Blake Hornsby is a very cool person/musician hailing from the States, living in the Appalachian country-side, and making/creating/experiencing Folk music that deals more with the Avant Experimental Psychedelic side of the American Primitive Guitar establishment… Blake has released 5 albums so far with his “apogee” being the magnificent “Teetering on the Edge of the Void” in 2020. What follows is a chat/interview I had with Blake and I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I did…
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TimeLord Michalis: Let’s start at the beginning. Where you were born and where do you live at the moment?
Blake Hornsby: I was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. From age 12 to 18, I went to a magnet arts high school. There were no sports. You had to audition to be admitted to the school. Students failed Physical Education. I loved it. I majored in theatre and later transitioned to creative writing even though I was learning music outside the school.
After graduating high school, I moved to Boone, North Carolina to go to Appalachian State University. I graduated in 2018 with a degree in Sustainable Development.
Nowadays, I live in a rural area about 25 minutes southwest of Boone in the country. I love it. I heat with wood and there’s a creek on the property that becomes a waterfall and swimming hole less than a mile down the road. My girlfriend and I are moving somewhere near Asheville this year.
TLM: How did it all start? What got you into music?
Blake: A lot of people wonder if I learned about a lot of music from my parents, but I really didn’t. More so from my brother. However, my mom and I would listen to a lot of grunge and alternative rock on the radio. I have long been interested in delving into a band and learning about them. By the time I was 12, I knew almost every song on every Red Hot Chili Peppers album, had a biography on them, countless t-shirts, a necklace, at least one DVD… I was obsessed. I don’t listen to them, or really any alternative rock/grunge groups, anymore, but I can’t deny the influence that John Frusciante had on my inclination to learn guitar. Jack White was a huge influence too. I love Jack White. I saw The White Stripes at the end of their last tour and it blew my mind. I believe the first electric guitar my parents bought for me was red and white because I wanted it to look like Jack White’s.
A couple of years later, I became interested in some music that my older brother listened to. He introduced me to a lot of the classics, y’ know, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Bob Dylan, stuff like that… He also introduced me to Os Mutantes and Country Joe & the Fish, which helped spark my interest in psychedelic music. The Beatles had a large hand in that too. The Beatles have long been an obsession of mine and, like many other people, I learned about Indian classical music through them.
I began taking guitar lessons when I was 11. I began taking Appalachian clawhammer banjo lessons when I was 15. I didn’t know what old-time Appalachian Music was. Before long, I was really into old-time music. My teacher introduced me to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. That opened a lot of doors for me.
I started collecting records when I was 11 or 12. One time I went to a store in Chattanooga and I browsed their $1.00 vinyl bin. There was some great shit. I found a copy of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters that I had previously fallen in love with. In the same bin, I came across an interesting album of a band I had only heard of slightly before: The Incredible String Band. It was a copy of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. I didn’t know how to feel about it when I first listened, but after spending maybe a year with it, I fell in love. That album has had such a profound effect on my life that I can’t put it into words.
TLM: What instruments do you play?
Blake: Guitar is my primary instrument. I used to play mostly electric, but now I only pick up an electric guitar maybe twice a year. I prefer the sound of acoustic instruments in general.
My secondary instrument, which I play less than I’d like to admit, is the banjo. I also play a little bit of mandolin, bass, synth, and random others. I enjoy tinkering with about anything that makes noise.
I call it Psychedelic World Folk Fusion or Experimental Folk
TLM: Which are your influences, musically and lyrically?
Blake: I can honestly say that if I had never heard Mississippi John Hurt, John McLaughlin’s Shakti, or Robbie Basho before, my style would be very different. My banjo teacher teaching me Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver’s Blues” on guitar is what set the stage for me to fingerpick.
The Beatles, Incredible String Band, and Robbie Basho all certainly led me in the direction of implementing eastern music into my style. And equally with my lyrics. Singing kirtan and meditating with friends has influenced both as well.
There is this other artist I really enjoy who goes under the name Big Kitty. He used to be part of the local Chattanooga scene. I love the sound of his album Excelsior Breeze Catchers. I saw that he recorded it at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville and recorded it to tape. So I did the same.
Recently, I revisited Gary Snyder’s poetry and realized how much of an influence he has had on my lyrics that I never connected. I’m also a huge fan of Robert Hunter’s lyrics he wrote for the Grateful Dead. He may be the best lyricist of all time.
Bob Dylan too of course!
TLM: If someone wants to categorize you under a genre… or – to make it sound more up to date – if we want to “tag” your music, what words/genres (or whatever) should we use?
Blake: Psychedelic Folk, Avant Folk, Experimental, American Primitive Guitar, Freak Folk, maybe World music. I call it Psychedelic World Folk Fusion, or Experimental Folk. I’m open to suggestions.
I’m just a little white boy with a guitar, so I’ll be lucky if I master one raag in my lifetime
TLM: Let’s talk about your albums. If I’m not mistaken you have 5 album releases so far, the last 2 were released on vinyl. I would like a few words (or maybe more) from you about your albums, starting from 2016’s “Solipsism & the Nectar of the Gods” (CD and Digital), an experimental native pastoral psych-folkie album that reminds me a lot of Djin Aquarian’s Source Family!
Blake: Yep, 5 albums so far.
“Solipsism & the Nectar of the Gods” was recorded in an old water tank converted to a jam space outside of Boone. The guy who owns it is one of the kindest and coolest folks I’ve met. All of the cool musicians around Boone know him. He’s a super humble fellow. Anyhow, I recorded it all in two sessions by myself with a loop pedal. I essentially played my live set and recorded it. “Fractalized Visions” is the only song that had overdubs and it was only played live once. Luke Craig was the fantastic mixing engineer, and friend of mine, that made the album come to life. If I didn’t get someone that good to mix it, I’d probably take it off of the digital shelves.
TLM: The follow-up was digitally released (Bandcamp) in 2018 and was called “Legend of the Unconscious Enigma”, I believe that it continues from where the previous album stopped, with more freak n’ weird Folkie moments here and a bit more Middle Eastern flirting…
Blake: That is a good way to describe it. This one was my first attempt at being an experimental acoustic artist. I recorded it mostly in my apartment in Boone with a cheap external microphone from my computer. I began experimenting with overdubs and alternate tunings. It was a lot of fun.
The song “Epitaph” was recorded with Jerry Wallace on didgeridoo and Joseph Ridolfo on sitar, both of who are featured on Teetering. Joe was the leader on that one. I later added overdubs and samples to the recording. Luke Craig brought this one to life as well.
TLM: In 2018, you also released digitally “Elemental Essence Of A Primal Future”, an acoustic instrumental album blending many styles…
Blake: This is the album where I started to find my voice for the guitar. It was released as part of my senior capstone project at Appalachian State University. My professor was amazing with how she approached teaching and her openness to creativity. She thought outside of the box and gave me permission to do so as well.
I graduated with a degree in Sustainable Development. Elemental Essence was a portion of my final project. All of the tunes on the album have a corresponding environmental poem that I wrote. All of the poems were free-form and ranged from nature writing to allegory. From the experience of listening to cicadas to the fire and destruction of the environment and all of the horrible corporations associated. I wrote a short research paper on Deep Ecology to further connect music with poetry and how it related to my degree. I performed it all at an art gallery in downtown Boone, NC in December 2018.
TLM: …and we’re leading to my personal favorite album “Teetering on the Edge of the Void” (self-released LP in 2020), an album drenched into mysticism, Avant-Folk, and Psychedelia!
Blake: That one is my personal favorite as well! It is the final in my conceptual (Solipsism-Legend-Teetering) trilogy. There are samples and lyrical references to the others. If you look at the Bandcamp page on each album, there are liner notes explaining the concept of each one.
Teetering was my first professionally produced album. We recorded it at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, TN to analog tape over the course of a few days. I had about 9 pages of notes printed out of how I wanted the compositions to go. I heard a lot of instruments in my head that I thought would work well with what I was writing. The notes had all of the lyrics and what instruments I wanted to come in where.
I have to say that the musicians I had on the album and the engineer we had in the studio is what made the album really work. My good buddy Sam played violin and cello, another friend, Jonathon, played tablas and Doumbek. Jerry and Joe reprised their role-playing didgeridoo and sitar. My brother’s friend’s brother played trumpet. I played guitar, vocals, bass, bells, and various other little things. My friend Jake, who I’ve known for most of my life, came in and sang backup vocals for “Peace of Mind.” He sang the notes that I couldn’t hit and added a lot of nice texture. We had a lot of fun recording it and we had just as much fun partying at the Airbnb a few minutes away. It was one of the best weekends of my life. We all had a lot of fun.
TLM: “Dogwood Dance” is your latest album, released on vinyl LP by Australian label Ramble Records, another instrumental set of songs, experimental, with a strong American primitive guitar sound, emerging a psych feeling, and sounds like a modern way to play Indian Ragas in a West American manner…
Blake: That is a very good way to describe it. Some people ask if I play Indian music. I don’t really. It’s Indian-inspired music. You hit the nail on the head with that one for sure man. While I’ve listened to a lot of Indian music and have taken a few lessons with Ali Akbar Khan’s son Alam (though it was after this recording), I still don’t call myself an Indian classical musician. Very far from it. I am interested in becoming proficient in that genre, but I doubt that I ever will be. It is extremely complex. There are a lot of rules. A lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what have you’s. I’m trying to learn some though. It’s difficult writing songs, playing shows, working, hanging out with friends and family, while also trying to properly learn Indian Classical Music. Most people dedicate their lives to it. I’m just a little white boy with a guitar, so I’ll be lucky if I master one raag in my lifetime.
Aside from “Yaman Kalyan” and the other Indian-inspired nuances of the record, it is very influenced by country blues from the 20s and John Fahey. The song “Dogwood Dance” is an homage to Robbie Basho’s “Redwood Ramble.” I wanted to learn “Redwood Ramble,” but I got lazy and wrote something in the same tuning inspired by it. I re-recorded a few tunes from previous albums as well.
My goal for “Dogwood Dance” was to have a collection of more accessible compositions for the people and venues who may not favor heavy experimentation. And to change it up a little bit.
TLM: Have you ever thought about forming a band? Playing, touring, recording together… Or you consider yourself a “loner” in music…
Blake: “Teetering on the Edge of the Void” had a full band. Due to the various locations of the musicians who have performed on the album, it is extremely unlikely to have a tour with all of us.
In the past year I have recently been playing shows as the Blake Hornsby Trio, which features Jonathon Sale on tablas, Doumbek, and bass, and Sam Fanthorpe on violin.
I’m not as much of a loner as I used to be with music. The idea of bossing people around and having people play my music never appealed to me until I realized more instruments would help with the sound. Then I figured I could just politely ask people if they would be interested. It turned out to be a lot more easygoing than I thought. Sam now has an excuse to play the violin again, just like Jonathon has an excuse to pull out his tablas again. And I think they like that even though those aren’t their primary instruments.
TLM: I believe that one way or another every human being in this world was affected by 2 major facts, pandemic and war. How did these two influence/affect, the man/the musician Blake Hornsby?
Blake: Nowadays people stream music and little money goes to the artist. I released my first acclaimed album “Teetering on the Edge of the Void” in the midst of COVID. I delayed the vinyl production in hopes that things would calm down and we could go on tour. The virus ended up getting worse and I went ahead and pressed it. But the safety of people was far more important to us than playing shows. During quarantine I composed about half of the Dogwood Dance record, so that was a silver lining.
The war is still sinking in for sure. It has caused me to reflect internally on a lot of different aspects of my beliefs. It hasn’t necessarily influenced me as a musician as far as I know, but certainly has caused some personal discomfort. I posted a video of me performing “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan to Facebook, but that doesn’t do anything. My band has sent some goods to Ukraine in support. It’s a very heavy time to be alive.
TLM: Favorite artists/bands from the past and from nowadays?
Blake: I’m a huge fan of country music. Jerry Reed is one of the best guitarists to walk the galaxy. Gunfighter Ballads by Marty Robbins is one of the best albums ever made. Gram Parsons is the king of country rock.
In terms of modern musicians, Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers are fucking incredible. I also like Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, Joseph Allred, The Flaming Lips, and most anything Les Claypool touches.
Kacy & Clayton is another modern favorite of mine. They record great folk music that is reminiscent of Shirley Collins, Davey Graham, Jefferson Airplane, and Sandy Denny.
The album that has grasped my attention the most recently is Nadah El Shazly’s Ahwar. Put the headphones in and it will blow your mind! Very fun and very original stuff!
TLM: Future plans?
Blake: Most of the band from “Teetering on the Edge of the Void” is returning to the Bomb Shelter in Nashville, TN to record a single in May. The Trio is playing a handful of gigs. I have bits and pieces for two albums and an EP that I’m working on.
TLM: Anything last to add?
Blake: Thank you for featuring me!
TLM: A pleasure!
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Blake Hornsby’s Albums: