Indie-music iconoclast Blake Morgan’s highly-anticipated fifth album Violent Delights is out now on ECR Music Group. The native New Yorker, artist, producer, multi-instrumentalist, label owner, and activist is riding high from the critical and commercial successes of his breakthrough singles and music videos of recent months.
The New York Times calls Morgan “Disarmingly unselfconscious.” Billboard proclaims, “Morgan has a voice that was made to be heard on the radio… inspired songwriting and passionate performances.”The Washington Post writes, “He’s got killer pop-rock instincts, something that leaps out at you…as well as a flair for recalling the days of pre-digital sound mixes. A natural when it comes to fashioning sharp melodies and catchy choruses.”
“I wanted to make a new record that would evoke a time in music when melodic Rock-’n-Roll hooks weren’t a vice, when optimistic, triumphant love songs with bite poured out of the car stereo,” says Morgan. “If The Police’s album Ghost In The Machine and AC/DC’s Back In Black had a kid together, that ‘kid’ would be my new record.”
The album gets its title from a line in Act 2, Scene 6 of Romeo And Juliet (“These violent delights have violent ends”), when the young couple is warned by Friar Lawrence that their passions may cost them. This is Morgan’s first record primarily comprised of love songs, and a departure for the artist. “I’ve written breakup records before, but never a ‘love’ record. I’ve never even used the words ‘love’ or ‘heart’ in a song before. Perhaps it helped to be in love, finally, for me to use those words convincingly.”
The reaction to previews of the new album have been clear: The Aquarian, “Mesmerising.” Post-Punk, “Uplifting power-pop. Striking.” Glam Glare, “Instant classic. An exhilarating, almost spiritual experience.” Pop Passion, “Joyfully defiant.” Vents Magazine, “Great lyrics. Urgently flowing music.” Music Injection, “Brilliant.” Culture Catch proclaims Morgan’s style as, “Pop-rock noir. A much-needed antidote.”
The release of Violent Delights follows on multiple successes for the artist including his record-breaking concert series in New York (a six-year run of sold-out concerts at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall), over 200 performances across 160,000 miles of touring with sold-out shows on both sides of the Atlantic, and 20 albums he’s produced and recorded with A-list artists since his own last solo-artist album release.
The phrase “Violent Delights” brings to mind Shakespearean allusions to rash and dangerous love. What spoke to you about that phrase?
That’s right, the album’s title comes from Act 2, Scene 6 of Romeo And Juliet, when Friar Lawrence warns the young couple that their passions may get them into trouble. (Spoiler alert: they get into serious trouble!) “These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die like fire.”
This is a rock-and-roll record, and I wanted to make an album that evoked a time when big-hooked, windows-down rock and roll poured out of the car stereo and lifted one’s heart rate. It’s also the first album of mine primarily comprised of love songs, and in traversing the territory of romantic passion I thought the title was wonderfully and appropriately double-edged. After all, romantic love is powerful, but not simple. And ultimately, love’s greatest paradox is perhaps its most obvious one: love is worth whatever price one pays for it.
“A Helping Hand” is such a unique track—it’s like a modern sea shanty. How would you describe the genre? Shanty pop, maybe?
Ha, I like that: “shanty pop!” Well, this new record’s been described as “pop-rock noir” on more than one occasion, and I think “A Helping Hand” fits into that description quite well. I’m a deep lover of noir films, and I think my countless watches of The Third Man, The Maltese Falcon, The Naked City, and so many others, have worked their way into my music and the music videos I’ve been making. Even the album cover for Violent Delights reflects that influence. Tom Waits once said that artists inevitably secrete that which they’ve absorbed, and I’m no exception.
In addition to being a multi-instrumentalist, you are also a producer and own your own label. What was the recording process like for this album and how much of it did you record on your own?
This was flat out the most fun I’ve had making a record. I sang and played all the instruments except drums (performed by my long-time drummer, the great Miles East), and I produced and recorded (and mixed and mastered) the record at my Greenwich Village recording studio, Valiant Recording, NYC. Miles and I rehearsed the songs together for two months before cutting the drum tracks, after which I began cutting bass, guitars, keyboards, and then the vocals.
I think one of the reasons this one was so fun is that I was intimately familiar with the songs and how I wanted them to sound before we ever started recording because I’d already been performing them on the road and at my New York City residency at Rockwood Music Hall. In the past, I’d written a record, then recorded it, then begun to perform it. But this time, I’d already performed these songs dozens upon dozens of times before the recording process started so I’d lived in the songs enough to really “know” them. Moving forward, I’m always going to always work this way. In the studio you never want to “get caught trying.”
There’s nowhere to hide in a recording studio, it reveals everything, so the more comfortable one is, the less self-conscious one is, and that’s a real key to making a good record. For me, performing the songs on stage first allows me a confidence and comfort zone in the studio so that new-found spontaneity and happy accidents can take place, and take hold. Like I said, fun.
You’ve got a lot of shows lined up as you tour this new release. Are there any venues or cities that you’re particularly looking forward to playing?
Since 2016 I’ve logged over 160,000 miles on tour, performing more than 200 times on both sides of the Atlantic, and I can’t wait to get back out there. My long-running concert series at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall resumes September 22nd, after which I’ll head out for a West Coast tour with great songwriter and label-mate David Poe. I’ll also be doing an East Coast tour in November and December, with plans for an EU/UK tour in the Spring of 2023.
Rockwood is and will always be my beloved home base––I’ve sold out 28 straight concerts there––but I so love seeing my friends and fans out on tour as well. Portland (Oregon) and Baltimore have become two cities that feel similarly like home to me, and London audiences have been overwhelmingly loving as well. I did a month-long tour in Germany in 2016, and it’s high time I returned to see all the friends and fans I made there. Fingers crossed that 2023 brings me there too. (Tour info below)
What’s creatively inspiring you at the moment?
Perhaps my favorite thing about my musical life is that I get to do so many things. I’m currently producing and recording three new records for my label (ECR Music Group), each of which I find incredibly inspiring: new records from Chris Barron (of Spin Doctors), the brilliant David Cloyd, and the aforementioned Miles East are coming along, and sounding great. Also, I’m going to be remastering the back catalog of one of my favorite artists, Blak Emoji, for a special series of reissues.
And, in September we’re starting pre-production on what will become Janita’s new album. So lots of music on the way. And what’s also exciting is that I’m writing new songs already––even with my new record just out––which makes me feel so excited about what’s next. For me, the best thing about a life in music is always music itself.