James Blake on the Origins of His Brian Eno and RZA Collaborations
Photo courtesy of James Blake Facebook

Photo courtesy of James Blake/Facebook

English singer-songwriter and producer James Blake is prepping the release of his second album Overgrown, along with a string of worldwide tour dates this spring and summer. While a handful of tracks and b-sides have emerged in the last few weeks, it was the news that Blake collaborated with the legendary Brian Eno and the equally legendary RZA that had Hive the most intrigued. How did these come about? Blake himself took some time to tell us.

On Overgrown, Blake depended on Brian Eno for an objective, third-person opinion on the course of the album. “I’m king of the judge, jury and executioner of the record for the entire time, which is kind of a painful process,” Black told Hive at a listening party for Overgrown last week in Austin, Texas. “I needed to talk to somebody, and Brian was really good for justifying the direction it was going in, and saying ‘No, no, you don’t need to change anything.’” This back-and-forth collaboration largely took place in Eno’s home and cafes in the area. “Just honestly, he’s a really nice guy and I can’t wait to hit him up again and talk about doing something else.”

Unlike his face-to-face collaboration with Brian Eno, Blake attributes RZA’s feature on Overgrown to “the wonders of the Internet.” “I sent him the instrumental, and apparently he’s heard of me, so that’s nice,” he said.. “It’s really sensitive and beautiful, and I’m really glad he did it.” Once he heard the RZA’s results, adding the song to the album was an easy decision. “I literally, like, just stuck it on.”

Given the sparse, melodic and bassy nature of Blake’s body of work, unofficial remixes of his music are prone to pop up on SoundCloud and YouTube. “It’s not the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night to be honest,” said. “I’d be less happy if people weren’t doing that, and my copyright was intact … I love it when people remix my tunes, it’s a huge form of flattery.”

Although Blake also goes by the alter-ego Harmonix, especially when releasing mixes, he compares most DJ work with performing live as “boring as fuck.” “DJing has gone through a metamorphosis recently, and in my opinion, not a good one. People who used to play records in clubs to 200 people, now they’re in front of 10,000 people, and feel like they can’t play vinyl, or CDs even. In other cases, just having everything pre-synced. It’s just shit, that’s not DJing.” Takeaway here: Don’t expect a Harmonix arena tour anytime soon.

Overgrown is out April 9 on Republic Records.

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