The internet has proved itself time and again to be the new place to be seen and heard. From Esmee Denters to the Arctic Monkeys, it seems that everyone is doing it. Classic boyband Blake are no exception; having been formed through Facebook, the quartet became an overnight sensation back in 2007 with debut album Blake storming to the top of the classical charts. Three years later, Blake have parted ways with Universal and changed line-up via Twitter. zap! bang! spoke to bass-baritone Stephen Bowman about their first independent release Together.
Having formed via Facebook, do you think that the internet is a useful medium for aspiring talents?
The internet is the new battleground for big record companies and independent artists alike, everyone is equal there, it’s all about being creative and giving your music followers as much of yourself and your music for them to enjoy as possible.
You signed to Universal within 24 hours of forming, how did it all happen so quickly?
Every now and then lady luck looks down and picks people. I’d been pushing for nearly 10 years to get into a record deal, the fact that we all met only 48 hours as an entire group before being signed never really struck me as that lucky. Hard work makes the luck in this industry.
Did any of you use MySpace or Facebook before Blake to get your solo talents noticed?
I used to use MySpace, BeBo and Facebook to promote my singer-songwriter work, it’s a good way to network and meet other people in the industry. Finding out what people really think of your music helps to sharpen your singing, performing and song writing skills.
When Dominic left, you switched allegiances from Facebook to Twitter to find Barney. Why the switch?
We didn’t actually switch, we now use Facebook and Twitter alongside each other, both have taken over our lives. We used Twitter to find a new member, as we were searching in haste and twitter has more immediate responses from users, which we needed.
Did you ever think when you met up for the first time, that Blake could achieve everything you have, in such a short space of time?
When we all met up, we just thought it would be fun for a few singers to perform and make a few hundred quid per concert. Also, we all thought we could keep our days jobs, uni courses etc, whilst doing Blake; but in months it became our fulltime career. Unexpected.
Success in 2007 was almost instant, with Blake becoming the biggest selling classical debut album of the year. How did you find the instant fame attached to the success?
We’ve never had to deal with fame. We probably sold the most silent 100,000 records in 2007, plus when we started we had older fans who weren’t really the type to get overly excited. Now that our music has become independent, younger and more fun, we find lots of younger people are following our music. I saw myself topless in Heat magazine whilst playing football in the park this summer, that was a shock and felt a lot more like fame than selling half a million records. In truth, no one in the group is too bothered with the idea of becoming famous, we just love it when people enjoy our music and keep coming to the concerts.
Blake have decided to go independent and established Blake Records, what prompted the decision?
We’d recorded two records with Universal, but found the whole experience to be like making music in a vacuum. Major record labels own you, mould you and sculpt you in their own eyes, not really thinking about the artists or their music. It’s all marketing. We had the option to renegotiate our contract, but decided that an offer to create our own label was much more interesting to us. We jumped on it.
I saw myself topless in Heat magazine whilst playing football in the park this summer, that was a shock.
Three albums in three years, can you tell me a bit more about the latest release Together?
Together is our first album as an independent group, it’s the most adventurous in terms of the way we use our voices, the style of production and the choice of songs. We put some much loved classics on there, because we wanted to do them, but the pop choices are fresh and fun, specially the Denise Rich original track “Unsung Hero” which we just performed in New York to launch the single there.
Does your new found independence allow greater control over song choice?
We can choose whatever we want to put on the albums now, no one from a label or management can alter our choices, which is exactly how it should be for all artists. We made the album we wanted to make, with the songs we loved the most, that shows when you listen to the record, its warm, honest and passionate.
Who in the group is most dominant with their opinions as to what songs should be included on the record?
The group is run on a democratic basis, no one member can overrule the other three, we talk things though, vote and then has a good argument if we still can’t decide, normally fuelled by gin, whiskey and vodka. Mine’s the vodka. Good music needs conflict, but you have to know when to back down and admit you’re being pigheaded. Either way, it works for us.
Your back catalogue consists mainly of cover versions, do any of you have song writing ambitions?
I’m a songwriter more than a singer, and worked on the Denise Rich original track this summer with her in France. We’ll be adding more and more original tracks to upcoming albums, it’s an exciting progression.
The boyband is an old formula, what made you rework it slightly to create a classical boyband?
We never called ourselves a boyband, we kind of got branded that by press in our first months together. In reality, we’re a band using voices in place of instruments. We all play instruments and they may well be seen more in future live concert tours. Add variety for us.
Performing at Shirley Bassey’s 70th birthday party must have been quite an experience. How did that come about?
Shirley phoned a mutual friend of mine, saying that she’s seen us on the Beeb performing live; she asked if we would sing for her as a special present and we said we would be honoured. We sang our own unique version of Happy Birthday, with special Blake harmonies, its on YouTube somewhere, a guy videoed it with a camera phone, cheeky sod.
What would you say has been your most unusual performance to date?
Singing to 150,000 people at the Melbourne Cup in Australia, a further 20 million were watching live on TV too – never felt so nervous in all my life, but it went well and we were No.1 in Australia for weeks after that.
Do you feel that classical music has enjoyed a surge of popularity amongst the youth market thanks to younger artists including yourselves?
Classical music benefits from younger singers and musicians. Sadly school only give student 1 hour of music now, which is just awful. We tour up to 40 schools per year in the UK, talking about the music industry, performing and giving master classes. The biggest problem with classical is that most school kids assume you have to be fat, bearded and a geek to get involved. Lady Gaga was classically trained as a top music college in the US, too many pop artists hide their classical credentials because they think it makes them less cool. We’re trying to reverse that trend.
What is next for Blake and the newly founded Blake Records?
We’re currently talking to America about releasing our music there. We’re releasing in south Africa this month, we tour Scandinavia next month and we have release plans for the third album in Australia and Japan. We never stop thinking about taking the music to new places, introducing our fun version of the Britishness to the world one song at a time. We haven’t even got started yet…