Sunday, November 23, 2014

James Blackshaw 13 questions

Photo Simone Della Fornace

James Blackshaw is highly regarded for his pieces for solo 12-string guitar, nylon-string classical guitar and piano. Strongly inspired by the 60’s Takoma school of guitarists, minimalist composers and European classical music, Blackshaw employs fingerpicking techniques to create drones, overtones and repeating patterns, alongside a strong inclination for melody, to create instrumental music that is both intelligent, hypnotic and emotional.


Born in London in 1981, where he continues to make his home, Blackshaw has so far released eight solo studio albums, one EP, one live recording and has also appeared on numerous compilations since 2003, receiving praise and earning places on Best of Year lists from online and printed publications such as Pitchfork, Billboard, The Wire, The Observer, The Times, Uncut, The New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Onion, Magnet and Acoustic Guitar Magazine among others.

His personal sound belongs to the space inhabited by artists like His personal sound belongs to the space inahabited by artists like Robbie Basho, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Glenn Jones, Jack Rose,  Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, drone and modal mixed with American minimalism and meditational music. In that way works his love for the 12 strings resonance: "It was like an immediate shift in the way that I played, ... the instrument really rings out."

Blackshaw has collaborated with Lubomyr Melnyk, performed and recorded as a member of Current 93 and with Jozef Van Wissem as Brethren of The Free Spirit and toured and played shows with artists such as Swans (whose Michael Gira signed Blackshaw to his Young God label to release two albums in 2009 and 2010), Grails, Meg Baird (Espers), Mountains, Glenn Jones, Sir Richard Bishop, Jose Gonzales, Peter Walker, Alex De Grassi and Hauschka. He has toured extensively in the US, Europe and Japan, playing such institutions as the ICA, the Barbican and Merkin Hall, NYC as part of the New York Guitar Festival, 2010. Matt Groening, creator of ‘The Simpsons’, invited Blackshaw to perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties, May 2010. His music has been featured multiple times on National Public Radio in the US, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 4 and and has been used both on TV and in one feature length film, ‘Sebbe’.

In early 2013, he collaborated with pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk on the album Watchers. In the same year he was invited by Yann Tiersen to celebrate the centenary of Louis Feuillade's silent film series Fantômas. Recorded live in Paris last Halloween, the seamless 74-minute piece stemmed from a commission for a live score for the 1914 silent movie Le Faux Magistrat. The fifth film in a series of classics by Louis Feuillade, Le Faux Magistrat ended a centennial celebration of the director at the prestigious Théâtre de Châtelet. Preceded by the likes of Tim Hecker and Yann Tiersen, Blackshaw was tasked with providing accompaniment to the screening. Blackshaw performed the 75-minute work with guests including drummer Simon Scott (Slowdive), who shifts between light, adding almost incidental percussion and thundering drums. It was released commercially by Tompkins Square in July of 2014.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?  What were other early records you bought?

First – I’m not sure about. I think it was a U2 record when I was about twelve. I wouldn’t have guessed that twenty years later they’d force their way into my iTunes library leaving me trying to figure out how to get rid of their shitty album for about two weeks.

Last – I bought a ton of CDs on my last visit to Japan. An amazing band called Mori Wa Ikiteiru, the most recent Shione Yukawa and Kindan No Tasuketsu albums. Really great stuff.

What do you remember about your first guitar?

It was a white Yamaha Stratocaster copy my parents bought me for my birthday. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

What gear do you use?

I have a Chinese Guild 12-string (GAD G212) with a Fishman pickupin it, a Loriente Clarita Nylon string guitar, a Chinese Fender Telecaster, a Fender Super Champ… Various cheap mics, a decent pair of KRK monitors. Not much stuff really.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

My first album ‘Celeste’ surprises because I I think it still sounds pretty competent. I’m kind of impressed something I did 11 years ago is decent. And my new album which comes out in February because it’s very different. It broke down a lot of barriers for me – things I wanted to do for years but was terrified in reality about doing.

What do you need from music?

Anything that makes me feel anything really. I don’t hear a lot of music like that, honestly.

What quality do you admire most in a musician?

Attention to detail. When you can hear the amount of time and effort that has gone into something.

Do you prefer play alone or in a group? What is the difference for you?

There’s probably no other feeling in the world like working with sympathetic musicians and hearing something come together. If I could handpick four or five musicians from anywhere in the world who I could work with on a regular basis, I would definitely say I’d prefer working in a group. But I don’t have that luxury, as do the musicians I would pick.

There is something very pure about working alone. And I like controlled environments in music – by me or certain other people.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene? 

I think it’s mostly a challenge, honestly. Things are more accessible and immediate– access to data and information exists on a level we’ve never seen before and that certainly has some benefits for everybody. There has definitely been a clamp down on the distribution of music online recently, but then I also think there’s a whole generation of people who grew up in an environment where they could and would and download music for free and see nothing wrong with that.

I’m not saying there is something morally wrong with that necessarily, but it does have a very immediate and obvious impact on certain musicians and whether they continue to make the music they want to make. I think a lot of people are sympathetic to that, but others not so much.

Which do you translate into music from other disciplines such as theater, painting, architecture, ballet...?

Oh man, so much. I love a certain school of 70’s American cinema. The kind of downbeat, paranoid thrillers like ‘All The President’s Men’, ‘The Conversation’, ‘Klute’, ‘Marathon Man’… And I love fantasy and science fiction. There’s a lot of reference to both those things in the last three albums I’ve made.

What do you recall about your playing learning process?

I remember it being a lot of fun, so it never really felt like learning. It was a bit like a series of puzzles I was gradually solving. I practiced a lot for the first couple of years - any chance I could find, I would sit down and play. And it actually happened quite quickly, I think that sort of rate of learning begins to slow down after a while and it becomes more like refining techniques rather than attempting to do new things.

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

‘Drink or eat’ – Michael Gira

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music. Why?

Arvo Part ‘Spiegel Im Spiegel’. It taught me about the emotional value of space and simplicity.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I have a new album out in February on Important Records (USA) and P-Vine (Japan). As I said - it’s different!

Selected Discography

Solo Albums/EPs

Apologia LP (Bladud Flies!) recorded in 2003, reissued in 2014

CD (Tompkins Square) recorded in 2003, reissued in 2008 

Lost Prayers & Motionless Dances 
CD (Tompkins Square) recorded in 2004, reissued in 2008

CD (Tompkins Square) recorded in 2005, reissued in 2008

O True Believers LP (Bo’weavil Records) & CD (Important Records) 2006

Waking Into Sleep - Goteburg 27.05.06 CD (Kning Disk) 2006

The Cloud of Unknowing 
CD/LP (Tompkins Square) 2007

Litany of Echoes 
CD (Tompkins Square) 2008

The Glass Bead Game 
CD/LP (Young God Records) 2009

All Is Falling 
CD/LP (Young God Records) 2010

12” EP (Important Records) 2011

Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death 
CD/LP (Important Records) 2012

Fantomas: Le Faux Magistrat OST 
CD/2LP (Tompkins Square) 2014

Compilations/Collaborations/Split Releases/Guest Appearances

Davenport Vs. James Blackshaw CD-R (Static Records) 2005
Gold Leaf Branches 3CD (Digitalis Industries) 2005

 Imaginational Anthem Vol. 2 
CD (Tompkins Square) 2006

A Raga For Peter Walker 
CD (Tompkins Square) 2006

The Garden of Forking Paths 
CD (Important Records) 2008

Brethren of the Free Spirit - All Things Are From Him, Through Him and In Him 
CD/LP (audioMER) 2008

Brethren of the Free Spirit - The Wolf Shall Also Dwell With The Lamb 
CD/LP (Important Records) 2008

Current 93 - Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain 
CD/LP (Coptic Cat) 2009

Current 93 - Balstorm, Sing Omega 
CD/LP (Coptic Cat) 2010

Sailors With Wax Wings - S/T 
CD (Angel Oven) 2010

Myrninerest - “Jhonn, Uttered Babylon”
 CD/LP (Coptic Cat) 2012

James Blackshaw & Lubomyr Melnyk - The Watchers 
CD/LP (Important Records) 2013

Duane Pitre - Feel Free: Live At Cafe Oto 
LP (Important Records) 2013

Greater Lengths 
2CD (All Saints/Warp) 2014

Next Shows

20/11/14 - Leuven, BE - Stuk w/ Lubomyr Melnyk
23/11/14 - Utrecht, NL - Le Guess Who? Festival
08/12/14 - Liverpool, UK - Leaf w/ Michael Chapman
09/12/14 - Reading, UK - South St Arts w/ Michael Chapman
10/12/14 - Brighton, UK - Prince Albert w/ Michael Chapman
11/12/14 - Bristol, UK - The Cube w/ Michael Chapman
12/12/14 - London, UK - Bishopsgate Institute w/ Michael Chapman
13/12/14 - Leigh-On-Sea, UK - New Road Methodist Church w/ Michael Chapman


Webpage | AllmusicYoutube | Soundcloud | Interview | ContactWikipedia