Q: Where and how was the sound of Greg Blackman born?
A: “It was born out of years of frustration with the lack of qualities I admire in popular music and mainstream culture. There’s an astonishing lack of any real authentic masculinity in modern music: you’re either an aggressive ass or a hairless non-threatening boy-child. There’s nothing for young men to aspire to, everything is compromised, corrupt and cynically marketed. Nobody can say anything that might offend anyone, which means nobody can state any opinion on or make any judgement about anything.”
This is why it’s so rare to find “Classic” sounding soul music these days. Not so long ago Soul was dirty, low-down, gritty, funky, sweaty, nasty ass music that made you think about the world you lived in and gave you strength to rise up against it. In 2012 it’s become an empty-eyed slick expensive suit with no heart, no love and no sincerity. Soul, more than any other genre of music, by it’s very NATURE is long over due a renaissance.
When I truly, finally and completely worked out exactly what I did and did not stand for – that’s when my sound was born. The rest was just years of legwork and honing.”
Q: When did you learn to play Piano?
A: Contrary to popular misconception I can only just about get on my the Piano. I can’t even do the simple stuff like play a baseline with one hand and solo with the other. I’ve never had any formal training of any kind but I’ve had some kind of little home keyboard since I was very small so I developed my own loose way of banging chords out in order to accompany myself while singing, but I’m much more a singer who plays enough piano to get by than a “proper” Pianist.
Do you play any other instruments?
I compose, arrange and perform all the music you hear on my songs (be it horns, strings, bass, drums, keys, whatever) by using sequencing programs like Logic and Reason. So in essence I “play” (or at least perform) all the instruments.
In a real sense though my main instrument is my voice. Everything else is secondary and it’s my voice I use most regularly in collaborations and commercially available work.
Q: So when did that frustration reach it’s peak, what year are you talking about?
It’s more a gradual erosion of my patience over years than a single lightning strike moment. The older I got the more profoundly I became aware that the content offered by the biggest outlets was the stuff that fed my soul the least. A general feeling of frustration, not only with the situation but with the inability or unwillingness of the people around to perceive it, came upon me in slow degrees over a long period of time and continues to do so as I get older.
When I hit my 30’s and my children were born however: that made me stop and take a good hard look at the world around me and my place in it. I wasn’t in any way content with what I saw.
The mainstream gives us nothing but the empty message of buy more, think less. There is an astonishing lack of powerful, potent, masculine and yet moral, compassionate, fair male role models in modern western society. The mainstream offers two models of manhood, A: the thuggish dangerous amoral caveman or B: the insipid hairless ineffective skinny boy-child. The politics of our nation are a standing joke in which our options are between 3 parties all of whom are completely beholden to massive corporations. Men used to have warrior kings that led them into battle. What do we have now? ….mortgages. There is no leadership, nobody to look up to, very little worthy to fight for.
Encouraged by my wife Rebecca I realised that it was Now Or Never and it was time to channel some of this emotion into something productive or be consumed by it. That was when I started to take it seriously and put some serious, disciplined regular work in. Within 2 or 3 years I started to find myself naturally aligning with industry professionals, people a lot like myself only a decade further down the line who wanted to work with me and who I enjoyed working with. Another 3 years on from that and some of that work is starting to see the light of day. There’s no doubt though that if I’d not met Rebecca and decided to settle down and become a Father I’d still be floundering about squandering my talents and wondering why I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Q: When did you realise you could sing or hold a note? Was it a sudden realisation?
A: I think I was always aware that I was above average at singing, but it wasn’t until recent years that I actually made enough connections to make some kind of living out of it. When you think about it singing is a pretty esoteric skill. It’s like “Okay, I’ve got a nice voice. Great… soooo… now what? Does that help me get a job? Do I get money off bus fare? My rent is still the same.”
It takes a long time, a lot of hard work and a fair amount of luck to arrive at a point where you can even make minimum wage by being a singer. But when respected industry professionals like DJ Vadim, DJ Ease (Nightmares On Wax), Featurecast, Utah Saints, etc started not only saying nice things but putting paying work my way that I realised that I must be a bit more than above average.
Q: Ultimately what would you like to achieve with your music?
A: In a practical sense I want to be able to own my own home, save for my old age and put aside a little cash for my kids to give them a decent start in life. That’s no small aim for any career, particularly one as impermanent and unpredictable as showbusiness.
From a musician/songwriter point of view I would like to produce and continue to create music that praises the love that can happen between two people as the source of all that is good in life, gives people strength without sugar coating the pill of the struggles they face, and make those who are disillusioned and neglected by the hollow nature of mainstream culture feel less alone.
Q: What other artiste do you respect and would like to work with?
A: In my own field I’d like to collaborate with Mark De-Clive Lowe, Zo, John Turrell, DJ Premier, Roots Manuva, The Foreign Beggars, Plan B and Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers in particular. I’d also relish the chance to work with Tom Waits, Bobby Womack, Mike Patton, Pharrel Williams, Doctor John…. The list goes one and on.
I enjoy collaborations immensely and in particular how each new collaborator changes the shape of my contribution according to what the project that is being born needs from me. It turns a normally very solitary art into a uniquely adaptive one. As a habit therefor I tend to do as many collaborations as I’m offered (from people who’s level of ability in their field is equal to or greater than my own). I can honestly say that the collaborations I most look forward to are the ones with the kind of fantastic new un heard artists I’m discovering all the time. It’s the work with that unknown guy I’ve not met yet that most excites me. That’s where the real buzz is.
Q: With only a couple of months of this year left, what does 2013 hold for Greg Blackman music?
A: 2013 is going to see the release of two of my favourite collaborations from the past three years: “Low Fi Classics”, an album I’m now finishing up with the Lisboa-Based producer Mr Bird, and the as yet untitled album I’ve been working in with DJ Vadim under the band name “Dirty Faiyah”. I’m very excited about dropping these tunes having spent so much time already crafting them. I’m also featuring on various hip hop tracks with my friends Pugs Atomz and Simeon Viltz and I’m hoping the song I’ve written with US Producer Tall Black Guy will see the light of day.
Working in close partnership with my long time collaborator and producer Nathan Wacey of Long Track Studios (my musical home away from home) I’ll also be releasing some instrumental side projects on limited vinyl runs privately, continuing to solidify my working relationship with BBE records and of course crafting new music constantly.
Interview by Sharonè Knight
You can follow this inspirational man on Twitter: @GregBlackmanUK
For Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/greg.blackman.soul
Source his sounds via Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/greg-blackman
View his vibrance on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug0Ggz16Y3Q