During my time studying abroad in London, I fell in love with the local music scene. One of the artists encountered during my time there was Blake. Her new album Home Truth is a sweet and sassy collection of five songs with delightfully savage titles like, “Blow All Our Money” and “Smoking Weed Ain’t a Hobby.” I sat down with her to discuss the inspiration behind Home Truth, growing up in New Zealand, and the big move to London.
How did growing up in New Zealand influence your music?
I think it has influenced my personality a lot and that in turn has influenced my music from a lyrical standpoint. I think the way I write is quite blunt – it’s not that cryptic, and I think that’s a reflection of my personality.
In New Zealand, we’re quite forward and quite honest as well with our opinions of things. So, I think in that indirect way it has influenced my music. Also there are a lot of soul artists in New Zealand and being exposed to that has definitely influenced my style.
I didn’t know that! I wouldn’t think that there’s a big soul scene in New Zealand.
Yeah! Artists like Ladi6, Brooke Fraser, Holly Smith and Fat Freddy’s were all a staple growing up. They would tour the country every summer and play all these great festivals we went to. Listening to these artists quite early on has definitely helped shape my style.
So, moving to London, everyone must seem very indirect and polite—it must be a big change from New Zealand?
Yeah, it’s the opposite here. I’ve found a lot of people are quite passive and I think the lead single “Home Truth” is about dealing with that since I think I’ve had a lot of instances where I’ve come across quite brash and then I’ve offended people—not intentionally, I’ll just say what I’m thinking a lot of the time.
I’ve learned sometimes it’s best to pick and choose where you might hold back what you’re thinking but yeah, it’s been a bit of a social transition coming over here in that respect.
Yeah, I experienced that moving to London from New York City as well. Why did you decide to make the move to London?
I think when you’re from New Zealand, especially when you’re from quite far down South like I am—it’s quite isolating. If you want to be involved in an industry outside of animal agriculture and tourism, you have to leave really since there’s not a lot going on.
The population of the entire country is less than five million people and I just wanted to explore more opportunities. London and the UK have quite a renowned music scene so I figured if I’m going to go anywhere, I should come here. My sister lives in London too so its nice having another family member here!
How has the experience been?
When I first moved here, I was doing loads of topline writing for drum and bass. I was obsessed with the genre for a while and I was going to loads of nights. I think for me, it was quite easy to meet producers since it’s quite a small scene and there weren’t a lot of other vocalists around to compete with.
I had a bit of a crashing realisation a couple of years ago that if I wanted to achieve the things I wanted to in music I would have to branch out. I was thinking about what artists I wanted to collaborate with in the future, what shows do I want to do, festivals I want to play at, and where I want to go, and that made me stop doing the topline writing in DnB.
Now I’m focusing on doing my own stuff, which is where this EP has stemmed from. I feel like I’m kind of starting from the bottom again since there’s not much crossover between soul/pop and drum and bass in terms of network but I’m getting there slowly and surely. Now that I’ve put this EP out and done a few shows it’ll help me move away from the topline stuff into being an artist in my own right.
I’m not too familiar with drum and bass music; does it usually have vocals?
Well it depends – within drum and bass there are sub-genres and the sub-genre I was doing was called liquid drum and bass. It’s very relaxed, chilled-out and quite melodic.
What inspired the switch to your sound now?
My music teacher when I was 15 was a jazz musician, so some of the first songs I was covering were jazz songs. I was obsessed with Amy Winehouse and I learned Etta James covers. I think the tone of my voice naturally fits with soul and jazz. But I’d say pop music has been huge part of my musical taste as well, even in the early stages.
I was obsessed with Taylor Swift and I loved The Fray. I had their songwriting book at home and would learn the chords on the piano and would sing along. So, I think looking back soul/pop has always been my sound.
I sometimes explain to people I’m a wannabe jazz musician because I’m not trained in anyway but I feel like it has had a huge impact on my vocal style. South East London has a great jazz scene and I’ve been going to loads of improvised jam nights where you’ve got 3 musicians hosting it and they get new musicians to come down and perform. I’ve met a lot of musicians through these nights and they’re all the loveliest people.
I do a little improv singing every now and then – I think just being around people playing jazz has enabled me to absorb stylistically some elements of it. I feel like my songwriting definitely is more on the pop side structurally and melodically, but I’ve been able to incorporate some of the dynamics of soul/jazz.
How did you figure out who you wanted to collaborate with for the EP?
I wrote all the songs by myself. I can do basic production, but I needed someone to help me pull it all together and figure out some extra instrumentation. So, I put an ad out on a website because all of the producers I knew were in drum and bass so there wasn’t a huge pool of producers I knew that would be interested in the project.
I basically just put this ad out and quite a few people got back to me. I researched what they’ve worked on and found someone through that and worked with one person for the whole project.
For this EP, was there a common theme or inspiration behind it?
Well the lead track is “Home Truth” and I think for me that was the theme of the EP: it’s a self-reflective body of work I’d say. It’s quite raw and quite honest and quite straightforward. Just as honest as I could write pretty much.
It’s quite liberating I guess in a way getting all these thoughts down and then releasing it. ’Blow All Our Money’ I wrote eight years ago and I just didn’t have the opportunity to get it produced well. So this EP is a collection of songs I’ve written over the space of a 8 years that I just really love and wanted to put out.
Since I’ve done these songs, I’ve written enough new songs to put out an album. I also wanted to put out these songs so I can start putting out the new stuff since the process takes a while. But you have to be organised for your next release. You can’t just put out music and have nothing to put out afterwards; you have to keep up momentum.
What does feminism mean to you?
For me, feminism is when it doesn’t need to be discussed – it should be intuition, it should be when you’re interacting with people and it shouldn’t even come into your conscious thought because you don’t feel like anyone’s being treated differently.
So, feminism for me is something I don’t really discuss unless, I’m in a situation where something’s not quite right. When I was involved in drum and bass I felt like it was a struggle to be taken seriously as a musician because I was female and a songwriter. I talked about it a lot in that time, but now I’m not involved in that scene I feel like I don’t have to worry about it anymore. It was really stressful at times but I feel like I’m in control now.
For me, it’s just knowing everyone should be treated the same regardless of their sex on every level.
Home Truth is out now! Check it out here and follow Blake on Instagram at @blakemusicnz