James Blake talks creative process and his indescribable sound with Billboard
London-born producer and singer James Blake is arguably one of electronic music’s best hidden gems. His debut album, James Blake (2011), was nominated for a Mercury Prize but it wasn’t until 2013 that Blake’s talents earned the prestigious award through his sophomore album, Overgrown. Winning out over major competitors such as Disclosure and David Bowie, the accolade has enhanced the young producer’s credibility and momentum as a musician to a new level.
In a recent interview with Billboard, Blake admitted that it’s difficult even for him to characterize his sound in words. Earlier this month, he was in a New York City cab explaining to the driver that he was to perform at the famed Terminal 5. When asked what kind of music he produced, Blake responded, “It’s kind of electronic.”
The producer is a melting pot of sounds, incorporating soul, experimental, folk, and even trip-hop, to name a few. Yet to his surprise, the Englishman was at a loss for words. “I didn’t have any better description. I didn’t know what to say. I knew vaguely it might sound like almost anybody.” However, most fans who know anything about electronic music are well aware that James is unlike any other artist.
But if even he can’t find the words to describe his music, who can? Sure, fans could listen to Blake’s albums all day long, scrutinizing his choices and noticing that Overgrown contains more gospel and R&B elements than did James Blake. There’s only so much that comparing and contrasting can achieve, and in reality, there really is nothing to compare, as music is an art form, and art is meant to be more subjective than anything else.
“My process is eclectic,” Blake tells Billboard. “When I’m writing a song it might start with some vocals or some chords, but most of the time vocals. And then I’ll sing it until it isn’t shit, and then I will try and record that. And I will try and frame it with other things, but most of the time it has to start with that vocal.” He’s got a creative process that works miraculously without fail each time.
This more than successful course of action is what led Overgrown to being awarded the Mercury Prize on October 30th, and to Blake being recognized as the high-quality musician he is. This doesn’t mean, however, that his album was devoid of criticism. “Someone said it sounded like a video game as if that was meant to be an insult.”
After years of working without stopping, the producer is looking forward to a much-anticipated break in the new year: “2014 is starting to look very relaxing,” he said. “I’ve been solid for the last three to four years now. It’s good torment that kind of comes out, but it’s still work. It didn’t really feel like I got a mental break for a long time.”