London-based singer-songwriter Art Block has, in the space of a few years, released an impressive trove of tunes that run the gamut from bare and minimal to lush and cinematic. Marked by a hypnotic blend of acoustic guitars and electronic instruments, his 2020 EP, The Basement was curated by the sound archives of the British Library and featured on Amazing Radio, international podcasts and music blogs. More recently, Block’s White Horses EP appeared in two editions – one with vocals and one as a purely instrumental that highlights his intricate and moving orchestrations. Curious to learn more about the artist, I reached out with a few questions…
You have an excellent voice! How did you learn to sing?
Thank you! That’s very kind. It was a rather long process, starting from not having a clue how to record my voice properly to having lessons with a French singer, Eve, based in London but now in LA. I just let it all out, errors and all. Gradually I improved although I believe that it’s more interesting to be technically imperfect.
Along similar lines, who are some of your influences in terms of your vocal style?
Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley have been long term inspirations. But maybe there’s a bit of Tom Petty in there somewhere too. I quite like female singers like Sharon van Etten and PJ Harvey too. I guess I should mention Richard Ashcroft too.
I’m also curious about your name. “Art Block” is the perfect name for anyone engaged in creative pursuits. Is it your given name, or is it a stage name? Or is that something you’d rather leave up to your listeners’ imagination?
It’s a stage name which is pretty convenient as people like to call me Art!
You’ve recorded – and released – a lot of music over the past few years. Am I correct that your first offering appeared in 2015? And how many songs have you released since then?
Gosh, I’ve lost count but I think I had over 50 songs released! I’m planning to compile some of them in my debut album in 2023.
Do you see your music evolving over time? If so, how?
Yes, I’ve been lucky to have worked with some amazing musicians and producers. Ian Barter, Amy Winehouse’s former guitarist, really helped with developing my sound adding some retro electronic elements. Another producer, Jay Chakravorty, also incorporated some interesting cinematic type arrangements and I worked with Shuta Shinoda a top rate mixing engineer, originally from Tokyo, who has had Mercury Prize winners. Recently I’ve been co-producing stuff myself with a lot of help from William Robertson who I recorded my acoustic sessions album with in one day at Hackney Road studios! Using synths and mixing with more organic sounds has been quite cool. I had the opportunity on my latest EP to use a Moog One synth which is a very powerful and inspiring instrument.
You cover a lot of territory in your music. As I mentioned in my intro above, there’s some spare acoustic music, but there’s also the lush feel of White Horses. Somewhere in between, I suppose, you manage to sprinkle in some electronic and rock elements as well. What accounts for this variety?
I’ve sort of covered this in my answer above. I enjoy intermingling electronic and more organic elements. My aim is to create music I would like to listen to and rock is very much an influence. But I also have diverse music tastes, so Wu-Tang Clan, Kraftwerk, Sharon Van Etten, Beethoven, Depeche Mode are all in there!
Does the degree of stylistic variety in your music make it difficult to market? I’m thinking about those annoying little boxes artists need to check when they submit their songs to streaming services and music review sites. How do you describe your music, and do you ever think about genre?
That’s a great question. With “The Basement” I wanted to experiment with a more electronic sound and then interspersed it with folkier elements. I definitely found there was a wider audience once you enter the electronic music sphere. Alt-folk is a very narrow and specific genre and definitely harder to market. Then again, some people say I’m “pop” so I never know quite where I stand! I’d like to think of my stuff as in the classic indie alt-rock acoustic tradition ultimately. I think that’s how a promoter once described my live music!
You’ve worked with a wide range of musicians, producers, and engineers. What is your musical network like? How do you meet the kinds of people you work with?
Another brilliant question! I often research the producers who have worked on songs I really like. When I first contacted Ian Barter, it took a year until I had written the songs to work with him and then we did two Eps in a row! I literally just emailed him and then we chatted for a long time about music and it seemed we were on the same page. It’s important to work with producers who are encouraging and allow artists to breathe – Ian has worked with some very big names in music but he is an absolute joy to work with and treats unsigned artists in the same way as those who are signed to major labels. With Jay, again I admired his own music so I just contacted him and he was interested in working with me.
Specifically, folk guitarist Ben Walker produced your EP Borderline. What did he bring to the process?
Ben is an amazing musician to work with. I literally just recorded the acoustic guitar parts and vocals in his house in North London and he did all the rest! I was thinking about reconnecting with him at some stage. In fact, he did some guitar work on Seagulls – we didn’t use it all but there are some subtle segue elements we incorporated.
More recently, you released two version of your White Horses EP. What was behind that decision?
As you say, I like to show off the work that goes behind creating the instrumentation for the songs which I really enjoy. Raphael Bouchara’s drum work for example is superb as is Sandra Brus’s violin parts and some of William Robertson’s intricate acoustic guitar parts. I’d also love to have my music synch licensed one day – although all musicians dream of that!
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a couple of more songs to complete my first album in 2023! I’m hoping it will be a fair reflection of my efforts over the years where people can chill over a longer piece of work.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!
Thank you for the interview!