In the early 2000s, Guy Blakeslee, a singer and guitarist from Baltimore, left psychedelic rock band The Convocation Of… and began the solo project ENTRANCE. After three albums, ENTRANCE became The Entrance Band and expanded its official lineup to include Paz Lenchantin (bassist/violinist, also a member of the Pixies and a former member of A Perfect Circle and Zwan) and Derek James (drummer). Now, Blakeslee has returned to his solo career and recorded his first album as ENTRANCE in ten years—Book of Changes, which will be released on February 24th.
Recently, TYF was lucky enough to be able to chat with Blakeslee about his new music. Read on to learn about his songwriting process, his travels around Europe, his single “Not Gonna Say Your Name” (about the new President of the United States), and his UFO sightings.
TYF: Let’s start out by talking about your new album, Book of Changes. What made you decide to start recording music as a solo artist again?
Guy Blakeslee: Well, I started writing the kinds of songs that I wasn’t really writing for a pretty long time, which was, you know, sitting by myself with an acoustic guitar and creating songs. The music I was making with my band for the past many years, we all wrote together, so to really write a song we would all need to be together and be playing really loud.
All our songs were based on interaction between the three of us playing instruments, so… due to various things like the other band members being busy with other stuff and… feeling more intuitively drawn to doing something different, I started writing stuff on my own and started playing shows with just an acoustic guitar and my voice, which I also hadn’t been doing for a pretty long time. So that was kind of how it began. And I wanted all the songs to be able to be performed so that… Not that I really would ever sing at a campfire, but you know? (Laughs) I could be able to, just sitting around with friends, be like, “Hey! Check out this song that I made!” and I could sing the whole thing with just one instrument. That was a pretty important part of the concept of it.
TYF: How do you think you’ve changed as a person and as a musician since your last ENTRANCE album?
Blakeslee: Well, the last album that was called ENTRANCE was called Prayer of Death, and that was a little over ten years ago now. So in that time, you know, basic logistical stuff—like, I moved around a bunch of times, different things like that. But as far as this record goes, one of the things that shows that major change that I’ve gone through is… Now I’m 35 years old, and when I made the last album as ENTRANCE, I was 24, and at that time I had just been touring around, not really living anywhere. I would just stay at my mom’s house when I was not touring. And… I had a lot of songs, and I was able to make a record, but I didn’t have any kind of daily habit or work. I just was like, “Oh, we can go in the studio? Let’s record!” But I was kind of just winging it. I like the stuff that I used to make, but I wasn’t really putting a lot of energy into trying to make it better and to work hard on it. I was just doing it and moving on. So that’s a big difference between then and now. Like, the songs on this record, I spent a lot of time writing them and really zeroing in on the words… Instead of being like, “Oh this is a song that I have! Let’s record it,” I had a sound that I could hear and a message that I wanted to convey, and I knew that I had to push myself really far to get myself to the kind of things I had imagined. So it was less random and more deliberate, but also, a lot of the stuff came out different than I would have expected because… One of the things about writing in particular is, in order to get anything good, you have to work for a long time. Then you discover things that you didn’t necessarily set out to do… I’ve come along way in taking the craft of writing more seriously and putting more time into it. I mean, writers’ block is a thing that all writers experience. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling and when you get to that place, you basically either are gonna give up, or you have to figure out a way to battle through that, come out on the other side of it. So this time I did that. (Laughs)
TYF: Your website says that Book of Changes was written “over the course of a restless year of travel, touring, and transformation.” What are some of the most interesting places you visited while working on the album, and how did they inspire you?
Blakeslee: I spent a lot of the past year—almost half my time—in London, so I was actually, like, slowly relocating there. I was moving there. Half of the record was recorded before I went there, and the other half is songs that I wrote when I was there, so I recorded some of it there, and the rest after I got back to California. So that definitely influenced it a lot. Just being in a different country… It gave me a different perspective on not only my own life, but what I wanted to explore in the songs. And some of the stuff I wrote on this little tour that I did where I went to Croatia, and that was really amazing. I went to this town in Croatia called Sinj, which is spelled S-I-N-J, and apparently I was the first American musician ever to play there, and I played on this outdoor stage in the town square. And on that same trip, I also went to Stockholm and Switzerland and a couple of other places in Croatia. And I was definitely, at the time, working a lot on the songs, so I feel like that trip also influenced it as well. I also did a number of U.S. tours during that time, where I would drive around the whole country by myself. That’s another thing that definitely is part of the story of the album. Part of how I paid for the recording of a lot of it was through doing these tours, where I would go on tour for a month and just drive everywhere by myself. And one of those was in the winter. It was really crazy ‘cause I was driving in the snow and on mountains and stuff, you know? (Laughs)
TYF: What did you like about living in London?
Blakeslee: It’s weird—ever since the first time I went there, I’ve always felt like that’s where I was from. My ancestors are from there, for sure… I just really like it. I don’t know how to explain it. When I tell other people that are from there that I wanna move there, that I love it there, they’re like, “Why would you wanna move there?” They don’t see it, you know. They don’t appreciate it. But there’s something… Culturally, it’s interesting because it’s so different from America, but because we share the same language, there’s also overlap. I like being in a different country. It makes me feel, like, more awake or something. I also spent a few weeks in Paris just recently, and I loved it there too, but that was a little more like being in a dream state. Kind of a romantic… I feel like it’s a little slower and daintier than London, but that’s also because… I mean, I don’t speak French very well, so basically most people that were talking around me, I didn’t know what they were saying. It kind of puts you in a different, more disconnected feeling. But London is a place that’s like… The cars are on the other side of the street! And there’s definitely major differences and weird things about it if you’re coming from America, but it’s also like, anyone you can meet, you can talk to them. It’s easier to be a part of society. (Laughs)
TYF: My favorite song on the album is “I’d Be A Fool.” In that one, you talk about romance as well as your feelings about the state of America right now. What kinds of thoughts were running through your mind when you started writing the song?
Blakeslee: I just played a show last night, actually, and I played that song, and while I was playing I was thinking about some of the stuff in it, like about how “America is running out of time.” I wrote that even before the presidential campaign began, so it wasn’t specifically about… I don’t think I knew at the time who was gonna be… Maybe at the time I finished recording it, I knew who was running for president, but when I wrote it in the first place, it hadn’t started yet, so it was more like a subtle feeling that I had. One of the things about touring is that I’ve gone to a lot of parts of the country where, if you just lived in New York or L.A., you wouldn’t necessarily know… I feel like a lot of people were so surprised and shocked by the election, and I definitely felt like I was in shock—I didn’t expect that to happen. But having driven around the whole country, I basically knew that it was definitely possible that it could turn out like that because I could see all the signs everywhere. They were mostly for him. I try not to say his name out loud. (Laughs) You know who I’m talking about. Being in Kentucky or North Dakota or Illinois or Iowa, especially in places that are outside major cities, that definitely seemed like the direction that was going in. So maybe I was picking up on something like that with the song… I think about some of my favorite songs that have influenced me in life, and both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen have songs like this, where it is a love song, but the love story is taking place within the context of what else is going on in the world. So it’s like, in the midst of a war… they’re referencing a situation and then the love story is being placed into it. In the case of [“I’d Be A Fool”], it’s kind of saying, The world is so fucked up, but it would be a mistake to give up on the love that you have, because that’s kind of what everyone’s looking for, and most people don’t have. We need to stick together ‘cause things are gonna get worse. Which is actually what happened, in a way.
TYF: That’s the perfect segue into my next question… You also came out with a single called “Not Gonna Say Your Name,” which talks about the new president and some of the offensive statements he has made. Is there a specific event that incited you to write about this topic?
Blakeslee: Basically, like I said, I was in Paris when the election happened, and right after that I went to play this festival in Holland, so I was basically just traveling in Europe in the couple days after the results came in. So I was in Amsterdam and I was in this hotel lobby, and I heard these people talking. They were speaking English, [but] they weren’t Americans, and they were saying, “Oh no! What if we can never go to America again? I’m scared!” I think it was on the 12th or 13th of November, so [it was] after the election. And they didn’t say in their conversation the name of the president that has been elected or anything, but you knew who they were all talking about. I was impressed by how easily you can talk about it without even having to mention his name, so I really wanted to write a song about it, and I also didn’t want to say his name or contribute to feeling like I was giving him any more power or any attention. (Laughs) The whole song is sung to him, but it’s not saying his name, obviously not feeding his ego. I feel like he’s this ego monster that’s basically feeding off of any kind of attention. And this whole cabinet, this whole administration, all the stuff that they’re trying to do already… It’s almost like they wanna do the thing that’ll make the compassionate, caring people the most upset. (Laughs) They almost are, like, trying to get the biggest reaction that they can get. So… (Laughs) I basically was hoping to be able to say something that we would all kind of feel and also do that in a way that wasn’t so negative. It’s definitely a song against something and against someone, so I can’t really claim that it’s not, but it’s basically trying to say what it is that I believe in and how we’re gonna unite against these things. The things that we’re uniting against are these negative things. And I don’t want to give him more publicity. When people started writing about this song, this website that premiered it first was like, “ENTRANCE doesn’t want you to say Trump’s name!” (Laughs) They put his name in the headline. My friends on the Internet were like, “What’s that headline? You said his name? Like, that’s so stupid!” I tweeted at [the website], “Hey, thanks for sharing my song! Could you please remove his name?” …What’s going on in the world around me, and social justice stuff like that, has always been something that I care about, and something that I naturally incorporate into what I’m singing about. But this was in a very specific time when I felt like I needed to say something really specific and I needed to finish it really fast and put it out there at a time when, hopefully, it would resonate with other people who were upset by the situation. And being able to use it to raise money for something that is under attack by the administration—that was another good thing about it. I think if you’re a musician nowadays, you’re so… like, responsible for promoting yourself all the time, and you feel kind of weird sometimes… always posting stuff on the Internet about what you’re doing. But as soon as I felt like I was doing something to help in some way, I felt much more comfortable. I’m not really trying to promote myself. I’m trying to offer some kind of hopeful message about what’s going on and also use that to raise money for something that helps people… I feel like I can get behind that more than just being like, “Hey everyone! I’m playing a show!” It’s not about me. It’s about something bigger than me.
TYF: Have you been involved in any of the protests that have been going on recently?
Blakeslee: Actually, like… So another thing that inspired the song was being in Europe but seeing all the protests that happened right after the election. I was watching that stuff on my phone. I was so inspired, and some of it was making me cry and stuff, too. So the video that I made for it basically reached out to everyone I know—or who I don’t know, even—who had been at the protest to get footage. And I made a montage of the footage. But actually, just in the past couple of days, I missed the march in downtown L.A. because I had to work. And I almost went to LAX, but I was also at work. I just started this job that I’m doing before I go on tour. That’s taking up a lot of my time.
TYF: I went to the Women’s March in D.C. and it was so incredible.
Blakeslee: My mom was there.
TYF: Oh, wow. That’s awesome.
Blakeslee: A lot of my other friends were there, too. My mom went on a bus with a bunch of other ladies from Baltimore to D.C.
TYF: Did she like it?
Blakeslee: Yeah. She’s a big inspiration for me, too. Like, she’s really pretty devastated by this. (Laughs) But she puts a lot of energy into doing something about it. She gets all the phone numbers of all these people and is just calling representatives and telling them she disagrees with them and writing them letters. She’s really pretty active about it.
TYF: In addition to making music, you make collages. If you were to create a Sgt. Pepper-style collage to represent your new album, which historical and cultural figures would you feature?
Blakeslee: (Laughs) That’s a good question. Well, there’s so many pictures on the cover of that. I’d probably need, like, 100. But one of the inspirations for it was Oscar Wilde. I think he’s actually on the original one, too. (Laughs) Pretty sure he is. And I know George Harrison is obviously on that, too, but I would put him, too. And… Some of the stuff that was inspiring me while I was writing was a lot of novels that I was reading. So, like, Zadie Smith, who’s a current author. I’m really into her. And this guy named David Foster Wallace. He passed away, but wrote a bunch of books. And also older novels, like Virginia Woolf, Allen Ginsberg… Definitely, [Book of Changes] was inspired by a lot of writing as well as music. And then Lana Del Rey. (Laughs) And Arthur Lee from the band Love… Timothy Leary… He might actually be on the original one, too. (Laughs) Leonard Cohen, for sure. I would also put Chan Marshall from Cat Power.
TYF: You’re a self-taught guitarist. What inspired you to teach yourself how to play?
Blakeslee: One of the things that made it so I had to teach myself to play was that I naturally picked up the guitar a certain way and was starting to teach myself. Then my dad took me to this music store because I didn’t know how to change the strings and had broken a bunch of strings. And he asked them if they could give me lessons. And they saw that I was holding [the guitar] upside down, basically. I was left-handed, but I was playing a right-handed guitar, and they were like, “We can’t teach you. That’s backwards.” So I basically didn’t have a chance to get lessons… Now I give lessons to people, and there’s definitely a lot of weird stuff that I just happen to do that other people think is weird because it’s reversed. (Laughs) When I first picked up the guitar… I’d think about something that I’d heard before and try to replicate it. And once I started figuring out a couple of those things, it was basically the only thing I did with my free time for many, many years. So the way that I taught myself, I was basically isolating myself with just my guitar for hours every day… When I started, I was, like, 11 or 10 or something. I was definitely really seriously playing the guitar by the time I was 12. And at that age, I really didn’t have a job, and I didn’t have anything to do besides go to school… I went to a weird, alternative-type high school. We didn’t have grades. The Park School, in Baltimore. There was a music room with musical instruments in it, and I would go and check out one of the guitars and just play all day instead of going to class. I never really got into serious trouble for that. So basically, I was starting at a time when I didn’t have anything else to do. (Laughs) And there wasn’t really the Internet yet. So there was very little stuff to distract me from doing it.
TYF: You’ve mentioned in interviews that you’ve had visions since you were a child. Is this something that you still experience?
Blakeslee: (Laughs) I don’t know when I said that, but yeah. Totally. One of those experiences that I’ve had as an adult—which I think personally are things that I actually saw, but maybe they were some kind of hallucination—was a pretty extensive UFO sighting experience. Not any kind of actual contact with them, but sort of feeling like I was having a mental communication with them and seeing them. And the one time that I started seeing a lot of them… it took a couple of weeks for it to go away. I was basically seeing them everywhere, and the people that I was with would get kind of freaked out, ‘cause I was like, “You see that?”, and they couldn’t. A couple times, someone that I was with could see it, too. I was thinking maybe my ability to see it was opening up their ability to see it. It’s definitely something that’s influenced me a lot. Basically having a direct, personal experience with something you can’t explain or that you don’t understand… Even though I don’t know what it was that I was seeing, I know that it was something. It had definition, and I could explain it, in a way. It was basically a mysterious phenomenon that seems to be trying to say that there’s more going on than we realize.
TYF: Where were you when you saw the UFOs?
Blakeslee: I lived for a year in this place called Idyllwild, which is in the desert outside of L.A. [It’s] kind of near Joshua Tree, California, but also at the top of the mountain, so it’s very unique and a very, very isolated place. There’s hardly any electric light. There’s no streetlights, so it’s pretty far away from any light pollution, so you can see so many stars there, and when there’s meteor showers, I can see a lot of shooting stars… So at one point, I was living with my bandmate Paz [Lenchantin], bass player for The Entrance Band—she played the violin on our record as well—and her mom, and they are from Argentina. So they went to Argentina for Christmas and New Year’s, and I was just there on the mountain by myself. And one night I was playing guitar—not trying to look out the window—and something caught my eye. I was like, “What is that?” And basically for the next week and a half, I spent most of the night just watching it all night, seeing more and more. And the sun would come up and all the stars would go away, and I was still there. Some of the things that I was seeing were these little orange round ships. And then at one point, I was basically snowed in, and I didn’t know how to drive at that time, so I couldn’t go anywhere. I went outside and I was saying to myself silently, Why don’t you just come and take me away? (Laughs) Just see me and, like, pick me up. And then, directly over the house, this one flew over that wasn’t an orb like the other ones. It was actually some kind of disc-shaped silver craft, and it had some kind of weird symbols or writing on the bottom of it. So at that point I called someone and was like, You gotta tell me what you see! (Laughs) I pretty much think I’m losing my mind, seeing these things. Maybe these other things were just light, but this was, like, a silver thing with weird writing on it. (Laughs) And then this guy from Joshua Tree came and picked me up and drove me to L.A., and during the drive to L.A. we both saw one—the silver one. So yeah, that’s the period when I was seeing it all the time. And it was hard for me to tell if they were all really there or if I was creating it. What I got from that was, like… There’s an energy in the universe that is always there, but we’re not always aware of it, and if we’re willing to be aware of it, it starts to show itself to us more. Basically, your willingness to give it a chance springs it into being. (Laughs)
TYF: Do you have any advice for any young songwriters and musicians who might be reading this interview?
Blakeslee: I guess I would have a lot of advice. I’ll try to just pick one thing. I guess, like I mentioned in the beginning, I wanted the songs on my record to be what I consider to be a song… and that’s basically a melody and a chord progression and a rhythm. At its core, that’s what a song is, and then all these instruments and sound production techniques and all this other stuff bring a song to life, but at the core of all that stuff, if you stripped it all away, hopefully there’s a basic text in there that’s the core essence of the song. So that’s what I was trying to do. And I feel like when I started focusing on that, it gave me a direction to go in. It gave me some sort of guideline to help me with my ideas… Limitations can really help you. Like, the computers and technology that we have, it opens up the possibility of so much, but also, having that many options can make it hard to make a choice, [pick] the one thing that you’re really trying to do. (Laughs) So I feel like my advice would be, “Use that technology and all that equipment and all those possibilities to expand and bring your idea to life, but first, have your original idea come from yourself or your group or your own mind. Use those tools to realize those ideas, but remember that your actual idea comes from your own creative brain and not from the tools you use to make it.” The less things you need in order to create something, the more that creation stands on its own. And you can use all that stuff to make it more interesting and more exciting, but if you didn’t have any of that stuff, the idea should be strong. And I guess another related thing would be… Whether it’s art or music, I’ve come into a different understanding of what it means to work on something now. I feel like getting in the habit of working on your art, whatever it is—like, really setting a routine and finding a way to work on it every day—is a really important thing… Some of the songs on my record took me many, many months of totally obsessing over it to really finish writing it. And while I was doing that really intense writing and rewriting and zeroing in on it, some other songs just came to me without me even trying at all. Some of those happened in, like, five minutes—the ones that actually might appeal to the most people. But I wouldn’t have been in the state of mind where I could easily crank out songs I didn’t even plan to write if I wasn’t already in the daily habit of trying really hard to write something every day. Instead of expecting magical inspiration to strike you all of the sudden so you’ll just have a complete amazing song, it’s working, devoting your time. You might only come up with something that you think is great every once in a while, but if you’re in the habit…
TYF: Finally, do you have anything that you want to say to readers before the end of the interview?
Blakeslee: Be nice to each other. (Laughs) Even if people disagree with you, still treat them with kindness and respect.