[MUSIC: Interview] Bertie Blackman
Working her way up the grassroots ranks as a singer-songwriter in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Bertie Blackman had to earn her stripes, and has changed her sound more than once; her folk-inspired debut Headway feels unfathomably acoustic when played next to her latest release, Pope Innocent X (P.I.X.). Blackman’s 2009 album, Secrets And Lies, won her an ARIA for Best Independent Release, but its follow-up has seen the songbird evolve her approach to writing and production even further, far outstripping the straightforward processes of the past. Spiky pop, pointed storytelling, and light and shade all merge harmoniously on P.I.X., an album that speaks of the harsh realities of life, while taking the audience into an otherworldly place, space, and time.
“This record is essentially just childhood stories of mine,” Blackman says, a bundle of charm and sincerity when we speak. “Some stories come from places of complete truth and some come from places of imagination, but they are certainly all parts of me.” Lead single ‘Mercy Killer’ is described as a “playful confession”, in which Blackman admits she once deleted a text from someone else’s phone, and describes it as the most regrettable action of her life. Surely, I suggest, she’s done worse than simply deleting a text? The question is met with a slightly diabolical chuckle. “Well, I’ve stolen heaps of stuff – but as far as writing a song about stealing stuff, I dunno…” she ponders. “I liked exploring the idea that I destroyed a little part of someone’s life. I interfered with someone’s life and never told them about it, and that’s not just about simply deleting a text. It says more about me as a person at the time and the issues I was dealing with.”
That sort of honesty in art can be a dangerous thing; loved ones can teeter between wanting desperately to be a part of an artist’s work, while at the same time examining each song for signs of betrayal. “My family are definitely used to it,” Blackman says. “They don’t take any of it personally. Songs are always about more than one person, too. There are parts of people’s stories that you can take for your own and make into a song. With a song and a story you can’t flower things, in case someone’s feelings are going to be hurt.”
While the album was recorded in Melbourne with producer François ‘Franc’ Tétaz (Gotye, Architecture In Helsinki, Sally Seltmann), the sketches and skeletons of each track were created in Chicago, where Blackman had escaped to for a stretch. “A really good friend of mine lived in Chicago and she was like, ‘Come and stay, I’ve got a spare room,’ so I did,” she explains. “I really wanted to get out of Australia and stop listening to the radio and stop having people hassling me about what the next record was gonna be. Also, this record being the first record under a record label [released through Universal] created a different type of expectation, and a new world. I’m used to being independent and answering mostly to myself.”
One of the artsier members on the major label’s roster, Blackman has enjoyed playing within the world of the major machinery, and is determined to continue creating relationships and connections rather than simply becoming yet another product. “I guess I’m more unpredictable than the other artists – that comes from speaking to [the label], not from me thinking that. I don’t want people to think that I put myself on some sort of pedestal,” she clarifies. “I do like to rile people up a little bit, though – especially working with new people. I have a Navajo statue that I bought in Wisconsin that has crazy black hair and is missing a leg and has these crazy wooden eyes. I kept sending a photo of that creature to Peter Karpin, the head of Mercury, like every week, to hassle him about finding a producer: ‘This guy’s coming to get you!’ That’s just my personality. It’s [about] giving yourself out so people get to know you. I don’t like to make it all business; I like to share parts of myself and not just go in there going, ‘When is this happening? Why aren’t you doing this for me? Ra, ra, ra!’ You have to build relationships with everyone you’re working with, like one big family. You’re all working towards the same thing.”
Blackman has appreciated the label process so far, but the reality is that she’s done it before on her own, and she’s not afraid of the idea of having to do it that way again. Even on a major label, she is still the true definition of independent. “I have existed without them before. I’m not scared of them, I’m not trying to prove anything – [but] after years of doing that, I’m confident in the art that I make.”
What: Pope Innocent X (P.I.X.) is out now on Mercury, through Universal
With: The Flaming Lips, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Best Coast, Beach House, Maxïmo Park, The Hives and loads more
Where: Falls Festival in Lorne, Victoria (December 28-January 1, sold out) and in Marion Bay, Tasmania (December 29-January 1)
Posted: October 16th, 2012 under Brag 484, Live Reviews, Music, New.
Tags: Beach House, Bertie Blackman, Best Coast, Falls Festival, Krissi Weiss, Marion Bay, Maximo Park, Mercury, Pope Innocent X (P.I.X.), The Flaming Lips, The Hives, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Universal