STEP into a rude-scented cave of…
crepuscular sex, mystical smoke and beguiling mysticism…and meet Bleek Noir. He might be sitting sprawled by a laptop with an empty bottle of Viagra for all I know – I like to think of the fine artist as the ever-alluring musician as this intriguing and fictional figure of fascination (sitting on his sofa watching Pointless as he smokes a bedraggled, defeated cigarette!). Regardless of his current position – and consciousness!– I have been speaking with the Leeds-based warrior about his upcoming single, Lips Left Hissing. The single is out on Friday – its wonderful video is available to viewing eyes, now. I am premiering it on my site and offering its first outing!
Bleek Noir speaks about his E.P., The Garden de Sade (out on 2nd March), and the themes that go into it; which musicians have hit his heart the hardest; what we can expect in terms of future gigs; why there have been some definite ups and downs the past year – and why this year promises to be a very special one!
Hi, Bleek Noir. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m alive, Sam (I’m smiling). I hope you’re well, sir - thanks for doing this. This week, I received the mastered record and I’m rather pleased with the results. When one project ends, it’s a freeing feeling; doubled with a strong desire to begin writing and to see where I go to next…
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Bleek Noir is just me; some old drum machines and a Moog. I’ve always written rather lyrical songs - and the music has always had something dark and melancholic about it. I think of Bleek Noir as attentive music - in that it’s dark and distinctive, yet accessible.
Can you tell me how ‘Bleek Noir’ was born? Was there a moment where you needed to transform from ‘Christopher Fox’ to this beguiling and enticing figure?
I like those words…
Pre-Bleek Noir, I was recording and touring the country under the name 'Kindest of Thieves' - which was, previously, a guitar-drums duo just before the Royal Blood explosion. We were sniffed around by a few labels; deals were waved in front of us and it all quickly fell apart…permanently removing ‘something’ from inside me. There was a solo period of Kindest of Thieves before the birth of Bleek Noir where I explored my love of (the) 1920s and 1930s Jazz - and writing music inspired by that sound.
This carnation earned me a living and enabled me to meet many of the members of my Bleek Noir audience at an earlier time - whom I thank for so many reasons. Suddenly, I experienced a six-month viral infection; which meant I wasn’t able to sing - and it robbed me of any energy. I won’t bore you with details, but it was a horrible time for a huge host of reasons, made worse by other factors…which I’ve removed from this history. The inability to perform and work left me feeling hollow: I honestly had no idea who I was.
The first Bleek Noir E.P., Fresh Born Animal & I’m Not Sure Who I Am, was my first time trying to write music outside of the 1920s and 1930s styles of music in a number of years. When I’d finished, I couldn’t go back. I folded Kindest of Thieves which, of course, wasn’t easy…and here we are, way down the road in so little time…
Tell me about the new single, Lips Left Hissing. What is the story behind that one?
The lead guitar riff is my tribute to Rowland S. Howard in some way, I think.
(It’d be somewhat embarrassing if people heard this now and thought: “…really?!”)
Lyrically; it’s about holding a memory very close to you, unnaturally close to you - sometimes you hold many. You hold them to reassure yourself that those things happened and you’re capable of those things again. Well; the few I was holding faded, literally, and made fuzzy as though the memory has been processed - so I can no longer make out detail or time frames.
There’s a number of natural reasons for this - but that’s what the song is about: “Oh, fu*k me dead/It all fell out my head/You have joined the gaps in time/that slipped the bars that caged the mind blind/I clung to everything/but nothing clung to me”.
The video sees a female dancer, in black-and-white, dancing in a pub room. Was there a reason for that particular concept? What does the concept symbolise, in relation to the song’s messages?
That’s Smokestack in Leeds: a fine speakeasy bar and venue. The dancer is Annie Keating, a dear friend of mine (and a professional dancer/teacher). There was no grand concept; only that I knew I couldn’t convey the sentiment of the lyrics in a video. (I know my limits.) I was pleased with the Last Night I Saw Myself with the Animals Video as low-production/snuff-film-esque as it is...but I needed backup here. I wanted to keep the low light, shaky; handheld, cut-up feel…but I wanted something dramatic, powerful and beautiful happening to accompany such a complex lyrical concept. I think Annie really does that.
I wish I could give some really big elaborate and artistic response, but that’s honestly it. That, and I can’t stand three days of editing my own face: it’s enough to make me shudder for all eternity.
It is from the E.P., The Garden de Sade. What sort of themes and ideas go into the E.P.?
De Sade; The Marquis de Sade (sadism). The Garden; the world, a sadistic world...pretentious, eh?
Themes? That’s a really good question...
Do You What I Mean? is about struggling to connect and relate - and the surprise when you do. (Lips Left Hissing, we’ve covered already). Can’t Have Her (is about) an internal conversation: me and my black dog. Ten Kinds of Love I think, in all honesty; this is a Goth-y ‘maybe’ love song. From the Bell Jar: the bell jar is England the unemployed are becoming the homeless; the post-Brexit culture is here and I don’t like it. It’s quite a misanthropic song, I guess. Last Night I Saw Myself with the Animals, which is very important to me, I’m quite proud of it.
It’s about total disconnection, confusion (hence, why it lyrically darts around); a need to feel things, depression and trying to maintain a relationship at the same time. Pleased to say LNISMWTA was written accessing older, blurrier and darker pasts.
How do you think your current work differs from your first offerings as Bleek Noir?
I think the production is much better this time - though it’s still pretty lo-fi.
It’s darker; a little more challenging, musically; a lot more lyrical; a hundred-times more dramatic and as honest as I can possibly be. I think I’m showing a fleshed, full-formed and boundary-less Bleek Noir.
Your music reminds me of dark and theatrical artists like Nick Cave. How important is he to you?
That’s flattering, thank you. Nick is very important. His music and writing changed everything for me - from The Birthday Party through to Skeleton Tree…it’s all incredible. Equally important, though, are Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen; Morrissey, Billie Holiday; Echo & the Bunnymen…
I think, over years of adoring an artist’s work and consuming everything they’ve ever made over and over again; something about their work or sound becomes engrained in you. It’s all happening behind the skull, of its own accord. I think my years of listening and playing 1920s and 1930s Jazz - and in that style - a lot of that is under my fingers and in my voice.
I want those lulling melodies vocally and in the music - via those beautiful and interesting chord voicings.
Which artists did you grow up listening to? Did your parents instil music in you from a young age?
My first gig was Black Sabbath was I when thirteen - the original line-up at Download Festival. I begged my parents to take me to Donington. I think, at that point, my dad realised I wasn’t gonna be playing rugby, ever - and both my parents have been really supportive of me making music since I was twelve. Morrissey, when he released You Are the Quarry, was introduced at home; then, so was his earlier solo work…then, The Smiths. During this time, we’d buy tickets for multiple tour dates around the country and go and see him play everywhere from little theatres to festivals. Later; I started going alone. The Low in High School tour will be my seventeenth time: it’s a very personal thing to me now; the music was there through everything.
Echo & the Bunnymen was always my dad’s band: he went to see them religiously everywhere when he was younger; so that band, and especially those first four albums, are very much in me now. I love that band - and Will Sergeant, their guitarist, is not only one of life’s nice people but he’s a criminally-underrated guitarist.
You are based out of Leeds. What is Leeds, and Yorkshire, like for new music? Is it somewhere you can find opportunities and like-minded souls?
I’m originally from Warrington - so I tend to like anywhere outside of there. Seriously, though, I love Leeds. It’s been home for two years nearly and I have no intention of being anywhere else. Leeds and Yorkshire’s Roots and Jazz music scenes are exceptional. That was my calling here. I was welcomed by many of the musicians and promoters surrounding those styles and, in areas like Sheffield; I found I’d built a real audience of people I genuinely really admire and like as human beings.
Many of them still follow my releases as Bleek Noir - and I’m really thankful.
IN THIS PHOTO: ist ist
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
There’s a band called ist ist. They’re the best thing to happen to new music in ages: dark, catchy and brilliant. Naked (On Drugs) are also fantastic and more experimental...I also think (Nick) Cave fans will enjoy N.O.D.
They’re both Manchester bands.
IN THIS PHOTO: A promotional image from Naked (On Drug)'s Facebook page
If you had to choose the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Three? That’s not possible.
Billie Holiday - Lady in Satin
Because it’s the most beautiful album ever made - i’m certain of it. Despite her health and issues with drugs her voice, to me, during this session, is like a weathered instrument. Perfect.
The Smiths - The Smiths
Because I needed that album.
Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate
Because it’s lyrically-perfect and so beautifully melancholic that it’s hardly believable...
Tom Waits - Franks Wild Years/Rain Dogs
Tom waits at his height of genius and, of course, Marc Ribot: one of the world’s finest guitarists.
Echo & the Bunnymen - Heaven Up Here
I can’t hear this album enough - and I’ve listened to it thousands and thousands of times. One of Britain’s finest bands (and Liverpool’s finest exports).
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
I’ve been offered gigs and festivals across the country and Europe as Bleek Noir - and I’m keen to begin accepting these offers and bringing Bleek Noir to the stage. So far; Bleek Noir has been a recording project: when it goes live, it’s going be different to the record…
It seems like a live show would be a different experience to a Bleek Noir recording! Do you work with other musicians when on stage? What differences are there between your studio work and your live gigs?
Due to my history playing in a duo; I like creating big, wide (but clear) guitar sounds and I have a sampler to trigger the drum machines for the stage. I don’t want to have a backing-track situation; so I think, live, Bleek Noir will be drum machines, guitar and vocals. The arrangements will be more about ‘the song’. However I look at it; to have an honest and energetic live set-up, I’ll have to sacrifice some of the overdubs on the recorded versions.
But, raw and exciting live shows are where I’ve always lived.
What has been your most treasured memory from your career so far?
Playing with a horn section for the final Kindest of Thieves record (my previous carnation). It was recorded at Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds onto tape by James O’Connor.
A really special experience.
How do you spend time away from music? Any hobbies or favourite ways to chill?
If I’m not writing, recording; mixing or producing content, I’m with a friend over dinner or in a bar (though, I rarely drink) or at my place. Otherwise; I’m rather addicted to documentaries and reading certain writers – (Milan) Kundera, (Charles) Bukowski; (Leonard) Cohen, (Haruki) Murakami etc.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
This never stops really ‘getting’ me...
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