James McDonald Can you remember the first piece of music that really impacted you, or, at least, music you heard in early life that you can still detect as acting subconsciously in your output today?
Luke Blair I’m struggling to think of one particular piece of music that fits those criteria, but (and I hate it when musicians bang on about what they used to listen to when they were a kid as if anyone gives a shit, but that’s what I’m going to do now) I’m told that I was completely obsessed with the film The Blues Brothers from the age of 2. My parents would put it on for me whenever I was ill or I couldn’t sleep or I was throwing a tantrum cos my favourite pyjamas were washed with the wrong type of fabric softener or whatever, and when I watch that film now it feels like every moment of it is a distant but very vivid childhood memory. Don’t know if that’s of interest to anyone, but it’s a true god damn story. I’ll leave it up to the listener to decide whether the music of The Blues Brothers has had any impact on my output… but I’m pretty sure it was my first musical obsession. That and the Fireman Sam theme. MOTWYW.
James McDonald Do you feel you’re progressing as a human and as an artist (I don’t mean to sound too profound here)… I’m just interested in the disconnect, because as your work is solitary by nature, yet others can only gauge by your output over time, I’m wondering how you view your own progression, or ‘narrative arc’ if you will.
Luke Blair I think it’s impossible not to progress as a person, whether you want to or not. I for sure feel like a very different person to the me of ten years ago. I guess you can progress in the wrong direction, or you can regress; but I’m not a smackhead and I haven’t completely lost my mind yet so things aren’t going too badly. As an artist I would say I’m moving forward, I feel like I have a much clearer vision of what I want to do/how I want things to sound. I’m sitting in quite a nice position at the moment, but I think the next year or two are crunch time: I’ve entered the second third of my narrative arc now, so I guess some kind of crisis or surprise needs to happen soon, forcing me to make a critical decision which will lead to an exciting and dramatic climax. I for one can’t wait to see what happens.
James McDonald How long have you been working on the new EP, and was there a set direction, tone or theme you were chasing?
Luke Blair I was definitely 100% trying to go for a particular tone, but without wanting to sound too precious I find it quite hard to put in to words what exactly I was going for. My aim is always to give each release a specific mood – I’m not sure I’ve always succeeded but that’s what I’m going for – and that’s usually something quite intangible. But that’s part of the beauty of music though isn’t it though?
The EP is called Crawlers, and will be out on Liberation Technologies. I’m not sure of the exact release date… Here’s the tracklist:
1 Nine 2 La Cucaracha 3 The Brick Burner 4 Born In Bosnia
Lonely At The Top was a bit of a departure from the stuff I’d been releasing on GLUM, for example. I saw it as a return to a more colourful sound, as was reflected in the artwork. I’m perfectly happy for you to use the word bipolar in relation to the album. I think I achieved what I wanted with it. I’m very happy with it, much more so than my other albums.
And I don’t think that I’ve been pigeonholed really, not that I’m aware of anyway. I tend to get booked on pretty varied line-ups which I think is generally quite a good barometer of how the music world views you. I dont think I’ve ever been too associated with any particular scene, which is a blessing and a curse.
James McDonald Was there anything different about the creative process this time around from previous endeavours?
“Maybe we’ll all be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and I’ll be earning two rat skins an hour by rhythmically pounding on an oil drum in my local hamlet.”
Luke Blair Not really. Just little old Luke sitting in a room making music again. Crappy old laptop being the hub. Trial, error, budget and laziness.
James McDonaldCan you tell me a little about your visual work? I may be getting the wrong end of the stick, but some of the videos circulating online – mostly through your own Youtube account – are incredible accompaniments to your music. Do you take anything from working with visual media that perhaps you can’t from the sonic?
Luke Blair You are getting the right end of the stick my friend, and I like you all the better for it. I make little vids to go with the music just as a bit of fun – I take the music side of things quite seriously and (although it may not sound like it) getting a tune to sound how I want it can be pretty laborious, so it’s nice to be able to quickly slap together some images without too much thought as a way to get the music online. It’s also more immediate and more personal than getting someone else to do it, and with the whole of youtube sitting there at my mercy there is more than enough material to play with.
James McDonald You’ve said you’re consciously moving away from samples, yet the videos naturally have to incorporate a ‘sampled’ element. Can you ever be truly free?
Luke Blair Well, I don’t consider myself a video artist, so I have no qualms about stealing other people’s vids and passing them off as my own. Also I have nothing against sample based music and I do still use samples myself, but I’ve found it can be a bit limiting basing your whole track around a sample, cos then you’re more or less stuck with that loop, whereas if it’s your own melody/chords you can go where want with it.
With vocal samples… on ‘Smart Girl’ I used a Charles Bukowski poem, and it’s actually being read by Bukowski himself – he did have a pretty feminine voice for an overweight chain smoker. Without wanting to destroy the track for you completely, I don’t think too much thought went in to the vocals. As I remember I wanted to put the beat in a mix but thought that it was a bit plain as it was, and I must’ve been reading a lot of Bukowski at the time so I put the sample of the poem on there and it worked so I stuck with it. That’s not something I would do now – it’s bit of a cliche I think, throwing some spoken word on to an instrumental in an effort to make it sound deep – but I think the oddness of his voice and the words made it work quite well in that instance.
The Air You Breathe video that I made, that VHS element was intentional, yeah. That track sounded to me like a broken tape, so I searched youtube for some videos of weird tracking effects on old videos and there were plenty, and I made the video out of them. I think for people who grew up in my generation that VHS aesthetic will always be appealing, it’s a nostalgic thing I guess.
But in answer to your question: no, we can never truly be free.
James McDonald On average, how long do you spend creating a beat or melody, and how many times do you then revisit it?
Luke Blair I would say normally the bulk of the tune comes together in 2 or 3 hours, then I either do a quick arrangement and say it’s finished, or spend the next three weeks tweaking it and doing 37 different versions of it until I never want to hear it again. I much prefer the first way.
“I think it’s impossible not to progress as a person, whether you want to or not. I for sure feel like a very different person to the me of ten years ago. I guess you can progress in the wrong direction, or you can regress; but I’m not a smackhead and I haven’t completely lost my mind yet so things aren’t going too badly.”
James McDonald Your work on the score for your brother’s feature length, in collaboration with Gunnar Oskarsson, has been well documented, and you’ve said that the collaborative element was certainly a withdrawal from ‘Lukid’, which is inherently about the self. Has your creative process since the film grown organically to incorporate the lessons learned from this collaboration, or have you reverted back to the singular twice as hard in a form reactionary move (conscious or otherwise)?
Luke Blair At the end of the day when push comes to shove it’s horses for courses. Working with others is great because it takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do things like talk to people and leave the house. But then sometimes I like being alone and making things just how I want them. I’m happy to keep my fingers in both pies.
James McDonald When was the last time you heard something that made you think, and what did it evoke?
Luke Blair I was listening to My Bleeding Wound by The New Year earlier today on the bus, which Luke from Astro:Dynamics sent to me a little while ago, and it made me think “corr music’s good innit.”
James McDonald When was the last time you felt frustrated as an artist?
Luke Blair Like, 90% of the time. Not sure if that’s normal, but I’d like to think that all creative people (or at least those worth their salt) experience a healthy amount of frustration. It’s all part of the process, I hope, and makes moments of inspiration and productivity that much sweeter.
James McDonald How important has it been having NTS as an ongoing outlet? Does it keep you fresh, or allow you to produce your music in a less formal (than a full release), ‘sandbox’ mode?
Luke Blair I love it. I partly wanted to do the show for selfish reasons – I get lazy with my listening habits and have a tendency to become obsessed with a song and listen to nothing else for a month, to the point where I can never listen to it again, so having to get a two hour show out every month means that I have to actively seek out new (or at least new to me) music all the time, and I really love finding new music so it’s a win win. Above all though NTS is just a really good thing to be a part of. Lots of good people dedicating their time to putting good music on the radio. I very much enjoy going in to that little hut and playing music and looking out on the square, makes me feel like I’m in Press Gang or something.
James McDonald It may seem uninspired to touch upon, but the artwork on your records is more than pleasing on to the eye. How important do you feel it is for a modern artist to have this complete ‘package’ (audio/artwork/video) to survive, or is it a fallacy?
Luke Blair It’s important to me because I like things that look nice, and if you’re putting something in to the world you might as well make it look good, eh? Contribute something. I’ve been lucky to have had friends who are amazing designers/artists and who’ve kindly been willing to contribute to my records: namely Davin Gormley, Paul Roberts and Luke Alexander. I absolutely think that if the visual side of a project can synchronise with the music then it can elevate the whole thing. Even these days when you may only be looking at a tiny image of the artwork on your computer I think it makes a difference. If I’m scrolling through the Boomkat new download releases section or whatever I’ll listen to the things with good/interesting artwork.
James McDonald Would you be content with solely making music, and the annexes it provides, in ten years?
Luke Blair Yeah of course. Obviously I would need to be making enough money to feed myself and pay my child support and whatnot, and as much as I love travelling and playing shows now I’m not sure how sustainable or appealing that life is when you start getting on a bit – you probably just want to sit in your shed making underground classics and occasionally head out to your allotment and check on your parsnips. So maybe I will have to supplement my income with other endeavours, which I’m very happy to do. But who knows, ten years is a long time – maybe by then the music industry will have worked out how to give people lots of money for their idiosyncratic recordings, or maybe Eastenders will have started using ‘Hair Of The Dog’ as their theme tune and I can retire, or maybe we’ll all be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and I’ll be earning two rat skins an hour by rhythmically pounding on an oil drum in my local hamlet.
James McDonald Before you sign off, what was the last game of football you went to see? Can you provide a brief highlights package?
Luke Blair I haven’t been to a game in ages. You’ve shamed me here. I am a plastic fan; an armchair out-of-towner. I think the last game I went to was the Charity Shield a couple of years ago, but I’d struggle to tell you the result let alone provide you with a highlights package in prose. I get my football kicks from kicking footballs these days, and watching Sky Sports. I do miss going to games though. I’m going to sort that out.