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 since I think the way I write is quite blunt and its quite straightforward like it’s not that cryptic, and I think that’s kind 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. And also, there’s a lot of soul kind of bands coming out of New Zealand as well and that’s influenced me a lot.
I didn’t know that! I wouldn’t think that there’s a big soul scene in New Zealand.
Well we’ve got kind of big a big reggae, dub, soul scene over there where in the summertime there’s a lot of festivals and big events that happen and a lot of big dub, soul bands so I think having that influence quite early on has influenced me a lot.
So, moving to London, everyone must seem very indirect and polite—it must be a big change from New Zealand?
Yes, it’s like the opposite here. Everyone is really 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—like I’ll just say what I’m thinking a lot of the time.
And I’ve learned sometimes it’s best to pick and choose situation where you might hold back what you’re thinking but yeah, it’s been a bit of a social transition coming over here.
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 where you’re from—like I’m from quite far down South—it’s a bit isolating. If you kind of want to be involved in an industry outside of animal agriculture and tourism, you kind of have to leave really since there’s not a lot going on.
Like the population is less than five million people in the whole country and I just wanted to explore more opportunities and London and the UK has quite a renowned music scene so I figured if I’m going to go anywhere, I should go here. And my sister lives here in London as well and it’s nice to have a family member as well.
How has the experience been?
When I first moved here, I was doing loads of topline writing for drum and bass which is really random. I was like obsessed with drum and bass for a while and I was going to loads of like nights and I think for me, it was quite easy to meet producers since it’s quite a small scene and a niche genre and there weren’t a lot of vocalists around so I was going to nights and meeting people.
But now I’m kind of like, I built up quite a good name for myself, I don’t know how you’d phrase it, but I realized like there’s sort of a ceiling within this genre and what I can do? I was thinking about what artists I want to collaborate with in the future, and what shows do I want to do, and what festivals I want to play at, and where I want to go, and that made me stop doing the topline writing.
Now I’m focusing on doing my own stuff. It’s kind of weird, which is where this EP has stemmed from. But now I’m kind of starting from the bottom again since there’s not much crossover between soul and jazz and drum and bass in terms of like network but I’m getting there slowly and surely. I’m hoping after I put this EP out and do 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 which is like, you’ve got drum pop which is like the really hard-core EDM; that’s not the stuff I was doing. I was doing very relaxed, chilled-out drum and bass which is quite melodic.
What inspired the switch to your sound now?
Yeah, my music teacher when I was 15 was a jazz musician, so kind of the first songs I was learning and covering were jazz songs. So, you know I was obsessed with Amy Winehouse and I learned Etta James cover and 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.
Like when I was 15, I was obsessed with Taylor Swift and I loved The Fray and I had their songwriting book at home and would learn the chords on the piano and sing along. So, I think looking back I think that had a huge influence on the way I structure my songs.
But I’m like, I kind of explain to people I’m a wannabe jazz musician because I’m not really a jazz musician but I love jazz. South East London has a great jazz scene at the moment and I was going to loads of these like jam nights where you’ve got 3 musicians hosting it and every week they’d get new musicians to come, so I went like every week and I met loads of musicians.
I went up and did some improv singing at well every now and then—not that I’m a jazz musician, I’m not technically trained but I think just being around people playing jazz I’ve kind of absorbed that. So now I feel like it’s more a blend of pop, where I have that pop structure that’s listenable to a broader audience but it’s still got the dynamics and soul from the jazz side of it.
How did you figure out who you wanted to collaborate with for the EP?
I wrote all the songs by myself. I’m not a producer, I can do like basic production, but I needed someone to help me pull it all together and figure out some extra instrumentation and that side of it. So, I put an ad out on a website because all of the producers I knew were drum and bass producers so there wasn’t a huge pool of producers I knew who would be interested in the project.
I basically just put this ad out and quite a few people got back to me and I researched what they’ve worked on and found someone through that and I just 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 kind of like a self-reflection body of work I’d say. It’s quite raw and quite honest and quite straightforward I’d say, and that was the theme for this. 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. It has kind of evolved as well; the songs that are quite of, like the song “Blow All Our Money” I wrote eight years ago and I just didn’t have the opportunity to get it produced well, so it’s kind of a collection of songs I’ve written over the space of a few years that I just really love and want to put out.
But since I’ve done these songs, I’ve written enough new songs to put out an album as well so I just want to also put out these songs so I can start put out the new stuff since the process takes a while. But you have to be organized for your next release like 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?
I think it means just not really… it’s not a topic. For me, feminism is when it doesn’t need to be discussed like it should be intuition, it should be when you’re interacting to people and it shouldn’t even come into your conscious thought.
So, feminism for me is something I don’t really discuss unless, like being involved in drum and bass it’s quite a male-dominated genre and I did struggle kind of being taken seriously as a musician I feel because I was female. I did talk about that a lot in that time, but now that I’m out of that and I don’t have to worry about it, I don’t think about it like it was really stressful and I’m not involved in it now.
You know, on a day to day basis it’s not something think about or talk about since I’m lucky enough to be in a workspace where we really, it’s just not something we talk about since we don’t need to. I’m not saying that it’s not the same for everyone, since everyone has their own experiences. 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