Interview – Guy Blakeslee of Entrance Band, @ Vertigofest, October 30th 2015.
Guy Blakeslee, guitarist, songwriter and all around psychedelic soul opens up about his latest solo record, his enduring psych rock outfit, meditation, fame and the creative process.
David Lacroix: Entrance started off as a solo project, why choose to play as a solo artist instead of under your existing moniker?
Guy Blakeslee: “Entrance” was my name pretty much for a long time and then when I introduced the other band members into the group it became more identified with the group than with just me as a person. A couple of different times I played as Entrance with just me and people were like “where’s your band?” so I basically try to differentiate now that i’m an individual that’s in this band. The naming of it is weird, but i’m definitely going with what i just did today and some of the stuff that I’m working on is kind of taking it back to an acoustic format which is something I haven’t done much in the past 10 years until the past year or six months or so.
David Lacroix: Your first couple of albums are very acoustic oriented. When you perform now as a solo artist, do you intend to revisit your early solo works?
Guy Blakeslee: The stuff I played today [Vertigofest] was all new songs, except for one that was on my record that came out last year and there’s one cover song that I played, a Daniel Johnson cover. I’m making an album right now so I’m playing all these new songs just to like, I feel like it’s not really wise to record something before you’ve played it for real humans in a live space. Because I could play each song differently each time, there’s a lot of improvisation and response to the audience and to the space and the sound. I definitely want to give the song some life by doing that first before I commit some definitive version to record. So i’ve been mainly playing these newer songs to bring them into a more completed state.
David Lacroix: How about the song “Haunted City” from your solo record that came out last year? Is that song about a particular place or more about a feeling in general?
Guy Blakeslee: That’s a good question. I was living in Idyllwild, a town out in the desert, it’s above the desert by about a mile, it’s on the top of a mountain. I was living there for a year and there was one particular time, there were a few times I would come back to L.A. from there, after being a quiet place for so long. And Idyllwild it’s so quiet, kind of like here, it’s so quiet, when there’s a cell phone charger plugged into the wall, you can hear the sound it makes. It sounds like “IRHHHHHHHHHGHHH,” like really a screeching sound. You would never hear that in the city because there’s so much other white noise that’s just always there.
I was basically re-sensitized to how intense Los Angeles was from being away from it. I would come into LA, I didn’t drive at the time, I would be walking everywhere and taking the bus and just kind of, when you’re in LA, on the bus level of existence, because most people drive, you are exposed to a different psychic level of the city. More so in LA than in other cities, I feel like if you are in other cities, if you are in New York, there may be some crazy people on the subway but most people need to take the subway.
In LA, you’re like “I took the bus” and people are like “you took the bus?” People didn’t know that there was a bus. Most of the people on the bus are… [Laughs] insane, basically. By walking and taking the bus everywhere you are kind of plugged into this different culture of different psychological states. A couple of times in a row, I went from being up in this really quiet, secluded place to being in the city and being exposed to all this really intense psychic energy. At that time i started writing that song, that was four maybe five years ago.
There was one show where Entrance Band played this festival in the middle of Silverlake [Los Angeles] where there was supposedly there was 10,000 people there. It was a free festival, the whole area was closed to cars and it was just a pedestrian gathering. I came straight from this mountain town to the festival and I hadn’t been around more than one or two people in a month or so and I was overwhelmed by cars and people and traffic. I had also been not doing drugs up there, just drinking a lot of coffee and walking around in nature. I took some unknown psychedelic substance from this guy in the crowd. During the show I had somewhat of a psychic breakdown, I was trying to jump through the stage. I was basically like “I gotta get out of here, where can I go? I can go DOWN!” I was thinking that if I jumped hard enough I could go under the stage and hide. After the show I felt like I possessed with some evil spirits. So that’s what was going on with me around the time that I was writing that song.
When I recorded that album, I was living in the lower east side of Manhattan for a couple of weeks. I also used to live in New York, that also brought the song together. The feeling of being in a city like Los Angeles or New York, even if it’s a familiar corner that you’re on, or “I have a memory of this park,” it’s changing so fast all the time that no-one there will be the same people that were there in your memory or in your past life. So I guess it came full circle in New York and recording, just spending most of my mornings in Tompkins Square Park, thinking about how a city of that much energy is always haunted by the occurrences of so many years accumulating in what is almost a wall of psychic energy.
David Lacroix: Earlier this evening, you played a few songs. Do you consider your love songs to be biographical or more about love in a general sense?
Guy Blakeslee: That’s a good question too. Yeah, a couple of the love songs that I played were actually written for a person in the room while I was playing, my girlfriend who came here with me. In that way it’s biographical but I feel that’s a good example of how the experience of the songwriter can tap into something universal that other people can relate to.
I don’t write too many songs that are so specific, like about someone’s name. It’s more about a feeling that other people could connect to. I’m getting it from my own experience but i’m also trying to say it in a way that’s more relatable to a more universal love experience.
David Lacroix: How often do you write songs? You have released a few collections of low-fi demos on your myspace page. Do you consider yourself to be a prolific artist?
Guy Blakeslee: I feel like when i started writing songs, it was very easy for me in a way that’s not as easy for me now. It’s getting easier again because I worked really hard in the past couple of years to reawaken that thing that makes it easy. I had to try really hard to get back to a place where it was not easy. Part of my process as a musician, when I started making music when I was really young, I didn’t drink or use drugs or anything, I just had this manic, creative energy. I would make zines and flyers, paint, draw, make collages and would write.
When i started playing guitar, I made up so much stuff and I played for hours everyday. That was coming from a very pure place. When I first started smoking marijuana or taking LSD, in the very beginning, It was like “Woah, this is even better!” and my creative output increased. It became “oh these ideas are coming from a place and I don’t even know where it is.” So basically, in the very beginning, it was an amazing aid to something I already had, which was a creative inspiration. Eventually that became a total hindrance to that but I couldn’t really tell until it was really obvious. I would be in the studio and my band would be like “we need those lyrics, it’s time to finish the song” and i’d be like “I don’t know what to do!” and I would try to get more high to figure it out. That led me to place where I stopped all drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and everything.
For a little while, I had a hard time with language and words. It was never hard for me to make melodies or musical ideas but it definitely was hard for me to take what I was going to say and put it into words. I would get really frustrated and judge what I was writing and it would stop me from being able to complete anything. I had all these songs that were unfinished; I would always start something else. I eventually figured out a process, it’s basically the opposite of what I ever wanted to believe that music or creativity was about, I had to learn how to have discipline.
If I’m a guitar player and I sing and if I spend a few hours everyday working on that, actually trying to push myself, it gets easier. I’ve trained myself to write without judging it and then come back to it. That was one of the things I had to figure out. I think I did that when I first started writing words, write a lot without thinking and be like “Woah, that’s pretty cool.” And then I got to a point where I would start to write, i’d be like “that’s not right” and I’d cross it out. As soon as you start doubting it before you even express it, then it’s basically writer’s block.
There’s this book called “the Artist’s Way,” it’s quite famous, it’s on Opera and stuff, it’s a handbook on how to unblock your creativity, whether you are a writer or a painter or whatever. The main exercise that it suggests is the Artist’s pages, where you write 3 uncensored pages everyday. You don’t judge what you are writing at all, you don’t necessarily have to look at it again, you don’t have to show it to anyone. It trains you to blurt it out before you edit it. Through doing that, it’s become easier for me to let my first thought out without blocking it.
David Lacroix: In your early career, you were a part of the “Convocation Of.” What lessons did you learn from being a part of that band?
Guy Blakeslee: That was a band I was in from the time I was in high school until I was out of high school for a couple of years. I played the bass so I didn’t write any lyrics and I wasn’t the singer of the band. One of the main things that it taught me was the introduction to the lifestyle of a professional touring musician.
I know a lot of friends of mine who are musically super gifted who spend a lot of time making music, writing songs and recording but they don’t necessarily like the touring side of it so they don’t gravitate towards that. For some reason, when I was a teenager, that was something that really stuck with me. Music is more alive when it goes to a different place and is exposed to different people, the travelling part is a big part of that.
David Lacroix: Is there a difference between a band and a group of musicians? How centralized is Entrance Band’s musical process?
Guy Blakeslee: The way that we play together, it started out as my thing and then they came into it, but as soon as they were into it, even for a short time, it became a three-way collaboration, which is why it doesn’t make sense to use that name when it’s just me because it really does represent them. A lot of the stuff I did on my last solo record, i’d be like “how about this?” and they’d be like “nah, we don’t like that.” They aren’t going to play anything with me that they feel doesn’t represent them which means that everything we do together is strong in representing all of us.
It’s good that I have a way to do stuff on my own, because there’s stuff I want to do that they don’t want to do and they also play with other people and they express a different side of their thing with that. The way we play is more of like a real band rather than a project with interchangeable members.
David Lacroix: How are Paz and Derek these days? What’s it like being in a band with a Pixie?
Guy Blakeslee: [Laughs] It’s pretty cool. They are both really good. Derek has two kids, his daughter is less than a year old so he’s a pretty committed dad right now. Paz is traveling a lot with the Pixies, both recording new songs and also playing shows. We just played a residency where we played every week in LA. We’ve been a band for 10 years, there’s periods of time where we don’t really get to do much together but I’m pretty certain that we’ll keep playing together in whatever form it takes.
We haven’t actually written any new songs as a group in four years but when we play shows we do these improvisations. I imagine the next songs we write will take it in a more free-improvisation format rather than a songwriting kind of thing.
David Lacroix: Can fans expect a new Entrance Band release in the next year or two?
Guy Blakeslee: Definitely in the next year or two but I don’t really know. We don’t really talk about that. [Laughs]
David Lacroix: Guy, you are an admitted practicer of meditation. Which meditation methods do you practice? How does that relate to your music?
Guy Blakeslee: I think it’s cool you say “practice” because with meditation, kind of like with playing instrument, it’s really more about having a practice than about any specific goal. Everyone who is an artist has bursts of creativity but in order to be an artist for years and years on end, you need to find your own version of discipline. Basically just doing it all the time, if you work on it everyday, that’s a form of discipline. I can see benefits that i get when I regularly practice meditation, it’s noticeable. When I don’t do it as often, that’s noticeable too; consistency is where a lot of the benefit comes from. I try to do some form of meditation everyday if I can but I practice multi types of meditation. They make you feel different, they each have a different goal.
I practice mindfulness or Vipassanā and there’s a companion kind of meditation called Metta, which is love and kindness meditation. Those are the two main things s that I’m into, those two related forms, I don’t have an official TM [Transcendental Meditation] mantra but I have a mantra that I got from Amma [Mata Amritanandamayi], who is a hugging saint. I use that Mantra to practice TM in my own way.
David Lacroix: I’ve seen a few audiences astonished at the power of an Entrance Band live set. How do you feel about the concept of fame? Why aren’t you more famous?
Guy Blakeslee: [Laughs] That’s a good question too. I have some friends around my age whose parents are very truly famous, like you say their name and everyone knows who they are. That’s one kind of fame, a hollywood kind of fame but then there’s some neighbourhoods in LA where I’m waking down the street and people are like “Hey man, I love your band” and there’s other parts of the same city where that’s not the case. Fame is a weird thing. Knowing people who grow up in the environment of having their family being famous in a mass culture, the fame of a single parent will damage the lives of their children. On the one hand they get to have a life of ease and comfort but they don’t get to know what it’s like to be an average person. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with that that affects more than the person who is well known.
I think about it in all different ways. I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard with my girlfriend and there’s the walk of fame with all those stars. There were some stars where I didn’t recognize the person’s name, there were some that I knew who they were but I didn’t care and then it’s like “oh, there’s Jack White’s star! That’s cool! There’s Johnny Cash! Bela Lugosi? That’s Dracula!” Why is it that some of those stars make me feel something good and other ones don’t? For someone else, a different star would do do that for them. I’m into Dracula so I think Bela Lugosi is cool.
There’s this singer, Yma Sumac, I don’t even know how to describe her music, she’s kind of a ethnic, shamanistic opera singer. I saw her star and I thought that was cool. The reason why I know who they are is because they did something great creatively. More-so than Kim Kardashian. At this point there’s people who are famous just for being famous, I feel like that is a huge part of what is wrong with the world. There are people who have touched people with their creativity and their spirit; it gives me a good feeling to know that Johnny Cash is being commemorated for what he did. I can’t be completely critical of the idea of fame; there’s people who have done really great things who have touched a lot of people, it’s part of inspiration to recognize and celebrate them.
David Lacroix: What are your thoughts on the current West Coast music climate? What do you think about smaller festivals like Vertigofest and Desert Stars?
Those festivals are great. Even outside of California i’m thinking that there’s more good music being made now than there was five years ago.
David Lacroix: What bands have caught your attention recently?
Guy Blakeslee: I’ve been really into solo artists recently. That’s what i’m doing now myself, i’m interested in watching just a guitar and someone singing. To me that can be the most interesting. I saw Jessica Pratt a few weeks ago and that was amazing. There’s this other young lady in LA named Itasca who is really good. A couple of weeks ago Josephine Foster played, she was really good. I like all kinds of music though, I mostly like not-new music.
I’m also less jaded than I was, which is weird because usually people get more jaded. [Laughs] I feel more open to the idea that if someone is playing music that i’ve never heard before, It might actually be good. Part of that is that I’m less jaded and part of it is people are doing more interesting stuff now. You can be exposed to so much different music, the internet has made accessible influences and inspirations from all sorts of different places. Even if it’s all combining things that they are inspired by, there’s an originality in the combinations of influences that people have.
You could be from Minnesota and be like “I like Brazilian music and I like techno” and then you could make your own music with it’s own unique sound. It’s not actually from the place it’s from, that’s one of the things that I like about it. Music transcends language but place and time are becoming more irrelevant. It used to be “a British Rapper? that’s crazy!” Now it is acceptable for all races from all around the world to play the kind of music that they like rather than the kind that is sanctioned. There’s kids in China who are metal virtuosos and Blues singers who you would never guess had light skin.
There’s all kinds of unique things happening because of that. Putting a boundary on what kind of music a person can play is unfair.
Photos: Grace Dunn of Suzette Subliminal Photography
Artwork: Marie Ingouf
Special thanks to: Guy Blakeslee, Vertigofest and Desert Stars Festival.
Check out Entrance Band ‘s Facebook page. Long live psychedelic music.