Friday, May 23, 2008
Guy Blackman is a man rapidly becoming as much of an institution of Melbourne music as a venue like The Empress; modest ambitions, a little away from the fast lane, resolutely independent and constantly offering up gems. Since you may know him through his music, his writing in The Age's EG section, or through his label Chapter Music, it stands to reason that when it comes to assembling musicians for his long-gestated album Adult Baby and live shows, it shouldn't be too hard. In selecting over 20 members of the cream of the Melbourne music scene Blackman found everyone happy to join up. "They were all people I had relationships with already. I moved to Melbourne in 1995 so most people I've known for ten years or more and I can't think of anyone who is better at what they do."
The guest attracting the most attention features on the song A Dark and Quiet Place; Swedish pop sensation Jens Lekman. A beautiful epistle about 'meeting some guy in a sauna' (something Blackman is keen to point out has never happened), it's an unusual deviation from his hallmark first-person paeans but he music, as ever, serves the song perfectly. "I sang it as a solo song for quite a while then it occurred to me that you could divide it up into a duet. Jens Lekman was the one person I was a bit hesitant about asking, but he remembered that song from the first time he saw me play it. He says it's his favourite duet that he's sung, which is really nice," Blackman pauses. "Maybe you shouldn't put that in the interview, I don't want it to sound like I'm talking myself up." he says laughing nervously.
Writing, Blackman shows no signs of self-doubt at all. Adult Baby is a collection of 15 concise and bittersweet songs characterised by their unequivocal bravery, and it's clear that this is a quality that marks all of his work. "All my writing comes from a fanzine background, I did my first fanzine when I was 16, which was when I started writing songs as well; they're inextricable. I always try to push myself to write stuff that's challenging to me, honesty can be confronting as well. Most of the songs are about one person, my long-term boyfriend. He said it can make him uncomfortable watching me play since most of the songs are about him and other people in the audience realise they are too, but he's really encouraging. I'm sure there are places that are off limits, it's hard to say. I do find it hard sometimes being on stage and singing some of the songs, but in a funny way having a band legitimises what you're playing. If other people are willing to play along with these songs then it seems to people in the audience, in my mind, that there must be a lot more to them."
Being a longtime listener, Blackman is acutely conscious of the audience when performing. Though songs are carefully constructed, he embraces a variety of interpretations live. "I like playing with lots of different people. Living in Japan made me see different ways of doing things. When I'd go and see my favourite bands they'd have different people in the band every time; a whole new set of songs with different instruments and arrangements. I'm not quite as spontaneous as that but I do like the idea of entertaining the audience with a different combination of people, keeping things interesting. I really enjoy playing, but I don't really like the whole singer/songwriter thing, I find as an audience member it's kind of boring to watch. It's so rare you'll see one person with one instrument do a whole set that will hold your attention, I don't want to be that person." With songs like these and a band like that, he needn't worry.