By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2003
Though hailing from Ireland, Perry Blake initially found his major success in France and elsewhere around mainland Europe. Now, he’s finally poised to break into America with his first US release, “California.” It’s a spectacular collection of seemingly flawless, often melancholic pop songs. Balancing simplicity and sophistication, the music of Perry Blake really sounds like nothing else out there. In an email interview, Blake told us about his career and the new disc.
Your debut was on Polydor and you moved to Naive… did the shift have any impact on the process of making an album? (for example … in terms of label influence on musical direction, or recording budgets?)
Perry: Not really, I’ve been fortunate to have full artistic control on all of my albums – however, the first took 14 months to record at an enormous cost. Subsequent releases have taken less time and smaller budgets. Both Polydor and Naive were/are supportive of my way of working.
Are there any particular factors you can attribute your success in France to?
Perry: I think generally the French like more melancholic music – Jacques Brel is still on radio often and, the perhaps, semi classical nature of some of my work seems to have struck a chord, so to speak. But mainland Europe has always been quick to champion less mainstream artforms than, perhaps, the UK.
How do you feel about your music initially catching on more outside of your own country?
Perry: Flattered! I’ve never belonged to the Irish music scene – I spent a third of my life living in London and some time in Germany. Most Irish bands/songwriters seem to treat me as some kind of outsider who doesn’t play by their rather insular rules. To be popular in Ireland first is usually a sign that one is doing something wrong. There are exceptions, of course, Damien Rice being one.
Have you been working with many of the same musicians over the years? Are there any particular ways that maybe your sound has been influenced by people you have worked with?
Perry: Recently, I’ve been working with different musicians. In what is perhaps a Vampiristic way I like to push people – it’s always worth it, even if they feel like strangling you during the process.A lot of people who’ve worked with me have become successful in their own right. Everyone I work with can influence me in some way – the good stuff goes on record.
With the film “Presque Rien” did you write music for the score, or just contribute songs to the soundtrack? How did you come to get involved with film work? Have you done any since then?
Perry: The director Sebastien Lifshitz called me, asked me to work on a score for “Presque Rien”. I read the script, liked it, went on set and then record two and a half hours worth of material which I was very happy with, but soon realized that the film needed very little music, as did Sebastien. SO I feel in some respects I failed to capitalize on the silence needed – but it was a valuable learning experience and I’m now preparing for an, as yet untitled, Irish/American film project.
For those who haven’t seen you live, how would you compare your current live show to the CDs?
Perry: There is no current live show! I’ve toured Europe many times but feel uncomfortable with being on stage, so I’m afraid, I’ve decided, for now at least, to focus on studio work only. Some of the live shows were special intimate events – others were fuller, bigger festival concerts and somehow less terrifying.
Who would you say your major influences are? Both in terms of having an impact on your music, and simply making you realize that you wanted to create music yourself & be a performer.
Perry: Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, Kate Bush – I try to do my own thing with their musical legacies looking over my shoulder – this is the only job I’ve ever had. Never wanted a “real one”.
When you’re writing songs, how clear of an idea do you have as to how you want the final recording to turn out, in terms of arrangement, instrumentation, and production?
Perry: Usually, a very clear early picture – recently I’ve been writing with acoustic guitar along with Glenn Garrett, an Irish bass player/composer – but whilst the structures of the songs may differ from Piano based tracks, there’s usually a clear idea of the end results. Of course then, in production things always change but I try to keep early vocal takes etc. – to get the essence of the moment.
California is your first US release, correct? How does it feel to be launching your music in America?
Perry: It’s good to be releasing “California” in America. I’ve only been once, to New York, which I liked alot. For obvious reasons, America is a country never far from Irish consciousness and somehow, in musical (ie. my style of music) terms, less obsessed with image and pitch than elsewhere. If it’s good music, and people get to hear it, they buy it. A simple, honest transaction – I like that.
What are your thoughts on the Internet? What are the pros (and cons?) of having a website, and of people discussing your music online? And what is your stance on the issue of ‘sharing’ mp3 music files?
Perry: The internet is a very useful tool and a an incredible revolution in communication. I like the fact that fans can discuss the music in a way that they wouldn’t normally. The only problem I see with the ability to download MP3’s is the fact that record companies are making sure that they are protected but there doesn’t seem to be any protection for the source of creativity, the artist.
What’s in the immediate future for you?
Perry: I’m currently mixing the follow up to “California” in Northern Italy – it’s quite different and exciting for me – not sure when it will see the light of day though, seeing as “California” seems to be getting alot of attention at the moment.See all interviews →