Home Interviews Blake Dantier dishes on the direction of country music & his unique writing style

Blake Dantier dishes on the direction of country music & his unique writing style

by Mallory Arbour
Blake Dantier

Blake Dantier has done it again with his new single I’d Do It Again. It comes in the wake of his single Ash & Dust, which spent nine weeks in the Australian country music airplay charts, and two weeks in the Country Track’s Chart. A fitting reward for an artist who was recently awarded the Country Rock Song of the Year at the Tamworth Songwriters Salute Awards. Blending his love of 90s country with today’s alternative sounds and infectious melodies, he fosters a style of country music uniquely his own.

You and your fiancé, fellow country music artist Cass Hopetoun, perform together as a wedding duo. Is it easy to separate yourself from playing your original music to then performing covers? As in, do you need to mentally prepare to go from covers mode to originals mode?

I feel like it’s easy to go between them. There’s definitely a separation because a lot of the covers that we play I’ll even change my singing style to be totally different. If I’m singing a Bee Gees song, it kind of doesn’t work in a country accent. I enjoy all kinds of music [and] we do lots of covers that aren’t even close to country music. I enjoy doing those, but original music, that’s the stuff I want to put out.

Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic or completely naïve when it comes to performing music, but is there something romantic about singing love songs to and with your real-life partner?

Yes. I think so. There’s definitely something romantic about doing those duets together. We really play up the angle that we’re a boy and a girl wedding duo. I don’t notice as much because that’s just my normal, but when we’re playing at weddings people tell us how much they enjoy watching the two of us perform and that the chemistry just seems real. Because it is. I hope Cass thinks it is too [laughs].

Your latest single I’d Do It Again is a whimsical take on young love and heartache about growing up, falling in love and making mistakes. However, you’ve said that writing of the song was quite different to your usual process. What was different about how the song was written?

Normally I have an idea about what I’m writing, like a title or at least a general idea, but this one came out and then I looked at it like, what is it even about? When I wrote it, I sat down with a guitar and sung whatever came to my head, so I didn’t know what I was singing about. And then, I’m looking back at the page and it made sense, which that’s not normally how I’d write a song at all. I think I just got lucky. I was really into the melody, the way it worked over those chords, and I liked the feel of the song.

Many artists say they need to be in a certain zone to be creative, like how filmmaker Kevin Smith says he gets high to write screenplays. Common reasons I’ve heard for country songwriters are needing to feel inspired, experiencing heartache, not being on tour, and more recently, being forced into isolation during the pandemic. Do you need to be in a certain mindset to write?

Well, I had smoked some weed before writing this song. You nailed it! I was probably high [laughs].

Wow. I can’t believe I unintentionally called that! Honestly, that hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was making a complete joke ha-ha. Do you normally get high to write your songs?

I dunno. Maybe it’s like 50/50. It’s an interesting place to be in for creative ideas and thinking outside the box. But I’ll often come back and look at them later and be like, “Wow, that’s trash! That doesn’t make any sense at all. Or it’s good but it needs a lot of refinement.” So, I’ll come back with a clearer head and rewrite. It’s good to get ideas out in that space – it’s a skill [laughs].

I read a quote from you where you said that ‘country is about charming simplicity.’ Do you believe that country songs can’t be complicated?

What is best about them is that people can join in on it. They mostly only have three chords and I like that you don’t have to know your instrument very well to start getting into country songs. A lot of them have got simple melodies and are easy to sing along to. They can definitely be complicated, but I feel there’s certain traits of style and once you start going too far down one path, it’s like, is it really country music anymore? It’s gone so far now into this other territory where there’s electronic drums and synths. It started, they would [add that sound] but still a banjo and mandolin – but now that’s even gone. It’s like full-blown pop, but we’re still calling it country?!

But one good thing to come out of country going super pop is that it’s becoming a lot more mainstream, which is good, because that’s how I got into country music. I got in through like Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Shania Twain – all country pop artists. From there, it opened up the world for me. I dug deeper and found I really liked the more old school stuff like Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, but I wouldn’t have got there if I hadn’t gone through the pop stuff first. So, it opens the door for new listeners, which I think is great, I would like it if we called it country pop instead of just calling it country.

I think people are stuck with this idea that country is hillbilly [but] it has evolved quite a lot, not even just in recent years, but 20-30 years ago. It’s had waves where it’s gone back to its roots, then it’s come back to pop and then it’s back to those roots again. This country pop is in no way like that hillbilly country they’re thinking of, so that’s great that that’s breaking the stigma, but it probably should have been broken a while ago.

How has starting out listening to that more mainstream country pop and then moving into a more traditional style of country helped you to evolve as an artist?

I used to write music that was pop [but] I’ve taken in a lot of new influences along the way [and] decided who I want to be in country music. It’s been a long journey to make up my mind about that. I’ve been a little bit in cocoon mode the last couple of years up until releasing Ash & Dust earlier this year. I was transitioning from being that pop country to a more authentic style of country that I’m more into now.

I’ve probably evolved a lot in terms of that sound [and] song writing. I’ve been trying to work on that and my guitar playing – that’s something I put a lot of focus into. I got really inspired by the crazy guitar players of country music like Albert Lee, Brent Mason and Johnny Hiland. People like Brad Paisley, Vince Gill and Keith Urban, they write their songs, play the guitar on the songs and they sing the songs, and to me, that’s cool. I’m inspired by that and that’s what I want to do. I push myself to work hard on all three of those things so I can be like them.

I heard too that the pandemic was one of your main motivators for releasing new music. Do you think you would not have released it if not instructed to stay at home and self-isolate?

I still would have but I haven’t gone as full on with artist stuff before as I have this year. It’s a great time to release music – people are gonna be at home with nothing to do – it’s just not great on the bank account. I would not be satisfied if I didn’t release it [and] totally, I’d do it again. It’s been interesting I haven’t had to work my other wedding job at the same time. We have our first wedding back [this September], so I’m gonna pick up an extra workload. I’ve had it easy for the last few months just doing the one job.

How do you think that evolution of sound and song writing you were talking about before is reflected in the LP you’re currently working on? Is there similar theme of sound or story?

I was what would be the thing that groups these songs together because a lot of them, the song writing is all over the place and just go from one topic to another one. They’re not all necessarily about me. Obviously, they’ve all got some me in there because I wrote them, but that varies from song to song. So, it means there’s no overarching theme that the character in the song is going through, but there’s musical themes. I’ve insisting on putting pedal steel into everything and having fiddle in almost everything. And then, I’m an electric guitar player, [so] electric guitar is a big feature. I’ve tried to create the feel that it’s the same band throughout the whole album, which it is, it’s the musical soundscape and you get the same sonic quality from each song. That’s the only thing that really ties it all together.

We actually just finished tracking the second lot of songs. When we tracked I’d Do It Again and Ash & Dust, we also did three other songs. Then we went back a couple of weeks ago with the same guys in the studio and recorded another five songs, so it’s intended to be a 10 or 11 track album. We had a lot of fun doing the last two weeks because the first one, I did all the singles that I wanted to release, and then this time we were just doing the album tracks. And so, some of them got a little wackier or a little more risky in how country they got, because I wasn’t intending to put them out as singles so they can be a bit longer, they’ve got bigger solos, they’re less mainstream appealing. Seeing as I liked them so much maybe I’ll put them out as a single, but it’s a risk, less people are probably inclined to like them.

You’ve been writing songs since you learned to write. That in itself is a log of how you’ve evolved as an artist as well. Have you kept a collection of old songs and ideas you’ve penned?

Yeah, I also, when I started writing songs, I became interested in recording songs as well, so I have a lot of recordings of stupid songs. One of my first ones, it’s the stupidest song, called There’s A Fat Guy in My House [and] I have a full-on drums, bass, guitars recording of that song. I guess I had nothing better to do with my time when I was like 13-14 years old, and that’s when I started deciding to purposefully write songs rather than just writing whatever. And, of course There’s A Fat Guy in My House is probably not gonna be a big hit but everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

I’ve got a huge back log of these songs that I can look back and laugh at. I’ve been in a lot of bands with school friends over the years. And before the time of iPads, we used folders with pieces of paper that had the lyrics on them. Every now and then I’ll be cleaning out something and I’ll find a folder that’s filled with old songs I used to sing with a band. Some of them are original and I’ll just read through it and be like, “What is this? Did I write this?” It’s just so weird to find stuff like that sometimes.

You wrote and recorded Ash & Dust, before then rewriting and recording it. Has there been any other songs where you’ve done the same?

That was a good lesson for me because I rewrote the lyrics a bunch of times. I was reading this book about lyric writing. It talked about rewriting and I didn’t really do much of that up until then. I was like, I’ll practice some rewriting, like this book wants me to do, and I thought I already have some songs [so] I’ll rewrite them for some good practice. I knew when I got Ash & Dust, I was like, I shouldn’t be doing this because I’ve already recorded this song. It’s a bad idea, but here’s a song I can practice on. So, I rewrote it and then I was like – this is exactly what I thought would happen – this rewritten song is better than the other one, so then I was like, well now I have to record it.

I think the only reason things get finished is because of deadlines and, if you don’t set those, you could probably keep rewriting for days and days coming out with new ideas, and maybe it would be better. But I try to keep myself in check with that, because I’d have to consider, is it better or is it just different? Because sometimes it’s not actually better; it’s just a different way of looking at it. It’s hard if you’ve been singing a song a certain way for so many months, and then you decide to change it. Sometimes I do accidentally get caught between two versions of a song if I’ve changed it recently. And I’m trying to remember some the words. [The song then] doesn’t make sense, if you’re really listening [laughs].

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