Multi-instrumental singer/songwriter Blake Anthony Robson marks a shift into an indie rock / electronica / synthwave sound with his new album Death In A Life Form. We caught up with him to find out more about his music journey so far and what the album brings.
I think bands can get a bit blind sighted by an album having to sound like an album. I say, just do whatever the fuck you want.
First up, tell us about yourself - what got you into music?
Well, I actually got into music relatively late. I was aware of music when I was younger but not greatly interested in it. Maybe it’s because the music my parents listened to wasn’t terribly broad or didn’t appeal to my younger self. My dad only really liked Elkie Brooks & Dr Hook, my mum only really listened to Queen and Roy Orbison. All very good in their own right but apart from Queen I wasn’t that interested.
I used to listen to Queen’s greatest hits on my paper round at 5am and have ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ on repeat. That song shakes your soul out of your bones.
I picked up my first guitar at around the age of 16 and I can’t really remember why. I think it’s because I saw some older friends playing at our local pub and thought that looked pretty damn cool and sexy and I’d quite like a bit of that attention.
Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from?
My influences have varied over the years as has my musical style. I used to be mostly influenced by The Kinks, The Kings Of Leon, The White Stripes, Johnny Cash & The Beatles.
These days I take more influence from bands like The Strokes, Father John Misty, Alt-J & Alex Ebert (not is recent album though, its awful. Sorry Alex)
I also have a love for classical and soundscape music and I try to get a bit of that in there wherever I can.
How would you describe your musical style?
My style three or four years ago was folk, rock, Americana and it has slowly morphed into an indie/electro rock sound. I am currently working on a new album and I’m hoping to employ both ends of the spectrum. Let’s see if it works.
I think bands can get a bit blind sighted by an album having to sound like an album. I say, just do whatever the fuck you want. The White Album is my favourite Beatles album and that’s all over the place. It’s got a personality and it’s fun!
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. If you’d have asked me a few years ago, I’d probably have said Jack White but today I quite fancy the idea of collaborating with Julia Jacklin. I like her style and approach and her lyrics are also very thoughtful. I think the mix of styles would be interesting and I also quite fancy her which may have influenced my choice.
Tell us about your album Death In A Life Form. What’s it about?
The album concerns an array of subjects varying from dealing with others successes and to no let it affect you when you’re not where you want to be, to made up story’s about a a very young boy being abandoned on a lonely planet by his dying mother in the song Passing Transmission.
I am fascinated by the cosmos, space travel, retro future styling and landscapes similar to that of Blade Runner which my song Mega Drive was inspired by.
I was also influenced by a radio show about old computer game music which featured Charlie Brooker. He actually picked a theme tune from the 80s Robocop game for his desert island discs. I realised that some of the melodies used on old computer games could actually make for great songs so I used that as a model to write Video Shame which has been my most popular release to date.
The album also addresses the subject of death, hence the title. I am fascinated and a little obsessed by death and how we approach it or understand it. How we feel about what we might leave behind and also if we left the planet as we’d like to find it.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
I wrote the album over the space of a year. I think it was from May 2018 to the following year.
I recorded the entire album in my north London flat in Haringey. I recorded a majority of the instruments myself along with some help from friends on the drums, bass and backing vocals.
How does Death In A Life Form represent your style?
It has taken in some of where I’ve come from to where to where I am now. I have certain fully delved into the realm of synthesisers on this album. It’s opened up a world of possibility for me. For me just a single sound and note can be the beginning of a new song. It puts me in a place, whether its imaginary or emotionally and sets me off.
It’s difficult to say objectively what my style is. I’m not sure if I’m the one to comment on that but I’m sure you can hear where I have been influenced. I’d like to think that I use my influences to create something unique and original in whatever way that’s interpreted by others.
My style is also influenced by what I see. I’m quite a visual person. I make my own music videos and artwork and I think from looking at those you can see how that might influence my style. All videos are on YouTube & Instagram (cheap plug)!!
Can you talk us through each track?
‘Video Shame’: I think I covered this and don’t want to go on!
‘Neon Ghost Machine’: This is about all the mindless drivel that you see on social media and kind of vacuous inane crap that people choose to engage with and how people will get more attention for a photo of their stupid face or dinner than when someone actually creates a profound piece of art.
‘Thrilled Since 1981’: This is about how think that bad things only happen to other people and how we can be quite blase about the subject, until one day it does happen to you. And of course death will certainly happen to you whether you like it or not.
‘Space Bug’: This is a love letter to my girlfriend. It explains how she is a little too kind and fragile for this world and how her affection for it has affected me, such as becoming a full time vegetarian which I had been struggling to attain on my own.
‘Arcade Dirt’: Well, this is primarily about how we treat our planet and how we just move on from place to place and suck it dry of all its life. When there’s nothing left all we’ll have is a video of how it used to be.
‘Sonic Doom’: It’s about the loneliness and grime of living in the city. How you can just feel completely unnoticed and anonymous whilst others carry on with their own lives.
‘A Passing Transmission’: As mentioned before, it’s about a mother and her child who are the only living humans on a far away planet. We don’t know how they got there. The mother knows she will die soon and feels a terrible guilt at leaving her very young boy behind to face it alone. It’s about him growing up and sending a transmission out into space to see if there’s anyone out there in the universe or if is it only himself.
‘Mega Drive’: This was inspired by Blade Runner. I use it is a metaphor as to how we view refugees and immigrants. How newspapers and people like Nigel Farage marginalise and dehumanise these people as if they are anything different to ourselves. Do they not bleed?**
‘Electric Waves’: This deals with the idea of what happens when we die. How I believe we become dust and eventually return to sun from where we first born which I find to be a kind of beautiful and profound symmetry.
‘Interstella Spirits’: It’s just an idea of floating through space and time. It’s a mellifluous trip.
‘Death In A Life Form’: Jesus, there is a hell of a lot of death in this album. I didn’t realise how much until I answered your questions. I might need to lighten up a bit.
Well this one is about an individual person being shot into space in a small capsule at the moment we finally destroy the earth. It concerns what is going through that persons head knowing that we destroyed the only place we could ever knowingly live and exist and how they are the last living person and that they will spend what remains of their life, endlessly floating through space until they draw their final breath.
What are your hopes for Death In A Life Form?
I wish I had a good answer for that. With the music industry being the way it is it’s difficult to know what to aim for.
When I was younger, similar too many musicians you imagine some big record deal but those don’t really exist anymore or are extremely rare. Even if you get 1 million plays on Spotify that’s still only £1,000 in your pocket if you’re lucky.
I have been reading Derren Brown’s book recently titled ‘Happy’ and the philosophy of only being concerned with the things that you can control and not being concerned with the things you can’t I think helps a lot. Fortune is not in our control. All we can do is our best. As long as you do your best and put in the appropriate amount of time, after that it is virtually out of our hands so you may as well just enjoy what you’re doing and keep doing it as long as it makes you happy.
My own additional philosophy on that is, what the hell else are you going to do with your time? Watch tv or spend hours on your Playstation (which is a lot of fun but always leaves me filled with guilt)? If I never get to where I’d like to be, at least I can say I spent a good portion of my time making and doing something that I loved and one shouldn’t regret that.
How’s 2020 looking in what’s becoming a crazy year?
This year I am in the process of putting a new band together. Unfortunately 50% of my last band left the country, the selfish bastards. They are very good friends and it was so easy and pleasure to play with them. Putting a new band together seemed like a pain in the ass. I’m not great at meeting strangers at the best of times however I think it’d be a damn shame not get out there and perform some of these songs so here I go! Keep an eye out for some gigs in the next half of this year.
I started working on a new album at the end of last year. I have written much of it but with the current situation it has slowed things down a bit. With this new album I would like to involve more musicians to record the bits I think they can do better than I can.
There is one song called ‘Signal Dilemma’ that I was able to record myself that I plan to release hopefully in around 4 weeks so look out for that.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
If I could go back in time, I wish that I would have got into music earlier to hone my playing ability. Also I would have gone to university to study music. Of course you can teach yourself however I have a group of friends who all went to the same university in Liverpool and have all found some level of success within the music industry through a mix of talent and networking. Knowing people that can help you isn’t something you can just do but you can try and put yourself in the right place. Maybe even get an apprenticeship / work experience with a label. At least you’re in the right place. I was too stupid to realise that.
I’ve grown my career as a footwear and a fashion designer as I didn’t want to end up working in some pub when I was in my mid 30s with no experience and still chasing a musical dream but with no other prospects. I believe you can have a career and still pursue your life as a musician. I think in modern world it’s good to do lots of different things. It keeps you interested and educated. Don’t get me wrong though, I’d throw in shoe designing any day of the week to make records instead.
Sometimes you have to wait until the music part of your life slowly takes over the majority and then make the transition, which is one I’m still waiting for. There may of course be opportunities where you have to take risks and quit whatever you’re doing and would strongly encourage that.
Listen to Death In A Life Form on Spotify below. For news and updates follow Blake Anthony Robson on Instagram @blakeanthonyrobson.