Ahead of For­bid­den Fruit. James Blake talks to Jim Car­roll about us­ing his own words

When it came time to write a sec­ond al­bum, James Blake de­cided to con­cen­trate on the songs rather than the sounds. “That’s what I feel most proud of, the fact that this is all my own ma­te­rial, He tells Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

For work­ers all around the world, the phrase “do more with less” has be­come a mantra of the times. Those who play buz­zword bingo at staff meet­ings will have heard se­nior man­age­ment fig­ures ex­hort­ing the troops at great length to do more with less as a way of deal­ing with staff and re­source cut­backs and losses. It’s a man­age­ment cliché, a neat fig­ure of speech that dis­guises what’s re­ally go­ing on.

It’s a con­cept James Blake is fa­mil­iar with – ex­cept in his case, it’s a good thing. His self­ti­tled de­but al­bum was a study in mas­ter­ful min­i­mal­ism, a com­bi­na­tion of sim­ple, grace­ful pi­ano, stately, som­no­lent beats and that cracked, eerie folk voice of his.

When it came time to write a sec­ond al­bum, Blake de­cided to put the songs rather than the sounds at the cen­tre of the work. In­flu­enced and coloured by Blake’s fond­ness for Joni Mitchell, Over­grown is full of strong, sen­sual, time­less songs about love, life and lone­li­ness that don’t rely on elec­tronic whirrs to con­vey emo­tions. De­spite all-star as­sists from Brian Eno and the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, it’s Blake’s own urge for ex­pres­sion that dic­tates Over­grown’s di­rec­tion.

“I think it’s a bet­ter al­bum,” says Blake. “I think it’s ac­tu­ally an al­bum com­pared to the first one, which was more of a col­lage, an al­bum in for­mat alone. The tracks didn’t par­tic­u­larly run into each other and it had a more eclec­tic feel. But this one is a bit bet­ter. I think there’s more of a thread run­ning through it.

“Al­most all of the songs on there are love songs, ex­cept for Over­grown and To the Last. You could say that To the Last was a love song in the sense that it is loving, but it’s not to­wards who you might think it is. It’s more of a fam­ily love.”

It’s no­tice­able that Blake is now plac­ing more em­pha­sis on songs. When in­ter­viewed by The Ticket two years ago he talked about his pre­ci­sion with lyrics and how he en­joyed “when you put cer­tain words to­gether which work re­ally well as sounds, es­pe­cially when you sing them”. On Over­grown, Blake takes this process to the next level – for a start, there are more of his own songs here, re­plac­ing the cover ver­sions which pro­vided the strong­est mo­ments on his de­but.

“Lyrics have be­come re­ally im­por­tant be­cause I find writ­ing po­ems and things like that to be re­ally cathar­tic. They have be­come quite im­por­tant in terms of the writ­ing process and there’s a lot more of my lyrics on this al­bum be­cause there’s a lot more of my songs. I prob­a­bly only re­ally wrote one whole song on the first record. I didn’t write Limit To Your Love or The Wil­helm Scream.

“But ev­ery sin­gle song on this al­bum is my own, with my own lyrics and my own melodies. I think that’s the ma­jor achieve­ment here. That’s what I feel most proud of, the fact that this is all my own ma­te­rial.”

Blake’s cast of col­lab­o­ra­tors for Over­grown is also note­wor­thy. How did he get RZA to come on­board, for ex­am­ple? “When I made the beat for Take A Fall For Me, I re­ally heard RZA on the song. He seemed like the only per­son who would have sounded good on it, so we emailed RZA. We sent the beat to him and he liked it and sent some­thing back. It was as sim­ple as that. Be­fore this, I had never re­ally got in touch with a rap­per or vo­cal­ist, so to go to some­one I didn’t know was a weird ex­pe­ri­ence, but it worked out. I’m sur­prised he even did any­thing, but I ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that he did.”

That was a sim­i­lar process to how Blake ended up work­ing with Bon Iver’s Justin Ver­non on the Fall Creek Boys Choir re­lease be­tween al­bums.

“He sent me this vo­cal and it was beau­ti­ful and I de­cided to mess around with it and turned it into this slow jam thing where I can’t tell what he’s singing. I don’t think any­one can. In fact, I don’t think he knows what he sang.”

While Blake never met RZA (or Ver­non) dur­ing their col­lab­o­ra­tion, it was a dif­fer­ent story with Brian Eno. “We went around to his house, hung out with him for a few days, got to know him and made mu­sic. He was play­ing me old Sam Cooke records, I was play­ing him things off my al­bum. There’s no sub­sti­tute for ac­tu­ally just hang­ing out with some­one. Brian is some­body who makes you feel very at ease with what you’re do­ing. When he was lis­ten­ing to my mu­sic, he of­fered some sup­port so I kind of felt like ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be al­right.”

What’s also strik­ing about Over­grown is how far Blake has come son­i­cally from his early days. There’s lit­tle or no trace of the

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