James Blake on Prince, Justin Vernon, and fans shushing each other at his shows

Categories: Interview
Photo by Ben Clark
When experimental electro-dub artist James Blake made his Minneapolis debut at the Entry this past May, he made sure to note how thrilled he was to be at the venue "where Prince played," joking that he was disappointed he wasn't playing in the iconic Mainroom. So when Blake returned just four short months later to play that bigger stage, it was a good opportunity to find out more about Blake's ties to the Twin Cities.

Blake kindly took some time out of his rigorous touring schedule yesterday afternoon for an interview in First Ave's neighboring Record Room. While the walls rattled from the sound check taking place next door, he opened up about his admiration for the venue, his budding friendship with regional indie star Justin Vernon, and how he wants fans to act at his shows.

When you played the Entry last May, and you mentioned that you were excited about being inside First Avenue. What stories had you heard about the venue, and what made you so excited to play here?

I'd heard it was a legendary venue, which it obviously is. I just looked outside on the wall at the amount of artists that played here that I Iove -- just you name them, really. And apart from that, just the people who I know that have come from this town, and said it's a great venue. I know some great musicians come from here, and I wondered what it was about this place that makes, that spawned these great people. I don't know.

Which Twin Cities musicians are you familiar with?

There must be some sort of slightly out of the box thinking going on, because if Bon Iver and Prince both come from here, then already there's like -- there's an alternative side to those two people. And I suppose you can't judge the whole scene based on two popular acts, but as far as I'm considered, they both have experimental, left-field qualities, and I think that's great in pop music. That's my goal, really. Not my only goal, but it's nice for things to sound interesting, and those are two that definitely do.

I see a lot of similarities between you and Justin Vernon, your approach to blending pop sensibilities with more abstract elements. When did the two of you meet for the first time?

South by Southwest in Texas.

Have you spent a lot of time together?

No, not really. We're both leading incredibly busy lives. But there's always a hint with people that you are -- you know when you get on with someone. You know when you've got good friends where you don't see them for a while, but it's kind of the same? It kind of reminds me of somebody like that. We've talked about music and stuff and played together, and it's been quite nice. I think it'd be nice to get on stage together at some point and do something, but I don't know. Again, we barely have any time. Our tours are almost always on opposite sides of the country, or the world. It's not really crossing paths all that easily, but we try to stay in contact.

Do you have plans to record more songs together? I know there's one song out now, are there more finished?

Yeah. There are a couple things, we'll see. I'm happy with the things we've done, but I do feel like Justin is the sort of person who -- I think anything I do with him, it deserves more time than just sitting on a bus and doing it, or making it in a hotel room. I want to spend a bit of time and really think about something.

You've managed to stay prolific while touring heavily. How do you keep up your concentration on the road?

I don't really concentrate to make music, I just do it because I feel like I have to. It's more like a release than a sort of dedicated exercise. There's not much discipline. The only real discipline comes when I have to finish things, because the way I do things, I am the producer as well as the engineer, I have to round everything off right at the end. So that's the only time when that sort of discipline comes into play. But other than that I'm just sort of sitting around making music when I get the chance. Me and Rob [McAndrews] -- he goes by the name Airhead -- he's a guitarist in my band, and he's a really good producer, and me and him sit sort of around just making beats. Like when we're tired of chatting with each other, we just sit on our laptops and make beats. For both of us that process is cathartic, and for both of us it's kind of necessary. We have to do it. It's like most people who make music or make art will probably tell you, if they don't do it then they get unhappy. That's why I have to keep it up. I have to keep writing. Otherwise it would drive me insane, no playing, no writing. Because I do play on stage, but I'm not -- it's a different creative energy being put out there.

It's a finished product already.

Kind of. Although we do change it -- there's always creative stuff going on. But creating a whole new song is a process that I can't replace with anything else.

Photo by Ben Clark

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