LOS ANGELES, CA - USA
portraits by Marion Berrin
It seems like Guy Blakeslee has had many lives.
He has lived in different cities, played under his own name, under the pen name Entrance, and with a band (The Entrance Band) - exploring different paths each time.
Now based in Los Angeles, he is back with Entrance, the solo project he started out a couple of years ago while living in Chicago, and with 'Book of Changes', his first solo album in 10 years. Set as a testimony of his transformation, the album is a collection of intimate songs that takes you on an emotional journey where songwriting, luxurious orchestration and vivid arrangements are in the spotlight.
We had a chat with Guy about his hometown of Baltimore, London and Los Angeles; about his creative process and automatic writing, and some dreams of New Orleans.
// Where do you live ?
When you first sent me the questions I was in Paris for a month, staying in Le Marais.. Then I went back to London and was staying first in Battersea just south of the Thames and then in Clapton, in the East..
But now I’ve finally returned to my actual home, which is Los Angeles.
I live in Mt. Washington which is in Northeast L.A., in a small hillside bungalow with my girlfriend Amanda. We’ve lived in this house for 2 years and in this neighborhood for three years.
But we’ve spent over half of the past year in London so that does seem like home as well.
// Why and when did you move here ? Where are you from originally ?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2005. I had always wanted to live here, ever since I was in a band in high-school and we played some shows here. I’m originally from Baltimore. When I came to LA to live, I didn’t realize I’d end up staying in this region for over a decade - I had been touring and traveling for a number of years, spending time in New York, Chicago and London but still returning to Baltimore in between.
I’ve heard that it takes about 8 years to truly feel like a place is your home, and I do feel at home here now. Still, when people in other parts of the world ask me where I’m from, I’ll say Baltimore - in some way Baltimore will always be my true home.
// In what kind of environment did you grow up ? Did you appreciate your surroundings at that time ?
Baltimore is a beautiful and troubled city. A few other American cities are similar in some ways, but really there’s no place like Baltimore in the world. There are a lot of abandoned buildings, and also a lot of trees. Time has a different speed there - sometimes I think of it as a vortex or a portal to another dimension.
The people there are on a slightly different frequency. Like many young artists and musicians, I had a love/hate relationship with my hometown for much of my youth - I was hungry to escape and see the world and might not have realized how much I appreciated where I was from.
In the past few years I’ve been realizing more and more how special it is there, and every time I go back to see my family or play a show I feel called to stay. Maybe the place you’re born and raised is like a mirror and you can see things as they really are, or see yourself as you have really become, only in that one place. Although in a completely unfamiliar place you’ve never been to before you can see the same thing, the truth of the self, from a different perspective.
// What do you especially like about the district you live in ?
Mt. Washington has a peaceful, quiet energy compared to a lot of neighborhoods in LA. We live in a cluster of houses on the hillside accessible by going up a very long staircase, so we are removed from the street and have a view of the city and surrounding mountains as well as a lot of trees...
Highland Park is right next door which has a lot of cafes, record shops, vintage stores, restaurants.. and it seems like a lot of people I know are living in or moving to the area.
At the top of Mt. Washington is a meditation garden called the Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by the Indian swami Yogananda, and I often go up there to meditate - it’s especially nice to walk up the mountain, which is very steep in parts, and feel the air getting thinner and cleaner as you go. There’s quite a view and it’s a good way to get perspective on things, looking down on the city from above.
Los Angeles is such a huge and crowded city, I feel lucky to have a place to recharge and be still amidst all the noise and traffic.
// What are your favorite places in Los Angeles and London ?
My favorite places in Los Angeles area include the SRF which I just mentioned, as well as the Lake Shrine which is another meditation garden run by the same group which is near the beach, I also really love Griffith Park as a place to hike and climb high up to look down on the city, I like to walk around Echo Park Lake, Mount Analog is a really great record shop in Highland Park, my favorite restaurant is Pho Cafe in Silverlake, my favorite music venue is the Smell in downtown LA.
In London, I’ve always loved Notting Hill, the area around Portobello Road Market. My friend Julian Mash wrote a book about the history of the area which I read while I was living there in the spring, it’s got such an interesting past and although the economic profile of the neighborhood has obviously changed so much, you can still see and feel the traces of a different world there.
I love riding a bicycle in Hyde Park. More recently I was staying in Battersea, and spent a lot of time writing in the Chelsea library - I’d get coffee in Battersea Square and walk the Albert Bridge across the river.
This last time I also started to get more familiar with the east of London- Dalston, Clapton, Stoke Newington...
My favorite venues in London are Cafe OTO in Dalston (just played there with Scott Fagan) and Union Chapel, a beautiful church in Islington - I played there the first time I played in London, when I was 22 and opening for Cat Power and it’s my dream to play there again.
London is such an epic city. I love riding the Tube, although most people seem to hate it. Whereas in LA most people I know are driving everywhere and in their own little bubble all the time with relatively few and limited interactions with strangers, in London you’re just in the same physical space as everyone else - I feel it opens up my mind to so many stories and energies - as a writer I find it very stimulating, sometimes to the point of being overwhelming, but I like it. I lived in LA for 8 years without knowing how to drive, but that’s whole other story and seems like another lifetime.
// You have lived in many different cities. How would you compare those places in term of your creative activities ? Does the environment influence your art ?
The environment plays a huge part in the kind of creative work one is doing, no doubt.. but I like to remember that creativity is a state of mind and a practice above all else, and to carry that with me wherever I find myself.
Last spring I was in London for an extended period and that inspired a different kind of songs than the ones I had been writing in LA, and when I put them all together they created a fuller picture of what I was trying to communicate than either group of songs would have if presented separately...
Songs are an interesting art-form because in so many ways they are alive.. a song written in the summer but sung in the winter has a new meaning, a song written in London about California but then sung in California or Paris.. It’s a living thing that keeps changing within itself. That’s why travel and movement have become such an important part of songwriting for me.
A lot of my work for this new record was started in LA where I had a rehearsal space and all my instruments and was able to have a regular schedule of working on stuff in a familiar and comfortable place, yet a lot of the biggest breakthroughs in the process happened when I was outside of the US, on a train or a plane or in the Ladbroke Grove library in West London thinking about my normal life from a distance, with different weather, different accents, a different rhythm of life surrounding me.
Different cities have a different sense of time, different patterns...
Paris is a very creative place with a more whimsical and meditative energy than London, a lot of walking around like one does in Paris is good for creative insights.
I enjoy the psychological space I get into when I don’t understand most of what people are saying around me, and their voices become like a kind of background music that doesn’t fill my head with words or ideas that are not my own.. but sometimes a lot of aesthetic comfort can make you a bit lazy.
Another factor is that some places, like Baltimore or Berlin for example, are so much cheaper than London or LA that it makes space for the kind of focus on creative work that might not be as commercial - in LA or London you’re under more pressure to create something that will hopefully sell, which can be good for the quality of your work, or it can be limiting..
I’ve always been drawn to places where you feel you can let go and let your mind wander, allowing ideas to come that are pure rather than clouded by any profit-motive.
You’ve caught me at a time when I’m thinking a lot about the issues that go along with these questions!!
// Can you describe your process of composition ?
I think of songwriting as a process of tuning in, of capturing a glimpse of something that already exists but takes a re-adjustment of focus to be noticed.. and then taking that small flash of something and filling it in, sculpting it into something that will make some sense and communicate something to another person, hopefully more than one person.
I’m always writing music in my head and whenever I pick up an instrument the ideas get translated out into the world in a raw form.. and then I’m always writing words and re-imagining words I’ve already written, and the magic of a completed song is when these two parallel trains intersect, when the words and what I’m trying to say verbally meets a match of melody and rhythm that connects..
There are so many ways to go about this but I’ve been more focused on words as of late, I feel like there is always something I can’t quite put into words just on the tip of my pen or my tongue and I have to be paying attention and ready to grab it if something makes sense for a brief instant.. as if I don’t have that much control over when that clarity will return, it’s like a muse, a visiting spirit that comes and goes, so you always have to be ready. I’ve been working on simplifying and clarifying, boiling things down to an essence, although sometimes its more about piling up ideas and chaotic fragments of sound and words and just letting it all come out, what really completes a song is the focusing in on the essential core of the idea and getting rid of anything extra that gets in the way of a clear transmission.
// What was the first song you wrote on your new album ?
The first song I wrote for the album was called "Promises", but then it ended up on the EP which came out in September.. The song “Winter Lady” is the earliest song that made it onto the album... and it inspired the last song I wrote for the album, “Summer’s Child” .. they both tell a different part of the same story, viewed from different points in time.
// How would you compare your experience playing in the Entrance Band and in solo as Entrance ?
ENTRANCE is more about singing and being able to hear and understand the words... and more about vulnerability. The Entrance Band had a lot more to do with power, with volume, with high-energy explosions of sound..
But I still view them as continuations of the same project-- ENTRANCE came first, evolved into the Entrance Band and now has evolved out of it again. Paz and Derek from the Band both contributed to the new ENTRANCE records and a lot of what I learned from playing with them for so long has influenced my songwriting.
Now I’m putting together a new group to play the new songs live and one big difference is that there will be other vocalists backing me up to further accentuate the focus on the words and the voice.
// What is your first ever music-related memory ?
Music always spoke to me since before i can remember so it would be hard to pin down one specific memory as the first - but I remember the first instrument I played was the piano in my grandparents house, a big old rickety house in the country, kind of falling apart, and my grandmother Joyce (we called her Cita) would lie down on the couch while I played piano and if I tried to stop she would tell me I had to keep playing - so I think that was my first experience of actually making music, of getting lost in the timeless space of music and of starting to get inside the sound of how different notes go together.
// What do you like the most about your home ? what is your favorite piece of furniture / room ?
My favorite thing about home in LA is the light early in the morning... And a glass table surrounded by rainbow velvet chairs, each a different color, that Amanda had made.
In the morning it light up with further rainbows created by the crystal sculpture, also by Amanda, that hangs in the window.
// What songs make you feel home ?
The music I’ve listened to the most over the past 5 years is an album called ‘Piano Solo’ by Emahoy-Tsegue Maryam Guebrou, she’s an Ethiopian nun who now lives in exile in Jerusalem.. Her piano playing and compositions are so beautiful and listening to her can make me feel at home no matter where I am.
// What gets you out of bed when you're home ?
Making coffee and doing my morning writing.
// Do you have any rituals in your daily life ?
Everyday I do 3 pages of automatic unfiltered writing, first thing.. It’s a technique called ‘The Morning Pages’ from a book called ‘the Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron - the practice is intended to help anyone break through creative blocks and re-train the mind to express spontaneous ideas without judgement.
It’s had a big impact on my own work and I’d recommend it to anyone no matter what their creative field or medium.
// If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be ?
I’ve always dreamed of living in New Orleans and I almost moved there instead of Los Angeles - I actually moved to LA partially because the Hurricane known as Katrina hit New Orleans just at that time and ruled out the possibility of going there anytime soon...
There is a strong energy of dark romance that pervades New Orleans and I’m not sure it would be the wisest/safest choice for me to live there, maybe it would be dangerous but that’s also what feels attractive about it.
I could also see myself in Berlin at some point, and also in the Joshua Tree desert outside of LA...
Maybe more realistically I’d be happy in Notting Hill and do hope to live there again someday.
This interview has got me thinking a lot about what home means and I’m realizing that at this point I have 3 home-places - Baltimore where I was born, Los Angeles where I chose to live and have stayed for over 10 years, and London where I’ve always felt I belong since my first visit at age 19.
In some ways it makes me feel divided and sometimes confused, but in the end I’m excited about continuing to travel and expand the definition of home - home is more a state of mind or a feeling than a particular place - home can be another person, and ideally home should be one’s self.
photos by Entrance