For James Blake, the differences between his self-titled 2011 debut and its hotly anticipated follow-up, Overgrown, boil down to a pretty simple fact: He had no idea he was writing his way toward a record the first time around, and this time he did. “We came to about 10 songs and I thought, ‘Oh, wow! I’ve got a record!’ You know?” he laughs, making crumpets (seriously) in his apartment in London.
After Blake’s eponymous debut came out, “The Wilhelm Scream” made its way into the playlists of anyone who wasn’t allergic to electronic music and his equal parts crooner-cum-electronic producer (or was it the other way around?) output saw the highest points of the European charts (though James Blake topped out with a 123 rank stateside.) A Mercury Prize nomination, more best-of list mentions than one can count, and a handful of international tours later, Blake is set for the release of Ovegrown, and he’s eager to put out what he considers to be his most self-representative work yet.
Where are you right now?
I’m just at home. I’m making some crumpets. How English is that? I’m actually doing it, I’m making crumpets and tea.
Really? Ha! I’ve never made crumpets, actually. How do you like them?
Four at a time. [Laughs.]
Overgrown‘s about to come out, and everyone’s freaking out over it–I really loved the video for “Retrograde” that you released about a month ago, too. How did things change this time around with this record? Did any major shifts occur in your approach?
On this album, I invested a bit more in my production tools, and I got a bit better at using them. I think that contributed to how it sounds. The production levels and whatever might feel like they’ve improved, but I don’t know. I feel like I’ve improved at it, and that’s probably how I’ve been doing it. In terms of process, it’s roughly the same, in some ways, because the lyrics were largely written in the same kind of environment where I was traveling. Obviously, the subject matter is completely different, and also the fact that every synth on the entire record was completely played live. Mostly in hardware form, on the keyboards. All the synths are kind of raw; there’s no editing to them. I just kind of did the parts and got them right and then played them in. it’s a bit more of a concise writing process, just slightly.
Which song best represents this for you?
“Retrograde.” That song really sums me up.
Why do you think so?
I think it’s the kind of thing I make when I really let go. I find that it’s not always that easy to completely let go of something and just go with it and be un-selfconscious. I think with “Retrograde” I really did that.
It seems like you’re really embracing r&b on this record, more so than you did on your other material. Did your collaborations contribute to that? How was that experience, bringing in Brian Eno and RZA?
The collaborations added flavors to the mix that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. [James Blake] is filled with the same kind of vibes. I wanted Overgrown to be more varied. The first is kind of a collage; this one is more of a statement as an album.
Say someone’s just seen the “Retrograde” video, and that they’ve never been to a show of yours or listened to your music previously. What do you hope they take away from Overgrown after the initial listen-through?
Hopefully, that they want to listen to it again–that magnetism that can happen when you listen to something for the first time. Like Jeremih’s mix tape, it’s called “Late Nights”–it’s one he did recently, and as soon as I heard it, I knew I needed to hear it again, and that’s sort of the mark of something that’s at least interesting if not really good. I just want that for my album. I want people to be able to put it on and then instantly want to listen to it again, or hear things they didn’t hear the first time. I want people to be impacted by it. Truly no one would want anything else.
Was that a goal you set before yourself when this record came around? What were your objectives for Overgrown?
I really had it in me. I really had the lyrics and ideas, and had I not had those ideas and had I not written “Retrograde” and “Underground” and things like that, then I wouldn’t have waited until I did have those things as cornerstones. Every album needs those tunes, and I was making sure I had those pillars for the album to rest on.
Overgrown is in stores today.