Feature: Interview with Guy Blakeslee of The Entrance Band

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Photos by Amanda Charchian

One of the more inspiring figures you’ll come across these days is Guy Blakeslee, guitarist and vocalist for West Coast psych juggernauts The Entrance Band. While known for his onstage energy, offstage Guy is a deeply spiritual individual who radiates with genuine kindness. Having recently released a collection of solo recordings paired with a series of custom handmade collages, Guy spoke at length with us about his music outside of Entrance Band, collage art, meditation and his newly discovered love for the sober side of life. He also tells us that The Entrance Band will release their new album, Face the Sun, later this year.

Listen to/purchase Guy’s Third Eye Memories: Volume 1 here.

Tell us about this new collage/music package you’ve just put out. What is contained within it and what was the creation process like?

I have been exploring my archives of unreleased and home recorded music for the past year, in addition to recording new music.. Having recently learned how to use the computer to do editing and mixing, I started digitizing all of my old four track cassette recordings from the past 10+ years. I have also been making a lot of collage art in the past year, in a more focused way than in the past. SO I decided to create a special mail-order package  where each person receives a small handmade collage that is the one-of-a-kind original version, and a handmade CD of the music along with a high-quality instant download.

There is one album that features 13 songs from the “Entrance” project dating from 2002-2006, before the official formation of The Entrance Band, and there is another that is a 5 song compilation of  home recordings I have done in the past few years,  4 of the 5 were done on the cassette four track and edited in the computer, and one was recorded on my Iphone! With both albums, the emphasis is much more on the spirit and the energy of a moment in time captured and frozen for transmission, than on the fidelity or perfection-ism that usually crops up in a more “official” recording.

Some of the collages are already made and then chosen for a particular person, and some of them are made specifically to fill the order. With each collage I try to read a little bit of the person’s energy at a distance and give them something that they will connect with and cherish.  The impetus for this project was partially to earn some money, and to do so in a way that is an extension of what I am already doing. That is,  rather than get a minimum wage job, I found that I could apply some discipline to the things I was already making and increase the time I spend making art and experimenting with my home recordings…  It’s a very interesting life that I have been living all these years as a self-employed musician and I am just now learning to have a little more focus when it comes to treating this work like my full-time job and being creative with my time and energy.. It’s certainly a gift to be able to pursue my creative dreams as a way of surviving in the world, however uncertain things may seem at times,, it has always paid to remain in trust and faith that everything is as it is meant to be and keep working harder at what I love to do , going deeper into the possibilities even when I feel discouraged.

What were some of the musical directions you chose to explore on these recordings?

Like I mentioned above, the two albums are compilations of unreleased songs from my archive. The 13 unreleased songs contain a few home recordings and demos as well as studio out-takes from the albums Wandering Stranger and Prayer of Death, and radio performances, etc.

The idea with this one was to rescue some of the forgotten songs or alternate versions as a kind of relic of a time that has passed, like a scrapbook.  The other album, Thirdeye Memories Vol. 1 , is the first in a series of mostly instrumental music. All except for the first track were recorded on a four track in various places. Each song has a different story behind it. The unifying thread is that all of the pieces were recorded in a state of deep meditation and were never intended to be heard by anyone or released. I did some editing before releasing it, so that there was some flow to the songs and I used some digital tricks to enhance what was coming out of the four track, but most of what you hear is just a long take of a particular mood or idea, recorded just for myself. Often I was recording in order to calm or soothe myself and channel some of the manic energy I was experiencing into something constructive..

“Solitary Ecstasy Holiday Smile Prayer” was from a cassette I made on New Year’s Eve going into 2011. I was alone in Idyllwild, California, tripping on MDMA. I had just given myself a haircut and was convinced that I was doing the right thing isolating myself and recording. It was snowing outside. I made a few full cassettes of music that night, but I chose a piece roughly 17 minutes long that I’m pretty sure was interrupted by a knock at the door from a friend who insisted that I go to the American Legion hall with him to ring in the New Year. So I went and sat in the corner, fully tripping with a self-done mental patient style haircut, feeling like an alien. This is a snapshot of a very strange time in my life, as I was very alone and unhappy, but within the music there is a kind of surrender and bliss.

“The Night They Came from the Sky” is also from Idyllwild, from a couple weeks later. I edited the song from an even longer piece that was recorded just minutes before I began a lengthy period of UFO communication. Either during the recording or right after the tape ran out, I saw and became transfixed by an orange orb in the sky that I could see from my window. I was to spend the next week watching all manner of orbs, crafts and other UFO’s in the sky above the mountain where I was—still alone and isolated—watching them from sundown into the early morning. While it is unclear to me exactly what was going on with these sightings, I felt then and still feel that I was being shown something from beyond this dimension, and that some kind of other or higher intelligence was allowing me to see what I had not been able to see before, in direct proportion to my willingness to trust and believe in something that I did not understand. So that particular song is a snapshot of the state of mind I was in right before this contact began.

“Star prophecy,” the first song on the album, was recorded as a voice memo on my IPhone on a sunny afternoon at my new home in Los Angeles, I discovered it while sifting through all the voice memos of different ideas and sounds I had made and quickly forgotten, and I added a low synthesizer drone in the computer to hod it together… It’s an improvisation in an Indian Raga scale that I like to play in, just a free form exposition of the scale, the kind of guitar playing I use to relax and focus my mind amidst the whirl of life’s activities.

I could write a long story for every one of the songs. On the 13 unreleased songs, there is one track in particular that stands out story-wise. “Baby Won’cha Come on Home” is a cover of a song by Joan Armatrading, performed from memory without listening to her version for quite some time. It’s from January 2002. I recorded it and a few of the other songs on”13 songs” in the bathroom of my mother’s old basement in Baltimore. I was smoking a lot of weed at this time and I would smoke under the staircase in the basement and then record songs in the pitch dark bathroom because I liked the acoustics of the tile… So I felt inspired to sing this song that I remembered from hearing the record. And afterwards I went upstairs to where my brother and his good friend were hanging out, and I played it to them. And my brother’s friend responded that it really hit him hard in an emotional way because his girlfriend had just committed suicide, which I had not known. They were in high school. So I always feel that strong feeling when I think about the song, and can’t really listen to it.

How did you develop your approach to the guitar? 

I am 31, and have been playing guitar since I was 10. So I’ve been playing for 21 years! I play “upside-down”, that is, I play a right handed guitar, but left-handed.. So for me, the strings are in reverse position. I am completely self-taught, and learned “by ear,” that is, based on what sounded good to me , rather than based on any theory or correct musical values. The development of my playing came from hours upon hours of sequestering myself and playing, alone, often in nature or in a dark room. I didn’t know it at the time because it was a natural or intuitive approach, but I would say now that I was meditating through the guitar.

I wasn’t sure for quite some time the proper way to tune so I would make up my own tunings that sounded good to me, and I would play for long periods of time without some of the strings because I didn’t know how to put new strings on and I would break a lot of them. Eventually around age 14 I started playing with other people occasionally and then got into playing in bands with older kids, but mainly I was playing for hours every day by myself.

I would skip many classes at school and just find a place to play guitar where nobody would bother me.  Some of my biggest growth as a guitar player happened through playing bass. I played bass in bands for a number of years and didn’t really touch the guitar that much, and when I did,  it seemed like a new and different thing to me.. When I finally picked it back up again for real, my style had grown and expanded, from playing with other people and from being exposed to all kinds of music. I guess the key is practice, practice, practice! But practice expressing myself, my feelings.. exploring what sounds I liked, rather than trying to practice what was “correct” or whatever.

Who are some of your biggest current and overall musical influences?

I am influenced by so much, I could say I’m influenced by all music that I hear in some way.. A lot of what I listen to nowadays is very different from what I used to listen to. I listen to a lot of Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Steve Reich.. Minimalist or meditative composers.. A lot of Indian and Eastern music, like Ravi Shankar, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Debashish Bhattacharya, I listen to African guitar players like Tinariwen, Bombino, Group Doueh, Ali Farka Toure,  I listen to Gospel music , Delta Blues like Charley Patton and Skip James…  As far as influences, I am very influenced by Jimi Hendrix, but I don’t listen to him very often.. Very influenced by John Fahey and Sandy Bull, but don’t listen to them very often.. Very influenced by Bob Dylan, but don’t listen to him that often… Very influenced by the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, but don’t listen to them that often… One of the best shows I’ve seen recently was a performance in a small gallery in LA by Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. Another really inspiring performance I saw this year that influenced me a lot was PAtti Smith !!

I really enjoy music from the Middle East and Asia, and recordings from before 1950.. A lot of what I listen to I have downloaded from an excellent blog of 78’s called Excavated Shellac…And also vinyl and cassette releases from Mississippi Records in Portland

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Describe your musical background. Did you grow up in a musical household? Did you study music? 

I didn’t study music aside from music classes in school as a kid, which was mainly singing in a group. I don’t read music and neither of my parents are musicians. But both of my parents are music lovers from the 60’s generation. They turned me on to a lot of great music. My mom gave me albums by Dylan, John Lennon, Woody Guthrie, Tim Buckley. My dad gave me LP’s by Leonard Cohen, Forever Changes by Love. All of these were major influences on me for sure.

My dad would also take me and my brother and my friends to a lot of shows. He would take me and a bunch of other kids to see Pavement, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Lollapalooza. He always enjoyed the bands. Once he took me to see Beat Happening and Nation of Ulysses when I was 11 years old! Both of my parents were at Woodstock, though they had not met each other yet. So from them I definitely got that music is an important part of life and a way of expressing what is really going on and connecting with other people.

The most study that I have done has been from playing with other people and listening. I have started giving guitar lessons and it’s very interesting to realize how much of what I “know” about playing music was learned from the brilliant musicians I have had the chance to play with over the years and to this day.

When did you first start creating collage art? 

I have been making collage art and graphic art since my early teens. I used to make a lot of zines and xerox art, and would spend hours at Kinko’s, making collages for flyers and zines and stickers. More recently, I “inherited” a huge supply of National Geographic magazines , many of them very old, like from the 20’s and 30’s, at the house where I used to live in Laurel Canyon about 7 years ago. I wasn’t very disciplined back then but I had many bursts of productivity where I would make a lot of work and some of the pieces were very large. In the past year I have been able to be more organized and create a lot of work, most of which is simpler and smaller than the pieces I was making a few years ago.

I have always like collage as a technique, whether with images, sound/music, or words. I really enjoy the “cut-up” method employed by William Burroughs for finding new meanings within words by juxtaposing them somewhat randomly. As well as the “Exquisite Corpse” method used by the Surrealists. Probably what sparked my interest in Collage in the first place was the Dada/Surrealist/Situationist art that I encountered at a young age when searching for the roots of Punk Rock. I also always loved the covers of records that my parents had, like Sgt. Pepper’s, where a bunch of colorful images are joined together to create something new and surreal through combining disparate elements into a unified visual field.

Do you show your work in galleries or sell it to the public? 

I have shown my work in a number of group shows, but have yet to have a solo exhibition, which is something I am working on. I also have sold some of my work privately to people who have contacted me. Sometimes I have sold collage art at the merch table at shows I played and I also have a shop where you can purchase different sized pieces (www.thirdeyememories.bigcartel.com).

The main way that I have sold my work is through the collage packages mentioned above, where for $40 you receive a collage and a CD in the mail. Those can be purchased here: www.guyblakeslee-entrance.bandcamp.com.

Describe the connection, or the separation, between your visual art and musical inspirations.

I don’t think there is a way to separate the different mediums I work with and the inspirations that fuel them. I like to think of it as “synesthesia”–like hearing colors, seeing sounds. They all come from the same place and are different sides of the same coin. I also find that being creative in one medium, even if it may seem separate from another, enhances creativity in that other form. By exercising the muscle that creativity comes from, it helps in all areas of creativity.

A lot of the music that I listen to while making collages, like Terry Riley, will inspire the music that I make later. Also, I have been listening to some of my own ambient recordings while making art or writing words, so that’s even more of a direct connection. When I am playing guitar in my studio, I’m surrounded by collages in progress, they are all over the desk, all over the floor, hanging on the wall. I feel very fortunate to have a space that I can create in on a daily basis and that is filled with the energy and debris of my creation!

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What are the greatest inspirations in your life right now?

The greatest inspirations in my life right now are love, meditation and sobriety. Being in a loving and supportive relationship with another artist has really helped me to grow as a person and an artist, and my girlfriend (Amanda Charchian) is a really inspiring artist–not only do I love her work but I am also encouraged and motivated by seeing how much she works on her art. She’s a true inspiration in every sense!

I have also been practicing meditation daily for some time now and the benefits of this are immense, especially the ability to focus and  be in touch with that part of the mind and spirit where creative impulses originate. I woke up this morning at 7:25 and got on a conference call with my meditation teacher for a half-hour guided concentration practice. Being this committed to meditation is a new thing for me. That was only the third day in a row that I’ve been working with this teacher and joining in on his guided group mediation calls, but I’d say in the past 6 months I’ve made a habit of meditating daily, whether for 3, 5, 10 or 30 minutes, and it has helped me a lot to stay inspired and relieved me of a little bit of the mental noise that can get in the way of creativity and serenity.

And, sobriety—I have been sober for over 14 months.. That is, no drugs or alcohol of any kind. Drugs and alcohol used to be my inspiration, I would use them as tools to expand my mind or focus or relax or enhance my perceptions… But I did that to excess for along time, and somewhere in there it stopped being a help and became a necessary crutch that I no longer enjoyed. From that point it still took me many years to be able to recognize that the only way to grow and progress in my life would be to stop the use of mind altering substances entirely! That sounded like a crazy idea to me for so long. But this far into sobriety I can definitely say that my life and my art and music and my relationship to people and the world around me is so much better and so much more psychedelic than ever before!

While I used to think that I needed drugs or whiskey  or mushrooms to make music, or to put on a good show, or to write a good song, now in a clear state of being I can feel the power of the sound and the music and the pure consciousness, and feel so much more capable and connected to the source!  This is just my own experience, I think drugs and alcohol are great tools if you can use them without becoming a slave to them. I am just saying, for me, sobriety has been a truly liberating and free-ing experience and re-awakened me to the potential in everything like never before!

When will we next hear from The Entrance Band and what can we expect we when do?

The Entrance Band has been working on our new record for quite some time (2 years?) and it is now finished! We are in the beginning phase of working out the details of releasing it. The album is called Face the Sun and features all original songs co-written by the Band, which is Paz Lenchantin on Bass, Derek James on Drums and Percussion, and myself on Guitar and Voice.  The album sounds very different than anything we have released before but we have been playing the songs a lot in concert in the past 2 years.

Farmer Dave produced the album with us and he makes some guest appearances on lap steel, and all of us played a lot of additional instruments, such as acoustic guitar, 12 string guitar, mandolin, organ, electric piano, electric harpsichord, backing vocals. There are friends singing and playing flute, Paz’s mother played castanets. We are very excited to release the album! We should be announcing the label and release date soon!

In the meantime, we are playing a festival here in California called Desert Daze, on April 20, with Tinariwen! And we are doing our 3rd annual residency at the Satellite in Silverlake, every Thursday in June. Derek just had a son named Jackson, and Paz has been surfing every day. We also just recorded a cover of “The Seventh Seal” by Scott Walker, for a tribute compilation, and released an instrumental 12″ called “Fine Flow” on the Spiritual Pajamas label.

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