Maverick recording artist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Blake Morgan's studio chops, smart lyrics, and gift for the melodic twist have earned him a loyal critical and commercial following. After signing a seven-record deal in 1997 with Phil Ramone's N2K (Sony/RED) label, resulting in the well-received Anger's Candy, Morgan became disillusioned with the rigid, corporate side of rock and roll. After a successful tour that found him sharing stages with the likes of Joan Jett and Matchbox Twenty, he discovered a loophole that would allow him to extricate himself from the contract without too much bloodshed. The move would prove to be serendipitous, as he would go on to form his own independent label, Engine Company Records, in New York City, resulting in 2005's Burning Daylight and 2006's Silencer. - James Christopher Monger, All Music Guide
Whether at home in the studio, on stage, or running his record label, Blake Morgan continues to invent a defiant, visionary future for his music. Burning Daylight and Silencer are the next steps on a journey as unique as the artist behind it--an artist who welcomes listeners to join him for the ride.
How do you describe your music to people, Blake?
This is always a simple, yet impossible question. The best thing I've found I can do is say: you are what you eat. And I've eaten a lot of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Radiohead, Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Death Cab, Neil Finn, Peter Gabriel, The Police...and Mozart and Bartok. Also, my music has changed, and is now changing even more. My favorite thing about artists like The Beatles or U2 or Radiohead is that they're able to evolve. They build on who they are, without losing who they are. I've done some of that, but am looking to do much more...I think the songs I'm writing right now for my next record are a good start towards that.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
Well, I began playing piano and going to music school when I was five. My parents are artists (they're writers) so my becoming an artist too isn't really much of a surprise. Now if I'd become a real-estate salesman, or say, a banker...that'd be the real shocker. I was headed towards being a classical pianist, but things changed as The Beatles slowly supplanted Mozart and Bartok on my stereo. I remember when I was six, picking "Meet The Beatles" off the shelf and saying to my mother, "I know this one is Ringo," pointing to his silhouetted photo, "but what are the other one's names?" She stopped what she was doing. She paused. Then she looked at me and explained, "Listen, no son of mine is not going to be able to name all four Beatles. Sit down." And that was the end of the beginning for me. It's not like I hadn't heard them before, I had, a lot. I just hadn't really listened before. I was like Dorothy walking into color after arriving in Oz. The next years had me continuing with classical studies, weekly recitals, composition, performances, etc...but the real writing was on the wall for me. Rock and Roll, and songwriting had caught me. My first rock gig ever was at CBGB's when I was thirteen. I was playing in a band with kids much older than me, who needed a keyboard player and I was the kid in school who'd saved up his summer-job money and bought a synth (a now classic Roland Juno-106, btw). I was really small for my age, and I couldn't get into the club at that age anyway, so...they snuck me in hidden in the bass-drum case. I curled up inside and then just as the band began, I leapt up on stage and did the gig. It's probably why I'm pretty calm before shows now...I mean, however difficult the situation at least I'm not in a drum case anymore, right? Anyway, that's the origin myth...now I'm all grown up and I protect Gotham from evil. And lip-synching.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Putting down the pen and the guitar (or whatever instrument I'm playing at that moment) when I know the song is done, really done. That's a special moment for me, and it's my favorite feeling. If I'm producing and recording a record with someone on a record of mine, or if I'm producing one for an artist on my label, the same thing...that moment when you look at each other after months of work and you both know the record's really done. Those moments are often the most memorable ones for me. I also like watching baseball, reading Aaron Sorkin, eating Chinese food, and waking up with"her."
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
Having one at all I suppose...The balance between art and commerce has never been (and possibly shouldn't be) a comfortable one. But, when I left my enormo record deal after Anger's Candy, I chose a life of trying to balance the two. Running Engine Company Records, producing and recording all the artists on it, while not losing myself as an artist is quite a challenge. But, I've found that actually the three facets of my career feed each other much more than detract from each another. I'm a much, much better musician because of ECR, and because of the other artists I work with than I would be otherwise. And, the time and energy it takes me to run the label and deal with "music business" stuff is infinitely less than the alternative--letting someone else do it and screw it up--which I've already tried. A lesson I've learned the hard way. But most importantly, I'm incredibly proud of the music we make and incredibly happy to stand behind it. And, I'm an artist on my own label so I'm sort of like the old "Hair Club for Men" slogan: I'm not just the company's President, I'm also a client!
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
The only thing I ever wanted to be other than a musician was a firefighter. And that was for like five minutes. Nevertheless, my publishing company is called Big Red Firetruck Music, and my label is call Engine Company Records...so I guess something stuck. However, if I lived in an alternate universe I would be...an astronaut. Not with NASA, or through the military. And definitely not at this particular time in human history when we're still so primitive that we're not going anywhere or really doing much of anything. I'm talking about being a serious space traveler who would "seek out new life and new civilizations" if you know what I mean. I'm afraid of heights, speed, fire, enclosed spaces, and leaving New York, but I'd overcome it all to go even as far as the moon.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
My community is Manhattan, so a better question for me might be "how has it not impacted you." 1920's New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker said, "I'd rather be a lamp post in New York than the mayor of Chicago." I know what he meant. Growing up here, I've always known I've been home all along. Some people spend periods of their life trying to find their way home, but I've always been there. Artistically, emotionally, perfectly. Home. And apparently, if I can make it here I can make it, well, anywhere.
What other artists out there do you love?
Well certainly the previously mentioned you-are-what-you-eat list for starters. But this year, two of my favorite artists are David Cloyd and Melissa Giges. I'm also lucky to say that they are two of my label mates, and two of my favorite people in the world. David has a brilliant musical mind, a great sense of humor, and his album Unhand Me, You Fiend! is one of those that reveals itself more and more with every listen. Mixing that album with David was one of the best (and most fun) studio experiences of my career. David is one of those musicians whose music makes me say to myself, "Blake, seriously...you've gotta get to work." I love feeling like that, and David for sharpening my own music. Then there's Melissa and her amazing album, Evident,that I performed on, recorded, mixed and produced. We're such partners in crime it's hard to believe we've still only known each other for a relatively short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. She's a singer that has made me cry, and she's a songwriter that has given me goose-bumps. Building that record brick by brick, together, is something I'll never forget. Among other things, Melissa's taught me that if I knew everything, it would actually suck. Because, then I couldn't learn anything. And, she's the kind of companion who won't judge you if you order a plate of fries at 3-am in a bar.
What does your future hold?
Right now I'm focused on writing the next songs for my next record. I'm going about this very differently for me. In the past, I've written songs over long periods of time and allowed the recording process to sort of finish them off. This time, I'm writing them all in one period, and really using pen and paper and guitar and piano to finish them. I want to walk into my studio (or rather, walk across the room), and then employ Blake-the-producer to create the architecture around the finished songs. I don't know exactly why I'm doing it this time in this way, but I feel I have to. It's forcing me to make the song work and stand on its own two legs before I hang cool clothes on it. And then, when the record's done, I want to try and get the attention of say...the president and owner of a really amazing independent record label based here in New York. So do you know of any?
You can find Blake Morgan and his label at EngineCompanyRecords.com, iTunes, and on Facebook . He will also be co-headlining the "Engine Company Records Presents" show at NYC's Joe's Pub this fall!