WRITTEN BY JOSH RAY – JUNE 2015
You’ll always be treading on uncertain ground if you start putting out bootleg edits and remixes. Regardless of whether or not you’ve added to the track or opened it up to an entirely new audience, the record label suits hold onto the copyrights like sacred artefacts, ready to throw their weight around if anyone dares defy their sanctity.
Having established a name for himself in LA with an ethereal synth driven sound, Blake Robin decided to start putting out a series of edits he’d been working on from stems and multitracks under his Luxxury pseudonym. The twelve part series put Blake in the world’s spotlight and his Hotel California edit blew up overnight, with Greg Wilson even using it to open his mammoth eight-hour Berghain set.
Luxxury’s edit of The Eagles’ tasteless classic may have taken his popularity to new heights but it was also to serve him a major setback. After a Wall Street Journal article started circulating it wasn’t long before Don Henley and Warner came after him, drowning him in a sea of legal bureaucracy and obliterating his online presence in one fell swoop.
Arriving at the perfect time, Luxxury’s new manager Matt Adell steered the tricky situation to an amicable end and over time helped Blake rebuild. With a new album in sights, a remix coming out on Greg Wilson’s Super Weird Substance and an Autumn UK tour on the horizon, it looks as though things are back on track for the re-edit ‘Baron’.
Seeing as he’s coming over to the UK for a one-off date at Liverpool’s Constellations on Friday 15th May we thought we’d catch up with him:
YOU MADE A NAME FOR YOURSELF LAST YEAR BY SEEKING OUT THE CHEESIEST, LEAST CLUB-FRIENDLY POP HITS AND TRANSFORMING THEM INTO HAZY, SLO-MO, DANCEFLOOR ELEGANCE. CONSIDERING THE LEGAL SHIT-STORM YOU FACED ONCE WARNER CAUGHT WIND OF YOUR EDITS, DO YOU THINK IT’S FAIR TO SAY THE SERIES GAINED A LITTLE TOO MUCH NOTORIETY?
It wasn’t my intention to piss anybody off who owned the proper copyrights and it was very much a matter of blissful ignorance up until I got that first email from Warner… Then it was a very fast education in how international copyright law works; I mean how it functions and also that it works because they found me, and they came after me.
The whole thing ended very reasonably; I think I was very lucky in that Warner and the lawyer there were really cool. I think there tends to be – and I share – this feeling that record labels are dinosaurs and they don’t get it. Certainly there’s plenty of cases where that’s true but I got a real sense from talking to this particular lawyer that they totally got what this was.
So because of that it didn’t end nearly as horribly as it could of but it definitely – in retrospect – was potentially very foolish. Had I known the legalities – had I really been educated about it – you know I may not have taken the risks I did but I got very lucky.
DO YOU THINK DON HENLEY MIGHT NOT HAVE COME DOWN ON YOU AS HARD INITIALLY HAD YOU NOT CALLED HOTEL CALIFORNIA “ONE OF THE ALL-TIME UNCOOLEST SONGS EVER”?
It’s probably safe to say that was not the best choice of words with regard to pleasing his royal majesty Sir Henley. He’s definitely not famous for being sympathetic to alternative uses of his copyrights so yeah sure, in retrospect not the best word choice on my part.
You know it’s tough; you get an opportunity to say what you feel when you’re talking to journalists and you’re just talking. Sometimes, milliseconds before the words come out I see that what I’m about to say might sound interesting but may not be smart to say but I say it anyway; I just can’t fucking help myself sometimes.
It’s like a therapy session; I sit at home and do the work and I go out and play the songs and there’s some Internet feedback and tweets – this and that – but really, opportunities to talk about it are like… When I’m talking to you and you’re asking me questions, I’m thinking about things for the first time in a certain light given the circumstances and the timing. I really haven’t thought about what you just asked me, until you asked me. So it’s kind of like a journal entry or a therapy session.
A LITTLE BIT, YEAH. HAVE YOU SEEN THE DOCUMENTARY RIP: A REMIX MANIFESTO?
Absolutely, when it was all going down somebody mentioned it and I went and checked it out. It’s brilliant; it articulated so much of what my position – to that point an intuitively held view – on the matter was; it really breaks it down quite articulately. I found that to be a really great documentary.
AT LEAST NO ONE CAN TOUCH YOUR 2012 ALBUM THE LAST SEDUCTION LEGALLY. IT ARRIVED AT A TIME WHEN SYNTH-BASED MUSIC WAS MOVING AWAY FROM THAT AWFUL GIMMICKY 130BPM SOUND AND BACK TO THE MORE INTRICATE PRODUCTIONS RUNNING AT LESS THAN 100BPM. WHAT DO YOU THINK DROVE THAT CHANGE?
Sometimes there are trends that happen just because collectively there’s a kind of zeitgeist-y feeling of “well, we’ve just done this to death.” I think around ’06-’07 was when Justice started to come out and blog house became a thing; the whole French Ed Banger sound. That didn’t sound like anything then all of a sudden it sounded incredibly exciting plus blogs were a new way to spread it and it became ubiquitous instantly in a way that I can’t remember with another trend.
The 130BPM hard house sound was something that felt great at that moment but – for me at least – very quickly soon after I actually got into this band called Glass Candy and they were kind of the antidote. That sound, which isn’t necessarily what you were talking about but it’s a little bit of a break; it’s dance-y music, it’s disco-y music but it’s not relentless, it’s not hyper-choppy.
I kind of remember there was a Cut Copy mixtape around maybe ’08 and it was very fresh, disco-y and slower tempo. That and Glass Candy were two of the first things I heard that were like “this is what my ears need right now because as much as I love Justice, I need a break.”
ORIGINALLY TITLED THE LOVELY THERESA, THE LAST SEDCUTION IS A TRIBUTE TO YOUR DECEASED FRIEND THERESA DUNCAN. WHAT SORT OF INFLUENCE DID SHE HAVE ON YOUR LIFE?
Well, Theresa was a few years older than me and I’m an only child. I met her just out of college – in fact it was my senior year. We were working at a company near my college and she very quickly became an older sister. So it was like losing an older sister. It was twelve years that I knew her before she passed away.
Her influence was extremely large as far as it being okay to make art – to make music. I didn’t really have anybody in my life that was telling me “you know what, it’s okay to try to make art; to make it something that you do every day.” And she really lived like that with her boyfriend Jeremy.
They passed away within a week of each other. He was an artist; he did the cover to Beck’s album Sea Change. He was really growing internationally; I think he had something in the Guggenheim, Bilbao in Spain – so he was becoming really well known.
The two of them as older sibling figures, going out there in the world and doing all these amazing artistic things; making movies, making art – that was a massive influence on me. So that album was like a thank you, kind of an angry thank you because it really sucks when your friends kill themselves and you get mad at them. So that’s what that was about and it was a send-off; I was very glad to have them in my life.
HOW DO YOU THINK GASPAR NOE WILL HANDLE HER STORY IN THE GOLDEN SUICIDES FILM HE’S WORKING ON WITH RYAN GOSLING AND ANGELINA JOLIE?
Actually a friend of mine was out with him at the Hollywood Chateau Marmont and she texted me saying Gaspar Noe wants to meet you. Because this story is a like a modern Romeo and Juliet it speaks to this collective desire to have these tragic love tales. In that case I stepped away and didn’t speak to Gaspar Noe. I talked to Vanity Fair years ago but I didn’t talk to Gaspar Noe. It’s just something that one has to let go of.
It frustrates me no end but at the same time that’s just how it’s going to be; there’s always going to be movies made about people who really lived and they’re going to get things incredibly wrong in order to make it more of an enjoyable movie. I remember that whenever I watch movies about real people now.
I COULD HEAR A TRACK LIKE GLASS CANDY ON A FILM SOUNDTRACK. HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN A LOOK AT THAT BIG HOLLYWOOD SIGN LOOMING OVER LA AND CONSIDERED IT?
Haha yeah. I mean I’ve only recently started to become interested in composing. I’ve done some scoring for short films and pitching for commercials. Only recently I did a short film project and I really enjoyed it and found myself thinking just what you said.
I’m not interested in Hans Zimmer – all those big orchestral arrangements – they don’t interest me but doing something more like what you said on the other hand… In fact, Johnny Jewel [Glass Candy] helped do some of the songs for that Ryan Gosling film Drive. Obviously as well, the Trent Reznor stuff, that’s more to my taste; it’s synthesiser-y stuff but it’s not big, pretentious, orchestra – that shit just doesn’t interest me.
WHAT SORT OF STUFF HAVE YOU DONE FOR TELEVISION?
Well over the last couple of years I’ve pitched a lot of stuff for commercials. A few years ago one of the songs from my first record was used for a Pontiac commercial. It couldn’t have been better because it had my vocals in it and it was tied in with the Transformers movie so Megan Fox was in it and there were transformer robots in it – that was very cool.
Since then I’ve had a few things on film and TV; a few seconds of a song underneath an episode of The Hills on MTV. Little things come and go but not enough for it to be a full career. And also I haven’t given it my full attention. A lot of my friends, that’s all they do; nothing but Nickelodeon and MTV shows. It’s very competitive and you have to really focus on it in order to have it be what you do. I certainly sometimes think, “Well what am I going to be doing in ten years?” and that seems like the kind of thing that could be fun.
THE VIDEO FOR TERRY RICHARDSON – YOUR SONG ABOUT THE DIRT-MERCHANT PHOTOGRAPHER – IS AMAZING, ALTHOUGH I DON’T THINK HE’D BE TOO HAPPY WITH THE LYRICS “SHE’LL HAVE A FEW MORE SEDATIVES / I’LL HAVE WHATEVER COMES NEXT / AND THEN I’LL BURN THE NEGATIVES.”
Well you would think… I mean I actually met him and gave him a copy of the song. It was the weirdest thing; I finished the song with my friend Ken and we burned a couple of CDs – I guess I was starting to do my earliest demos. Then we walked to this café down the street in LA and there was Terry fucking Richardson! And I was holding in my hand a CD of a song I had just written called ‘Terry Richardson’! So I walked up to him and I said “I’m a huge fan – oh and by the way I’ve just written a song about you – oh and by the way here it is” and I gave it to him. I didn’t hear back from him… Possibly for the reason you suggested.
Then – I swear to god – a few weeks later I’m driving to a gig and who should be walking down Hollywood Boulevard but Terry Richardson. So I screeched to a halt and I said “Terry” and he said, “hey Luxxury is the video for that song done yet?” He had obviously read up on me that I’d been working on a video. You would assume he’d listened to the song in the interim and he didn’t slap me across the face so my guess is that that’s an implicit endorsement. I think he understands that notoriety is notoriety – no press is bad press.
YOUR LATEST EDIT – TRANSFORMING SLOW KNIGHTS’ CANDY SUGAR RUSH INTO AN 11-MINUTE DIAZEPAM DISCO TRIP – IS ONE OF YOUR FINEST. AFTER ALL THE HASSLE YOU FACED BEFORE, DO YOU THINK YOU’LL WORK MORE ON COMISSIONED EDITS IN THE FUTURE?
Well that’s certainly a goal. I’ve got a remix of Greg Wilson’s Summer Came My Way coming out on his Super Weird Substance label in June; June 22nd is the last I’ve heard is the official release date. I’ve been doing commissioned remixes for a long time now; I did one for Glass Candy, I did one for Austra, Trust, I did one for Health.
I mean, for the most part I’ve been doing stuff in a legit manner and I definitely hope to do more. We’ve been getting lots of requests for them so if anything, the official ones are starting to push the unofficial ones. Last year I did them monthly and when I brought them back a couple of months ago that was my hope but as it’s turning out, I’m just too busy with the commissioned ones and my new album. I’m hoping to put out my first original single as Luxxury – just original material – this summer. So between that and the legit remixes, the bootleg stuff has actually fallen.
Part of what’s fun about being a musician – and also hard about it in 2015 – is that you have to find lots of sources of income. So I’m jumping around doing a DJ set, doing a remix, scoring for film and TV; it’s all these different things that are crazily eclectic but that happens to match my interests in music. I love music period so the fact that I get to go inside of a song and play around with the multitracks, the fact that I get to make something from scratch and sing on it, the fact that I can go to a club and play my songs. My love of music – I get to manifest it in all these ways.
WILL YOUR NEW ALBUM BE STYLISTICALLY SIMILAR TO THE LAST SEDUCTION OR ARE YOU TAKING IT SOMEWHERE ELSE?
Since my last record I’ve got like a hundred new half-finished songs and the hardest part of writing a new record is when you’re at that point and you’ve got all these songs and you’re like “which ones are the ones?” I’ve been getting some really fantastic coaching from both my new manager – his name is Matt Adell – he used to be the CEO of Beatport – and my good friend Josh who goes by Goldroom, he’s been acting as a bit of an executive producer.
Between the two of them and this kid Billy Caruso – that I started writing songs with – we found new material that fits in with the edits sonically. It’s very classic disco; I’m playing live bass and we’ve got live Rhodes but it’s still got sampled drums so it’s very modern sounding. I dropped one of them into my set in Chicago and it fit perfectly after my Bee Gees edit. The whole point of it was that I wanted this new material to make sense in a Luxxury DJ set because that’s what I’ve been doing recently.
I think it’s gonna sound like the third record in a series but it will also make a lot more sense to people who’ve only come on board because they heard my Hotel California edit. I really wanted to find a sound and stick with it because historically I’ve just been all over the map. It’s all been dance-y and it’s all been disco-y but generally from one song to the next I get bored so I’ll pick a whole new palette and a whole new group of synthesisers. This time around I’ve decided to make it sound consistent from beginning to end.
YOU’LL BE HEADING OVER TO THE UK SOON TO LIVERPOOL’S CONSTELLATIONS. ARE YOU PLAYING ANYWHERE ELSE WHILE YOU’RE OVER?
No, in fact this trip is really just a one-off because I happen to be going to Europe anyway and I have a new agent there, David from House of Disco. It was very late notice so he’s working on a larger UK tour in September and I’m hoping to have a bunch of dates with Greg Wilson. Greg’s been incredibly supportive and very kind to me with his time and with his advice. So it’s looking like we’re going to try and find a string of dates in the fall for me to do more of an actual UK tour.
AND YOU’VE GOT THE AGENCY GROUP WORKING ON NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA. HAVE YOU GOT ANYTHING PLANNED WITH THEM?
Everything is so early days but my agent Adam has been phenomenal in getting me these really fun and farther-reaching opportunities; I was in Mexico City a few weeks ago, Chicago, Florida, New York and Las Vegas, for a festival in the desert.
Adam is trying to set the stage for me to be the kind of act that can go to South America and Asia and I’m really excited for it. It’s early days and it takes six, twelve, maybe even eighteen months to build and a lot of that is on me; I’ve got to get a lot of these new releases out the door and hopefully get some traction and people to pay attention and like them. All these parts fit together.
WELL THAT’S ABOUT ALL THE QUESTIONS WE HAVE FOR YOU… BUT BEFORE YOU GO, WE’RE WONDERING WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BARON?
Haha, why did I drop the Baron? You know that’s such a good question, let me try to succinctly answer it… For years, I’ve wrestled with the idea of humour and wit in music – really wrestled with it because I love wit. Sparks are one of my all time favourite bands for how they mesh humour and music but it’s not a comedy act. I don’t want to do comedy music and I don’t think what I do is anything close to it but I do like to have something witty. Morrissey lyrics are witty but you’d never think of The Smiths as a comedy band; it’s all a balancing act. It’s a balance between the lyrics, the look, the name, the video and the attitude.
All this to say, it started to feel like it was just weighing a little bit too heavily on the silly with the Baron. I’m just looking at my album cover and I wouldn’t change a thing but if I were to put the same music out with the same artwork in two months… I’m just looking at it right now, if I were to take the word ‘Baron Von’ off of it and just have the word ‘Luxxury’ there, that to me feels like the right balance. It’s still kind of a silly picture but it’s a little bit less of a silly name so the overall equation – the math of it – makes more sense.