A Chat with Blake (06.10.2021)

Following on from his album HMS Blake, Blake is unleashing a whirlwind of colours and sounds in Kaleidoscope. Blending vintage tones and recording techniques, he keeps you hooked to a unique sound with a retro vibe. With flairs of colours and sounds, each track brings a new tone to the album while converging into a cohesive story. We had the opportunity to talk to Blake about the album, the use of retro recording techniques, creative processes and much more!

OSR: Was there a moment when you first released that you wanted to make music?

Blake: Yes. I was fourteen and I was asked to audition as the singer for a band at school. One of the members had heard me singing to myself in art class. I was too nervous to sing in the end, and I also wasn’t familiar with any of the songs, but I watched the band rehearse and I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life! I moved schools shortly afterwards but after teaching myself some chords on a second-hand Spanish guitar, I formed a band at my new school, called ‘Embryo’, and haven’t looked back since.

OSR: As a multi-instrumentalist, do you have a single instrument that you enjoy playing the most?

Blake: My first instrument was a six-string guitar, as I say, but the first electric instrument I owned was a bass. I was initially the singer and bass player in the band and even wrote my first songs on one. I prefer playing the guitar now because it’s easier to sing and play but I still love bass and I look forward to laying down bass tracks when I’m recording.

OSR: You have recently released your second album Kaleidoscope, can you tell us a little more about it?

Blake: It’s my second album for the Subjangle label but it’s actually my 21st album in total! I intended it to sound like a musical kaleidoscope, with songs that were diverse in style and content. The title track was one of the first I wrote so this concept presented itself early on. Mind you, this is something that I tend to naturally do on my albums because I like a lot of different types of music.

OSR: Your music has a heavy fusion of 60s and 70s styles, but which artists have had the greatest influences on your sound?

Blake: I’ve been performing in a Beatles tribute band as John Lennon since 2007 so the Fabs are obviously a huge influence on me. I also do a Bob Dylan tribute because I’m crazy about him, too. My other favourite artists are Donovan, Richard Thompson, Van Morrison and the original Fleetwood Mac.

OSR: The album was recorded on analogue tape at Radar Sounds, what made you choose this medium for the recording?

Blake: I had always wanted to record an album in an analogue studio and I treated myself to ticking off this bucket list item by booking into Radar Sounds in London earlier in the year. The studio boasts an ex-Abbey Road Studer 24 track two-inch tape machine and it was fantastic to use it. It meant going back to ‘old school’ ways of recording, however. We had to perform the basic tracks live and get the performances as perfect as we could. It was a challenge, particularly as I only had nine days to do it all in!

OSR: Each track has its own style and flow, how difficult was it to create this kaleidoscope of sounds while retaining the cohesiveness of an album?

Blake: I guess that the cohesiveness comes through the recording method and equipment, so the sounds you hear are almost entirely analogue, even the keyboard instruments, whatever the style of the song that is being performed. My friend Richard Kilbey contributed Mellotron and other vintage synth sounds on many of the tracks and these are so reminiscent of the late sixties and early seventies that I think this also helped create a unified record.

Photo Credit: Julian Pugsley

OSR: What was your creative process for the album? Did you start with a concept or individual tracks?

Blake: I mentioned the writing of the title track before, which helped me develop the concept for the album. I recorded thirty demos for it in total and attempted to select the best fifteen songs to record. I write very quickly when the inspiration hits and after I’ve finished working on an album I try my best not to write songs at all. I’ve already got masses of demos backed up. I will look again at some of these when the time comes to record my next LP.

OSR: While all the tracks have a unique style, which do you feel capture the essence of the album the most?

Blake: I would have thought that this would have to be the title track because it embodies the concept of the album. Then again, I was listening to Spirit’s 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus a lot when I was writing the songs and felt that ‘Love is the Way’ was the closest I got to achieving that early 70s rock vibe. However, the one that Fuzz, the producer and owner of Radar Sounds, liked best was ‘Let Yourself In’. This was recorded with very few overdubs using acoustic guitars, bass and drums. It felt good to write a song that didn’t require a complicated arrangement. My friend Joe Brown helped with the middle eight. Because I was recording with my friends rather than on my own this time, this song is perhaps most representative of that collaborative effort.

OSR: How do you feel this album compares to your last?

Blake: HMS Blake, my first album for Subjangle, was a behemoth. It not only contained an expanded edition of my previous album, 1971, but also a twenty track introductory compilation selected from all my previous LPs. At fifteen tracks, Kaleidoscope seems more manageable in comparison. I still ended up supplementing the ten tracks I had recorded at Radar Sounds with five others that I recorded at home because I always feel the need to present ‘good value’ with my long players. I try to keep my songwriting standards high and I hope I’ve been able to maintain a similar level to 1971, which was in many ways a breakthrough release for me, not least because it attracted the attention of Subjangle.

OSR: If people could feel only one emotion while listening to the album, what would you like that to be?

Blake: While there are a lot of positive and happy tracks on the album, it is a bit of a roller coaster emotionally, which is to do with the Kaleidoscope concept. ‘The Lost Art of Writing Letters’ deals with grief, ‘Blood On Their Hands’ is about the Grenfell disaster, ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Love is the Way’ conjure feelings of nostalgia and ‘Revelation Blues’ is about trying to hold on to faith. The penultimate track, ‘No One Here Gets Out Alive’, is about Elliott Smith’s tragic suicide and I was very conscious that I didn’t want to leave listeners with a feeling of sadness, which is why ‘Whenever You Call My Name’ ends the album in a spirit of hope. That’s the emotion I would like my music to inspire, fundamentally.

OSR: What else can we expect from you in the next 12 months?

Blake: The label has kindly asked if I would be happy to produce another album for next year and, of course, I’ve said yes! I played my first live show for eighteen months at the Kaleidoscope launch concert in Corsham, near where I live in Wiltshire, last Friday and I hope to announce some more gigs for 2022. Playing live is where it’s at for me because it’s then that you can really see how well a song you’ve written goes over. I’m blessed to have four of my best friends that I have known for years in my band, the same guys who helped me record the album. In fact, my drummer, Hugh Lyford, is the drummer from Embryo, my first band from all those years ago at school. He’s only recently moved back from London to the West Country, so it feels like everything has come full circle.

Thanks to Blake for chatting with us! You can find more about Blake on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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