Blake English channels monsters of his past directly into his visuals. It also helps that he has a deep love for horror films. As far as the new clip for “Sad Girls Dance Party” goes, he incorporates his tenuous, very complicated relationship with his father as the emotional base while exploring his personal transformation through gnarly body-horror and other frightening imagery. “I’m just a freak in this fucked up scene,” he wails.
Sticky musical webs spew from his fingertips, but it is his brutal honesty that’s most magnetic. “You know, my dad was basically a kid when he had me at 24. He also experienced a lot of trauma in his childhood that he hadn’t dealt with, which no doubt is why it was projected on me,” English shares with Audiofemme. “Mental health wasn’t exactly a part of the conversation in his household growing up, so he was left to figure it out on his own. But after having me, as him and I struggled to find common ground, he began to grow just as I was growing.”
“Sad Girls” opens on English, soaking in a clawfoot bathtub filled with ice cubes. A single overhead bulb emits a cool blue light that falls down around him to give the scene a certain ominous feel. Things immediately escalate as a four-legged creature crawls out of his stomach and through his mouth, its tentacles writhing in a sticky purple goo and nearly suffocating him to death. The singer collapses from the trauma. It’s an important moment that sets in motion the visual’s powerful narrative, chronologically moving from an innocent young boy trying on lipstick to an independent and fierce 20-something badass.
“The video really plays with the idea of finding beauty in the horror ─ finding comfort in something that otherwise would be unsettling,” he explain, noting that the scene was inspired by his all-time favorite movie, Aliens. “I wanted this video to play as an homage to all my favorite horror films with me getting to play in the middle of them,” he explains.
Always hypnotized by horror storytelling and filmmaking, creature-features were his gateway drug at a very young age. “My parents used to take me to Kmart every Friday night and pick out a creature-like action figure that I’d then play with amongst my sister’s barbies,” he remembers, citing such essentials as Gremlins and Critters. English draws upon a vast collection of favorite horror films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dracula, The Thing, and The Strangers, as well as recent TV shows like Stranger Things and American Horror Story. “I wanted to leave it open for horror lovers to see if they can find all the references within this music video,” he adds.
The horror genre has a particular raw honesty to its stories: exposing the darkest fears of mankind through an extreme, heightened, and violent reality. “I think horror storytelling is extremely interesting because it’s relatively the same with every story with little variances here and there, and it remains intriguing,” he says. “It’s a formula that works over and over and over again. It continues to scare. It continues to excite. I’m a huge lover of haunted mazes that pop up around Halloween time, and the jump scares get me every time. I can be scared the same way over and over again and never be desensitized to it, which makes it all the more thrilling for me.”
It stands to reason, then, he’d have his own concepts tucked up his sleeve. “I actually am in the middle of writing a few horror movie scripts that hopefully you’ll see as features in the future if we can ever escape this pandemic mess,” he teases. “One deals with a cult; one deals with a haunted toy; and one deals in the science fiction dystopian world.”
“Sad Girls Dance Party” is the tip of the iceberg of English’s truly outstanding debut EP, Spiders Make Great Poets. You can always trust he’ll ground his songs in deep, meaningful lyrics ripped right out of his life. The most impressive is “The Neighbors,” a five-minute and 30-second epic in the vein of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. “What will the neighbors say/When they hear the son is gay/Daughter’s a meth addict/Mom’s drunk and sick of it,” he chants. “Daddy got paid today/But beat mommy anyway…”
Much like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song sheds layers, redresses, and shifts with alarming ease. A co-write with Gabe Lopez, English actually had the entire song written and “swimming around in my head before taking it to him to bring it to life,” he recalls. “It helps that Gabe is one of my best friends, so he knows very well what my influences are and how to integrate them throughout the production. He’s also a genius musician which was required for this song, in particular, with all the tempo and key changes.”
With the longest runtime of any song on the EP, its length was an intentional choice to not only totally immerse the listener but give him a grand theatrical moment onstage (in a pre-pandemic world). “It’s something that takes you through a true beginning, middle, and end,” he says, noting the lead vocal was done in one take.
“We tried recording it the typical way where the lead is recorded in sections, and then the best parts are spliced together to get that ‘perfect’ vocal,” he continues, “but it just wasn’t sounding the way it needed to. By suggestion of Gabe, we decided to record three full takes and chose the best of them.”
Later, with “A Ghost I Knew from Yesterday,” English vents his frustrations over those in his life who voted for Trump. “And what’s worst of all if I give you up/Is knowing you will never change,” he sings. His heart is heavy, mimicked with the slow, methodical guitar work, and the lyrics are as knotted as the issue itself. “I see who you were fade away/A ghost I knew from yesterday,” he weeps.
“I go back and forth on this as new situations arise that frustrate me with his presidency. I don’t, however, think it’s as black and white as it’s made out to be in the current social climate. I view him less as a villain and more as an incompetent fool that has conned a certain portion of Americans,” explains English. “Unfortunately, some of those people are my relatives, and when you talk to them, they truly believe that they voted for him with the best intentions. So, it’s a difficult spot that is a test of patience for everyone right now. I think that as painful as it can be, having conversations with those you differ from is the only way to create a change of heart within them.” Equipping oneself with the facts and “a pretty keen sense of self control,” he says, is as vital to the conversation. “Susan Rice said it best. To paraphrase: ‘It’s harder to hate someone when you know them personally.’ And I think that by distancing yourself from those that have been, for lack of a better term, misinformed, we are only further dividing ourselves and thus not creating any change.”
Change not only happens when we have those tough conversations but reflect inward and really listen. “These past four years have been a huge reflection for everyone, I think. Trump has been a big ugly mirror to the United States, as a whole, which prevents us from living in self-centered complacency,” he says. “If you’re not reflecting on issues of systemic racism, sex, gender, domestic and international politics, workplace ethics, misogyny, distribution of wealth, economics, equality as a whole – and the list goes on and on – your head is truly in the sand and unfortunately you will be left behind in a world that was, while the rest of us progress towards a better future.”
English’s “United States of Depression” bookends the project with his grittiest, most explosive moment. “I take the little blue pills/Just to cope with all the damage/And still I see no end in sight/Yet they say I can manage/Just up the dose/Let’s have a toast,” he sings. The song confronts his struggle with mental health and wide-sweeping changes he’s already seen. “I am so grateful to everyone who has shifted the world’s view of mental health as a valid concern in moving forward as a human race,” he says. “I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. My battle with it has involved therapy, medication, mediation, spirituality and all things in between. It’s not a very exact science as everyone is different and needs different things to improve.”
His mental war came to a head when he once left a movie theatre and had to go straight to a hospital. “I thought I was dying, and really, I was having a panic attack and just didn’t know what to call it,” he remembers. “I will say, I’m better than I’ve ever been at this moment, but it is a constant struggle.”
The importance of writing and recording Spiders Make Great Poets can never be understated. It’s done more than just satiate his creative thirst; it has soothed his anxiety-addled mind from further damage. Horror movies, an unconditionally loving support system, reading, and the ocean have all also assisted in keeping him grounded, healthy, and sane.
“Something I discovered through [this EP] process is that if I put it in a song, it allows the emotional charge to live there and free up space within me for newer and more nuanced perspectives not so affected by my past,” he concludes. “So, with all these songs, the pain gets to live in them separate from me where now I can be an objective viewer instead of being the one experiencing it.”
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