Traveling Troubadour

“I’m very driven to write songs and perform them for people.” With that simple statement you’ll learn everything you need to know about Robert Sarazin Blake, a veteran of the Bellingham music scene. Blake loves making music and loves performing, no matter if it’s a packed crowd in his hometown or a small club on the east coast. He’ll play anywhere (and probably has), and even after two decades of various albums, heart wrenching songs and interesting encounters, Blake continues to work feverishly. His dedication has seemingly paid off as he has recorded one of his finest gems to date with his new self-titled album Robt Sarazin Blake.
“It’s a story telling record all about the lyrics,” said Blake as we lounged in the backyard of his Bellingham abode on a rare warm and sunny day. “I recorded the record in Brooklyn, NY, and it really helped build inspiration while working on the album. I’d be walking to the studio and all of these memories would rush back. I’d go right in studio and record, real time in the moment.”
The album features new songs as well as some older tunes, offering various themes throughout.
“A batch of tunes came together and I’m really excited about the album as a whole as it has various reoccurring themes — parenting, war and travel — throughout,” Blake said. “The album takes on a narrative of its own and some old songs and new songs created a whole that is better than its parts. I love the bigger story an album tells and I was happily surprised to see the themes reoccurring throughout this record.”
All of the songs were written by Blake, except for the last track, “Butte, MT,” which was written by his father, Peter Blake.
“I always liked the song and it’s a great story about traveling,” he said. “It helped bookend the album with opening and closing travelogue songs.”
The final track is 13 minutes of improvised creativity, but that isn’t anything new to Blake.
“It’s a lengthy improvised ramble, but it works well because improvisation is a big part of my show,” he said. “I love incorporating my live show into an album.”
As you’re reading this, Blake is currently at an undisclosed location, working on new material. He can create in the moment, but enjoys the peace and quiet his writing process offers.
“I do my best work when I create a space. I’ll eat dinner, drink a cup of coffee and turn the phone off for a few hours,” he said. “Sometimes something happens, sometimes something doesn’t, but I’ve discovered it works best when you create a space and get your thoughts organized.”
Looking back on past albums, Blake enjoys the memories he has from specific points in time.
“Each album is like a snapshot of that moment, evoking memories,” he said.
One of his fondest memories came recently when he got to share the stage with an icon in the folk music scene — Pete Seeger. The chance encounter came when Blake was playing at The Hoot, an east coast festival put on by some of his friends. The headliners of the festival were Natalie Merchant and Pete Seeger. Blake had nothing but good things to say about Merchant, but his face lit up when he began talking about Seeger.
“Pete asked some of the musicians from the festival to come up on stage and sing “This Land Is Your Land” together. I couldn’t believe it was happening and if I knew I was going to be sharing the stage with him, I would have put on a collared shirt,” Blake laughed. “He is a big influence on me and a major thread in the fabric of American folk music. The breath of experience he’s had and the influence he’s had on myself can not be understated.”
It was a moment Blake will never forget.
“It might have crossed my mind we’d join him on stage, as it’s a common occurrence at a folk festival, but it totally blindsided me,” Blake said. “To be standing four feet from such an important person in my life was amazing and I’m still not over the excitement.”
The excitement from sharing the stage with an icon will carry through during Blake’s upcoming schedule. He’ll head out on the road in November and December, touring the northwest for the new record. He’s already working on other projects, as well as wrapping up the books on another successful Subdued Stringband Jamboree, an event he created 13 years ago, which he has seen grow into an annual celebration.
“I wanted to create a space where all of the musicians in Bellingham and around could come together and hangout and then invite the town to see up perform,” Blake said. “A lot of people love music, but don’t engage in live music, so we needed a way to get people out to live shows. I think we succeeded in that way as the event has grown every year and people look forward to it every summer.”
Working on a new album and running a successful summer festival would normally tire a normal person out, but Blake has plenty of creativity to spare, which is why he’s also working on a songs for new album with his band — Put it all Down in a Letter. The band, which includes Blake, Thomas Deakin, David Lofgren and Aaron Harmonson, has been collaborating for a while and Blake can’t wait to get back into the studio with the band this winter.
“The next album is going to be a total rocker,” Blake said. “I love working with musicians who can take my songs and create something new. I love playing solo, but it’s always nice to have a little muscle behind you to help fill the space in the room. I love letting go of the reigns and allowing Thomas to run with it for a while and I look forward to that for many years.”
But for now, you’ll find Blake and his guitar as he hosts an album release party at The Green Frog on Thursday, Oct 24, with Meghan Yates (Reverie Machine).
With so many projects in the works and songs continually spilling out of him, it doesn’t look like Blake will be slowing down anytime soon.
“I have been playing music for 20 years,” he said. “I’ve always known playing music is what I want to do. And after doing it for so long, it’s hard to do something different now because it’s all I’ve ever known.”
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