it starts with lyrics.
Kruz: The riffs are the easiest to start from. Lyric writing can be —probably is— the most challenging part of the creative process. That’s not to say it doesn’t work. But I may have to be locked in a room for that to happen. It doesn’t flow as easy.
Falchion: Let’s talk about the different musical styles and genres that you employ. One of the things that I noticed when I listen to you is that it is a blend. It’s just different, in a very interesting way: you have everything from pop ballads to grunge rock to dance. Is there a certain style you gravitate to?
Kruz: So far it really doesn’t seem so. I thought about that pretty early on. We decided to have a philosophy of, “let’s just try everything until we find something that feels perfect.” And I still haven’t found anything that feels perfect. As a person who listens to music, I don’t have any specific genre that I listen to, it’s more that I am really picky in terms of what I pull from, and we pull from a lot of genres. And I think that shows in what we play. It’s been kind of weird actually, because we do have a sort of a mixed set of genres we experiment with, use, and play.
Jeffrey: And hopefully we can get away with it.
Falchion: Why get pigeonholed into a certain scene, a specific genre, if you don’t have to, right?
Jeffrey: Yeah, exactly. And I think live it comes off really well. We do have a particular band sound, but as far as style of music, we like to pull from rock, pop, funk, r&b, and even blend styles.
Kruz: But if we were to pinpoint what we play most, it would probably be blues and rock.
Falchion: What projects are you working on now?
Kruz: Right now we’ve got some really cool new original songs. We’ve been on a roll. Getting a licensing deal for one of our songs was also pretty exciting.
Falchion: Yes, congratulations! How does it feel to know you have secured your first licesing deal with a music publishing company?
Jeffrey: The licensing deal is great, because songwriting can be a lot harder work than rehearsing and playing live shows. And we’ve been doing it for years. And these kids have moments when they get frustrated, but the payoff for having all of these originals they’ve written is going to be huge down the road. I keep telling these guys, it’s not everyday that 13 and 16-year-olds have song licensing deals.
Kruz: That was my first major lyric writing experience. And it was really tough, but I feel like it’s the best lyric writing that I’ve done. I’m really proud of it.
Falchion: So tell me, after all this rehearsing, writing, performing, after getting a taste of the professional music business, how do you go back to the reality of being 13 and 16 and needing to go to school and do things like math homework? How does that transition work for you?
Kruz: It is definitely difficult because music, however demanding, is still more exciting and glamorous. But I look at it from the perspective of, if I work hard enough on my music, I won’t have to be doing tedious tasks over and over again. I don’t want to work a stereotypical 9-5. I would like to break out of that stereotype. I’m not at all opposed to the idea of going to college and pursuing a higher education. Yet, I think it would be great to write a hit song instead and be able to dedicate my life to music. So, while it is challenging at times to juggle it all, I try hard and use that goal as my motivation. This contract was the first sign that the work was really starting to pay off. And it kind of strengthened my resolve.
Blaze: Since I pretty much grew up with music, it’s not really a huge change for me to switch from rehearsing to doing homework. And, it may sound unusual to many, but I actually do enjoy school. Not that I would do [homework] in my free time, but I don’t mind it as much as some do. So, I think I ballance the two well.
Viki: Like Blaze and Kruz, I have been home-schooled for several years now (in fact, this is how Blaze and I met and connected right away). Home-schooling is amazing, because we can arrange our schedule in a way that allows us to focus on the the things that matter to us and our development. As I said before, aside from practicing with the band, I have been taking keyboard and vocal lessons. I just know I need to work hard and balance it all, because the music we do is very important for me, it really speaks to me. So, I do my best to make time for school and homework, and time for music and the band.
Falchion: Can you talk a bit about your musical influences? Who inspires you?
Kruz: It shifts for me over time. Lately I’ve really been into alternative and alternative rock. I used to really be into the EDM scene. But that was kind of phase that me and a lot of my friends went through. Now it’s more rock. Blaze, what would you say?
Blaze: Though not an influence on my writing, I would say the band that I’ve consistently liked from early on is Boston.
Falchion: Oh, so classic rock.
Jeffrey: They are both classic rock aficionados.
Blaze: That comes from our dad.
Viki: I don’t think I have a favorite band, but I have a favorite performer, Selena Gomez. She used to act, just like I did. Now that she is singing as well, that has been really inspirational for me, too.
Falchion: I haven’t asked you about your videos. They are really well done. Did you enjoy the process that comes along with the video production?
Blaze: I enjoyed it. Sometimes we would look at a few other music videos, and say, we want this kind of feel to it. And then we would go out and find a place to do it. I think we’ve done two in Deep Ellum now. It’s pretty fun.
Falchion: What are you focusing on these days?
Jeffrey: We split our time working on original songs and our live show. I think the original songs are what are really going to set the kids apart. We’ve been gearing up this summer to play a lot of live shows. So this summer is really going to be a blast!