For the latest in my series of interviews, I turn my attention closer to home to talk to an artist who has been making waves in the industrial scene for some years now.
Indeed, onto his sixth album, I talk to Jamie Blacker of ESA about the industrial music he creates and the darker corners of the mind that help inspire it. [Note: photos supplied by ESA and copyright of the photos remain with the original creators]
amodelofcontrol.com: You come from an extreme metal background. What was the catalyst for making the jump into industrial?
Jamie Blacker: Other than having to deal with the diva strops of being in a mediocre Black Metal band with 4 other hedonistic heavy metal enthusiasts you mean? 😉
I guess its down to two things…
Firstly the live sound of rhythmic noise affected me more. I went to check out Sonar at Infest due to a friend’s suggestion and was blown away by the dark and hypnotic heaviness. It was loud…like, SO loud and when those kind of sounds get to a certain volume level, you begin to feel it in every fibre of your being. I was hooked.
I had already been a closet industrial fan whist plugging the venue circuit playing Black Metal to 4 people and a dog for a long time. I happened upon Skinny Puppy and FLA when I was around 15 and always really dug the viciousness of their sound. It was also all so multi-layered, whereas as the Metal bands I was listening to tended to be one big fat ingredient, so this secondary musical outlet interested me a lot. Ironically at 35 years old, most of what I listen to now is the full on thrash and death metal. Usually the old records…such a cliche.
Secondly I saw this as an opportunity to do EXACTLY what I wanted to. I had always been the main songwriter for the black metal band I was part of but this was a whole other level. I could sit and experiment to my hearts content and not have to please anyone else. It was hugely liberating to have that total control.
“I personally think that we can all be very, very dark. It doesn’t matter how rose tinted and enthusiastic your outlook on life is; throw some desire, jealousy, bitterness, resentment, love and hate into a connection with another human being and the whole structure and balance of your coping methods can be turned inside out”
amodelofcontrol.com: What are your influences musically? Presumably with your background it isn’t just industrial that shapes your music.
Jamie Blacker: Well musically I’m probably influenced by everything I hear, whether it’s my choice to or not. I appreciate EVERY form of music as long as the version I’m hearing is skilled and executed well. I tend to still fawn over a lot of Metal but I also really like some of the more obscure Dark Ambient projects out there.
I will always be influenced by Converter, I think that project is still yet to be bettered in the Noise category but I also really admire what Bobby Krlic is doing with The Haxan Cloak. I would say his style has influenced me a lot recently and I’m glad to see that he is now crossing genres and working with BjÃ¶rk. That’s only got to be a good thing for underground and niche genres.
But to limit your musical influences is to limit yourself and where you can take things. I could hear a great techno breakdown, a wicked hip hop loop or a fat dubstep production and take all of it on board.
I would say I also take a LOT of inspiration from films. Sometimes just their scores but also how they build tension sonically in certain scenes. I think its a great pool to delve into if you want to create suspension and momentum.
amodelofcontrol.com: The themes for ESA seem to come from dark places – and an apparent sense of disgust with male behaviour, not to mention a lot of sin featuring. What are your inspirations for themes – are they personal or observed, for example?
Jamie Blacker: Well honestly I tried to make the Themes Trilogy as ambiguous as possible when it comes to the subject of gender. I neither wished to be labelled misogynistic or a misandristic. Obviously I will always be able to pull on my experiences as a male easier than witnessing and recording those of a female.
I would say that some of the insight is very personal and some is not. Again I have taken inspiration from films, artwork and poetry to build up the ideas for this constant battle of emotions and ideals between men and women and tried to use that to round the edges of any personal experiences.
I personally think that we can all be very, very dark. It doesn’t matter how rose tinted and enthusiastic your outlook on life is; throw some desire, jealousy, bitterness, resentment, love and hate into a connection with another human being and the whole structure and balance of your coping methods can be turned inside out. I’ve had bad experiences, I think a lot of us have. I’ve also not treated people as well as I should have in the past, which is something I’m very regretful about. So maybe a large chunk of my material is inspired by regret. Regret of having power over people and regret of people having power over me. I feel that this constant entanglement of desire, deceit, lust, love, loneliness and companionship are the strongest emotions a human being can feel. So why would you choose not to use that as a platform for a deep and evolving sound..but instead sing about Cyber Vampires and dancing in warehouses for your subject matter? That personally does nothing for me.
amodelofcontrol.com: How would you say your sound has evolved since your early releases?
Jamie Blacker: It’s funny you should ask that as I was sifting through some earlier material a few days ago (I tend not to listen to albums once they have been released as it can be a catalyst to the age old ‘that snare should be louder’ syndrome).
I think that the general ESA sound is much more polished. My first couple of albums were so reverb-heavy it’s untrue. I wanted atmosphere and used some very crude techniques to attain that. My earlier sound was probably more visceral and rougher sounding as well. I have rounded the edges and learnt a lot regarding production to be able to achieve what I want. I try to experiment with different soundscapes and alternative methods of developing a certain ‘feel’ but of course I am still learning every day and some of my heavy fisted techniques still need a lot of work.
amodelofcontrol.com: What’s your composition process? Your tracks are often complex, full of apparently obscure samples and sounds. Where on earth do you start?
Jamie Blacker: Well, honestly I usually still start with a rhythmic loop. I will get my kicks and arrange a pattern that I think is strong and could carry a song and then work backwards to situate everything else around that. The atmosphere and ambience is usually the last thing to be added to the mix but is obviously just as important. The heavy is not as heavy without the quiet. This is the way I work for most ESA tracks but some of the more experimental material can start life just as a sound that I really dig. I mess around a lot with different delays to provide something encompassing and just see what kind of life it takes on.
I do tend to use a lot of obscure samples, yes. I take a lot from underground or older films, something that jumps out at me and I have a connection with and then use these to help create a world for that track. I also sample of lot of odd and everyday noises that I record on my phone to give the track that something special. Some strange hook that helps to give the track an identity of it’s own. I think a lot of my material would be quite dull without those additional ingredients.
amodelofcontrol.com: When playing onstage, it has always been obvious that as much of possible is created/triggered live – does being just one person onstage make things difficult to do this, and have you adapted how you perform with experience?
Jamie Blacker: Yeah, it’s no picnic. The worst part is having to work out how and what you will do live for every new piece of material that you add to the set (i.e. once a new album has been released).
Some tracks are more vocal based and I want to execute that as successfully as I can, so I might cut back on the live drumming or triggering for that track. Some tracks are much more beat orientated so I try my hardest to work those kicks live on the drum pads. Whatever the track I always try to make it travel slightly differently live by implementing effects in the breakdowns and the like.
Seeing an electronic artist playing as much as they can live always gives me a stronger sense of satisfaction and I want to do my best to achieve that with my shows. I also think it helps to break down the boundary between you and the crowd a little more. Watching an electronic artist sifting through his iTunes whilst checking the National Rail website for his/her train home is always going to leave the crowd feeling isolated and unsatisfied.
amodelofcontrol.com: You’ve become a regular member of iVardensphere in recent years – how did this come about, and do you think your work with Scott Fox has influenced your own sound?
Jamie Blacker: I toured alongside iVardensphere throughout the states around three years ago, after being invited by Scott Fox. We met in Montreal at the Kinetik festival that we both played [Ed: 2011, I was there and reviewed both] and found that we had a respect for each others styles so we decided to go out and do this together. Whilst on tour I stepped in to help on drums and some vocal tracks so I essentially became a live member of iVardensphere during that period.
Afterward I started to assist on Scott’s album and now we’re at the stage where Scott, Yann (Izsoloscope) and I are writing together on most of the material and it’s a lot of fun. iVardensphere provides me with another musical outlet. I can write things for iVardensphere that I wouldn’t really be able to use for ESA. We also work very well together and have a productive relationship.
Scott has influenced me massively when it comes to production. The guy knows his shit! I have taken on board some of his techniques subconsciously but I also had him majorly involved in some of the mixes on the new album. He helped to really give some of the tracks that sparkle and definition that they were lacking. I have always been so preoccupied with trying to make a sound bigger by adding more and more that I lose track of how to ACTUALLY give the track what it needs…and that tends to be a cleaner and more intelligent mix. Scott REALLY helped with that!
amodelofcontrol.com: Are there any artists that you’d love to work with (realistic or not)?
Jamie Blacker: I’d love to work with Bobby from Haxan Cloak and also John Power from Blanck Mass (another experimental dark ambient project). I’d also like to work with Ulver on anything at all. I respect all those artists a lot and would derive a lot of satisfaction from collaborating with them.
amodelofcontrol.com: The latest release sees the close of a trilogy. What’s next?
Jamie Blacker: I recently signed a new deal with WTII Records and another album after this was part of the contract. It obviously won’t be a fourth part to the Themes series and I’m unsure at this point exactly what direction I will go to. I can say for now I am working hard on an EP that will follow on from Themes Pt3. It will contain a new track and some remixes and will most probably be a digital release but we will see. ESA has always felt like it had an expiration date to me..and that still applies. It’s just when and if this latest release will command that expiration that i’m unsure of right now.
The new album Themes of Carnal Empowerment Pt.3 : Penance is out now on WTII Records, and iVardensphere’s latest album Fable is also out now, on Metropolis. ESA play RevolutioN in Sheffield 03-October.