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NewTracks New Artist: Blake

NewTracks New Artist: Blake

Released in early October 2022, Blake‘s thoroughly impressive debut EP ‘Skeptical’ rolls together the three smart pop singles that she had released earlier in the year, along with one new song. While the title track first revealed her as an atmospheric pop vocalist, Damn extends her EP’s repertoire firmly into the realm of electronic pop, with a distinctly international sensibility. NZ On Air Music included Damn on their NewTracks compilation this October, and Blake, presently London-based, kindly answered NZM’s questions about her evolution as a songwriter and musician. 

What’s your name, where are you from and what do you play?

My full name is Sarah Foley. I’m originally from Queenstown and I play the piano and guitar.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I got guitar lessons in high school, which ended up morphing mostly into lessons in songwriting and performing rather than any sort of technical instrument mastery. I do think this was important in helping build my confidence in performing in front of people. For me, songwriting is a very intuitive process which has naturally developed over the years through practice and working with other people. From that aspect, I don’t think any formal training was particularly important to me.

Any previous projects we might know you from?

While I was in the UK I featured on a few drum and bass tracks, so if you’re familiar with that genre you might know some of the projects I’ve worked on. Some of these include Unsaid with Pola & Bryson, Pathways with Nu:Logic and Mind Less with GLXY.

What’s the background story of how this project, Blake, came to be? 

I started this project in 2015 when I began to release music as a featured artist on drum and bass tracks. I was thinking about creating a different alias for my new music, but I really like my current name and opted for a re-brand of sorts instead. I had a few DnB tracks on my Spotify home page which I’ve since had taken down to not confuse new listeners!

How has your music evolved from your first songwriting to now?

My songwriting has had quite the evolution since I began writing at 15! When I first started I was predominantly writing sad ballads, and generally, my songs weren’t very good. When I moved to London, I feel like my writing levelled up as the work I was doing was being released on some big labels. This meant I had to be more intentional and thoughtful about what I was doing. I feel like now I have reached a point in my writing where I feel very confident in my craft, and am venturing into a more pop environment. I’ve also started writing for other people which I find extremely rewarding.

What made you decide to go with Blake as your artist name?

The name Blake originated from my friend Tali [Natalia Shepherd] who I spent a lot of time with when I lived in Auckland in 2012. We were driving around Auckland together and she suggested a name that was unisex, which captured both feminine and masculine elements of my personality. She suggested Blake and it stuck!

What’s the story behind Damn?

The inspiration for Damn came from a TikTok trend which was ‘the feminism leaving my body when…’ One particular person did a post which was her saying that the feminism left her body after she had become romantically invested in a man. There were clips of her folding his laundry and cooking for him, which I thought was pretty funny, and also relatable.

What makes Damn stand out for you as a single choice?

Damn stands out for me as it’s not quite as structurally conventional as the rest of the tracks on the project. It’s also very tongue in cheek, and I think represents a new era of my songwriting where I can tap into subjects that are relatable, but not necessarily overly serious. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of it!

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

My favourite moment of the song are the opening lines, ‘Damn you, didn’t want to get involved. Now I’m cooking for him, in my gender role.’ It’s quite tongue in cheek and I think aligns with my personality.

Who did you record/produce the song with? 

I wrote the song in Queenstown last year. It all came together pretty quickly as I just pulled a guitar riff from splice and the song almost wrote itself! I worked on the production with Joel Jones, and he added to what I had already done. It was fairly straightforward and easy to put together, which isn’t always the case with finishing songs!

What would you like listeners to take away from the song?

That it’s okay to make fun of yourself sometimes, and that none of us is perfect. We all have the potential to be hypocritical and that’s okay!

How do you generally work out what would make a good single?

Generally, the songs with the strongest chorus end up making for good singles, also ones with the most commercial viability if it’s being pitched to radio. I think the more tracks you can release as singles the better from a marketing standpoint. As you can only pitch one song at a time to Spotify it also gives listeners more time to digest each song you release.

Who else is in your team?

I’m currently releasing through my own label and self-managing. I would like in future to have a manager on board, just waiting for someone who is the right fit! I am working with Lil Sister for PR. Ben Malone has been the main producer I have worked with this year. I would also like to shout out NZOA for their support in my career so far, they have funded two of my singles this past year and Jeff [Newton] has been plugging my songs to radio, so I also consider him/them to be part of my team.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

I think my biggest highlight thus far has been performing at a brand-new music venue, Lafayette in Kings Cross, London. It was right before the lockdown in 2020 and I was opening for Jordan Rakei who has always been a big inspiration for me. That was quite special!

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

I’ve been writing a little bit for other artists lately. I helped write a song for Luca George and Xuzz during Parachute Write Week. Not sure if these songs will end up being released, but I really enjoy writing for other artists and helping them articulate what they want to say!

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others ?

One track I submitted this year for funding was not successful. I guess my unsolicited advice would be to make sure you are only putting your absolute best work forward, and don’t be discouraged if you’re not successful. Keep developing your craft and improving at what you do – the rest will follow!

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

I think when I first applied for funding I had only ticked off 8 or 9 of the funding criteria (you need 10 to apply). I just picked the ones that seemed the most achievable and went to work at accomplishing them and checking them off the list!

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

I really love the Colors series on YouTube, they always have such an eclectic mixture of artists on there. I also like Ross Golan’s podcast ‘And The Writer Is’, which delves into how different writers got into the industry and how they go about their creative process.