Blake Lewis is an ‘80s baby. And with the release of his sophomore album, Heartbreak on Vinyl, the influences of David Bowie, Prince and Depeche Mode shine bright. Compared against his 2007 debut, A.D.D. (Audio Day Dream), one can only wonder what magical music moments were squandered or deferred, due to industry pressures to cash-in on the American Idol juggernaut.
After an abrupt departure from Arista Records, Blake Lewis found a welcome home at Tommy Boy Entertainment. Coincidentally, it appears, at least sonically, that he feels more comfortable in his “artistic” skin. After long last, Heartbreak on Vinyl reminds the world why Mr. Lewis is the musical “rebel” that we have grown to love.
Upon review of Heartbreak on Vinyl, Blake Lewis managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on his mother’s influence, a memorable performance for First Lady Michelle Obama, and Paul van Dyk's “Words,” his favorite vinyl record.
According to your press release, the title of your sophomore album, Heartbreak on Vinyl, was inspired by the various changes that have taken place in the record industry. Since you are a deejay, I’m curious to know the first vinyl record you ever owned?
Oh, wow! [laughing] I had my first vinyl at the age of five. My parents were always purchasing them. It was probably Duran Duran or Michael Jackson or The Police — since those were the first ones that I got when I was a kid. Oh, and Fraggle Rock… [laughing]
Now, that’s a throwback! [laughing]
Oh, yeah. And Disney records, for sure! But, gosh, I don't know. I was really into breakbeat, so it probably was Paul van Dyk's “Words” or “Forbidden Fruit.” I was really into trance and breaks when trance started getting popular, so it could have been BT’s “Blue Skies,” too. It was like '95 or '96. But I remember bumping “Words” all the time.
Your mother was in a rock band. What influence did she have on your musical tastes?
I was influenced by her playing guitar and singing in the house all the time and going to her shows. She was playing a show every weekend, and my first concert was seeing my mom playing in front of a bunch of people. If we'd go camping, she was singing by the campfire. She’s a great singer, but she's a very good guitar player, too. A very good finger picker – like her mostly bluegrass style. I grew up with country in the house, and classic rock. My taste was completely different from my parents so it was really an eclectic household. I grew up with tons of Buffy Sainte-Marie, old blues. And then my dad was a fan of classic rock and big rock. Lots of guitar-driven stuff. But I'm totally a synth-head. So it was really eclectic. I went to my parents when I was ten and said I wanted to learn piano. And then I just went from there. My lessons in piano got me into synthesizers and keyboards. I built my own studio for $30,000 when I was eighteen. I've been doing music professionally ever since.
Heartbreak on Vinyl is heavily influenced by '80s electro pop. And you have noted your love for Bowie, Prince and Depeche Mode in the past. What kind of musical elements did you experiment with on this album that you didn’t on the first?
Well, this is a more synth-based record. There’s a lot of heavy keyboards and bass lines driving this record. I guess it's influenced by the '80s because I'm just an '80s kid and I love '80s music. That comes naturally. I don't like trying to set out unless I find that right keyboard patch that I like to mess around with and get the right sound. And usually a lot of PolySyncs end up in my music, so it gives it that kind of '80s feel.