Jamie Blacker has been making hardened industrial rhythm and pulsating percussion based beats for more than a decade with E.S.A., short for Electronic Substance Abuse. His tribal laden project seemed to peak at his "Themes of Carnal Empowerment" trilogy which began in 2012 with "Pt. 1: Lust" and ended in 2015 with "Pt. 3: Penance". However, Blacker would go on to challenge both himself and his fanbase when he teamed up with singer Valeriia Moon of the Ukranian metal band Aftermoon. The delineation from his normal path caught audiences by surprise for no other reason than being a grand exercise in stretching his musical muscles to a whole new degree. Following that ESA has released his brand new album "That Beast" which continues to see Blacker dominate and evolve in his craft. With that in mind, we got in an interview with Blacker regarding his work with Valeriia Moon, his new album, and other odds and ends.Apr 02 2018
Hello Mr. Blacker and welcome to Brutal Resonance! Your most recent album “That Beast” is due out any day now. How are you holding up? Do you ever get nervous when one of your albums is about to drop or does it not phase you too much?
Blacker: Hi there!
Of course there are a certain amount of nerves. When you work on an album (especially if you do so in a very condensed space of time), you can really start to lose any sort of perspective on it. What sounds great to you a couple of weeks ago can suddenly metamorphose into something with countless production holes and as the writer, any kind of original magic from the track can dissipate really quickly. I think that most producers will say the same thing. There is never a point in which you feel completely satisﬁed with what you’ve created….and that's really powerful piece of your armoury. It strives you to lean more and work in different ways.
So when the album DOES hit, there is always a little paranoia as to how it will be received. Especially with a product that you become REALLY personally connected to. This album is probably the most speciﬁc example of that, that I have experienced. I would say that I am the most attached to this album than any other that I have released, so yes is the answer to your question. It's almost like letting your kid into the schoolyard for the ﬁrst time and worrying as to how he/ she will be received by everyone!
Before we get into the new album I'd like to discuss the collaboration efforts you had with Valeriia Moon with 'The Release' and 'The Hold'. I know both released last year, but how did you and Valeriia Moon meet and what made you decide to work with her?
Blacker: So this is an interesting story. When I and Myles (my partner for the ﬁlming of the ESA music videos) got together a cast and filmed the scenes for ‘The Hold’, there was no existing track! I had the visual concept for the music video already in mind so we just went and did it!
I had to write the track afterwards, using the visual imagery as inspiration. I decided almost right from the start that I wanted a really ﬂoaty yet powerful female vocal section to be the focus for the track. After a conversation on the drive home from the shoot with the main actor in that music video ‘Mila Bratash’, she mentioned that she knew a fantastic Ukrainian vocalist who owed her a favour. I quickly researched the aforementioned and behold…Valeriia! So after hearing the quality of her vocals with her main band Aftermoon, I put the offer to her and got to writing ‘The Hold’ with her vocals in mind.
We talked a lot and we both fell in love with the project. We quickly developed a perfectly aligned mutual enthusiasm and got to work making it what it is. That partnership then spanned onto ‘The Release’, which acted as a follow-up to the former track.
‘The Release’ allowed me to purge a lot of musical urges. I love folk music and so we decided to throw away the rule-book and basically wrote an acoustic guitar led Ukrainian folk song which develops slowly into a synth laden Darkwave track. It was really cathartic for both of us and I still think its the best song I’ve ever written….obviously assisted massively by Valeriia.
Your works with Valeriia Moon were much different than the usual electronic tribal drumming, and overall rhythmic noise everyone is used to. How did you go about writing the music for these two releases? Did you ﬁnd it challenging in any sense?
Blacker: As mentioned above, there are a lot of musical urges that I don’t often get to explore with most of my writing for ESA. First and foremost my instrument is the guitar, I also love orchestral work….and between these two pieces, I managed to combine all the dark acoustic elements that I’d wanted to put together for a long time, with Valeriia giving me the wonderful vocal excuse to do so.
The quality of her singing inspired me to approach these tracks in a totally unconventional way. I managed to rope Matt Hart (who plays Viola for the queens orchestra) into recording me some parts and what this collaborated effort resulted in was a real display of musicianship and intelligent melody laden writing.
I’m so happy that these projects happened and it was a massive outlet for me to show that ESA is not all about how loud and nasty I can make drums and bass sound.
Now let's get into the new material “That Beast”. I've seen the inside cover panels of the album over on Negative Gain Productions which shows you barking or growling like a wolf against the titular creature. Do you consider yourself “That Beast” on the front cover, or is it more or less symbolism?
Blacker: It’s a good question. I do feel very affiliated with this release. The product as a whole is the REAL beast but the symbolism in the artwork is a reference to me fighting with my own beast.
I see ‘That Beast’ as a very organic thing. We all have "That Beast" inside of us. We all struggle to keep our primal, animalistic urges at bay on a daily basis. That was the theme that I took into the studio when concentrating fully on this album and I think the overall sound of the album communicates that pretty well. The artwork NEEDED to display that also…I think that this was achieved.
Usually the raw energy of your albums and the tracks' titles are enough to understand it all, but there are those that would argue without lyrics, songs are meaningless. Being that your songs are largely rhythmic and instrumental, what are your thoughts on this?
Blacker: I can understand that point pretty well. For the tracks without vocals, I try hard to communicate the message of the song through the track title / the samples used and the sounds that I select. This was crucial with the "Themes" albums due to the fact that they were essentially concept albums.
There are a lot of cult dance tracks out there without vocals. Projects like Orbital were able to communicate the message and tone of their songs really well without vocals. I think that it just takes more of a metaphorical approach to communication when it comes to tracks that don’t employ vocals. It’s not easy…but it’s certainly not impossible.
There are more vocals on ‘That Beast’ and I think this has allowed me more freedom to push the theme and message of the track with better clarity.
On “That Beast” you partnered with Massenhysterie for the song 'Carry the Noose'. What made you want to work with Massenhysterie and what did they bring to the song that carried it to new heights?
Blacker: So I met J Hysteria at a show in Czech Republic last April. We got along very well (both displaying the same dry and dark humour), so we stayed in touch. After a while, it became pretty obvious that we respected each others' projects and each others' approach to writing so when it came to writing the last track for the album (which was actually born through a complete mistake), I knew that her staccato almost schoolyard delivery would suit the track perfectly. Much like when I worked with Valeriia, when I knew that she was going to become part of the track, I approached it differently.
She gives ‘Carry the Noose’ a fantastic guttural and powerful yet massively sexy flair that takes the track to a much more hook driven place. I’m really glad that she got involved and it’s one of my personal favourites on the album.
I also much prefer to have vocalists record in their native tongue. It allows them more personal freedom to get the best results and from my point of view, am quite humbled to have them bring their own international personality to the tracks and albums.
You've been making music for fourteen years now, and with all that time you've released so much. Did you learn anything new from making “That Beast”? Be it on an intellectual level from production aspects to a more self-identifying, personal level?
Blacker: Yes, I MADE myself learn a LOT more about certain Production tools with this album. I strived to make each track as powerful as I could and in order to do that…I had to ‘up’ my game. I wanted each element of the track to stand on its own right and I really concentrated on making any melodies and hooks breathe. That took a lot of work as ESA and not necessarily ‘known’ for its hooks and melodies.
I also learnt a lot about how to achieve things personally. What most people don't know is that although around three of the tracks were almost at their 'final' stage around two years ago, I ended up writing and engineering the majority of the album within a condensed three month period. I was heavily involved with the latest iVardensphere album and between that, writing, and actually playing shows for the latter project....I fell WAY back on deadline for "That Beast" I basically had to lock myself in the studio for a solid three months (other than the day-job) in order to get this album together. I had to constantly assure the label that this was going to get to them before 2043 and they were hugely supportive!
What this did was actually allowed me to become REALLY connected with the album. I allowed no other distraction to get in the way and this created a real attachment. There were points when I felt like I was losing all perspective (along with my mind) but overall what came out of this was a really deﬁned product. Everything was written and engineered with the same state of mind and I actually think the situation proved to be a real blessing.
I've seen the pre-release buzz for the album so far and it's stellar. Do you ever ﬁnd yourself paying attention to what critics have to say about your albums, be it bad or good, or do you shrug it off and make this music for yourself?
Blacker: ESA has always been a ‘critics’ choice but not necessarily a ‘fans’ choice. This project has never really experienced much joy on dace-ﬂoors and there are still a LOT of audiences within this genre who have never heard of ESA. So of course I will always pay attention to reviews but honestly (and this may sound a little bigheaded), I’ve never received a bad or mediocre album or live review from a critic of a magazine or any other platform. This is always pleasing but as stated above…profile raising has been much more of a focus for me of late and getting this project to as many people as possible.
And what else do you have planned for ESA in the future? Have you any shows, tours, EPs, singles, remixes, etc. lined up that you can talk about?
Blacker: This album, both the writing and recording and also the promotion has taken a lot out of me personally. I will be taking a small break to asses what comes next with regards to a release but I can tell you that we are currently in the middle of ﬁlming the new music video and there are three high proﬁle shows booked so far this year. Those being Japan, Iceland and Calgary (Terminus festival).
Lastly, I'd like to tank you for your time and wish you the best with “That Beast”. I leave the space below open for any last words. Cheers!
Blacker: My words are: Thank you to everyone who has stuck with ESA for the past fourteen years. The people who buy ESA albums and come to shows are massively devoted and are massively personally attached to ESA. That support allows me to continue redefining the ESA sound and experiencing so many different things all over the world. Without these people, I would literally be nothing but a guy shouting and making large band noises in a small studio….so THANK YOU!
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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