In formal studies of genetics, it has been repeatedly shown that affability selects for intelligence. This means that the old adage about nice guys finishing last forgot to mention that this was because they were smart enough to realize there was no race to begin with and were busy getting on with the business of being their best selves. The beatific boys with the big gray matter never prioritize what Lil Kim referred to as “the horse, the Porsche, and the farm,” as they tend to have their kind eyes and bright minds on trophies of a more lasting type. This biomarker of brilliance and brains bears out extremely well in Blake Rose, the Booragoon-born bringer of beautiful sounds who, with his current EP A World Gone By, is just the course correction both your winter and your mood might need if either have been turned anyplace lacking shimmer of late.
For all you listeners out there of a certain age (i.e. mine), Blake Rose is like what would occur if When In Rome met Thompson Twins and they all started collaboratively writing with Coldplay and Jeff Buckley. He sings about ancient forms of pain and isolation, but does so in a contemporary candy packaging that has no plastic or empty calories in it – only the kind of confection that is far more dinner than dessert. Rose then has the guts to leave what he admits he doesn’t yet know piled up uncovered in the street like the unsold wares adorning the cover of Paul’s Boutique, or the storefront of any sideshow shop on 1980s Rivington.
Listening to what Blake Rose can draw from his emotional rain barrel on a song like “Lost,” for instance, feels a bit like crying your hardest with a mouth full of Pop Rocks. The smart-sweetness of his artistic and personal immaculacy bears an actual sting – and it is one that is desperately needed as we all attempt not to drown on dry land under the firehose of numbing online overstimulation. A World Gone By contains absolutely zero of the cosseting of today’s pop moppets and temporary hot properties that take up airwaves where genuine thinkers and artisans like Blake Rose should always rightfully be.
The fact that Rose conceptualizes – and in some cases cinematographically directs – the visual messaging and imagistic landscapes of his own videos is another early clue to newcomers that this is the sort of lad who inherently understands something about the value of the way people used to spend a record’s whole expanse staring at its cover and coming up with imaginative stories about what it all meant. It is clear he interprets the treads and risers of image as it relates to breakthrough success today, but is constructing his in a manner both thoughtful and deliberate, carving it carefully out of Australian Tallowwood and inner Ironbark rather than slipshod out of smoke blown up his own ass and light-bending mirrors – the chosen shortcuts (and shortcomings) of so many others.
It is likewise beyond rare and hope-forming to find a man in Blake Rose’s age bracket that does not attempt to put spin-control on the imperiled raptors of his own exposed emotions. He has the courage to downlist the harder memories, but not the ignorance to attempt to delist them entirely. There is as much secondary story in Rose’s vocal delivery as there is to be found in his well-chosen words. Hearing him perform the songs of A World Gone By live, his head voice seems to soar on thermals, but he can also effortlessly flood his chest with fire whenever necessary. Like New Order iconically choosing to represent their album’s title and band name only via a wordless color codex on the cover of Power, Corruption, and Lies, Blake Rose’s voice doesn’t have to spell anything out for you; you just know when he calls certain elemental things down from whatever maritime forests they reside within when he isn’t making them into audible art.
For the ad infinitum artists of the world, every day is a rematch with the work and level of connection you produced the day before. As Blake Rose is only just building the versions of himself that we will get to identify later as the highwater marks and emperor lighthouses of his artistic being, there is something precious and loudly time-stamped on the experience of coming into his orbit on the ground floor of his career. He’s already cool in that priceless, unheard of way – like the leather library at LVMH that only a handful of people have ever set foot in, or the sneakers the underground rumor mill insists that Atari is in the process of making. With so much in pop music at present being a wide sargasso of tapioca, A World Gone By releases a kettle of California condors to fly, prism-winged and purposeful, high above all the uncanny visages and dalliances with celebrity witchcraft that pass for bona-fide recording experiences now – and these kinds of wide wingspans travel long, unimagined distances before you can blink twice.
Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Blake Rose doesn’t need a kitschy tuxedo or silver trousers. It is his filigreed compositions and unhindered sincerity that announce both his natural star quality and his stature as an intellectual freighter, not a pleasure craft, long before he enters a room, or even your earbuds. A song like “Casanova” explores things like those junctures of relationships we’ve all tried to perform a Tommy John surgery on, just to see if they’ll bend a bit better or move with less cracking bone. They rarely do of course, and few of us are able to articulate such interior failures as well as Rose does by the end of the first verse here. By the end, you’ll feel you could meet him sight unseen in the dankest Williamsburg cavern of a bar and tell him all about the soil dynamics and weather weirdness of your own romantic recapitulations without a hint of anything but compassionate understanding from him.
Meanwhile, “Rollerblades” is an outdoor song with a Venice Beach vantage point, complete with the most colorfully alfresco video to match – a thing to skate across all of the miserabilism and other scenes of digital desolation in half an instant. Both the song and the video make you feel the way you do whenever you’re in a group of people you genuinely love and something turns the laughter in the room up a few degrees of brightness. The titular A World Gone By then seems to submerge you into an undersea realm of strobe-lit doves. While whole droves of songsmiths in his genre appear to try to make racket sports of relationships, Blake Rose consistently makes even the fragments of them sound like bits of treasure he retrieved from Atlantis.
“Sweet Caledonia” may exemplify this unerring skill of his better than them all. If A World Gone By were trufficulture, “Sweet Caledonia” would be the famed white truffle of Italy, or the elusive black winter truffle of France – a feral find so coveted you don’t even want to play it for fear you’ll use up the magic, or someone will hear and you will be forced to share. Rose sings you purity on this song like he’s selling you contraband. Indeed, what is dicier these days than decency and songs written in the key of dream?
In “Ordinary People,” Rose’s voice morphs into reconstituted sunlight, with all the clinquant melancholy that such a thing would automatically muster, and seems to vacillate freely between the feeling of losing someone you love and loving someone you’ve lost. “Movie” stands out for demonstrating his unique lyrical and artistic refusal to bow to the ritual bloodletting of love, and instead to bloodhound it to a highly poetic standoff.
The intensely moving video accompanying “Movie” depicts all the salvos, hellscapes, and salacious sizzle reels that form the pointillist jigsaw of a plain little love affair like any of us could hope to have, just as the song reinforces that there’s never any such word as “plain” where any real love effloresces. A World Gone By closes before you’ll want it to with dazzling “Hearts a Mess,” a song that seems to be asking aloud, “are there really any pointless pieces of the self?” and sounds like candles melting in reverse.
QRO enjoyed a coffee date and many laughs with Blake-from-Booragoon just before his performance at Variety Playhouse on the Atlanta stop of his whirlwind autumnal outing opening for Noah Kahan. Read on for true-to-life tour tales from both the nicest and the sharpest guy we’ve talked to since rollerblades were popular the first time around.
QRO: The first thing I have to tell you, Blake, is that you have done this rock-solid, no-filler, not-a-single-song-to-skip EP with A World Gone By. Not that I ever expected anything less than fabulousness from you, but you didn’t even write any songs that require a certain mood to listen to.
I want to ask you about the heaviest one, to me, which is “Movie”. It’s both sonically and visually gorgeous, and it teleports the audience in a highly cinematic way. What got you thinking about pushing yourself out of your own boundaries in the way that that song encourages?
Blake Rose: Thanks so much for saying that; it’s really nice to hear! “Movie” kind of came from two worlds, rather than one. I was very much in existential crisis mode and even though I’m 23, I was just thinking about getting older – not necessarily that I am getting older but that I will eventually – and just the thought of how finite life is. I just wanted to put that in a song. Also, I went through this weird situation with a girl where I was falling for her but she was in a relationship, but quite a toxic one. I could very easily tell that but she was not leaving even though there was a lot of cheating going on and stuff like that.
So, it was those two worlds meeting together and being like, well, imagine yourself on your deathbed – is this really what you want to be doing? Is this the person you want to be with?
QRO: I love the dichotomy of your internal question meeting a very external scenario. You also answered my sub-question with that because I wondered if there was a personal connection there because that’s something I get into a lot of debates about in my own friendships with a lot of people, the idea that the comfort zone is your death zone…
BR: One-hundred percent!
QRO: You know, not just in relationships but creatively and in every other kind of way. You have to create challenges for yourself at a certain point if they don’t naturally present themselves because otherwise you’ll never get your best work.
BR: I agree absolutely. So far, in everything, if there’s any little thing that I can play with – like tonight there’s a massive stack of subs which is out in the crowd a bit so I’m going to jump on that! Just fun things that keep it fresh as much as I can. That’s a very scaled down version of what you’re saying.
QRO: There’s no change you can make that would be too small to be significant, really. There’s a lot of empirical data to show that changing even something as small as going from coffee to green tea, some incremental little thing, changes the neural pathways in your brain and thus your creativity.
I was just thinking about getting older – not necessarily that I am getting older but that I will eventually – and just the thought of how finite life is.
Which leads me to ask you about “Casanova” and your signature love song creations that you are so good at doing. There are a few of your songs that I think talk about the altered state that is love and altered states in general. Do you feel like love is the ultimate drug? Do you think it is, as Stevie Nicks sang, “a state of mind?”
BR: I’m young, and I also haven’t been in a proper relationship, so I still haven’t really learned the ins and outs of what love feels like from start to end – though you hope there’s no real end. I definitely feel like I just have to go through the hard knocks and get it all that way, which is great for songwriting! It makes it more ironic and then where I can put my own stories in, that just doubles down, I think.
QRO: Well, you know what I think is very unique about it is that love doesn’t seem to be very fashionable in your generation.
BR: Oh, for sure! As soon as you make it known that you’re interested in someone like that, they’re pretty much out the door.
QRO: I’ve observed that from my Generation X orientation, and that’s why I thought that song was so brave because you were basically addressing this sort of “fast love” culture. And I do feel like you are an old soul – a young man and an old soul! [laughter]
“Casanova” also got my literary attention because you’re taking this very archetypal character and bringing that into the modern world a little bit, which is good. The modern misconception seems to be that coupledom is the dream, whereas really singledom is the dream. People don’t seem to realize that you can’t ever do the couple part the big, beautiful storybook way if you haven’t done the single part just as big and beautiful on your own first. Essentially, a lot of your songs seem to be figuring that out from the other side. Does that resonate with you at all?
BR: It’s weird because I say it in the second verse. All my friends started getting into relationships, and that was weird for me because I’m in a friend group where everyone was mostly single up until about a year and a half ago. Then, everyone just one-by-one started getting into relationships and I was like, “Oh shit. Am I missing out? Am I missing something?” Then you watch TV and it’s all romanticized versions of that. It just gives you massive FOMO and that’s where all of that would stem from.
As soon as you make it known that you’re interested in someone like that, they’re pretty much out the door.
QRO: Yeah, and I think you’re enculturated to believe that you’re supposed to want that in this very topical way as opposed to the way that I hear you writing about it, which is what I would call the Romeo and Juliet way – the real way! – because the only reason that you ever should couple up, I think, is if you’ve collided with this person whom you cannot imagine not being with. You captured a really mature attitude with that.
BR: Thank you! And honestly, there’s another part of that. I’ve found myself trying to force myself to fall for someone, which was a super strange situation for me. My gut, the whole time, was telling me, “This is wack, this isn’t going to end well” – and it didn’t. But still I was so persuaded by that whole cultural perception of love, that I thought I should just try and make it happen while I have the time to through the pandemic, and yeah – didn’t happen!
QRO: Oh my gosh, and just let your mind go to if that had happened – that’s your love story? I don’t want that sad love story!
BR: No way, it’s a close second to meeting someone on a dating app or something like that! [laughter]
QRO: That’s exactly what I was going to say! And you’d have to tell people that story, which is just beyond cringe. Something that is distinctly non-cringe, and gloriously non-digital, your song “Rollerblades!” Now, it should come as no surprise that your ‘80s friend here never once took off her pink, leopard-print regular skates from back in the day and I know you’re Mr. In-Line….
BR: It’s coming back! All of it is coming back…
QRO: I love it, and you’ve done almost a John Hughes thing in this song’s video as well – bliss! You’re also sort of calling out the online pitfalls, it seems to me, and being very much outside in a non-digital realm. Talk to me about your attitude regarding online culture.
BR: I’ve just started feeling recently, over the past couple of years, that months are going like that [snapping fingers]. Years are starting to go like this too. Apart from thinking about just the math of, “You’ve lived a quarter of your life” or whatever, I feel most of my time is going into my phone. I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s just very depressing when you look up one day and six months have gone and you’re like, “What the hell just happened? I can’t remember what I did this past six months.” I mean, I can remember anchor points, but a lot of it is just a blur.
And I honestly feel like it’s because of the phone. It’s almost impossible to put it down in the career that I’m in and the society we’re in just because everyone’s connected like that. You know, it just makes you feel like shit, really.
I thought I should just try and make it happen while I have the time to through the pandemic, and yeah – didn’t happen!
QRO: Well, of course you know you’re talking to the woman who raised double middle fingers to all of that even twenty years ago when it all started. I never have had or would have any social media and it’s just funny to me now, all the people that are running from it, when I ask them why, their reasons will be almost verbatim my own for never joining in the first place all those years ago.
BR: That’s amazing, actually. I admire it. Mine is purely career-based except for messaging and texting with my friends. The thing is, once I post something, I’m in the cycle of addiction and I want to go back and check. How many likes does it have? How many comments does it have? Then there’s the action where you have to reply to those comments, which sucks me back into the loop. I love replying to people and I love communicating with people, it’s just the effect that that has on my everyday life… is it worth it? I don’t know.
At the end of the day, this career is my life so it kind of just goes hand in hand, but, in ten years, am I going to regret the amount of time that I spent on social media versus doing something like The Weeknd vibes – where he was this mysterious character and you barely saw anything of him. There are artists like that. I literally don’t know if you can break through the noise these days without having some sort of presence, so it’s a big risk not doing that.
QRO: Oh, no doubt. However, I think you’re extremely wise to go as slow and steady as you are doing so that you can have longevity in the “click culture” that thinks everything is disposable after an hour. I’ll never forget someone saying, “That song is so old; it came out in 2015.” That’s six years ago… that’s not old at all… [laughter]
BR: For real!
QRO: And you have to remember, in my day, you went and rifled through your parents’ vinyl. That’s how you discovered Led Zeppelin. And then you went, “Ohhhh, Pearl Jam sounds like Led Zeppelin.” You connected your own dots. That’s what isn’t happening anymore because people have lost track of the order of things.
BR: My parents had a massive vinyl collection and got rid of all of it because they just thought it wasn’t useful anymore…
QRO: Oh no, you probably could have retired off of that!
BR: I know! I was just like, “Whyyyyyy!” [laughter] I didn’t get to listen to any of them. I didn’t even get to do that, like flipping through all the vinyls and discovering artists and connecting the dots as you said. The only way I connect dots is that they used to listen to throwback radio a lot. So, I’ve heard all the songs, but I don’t know the artists. I know most of them, but a lot of the time there will be a very popular song that I should know the artist and I do not. Then someone will have to say who it is and I’m like, “Oh, okay, that makes sense now,” versus seeing the artist first, then listening to the music. It’s the reverse!
I literally don’t know if you can break through the noise these days without having some sort of presence, so it’s a big risk not doing that.
QRO: Yes, and that’s definitely generational because way back when, for example if you wanted to know a song you just heard on the radio, you would actually have to call the radio station and be like, “Yeah, I just heard this song that went like this…” [laughter]
BR: That’s so sick – like before Shazam! That was still modern-day radio and whatnot, but I guess people were still doing that then?
QRO: Yep! And I love Shazam, don’t get me wrong, I just used it today. But I also despise it for what it’s sucked out of the musical discovery process that I think brings so much more than the titles of songs into someone’s life. Which, since we’re talking about life-changing vinyl, give me your top five influences ever. Who made you, Blake?
BR: Ooooh… So, when I was younger, my Mom used to play a lot of Elvis in the car. He’s definitely in there. Ed Sheeran came into it. The 1975… so amazing. Also, just what they stand for and the fact that they produce everything. Then, Coldplay is one…
QRO: Oh wow; I’m very tempted to show you a note I made in my phone today because I literally just wrote that you were like When In Rome meets Coldplay!
BR: That’s very cool! Thank you! Coming back to just opening up, I couldn’t imagine playing even the size rooms we’re playing – like 1,000 to 2,500. Having that room filled with people who have come just to see you… that’s crazy! To have an arena? A stadium? That would just be insane for me. I think it would be nothing you could describe to anyone.
QRO: Definitely! But you’re pretty seasoned as a performer already, to be fair, for where you are in your career. When did you realize that you were going to do this for life?
BR: I think I was like 13 or 14. I had been musical all my life; I had been playing the didgeridoo when I was like six years old. [laughter] The most random shit! And I played cello through primary school. It was super fun but I just lost passion for that when I went into high school. I didn’t want to do music back then. When I was about 13, I was looking at a lot of people covering artists online and it just sparked something in my brain that made me want to sing. Watching other people inspired me, which is a weird one, but then I picked up guitar one day just because I went over to a friend’s house.
He had never played guitar and he was playing. I was like, “What’s going on?” He said his dad had started to teach him a couple of chords. So, I was like, “Okay sick, can you teach me a couple of chords?” [laughter] So he did and I went back home and we’ve had a guitar sitting in our living room my whole life but no one’s ever used it. It was my Mom’s 21st birthday present or something. So, I started playing and I was hooked, just playing the same two chords over and over again. I don’t know, it was something about the timbre of the instrument or something – I was obsessed! After that, my family went on a road trip around Australia for three months…
QRO: So mad at you! [laughter]
BR: Yes! It was the best time! To be pulled out of school to go on a road trip? Any day. I brought the guitar with me and a laptop and I would basically just produce in the backseat on GarageBand, and just play and write, and learn songs and stuff like that. From the start of that trip to the end, I grew a very intense passion for it. After that, I got back and I saw Ed Sheeran play and that was kind of it. So much fire was lit and I was like, “This is what I want to do.”
QRO: It’s interesting to me that you mention the cello because I think that may account for some of the lushness in what you still write. I still hear string arrangements in your music.
BR: Yeah, I love strings. It also brings me so much joy and satisfaction when you have three string parts, and they’re all doing their own thing, and then they come together and mesh, it’s so nice.
QRO: I actually think that’s a signature of yours, already. It’s a line I see running through most of what you do that isn’t fully acoustic.
BR: I can still play cello, but it would take me a couple of days to get anywhere near a pleasant listening experience… [laughter]
I started playing and I was hooked, just playing the same two chords over and over again.
QRO: Love it! As for pleasant listening experiences, let the real-life ‘80s chick tell you that there’s quite a lot to be enjoyed in the ‘80s pop vibe of what you do. That was an era of extreme writers in pop music. We’re missing that, I think, but you have that gift. How do these ear candies come to you? Do you get the melody first or the words? What do you walk into the studio with?
BR: It kinda changes, but usually I’ll just jam on a guitar or something and I’ll just sing melodies. I’m not really one to start with lyrics. Usually, I’ll just sing a melody and something will catch me, and then a lyric will phonetically pair with the melody, and then that sort of starts an idea, a sentence or something, and it rolls from there. Other times, I would start with a concept and build it out. I find that melodies will come quicker when I’ve already got a lyric but I just generally don’t start like that. Then, other times I’ll start with production; I’ll have a vibe going and then I’ll get some melodies and lyrics come.
QRO: Do you still do most of it yourself on your laptop?
BR: I have an Apollo Twin as my interface, a mini keyboard, and an SM7. That’s basically my setup on Ableton.
QRO: Great, simple and sweet. Speaking of sweet, for something like “Sweet Caledonia”, how on Earth did you get those vocals? They really are just so very pretty.
BR: Oh thanks! Yeah, when I went back to Australia at the beginning of 2020, I really wanted an upright piano. I was just thinking, “Do I buy one?” and then I remembered that my grandma actually has one in her house. It’s never used; it’s just covered in picture frames basically like just a centerpiece. I asked my Dad if we could go and grab it and just see if she was okay with that. She was happy to give it to us, so my Dad and I went and picked up the upright, brought it back to the house, and I wrote that song on that.
Honestly, I’m a very strong believer that there are songs in instruments. I feel like that song was just in there because if I tried to write it on anything else, I just don’t think it would come. There’s something crazy about that piano when you’re playing it, like very immersed in it, and it just worked. I started with some chords and then it was called something else I can’t remember – something “Winter.” Anyway, the melody at the end was the first thing I came up with but it was a different lyric. I actually wrote most of the song before coming up with that lyric. I might have written an entire verse before I realized what it was about. I trashed the majority of the song in one hear. Then, I sat on it for a while and finished it in L.A. I was like, “I want bagpipes.” [laughter]
QRO: Because I do!
BR: Because I do, yes! That was the main missing piece because I got bagpipes on it and everything else I was able to structure around that and that filled out the rest of the song.
I’m a very strong believer that there are songs in instruments.
QRO: So interesting to me that you believe the instrument informs the song because I very much share this thought with you. Amazingly cool. What about next year, are you planning a full-length? What’s on the horizon? You’ve got pockets full of songs, I know.
BR: I haven’t planned for that yet, though I do have ideas for what that would sound like. There are so many songs that are half finished. I’m kind of like that where I will just start an idea and sit on it for a while to make sure I like it. I’m not one to just finish a song for the sake of it. There are many songs in the bag, there are a lot of half-done songs, and I haven’t really found an anchor point yet for what the project would look like. I have ideas for stuff I haven’t even started because they’re like concept EPs and stuff like that, so there’s a lot of possibilities right now, but I do have a lineup of singles that will come next year and then we’ll see where it goes from there.
QRO: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far – that you can tell me about? [laughter]
BR: Oh, the shows are hands down the best part, as you’d expect. But it’s also been really good just getting to know Evan, my tour manager, and Levi and Chris, the band. We have good times. It’s a whole new experience from top to bottom for me, so everything is new and fresh and exciting right now. I’m just enjoying everything! It has solidified for me that this is the lifestyle that I want. I feel more at home on the road than I have for the past year and a half.
QRO: As an absolute highway nomad myself, I totally get that in every way. Well, this has been such a great time chatting with you, you’re an absolute delight, and I’m so thankful to you for taking the time to fill us in on all this goodness. I’ll see you at the show tonight, and definitely down the rock-n-roll highway!
BR: I’m so glad you’re coming to the show and I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for doing this; this was really fun talking to you and I’m just really grateful for your interest and all of your kind words.
QRO: You deserve Coldplay-level success, Blake, and I’m hereby wishing that for you, though I don’t think you will require the luck as you’ve already got the talent and the drive. We’ll do this again soon for sure – stay rad and rare until then!
Blake Rose has more touring planned for expanded U.S. dates in the spring of 2022. Stay tuned to his website or socials for current updates.
-studio photos by Brent Campanelli and Pooneh Ghana