The sonic colours JAMES BLAKE has conveyed over the course of his three studio albums have been carrying a feeling of lugubriousness throughout his work. A dark feeling so fragile and beautiful that was wrapped in his love for electronic and more experimental sounds as well as his soothing voice. Earlier this year, the British songwriter released his much anticipated new album The Colour In Anything that lifted the fog a little and saw him collaborating with artists like BON IVER‘s Justin Vernon or FRANK OCEAN as well as with producer RICK RUBIN.
Reflecting on the past couple of months and the making of his latest studio album, JAMES BLAKE opened up to NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION in an insightful talk about the circumstances of creating The Colour In Anything, the long process of learning how to vocalize his wishes as an artist and the power of colours.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but even the bright colour of the shirt he’s wearing during our interview seems to imply that JAMES BLAKE is ready to speak up. Or at least willing to put the image of the shy and thoughtful artist aside for a moment: ‘My taste in colour has changed over the years, especially when it comes to clothes. I used to prefer dressing in dark colours and now I experiment more. I would have never worn a shirt like this 3 or 4 years ago. There was a phase in my life where I was wearing some very strange clothes. Outlandish things. Maybe that was my way of saying I would like to be more outgoing as a person’, admits the acclaimed songwriter.
Well, and he did go out more, leaving behind the greyish England sky to work on The Colour In Anything in sunny Los Angeles. A place that made him comfortable enough to swap the darker colours for something more bright:
‘I really enjoy the slightly dry heat of that place. It suits bright colours. If I brought those clothes back to England, people would think I have changed’
‘It’s interesting how clothes can denote confidence, arrogance or even the opposite of those – a sense of humor’, says BLAKE while adding: ‘The colour black has a grounding effect on me. Maybe it’s because I’m English. It’s a negative expression of colour. Wearing black is almost like a non-statement. You’re dressed fully in black and here I am in my stupid shirt with flowers all over it’, he laughs off the choice of his own shirt.
Brexit. Donald Trump. And sunny California.
While he takes any kind of potential fashion faux pas with humour, there are things on his mind that JAMES BLAKE does worry about on a much bigger scale. In fact, it only takes him a few seconds to come up with three things: ‘Do you know what makes me feel blue? Brexit. And Donald Trump. Or being kicked off a television show because Hillary Clinton is doing the show as well and then we get kicked off because the viewing count is going to be so high. So they put Miley Cyrus on instead’, tells us the disappointed looking singer.
Referring to his time in L.A., he gives us a simple reason for his departure from England: ‘Grey weather makes me feel blue as well. That’s why I left England and spend so much time abroad. Maybe the sun really lifts one’s spirits. It’s important to listen to that if you need your spirits lifted. If you are someone who’s prone to feeling blue, then it’s useful to do anything in your power to do something that will help you.’
Often being associated with an overall feeling of shallowness, Los Angeles can be much more than that. So the common prejudice is something Blake can’t confirm after having spent several months there:
‘It’s a very strange and wonderful place, but I think a lot of people judge the city based on Hollywood. It’s a multi-national collage of people and it’s a massive city so there is so much to discover culturally. Yes, all the houses look pretty similar or you might find Japanese architecture somewhere because a millionaire decided to have that instead or another likes Mid-century Danish design. That’s a thing people in L.A. do. Initially that bothered me, but now I see that people just get what they want.’
‘In good and bad ways. People just take what they want.’
In a lot of ways this is also true for JAMES BLAKE, who admits that he had reached a point in his career where he was tired of not getting what he wanted and piling up frustration along the way: ‘I think this year has been a really big moment in my life where I’ve started to say what I want and say exactly what I mean when I’m frustrated. Vocalize and actually make the moves to get what I want rather than sit and complain about it in my own head…which is something I’m very capable of doing.’
Further explaining his longing for clarity, he describes what caused him to changed his behavior: ‘I think on the surface it would have seemed to the outside world that I had everything I wanted – I have a career that I have dictated myself, I’ve made some money, I have a beautiful girlfriend that I’m really happy with, but there were a lot of things in my life that I had no control over, even though it would seem like I had control over everything. I don’t think that you need to have control over everything.’
‘What I needed control over was my own volition to stand up for myself when something was not how I wanted it.’
As a successful artist, it seems like you would equally gain the needed power to say and feel more freely what you want, but even if that is true to some degree if you are lucky, JAMES BLAKE points out a severe problem that he had to face like other artists do as well: ‘When you become successful, certain people start to surround you and I think you have to be careful. There was a point in my life where a lot of different people were making me feel bad and I had to tell them that. It’s a really hard thing to do, especially when theses people have been in your life for a long time. I think that was one of the biggest parts of saying what I wanted to say. I’ve gotten better at being able to say ‘No’. That has made me a lot healthier and happier.’
In terms of making The Colour In Anything, this new found capability of being straightforward allowed him to think about himself and his behaviour in a different way, too, BLAKE confirms with a slight bit of relief in his voice: ‘I learned so much about what my behavior was and who I actually wanted to become and how I wanted to say the things I wanted to say. Sometime it would come out too sharp and too aggressive. Feelings can get you into trouble. All the time. They really can cloud your judgement. Dealing with those feelings is part of the way of getting on with people because very often, those feelings have nothing to do with them.’
However, this fact doesn’t prevent him from working with other artists in the near future though, when we talk to JAMES BLAKE about his plans for the next couple of months: ‘I will be doing more producing for other artists which is really fun. It’s a really amazing experience socially as well. I think this is exactly the right kind of time to be doing it. I think I wasn’t ready to do this until everything I wanted to say was out. It was a torturous process. I don’t want to do that again. I probably have enough music to start another record, but right now I take it slowly. Hopefully, I will put out some music singularly.’