THE HIGH, A SONIC & PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
IN CONVERSATION WITH GUY BLAKESLEE
In our interview with Yancy Scot Schwartz, he called Guy Blakeslee "a cross between something out of Andy Warhol and David Bowie in one person—the best of both worlds." Well, after recovering from a serious accident, Guy took the time to speak to us about being reborn, his songwriting process, and The High.
Can you give us a short bio?
Well, I’ve lived many lives and been re-born many times in different ways. Strangely enough, I’ve had another rebirth between the time of the recording session and this interview… March 13 I was walking into Zebulon Cafe Concert in LA to work the soundboard, when I was hit by a car and went unconscious.. I woke up a couple days later in the hospital not remembering how I got there, and the world was on lockdown. 3 months later I’m still experiencing double vision as a result of the head injury and have experienced a significant change in the way I think about and play music… I haven’t much interest in lyrics or singing structured songs at the moment but have ventured into a new realm of instrumental exploration with the piano and keyboards… On Easter Sunday my lady and I left LA to live on her family’s farm in rural Virginia and I’ve been playing an old Steinway piano in the barn with lots of birds chirping all around me. So it feels like another chapter, a whole new life and I’ve been working on discarding old beliefs and expectations about how life should be and what kind of artist and person I am in order to open up to the unknown and embrace the change. Further back, I was born and raised in Baltimore and after moving around and touring quite a bit, living in Chicago, NYC, London.. I landed in Los Angeles in 2005 and have mostly been there until a couple months ago.. I’ve taught myself all I know about making music and that began with the guitar when I was 10 years old, so I’ve been on this musical journey for close to 30 years.
You've previously stated that the first form of meditation you really experienced was playing music, that in the hours you dedicated to teaching yourself to play guitar you came to a realization that you weren't thinking about it anymore, you were just doing it. When it comes to the songwriting process, how do the imposition of structure and language interact with this understanding of expression?
I feel really fortunate I was discovering the guitar at a time before cell phones and internet came along and disrupted our attention spans, so I had many hours every day to dive into it and get lost in it.. Later when I started formally meditating I knew right away the that’s what i’d been doing with music before I knew what “meditation” was called.. I’ve always been working on this dichotomy between structure and spontaneous expression in some way, and like I mentioned above I’ve recently found that I’m in the mood to cast off structure and language and just let go into the boundlessness of sound… But in years past meditation has played a big role in my writing process and given me clarity about what I wanted to say… I think trance-states play a crucial role in music as well which you could relate to a meditative state but it’s got a different kind of energy and often a much more ecstatic heightened dimension rather than the calm that people generally associate with meditation…
I feel as though music, much like getting high, can be a means of escape or travel within one's mind and spirit. Can you tell us what "The High" means to you? Do you reach the same state/place through both your meditation practice and music?
Getting “high” on actual substances used to be a big part of my life and my creative process at different points but in the wake of that I’ve found that consciousness can be altered and raised in many ways without external chemicals… I wouldn’t say that meditation has taken me to the same exact space as psychedelics or music very many times.. meditation practice is more like a maintenance or a check-in and the practice aspect is very important .. it’s important to keep the practice going no matter what the results… sometimes you feel high, other times you’re just going through the motions… the high from letting go completely and falling into music, at least in my experience, can’t be matched.. but the meditation practice and even the use of psychedelics play a part in keeping the door open… I think of discipline as an important part of freedom and the practice and regularity being what enables us to fly into uncharted territory when the time comes…
The Woodshed experience, recorded and turned into "The High" for our STUDIO campaign, was an incredibly unique setup. Yancy said the studio itself was sacred but that the music you played made him feel like he was in a holy space. Can you tell us in your words what the experience was like for you? What it was like performing alongside Yancy in this way?
I loved being there but honestly when I was making the music I was in another space and don’t have a very clear memory.. I remember feeding off of Yancy’s insane powerful movements the few times I looked over but mostly I was in a kind of trance.. I definitely feel like that session was a turning point in my life and sent me further in the direction which my accident has catapulted me into more fully- of understanding that I can let go of plans and schemes and trying to write songs right now and just accept the power that lies in painting with sound and opening dimensional portals…
One could say that meditation as a practice is very much about going beyond the self in an effort to become one with a field of consciousness that connects us all. Music, although it can serve a similar means if done in isolation, must necessarily be heard by someone. That being said, how much of what you do creatively is for yourself?
The act of creating is for myself and the results of that creation are for others and are out of my hands… in that way all creative practices are like a feedback loop connecting the artists with the whole of humanity…
How does this change when you know you're doing it for an audience, whether it be writing an album or performing live?
Everything about the setting and circumstance has an influence on the music as it’s being created, especially when there is improvisation or “channeling”involved.. The minds of all of the people in a space or area are communicating and creating a field into which the sound is reverberating and reflecting back upon itself. I’ve had experiences of writing lyrics that I didn’t understand and then later having a friend or a stranger tell me that it felt like I was speaking to them or for them. I don’t understand it but I like it.
I noticed that you also enjoy collaging in your free time. The etymology of this comes from the Old French "coller" and Greek "koller" which translates to "to glue," which seems self-explanatory in the context of the collage. But what does this mode of expression provide for you that music doesn't? What is it that you feel like you are "gluing" together?
Collage often feels more meditative to me than music and I use it as a complement or an alternative depending on where I am in the journey of music. I like to approach music and writing as a collage also, and explore how random chance and unexpected combinations can produce different perspectives.
Finally, can you tell us about how the energy you invest into meditation informs and shapes all of your creative outlets and output? What is it that you hope people take away from your music?
I think I pretty much answered this question already- as for what I hope people take away from my music, I will leave that up to them but I do hope it takes them somewhere else and possibly somewhere they didn’t know about or didn’t know they wanted to go. Thanks!!!!!!! Xxxxx