Inauguration Transformation Demonstration: Interview with Guy Blakeslee

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I write this on the last day of Obama’s presidency.  The world is in reaction to the surreal reality that is now president.  One of my favorite reactions so far is Guy Blakeslee’s song “Not Gonna Say Your Name,” which hearkens back to the great protest music of the early 1960’s, a beautiful Americana masterwork of a protest song.  All proceeds from the song go to Planned Parenthood. The video for the song, featuring crowd sourced footage of protests after the presidential election, dropped on Inauguration Day. 

This Great Experiment that is America included the great experiment that was rock music for several decades. For the lucky few blessed by fate to live the Great Experiment in the 2010s, the music is especially meaningful now because there are so few torch bearers.  Guy Blakeslee is a torch bearer. 

As Entrance, his solo name, and as guitarist and singer of The Entrance Band, and more recently under his poet-given name, Guy explores all sorts of wonderful borderlands of music, but the results always have a certain psychedelic quality. From the guitar and rhythm section jams of The Entrance Band to the uplifting instrumentals of The Middle Sister, and now the 60s pop infused songs he’s releasing in February on his new album Book of Changes, his melodic music and wise, often beautiful lyrics, cast a spell.

Guy’s collaborations with Amanda Charchian informs his work with much more than haunting imagery. Together they inspire many who also want to find ways to share creative expression. Both are frank about the importance of their relationship to their arts. You can’t help but think of John and Yoko’s intense artistic sincerity.

I’m happy to offer these glimpses into the art, spirituality and influences of Guy Blakeslee, including his good example of how to respond to the shock of who is now living in the White House. Please support Planned Parenthood by spending 99 cents on this great song.

Watch it above, or on:
Bandcamp (To buy and donate) 
“Not Gonna say Your Name”

There are people who say
we oughta give you a chance
but there’s not a chance in hell
that we’re gonna sit back
and watch you try
to turn back the clock
and just sigh and say “oh well”

No, we’ll fight you every step of the way
you’re playing a losing game
and you’ll be the one with nothing to say
but I’m not gonna say your name

I’m sick of your name, I’ve heard it enough
I’d rather not hear it anymore
but you’re wrong if you think
we can look the other way
while you kick our friends to the floor

And though it’s hard to accept
you’re really here to stay
our culture is obsessed with fame
I might have to see your face
a hundred times every day
but I’m not gonna say your name

you let your name be a symbol of hate
and you never said a word
anything you say now is too little too late
it’s pathetic and absurd
I hear the voices of hate
they’re getting louder each day
we’re all looking for someone to blame
but I’ll keep on singing for love anyway
and I’m not gonna say your name

tell me don’t you have a mother?
a daughter, a wife? Man, you really oughta
be ashamed the way you brag about
grabbing what gave you your life
you must really think life is a game
well a big storm is coming,
it might last four years
maybe nothing will ever be the same
but we won’t move away,
we will stay right here
and we’re not gonna say your name

photo by Amanda Charchian

Tamra Lucid: You’ve described your music as a form of  exorcism. Is “Not Gonna Say Your Name” an exorcism?

Guy Blakeslee: Absolutely- it’s a banishing spell!  For my own sanity I felt it was urgent to purge his name from my vocabulary. It’s ironic that in promoting the song I’ve almost had to start saying his name again, and in all of the supportive coverage everyone keeps mentioning his name. It seems clear that this person we are now having to really deal with, because he’s crossing the threshold from a potential idea into a very real presence in a position of power, thrives on any kind of attention, whether negative or positive. I was looking for a poetic way to voice resistance without feeding that beastly ego and giving it more power. I’ve talked to friends who have a rule in their household of not speaking his name and even have a jar that you have to put a dollar in if you accidentally say it.

Who else contributed to writing, performing and recording on “Not Gonna Say Your Name?”

I wrote the song in Amsterdam and London while I was on tour in November, and when I got home to LA in December recorded it in 2 sessions, engineered by Luke Top and Stefan Lirakis. Vocal harmonies were sung by  Lael Neale and Hale May, two of my favorite singers who have also contributed  to my next album, as did drummer Will Scott.

 How did the video for “Not Gonna Say Your Name” come together? 

The video is made up of protest footage that I crowdsourced from friends through the internet. I was in Europe when the wave of demonstrations took place across the country in the days following the election, and watching the protests through social media gave me hope, being so far away. I wished that I could be there in the streets with them and it inspired me to write this song. There are so many reasons that it’s important for us to organize, march, demonstrate, and protest. One of the things I experienced watching from afar was that just knowing so many people were springing into action made me feel less alone.

Why did you decide to make it as fundraiser for Planned Parenthood?

Planned Parenthood is already under attack from the emboldened right wing of the government even before the inauguration, and I’m sure these attacks will increase under the new administration. As a man I feel it’s important to support and defend the basic human rights of women and to use the platform I’m so lucky to have as a musician to help in any way I can. Raising the money is important, but it’s equally important to add my voice to a chorus of voices that are being raised and connect with something so much bigger than myself. I’ll be marching at the Women’s March in Los Angeles and my mother will be at the march in DC.

You’ve mentioned in interviews how as a kid you had life changing moments listening to live electric music.  Can you tell us about some of those experiences?  What bands awakened your mission?

Growing up in Baltimore I was lucky to be so near to the DC punk scene, and get to see bands like Fugazi and the Make Up perform all ages shows, many of which were presented by Positive Force as benefits for various causes. So I grew up with live music as a connecting tissue for awareness of social issues and was influenced by that ethos for sure. The cathartic nature of the performances provided a communal release of energy that inspired me to want to perform in that way, opening up a space for others to explore and transform.

You’ve said that you consider yourself psychedelic, though you do not use psychedelics.  What is your definition of psychedelic?

To me, ‘psychedelic’ means a holistic view of reality, an acknowledgement of the power of perception to influence reality and a commitment to exploring the ways in which we can alter our own perception to improve reality. A psychedelic work of art or piece of music, to me, can be from any style or genre. It’s more a matter of how it can impact consciousness and cause one to look at things differently.”

Your music has always had overtones of folk and country Americana, and “Not Gonna Say Your Name” really has that Woody Guthrie ring.  Were you influenced by any thing in particular or is this simply how the song arrived?

I composed the song to the basic melody of “Amazing Grace” with the idea that if I published the lyrics online, anyone could pick up the idea and start singing it. I’m interested in all kinds of folk traditions and music from all over the world, but in this case it’s an American song about America, and nobody tapped into that better than Woody Guthrie. Woody has been a huge influence on me since my mother pushed his music and approach on me when I started learning guitar and writing songs. All of my new material is based on the idea, also Guthrie-inspired,  that the song can be sung by one person with an acoustic guitar and that the words are the focus. The basic text is open to musical expansion but still stands alone as a poem set to a melody.”

Your new record “Book Of Changes,” to be released by Thrill Jockey in February, is very different from “The Entrance Band,” and yet somehow even more psychedelic, in a Syd Barrett, Jeff Buckley way.  There’s a strong awareness of 60s pop music in the arrangements. What inspired you to reflect those influences?

First I focused on writing the songs in their purest, rawest form — the basic text, like I mentioned. Then over the course of almost 2 years of experimentation, treating each song like its own miniature movie, I worked to bring the songs to life with sounds and textures, to dramatize the stories and amplify the emotions. One of the main things that inspired this approach was listening to  the duets between Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, but also the recent work of Lana Del Rey.”

Is “Book Of Changes” a reference to the Yi Jing?  Do you use the Yi Jing or other oracles in your creative work?

It is a reference to the I Ching, which I’ve used  here and there but only in a very casual way. As a kid I was really obsessed with the Tao Te Ching which I was assigned to read in high school — I still have my original copy full of teenage notes. I’ve also used the Thoth Tarot and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards at different times while working on the record, as well as Burroughs’ cut-up technique. I’m drawn to anything that can help me see things from an unexpected angle. The title refers more to the notebooks I’ve been filling with words as a part of my daily writing practice. One of the notebooks says ‘Book Of Changes’ on the cover, I don’t even remember writing it but when I saw it months later the idea stuck with me. The album is kind of like a map of an archetypal relationship and all its changing perspectives and seasons.”

In all your work it’s clear your lyrics are crafted to convey meaningful catharsis and deeply felt wisdom.  What writers inspire you?  Do you do other writing besides songwriting?

I write every day. For a couple years now I’ve been practicing the ‘Morning Pages’ which is an exercise from the book The Artist’s Way. This entails a daily practice of writing three unfiltered pages, a method for transcending the inner voice of doubt and re-learning how to express intuitively without interference from rational judgement.  A lot of the lyrics on both of my new records evolved from things I uncovered through this process. It’s very similar to automatic writing, or channeling. I’m often surprised by what comes out and continue to have  experiences of synchronicity where what I’ve written (without understanding it) came to pass in reality, a strange feeling!  I’ve always felt a strong connection to writers like William Blake, James Joyce, Allen Ginsberg, who seemed to be connecting to some larger consciousness and channeling it through writing. In the world of songwriting, some obvious heroes would be Dylan and Leonard Cohen, as well as Arthur Lee from the band Love. I’ve also been getting really into modern novels, like those by David Foster Wallace and Zadie Smith. I feel humbled by the overwhelming amount of possibilities contained in the english language and inspired to push myself further in pursuit of  verses that will connect to the minds and hearts of strangers in other parts of the world.”

On your EP “Promises” you explored orchestral sound. Do you feel like you’ve moved beyond where guitar can take you, or is the six string still the basis for your writing?

I’ve been playing guitar for so long, sometimes I can fall into a trap of knowing too much, being too familiar with it in a way. Teaching guitar has helped me to remember all of the work that went into learning the instrument and all of possibilities it holds that sometimes I can take for granted. But often my favorite musical ideas will come in the form of a melody in my head or a rhythmic pattern tapped on the steering wheel, or from picking up an unfamiliar instrument. I still play guitar everyday and write most of my songs that way, but it’s been very liberating to explore other sounds and to remain open  to the unexpected.”

ENTRANCE plays Panache’s Valentine’s Day Planned Parenthood of LA Benefit Concert with Ty Segall, Kevin Morby, King Tuff & more at Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles.

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