Guy Blakeslee: "The 'edge' in the title is metaphysical - the edge of sanity, you could say."
You'd most likely associate Guy Blakeslee with the guitar-wielding psychedelic blues-rock of The Entrance Band, akin to the likes of The Black Angels, Dead Meadow, and Wooden Shjips. But after a life-changing accident forced him to stare directly into the exit, Blakeslee, who has spent the best part of two decades on the road, found himself wanting to tread new ground.
A subsequent change of perspective soon followed with Blakeslee shifting away from his Entrance and The Entrance Band projects, and beginning to work under his own name again. Though fragments of songs had been written over several years, it was then that his latest album, Postcards From The Edge, began to take shape with his psyche at the album's core.
The result is a recalibration of Blakeslee's purpose and meaning, as he recollects fractured moments and memories which reflected the state of flux he admits his life was in after the accident. It's an unflinching, tender take on being near "the edge of sanity" and in unknown territory, as a musician and a human.
Ahead of the release of his most reflective work to date, we spoke to Blakeslee about the album's foundations, being shook up by Aldous Harding, and his own personal transformation:
The album’s title, Postcards From The Edge, suggests a degree of detachment. What experiences encouraged you to create the album?
I wrote the album over the course of a few years, during which my life was in a constant state of flux. I was searching for something I could not name, and was traveling both externally and internally. Now that things have settled into a different arrangement, I can see that I was trying to “shake up the snow globe” of my life - to upend stability by introducing random chance. The 'edge' that the title refers to is metaphysical - the edge of sanity, you could say. By introducing the unknown into my life I was swept in many directions by powerful currents that I could barely control and ended up in some dramatic and even dangerous situations. That’s the nature of adventure, of taking risks in the name of art.
Like [Arthur] Rimbaud said: “A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematised derangement of all the senses.”
Without getting specific about the circumstances on the external plane, on the internal plane I induced a wild transformation of my own psyche, and the album is like a scrapbook of that process. As much as I thought I knew what I was doing, in another way I had no idea of what I was getting myself into.
You’ve leaned away from the guitar-led psychedelia you’re renowned for and more toward gospel-folk on your latest work. Did writing music with this influence offer some form of sanctuary, and was it a natural process?
These songs came very naturally for me. I worked very hard to refine them over time but initially they all burst forth almost complete, in a flash of inspiration. I explored many variations of them while searching for the right sound, and the abandonment of the guitar was a part of that voyage. When something is too easy it becomes stale. My producer Enrique Tena Padilla pushed me to try new sounds and think of recording in a totally different way. We explored how sound can be a sanctuary, how each song can be a world for the listener to take refuge inside. That’s how I feel about the songs and I hope that comes through.
Is there some form of liberation releasing music under your own name?
Not only am I releasing the record under my real name but I’m also running the label myself - it’s liberating and empowering, and also overwhelming and at times frightening. I do believe there is power in vulnerability - that open-ness is a path of courage. It’s quite a psychological adventure and I’m constantly having to renew my belief in myself. The artists I’ve always admired are the ones who seem to be unafraid to risk everything to pursue a singular vision and often must sacrifice a lot to hold onto creative independence.
‘Faces’ feels rooted in the lack of human interaction and being in transit either physically or spiritually, a prescient sentiment given the circumstances. Can you expand on the track’s inspiration, and why did it feel like the right time to record it?
I wrote ‘Faces’ in Paris and London. I felt extremely isolated amidst throngs of people on crowded trains and imagined I was from another planet, lost in anonymity on busy streets. I put more of myself into this song than anything I’ve written. Looking back, I think it’s about longing for someone you’ve never met, and that someone is you - your higher self. It’s about looking for a reflection in others of what you want to become.
There are a number of strange prescient lyrics in the song - I’m singing about wishing we had masks to hide our faces (it was recorded in March 2019) - and also I mention that I’ll do anything to get double vision. I thought that was a metaphor for seeing beyond, and then in March 2020 in Los Angeles I was hit by a car while crossing the street and nearly died. Due to a concussion I had a ruptured cranial nerve and this caused me to have actual double vision - everything I saw was overlaid with a diagonally tilted double. I had to wear an eyepatch to correct it and it lasted for seven months. This has all been remedied by time but it also led me to make an instrumental record that will come out on March 5th called Double Vision… Be careful what you wish for, I guess...
Photo: Lael Neale
For an artist that has spent the best part of two decades on the road, how do you intend to celebrate the release of your new album?
In the wake of the accident, which coincided with the closing down of Los Angeles at the start of the pandemic, I left the city I lived in for 15 years and relocated to rural Virginia. My job in LA was running the soundboard at the best music venue in town, Zebulon, so in addition to performing there often, I was a part of live music events many nights a week for the past few years. I know this past year has brought all kinds of changes to everyone’s lives, but in my world the biggest shift (aside from country living) has been a lack of live music. It’s actually changed my whole approach to playing music and I mostly play piano and record ambient relaxation music now! So obviously touring was a big part of how I thought of being a musician before I made this record.
Now I’m focused on the record label - it’s called ENTRANCE Records & Tapes - as an art project and I’m putting together all manner of handmade packages to accompany people’s orders on release day- I’m focused on quality over quantity and I think we’re moving into a new era in which direct communication between the artist and listeners is more and more important. I don’t really like the 'live-stream', I don’t think it can be a substitute for live performances. But I’ve come to see recordings as such an amazing art form - it’s like time travel - so a moment I captured and immortalised in a recording takes on a life of its own and can be played and discovered anywhere at any time by anyone. That’s amazing. I see it as a major positive - that recordings have never been more free to reach people all over the world instantly - and I choose to ignore the numbers aspect of it and instead value the depth of each one of those experiences.
Lael Neale contributed to the album, and filmed the video for ‘Sometimes’. Has she been a long-term collaborator, and did you have any involvement with her upcoming album?
I produced her upcoming album Acquainted With Night - yes! We made the record on my cassette four track in Los Angeles. Lael has been singing on my records for a few years and I’ve long been a devoted supporter of her music. I played piano and guitar on a few of the songs as well, and when she gets back to performing live I’ll be her accompanist.
You covered ‘The Green Manalishi’ for a Fleetwood Mac tribute album a few years back. Sadly Peter Green passed away last year, so I wanted to ask if he had any significant influence on you as a musician, and did you ever perform the track live?
I love that song but actually the producers of that compilation made us do that one [haha]- I had wanted to record ‘Beautiful Child’ which is a Stevie Nicks song from Tusk … My group The Entrance Band did perform the ‘Manalishi’ cover quite a bit at our shows and I used to identify with Peter Green as a blues artist with supernatural troubles.
Have any other artists influenced your latest album?
I was definitely inspired by Leonard Cohen, who passed away while I was writing the album. Spiritualized, especially a few concerts I saw with a full orchestra, also had a big impact. Aldous Harding is a contemporary that I’ve been shaken up by in the past few years as well. But I’d say the main artist that inspired the record is Enrique, the album's producer. He brought the songs to a whole other level with his approach to sound and opened up the creative paths hidden inside the raw songs. I‘ve always thought of making music as an adventure, and working with him on this record truly lived up to that high ideal.
Photo: Lael Neale
Do you think you’ve learned anything new about yourself as an artist and a human being through this pandemic?
Absolutely, and I hope all of us have! As I mentioned earlier, I was in a serious accident right as the pandemic began and subsequently left the city and my previous life behind. So part of what I’ve learned about is how to heal and adapt to the unknown. I’ve regained my original approach to music which is to immerse myself in the practice of it above all else. I’ve started teaching music again (remotely) and have been developing and strengthening my creative practices to stay sane, healthy, and productive. This has included writing every morning, meditation, sound healing research, Tarot study, collage art, piano practice, walking in the woods, etc. As my left hand has finally healed I’ve also picked up the guitar again. And I've been working daily on getting more organised and disciplined so I can keep up with putting all of my wild ideas into action. I think it's amazing how we can learn and adapt to new things if we're willing to embrace the changes we cannot control.
So, you must be a happy man now that Trump is no longer your President. Considering the polarisation of society that we find ourselves in now, do you think politics will return to the status quo or is there a brighter future?
I’m glad he’s no longer in office for sure, but long before that happened I had to learn to kick him out of my brain. It’s sad the degree to which so many people have succumbed to thinking about him all the time and I’m hopeful that a huge improvement in many of our mental health will occur as his dominance fades from our thoughts. I also think it’s a copout to turn one person into the scapegoat for all the ills of the world. The USA was troubled before he came around and it still is. The polarisation is very real as I’ve learned from living in the countryside.
What’s really become heightened is the way our perception and worldview are so regulated by the information streams we choose to adhere to. I try to take in more than just one perspective and not get stuck in any one matrix of thought.
There’s a battle for our attention and the air is filled with propaganda. So as an artist and a sensitive person I strive to listen and look and not tune out, but it’s also important to hold your own vibration - to stay in tune with some inner peace and not get so toppled by the winds of argument. I care about everyone and love everyone and stay positive. In such volatile moments it can be helpful just to be a calm presence in the world.
Postcards From The Edge is out tomorrow (5th February) via ENTRANCE Records & Tapes.