Blair Jollands is one of the most talented artists I have ever met. His voice is instantly recognisable, he defies genre but manages that incredible feat of having a distinctive style and yet be constantly evolving, changing, challenging with his musical output. To put a Jollands record on is to enter into something familiar and yet new at the same time, to enter into a world where music and sound engineering come together to create something that never gets boring or feel that it comes from any particular genre or time. He is one of those artists that when you start to listen to his music, it feels like you are listening to melodies and lyrics that are innate, that you instantly recognise as something you’ve always wanted to listen to.
This year has seen a long awaited new album ‘Holograms’ and in 2020 a debut movie soundtrack to the movie ‘The Krays Mad Axeman’. Both are very special in their own way and it was a real pleasure to chat with Blair about the releases. The soundtrack even includes a wonderful Christmas tune that you’ll definitely want to add to your Holiday Playlist.
‘Holograms’ is another stunning collection of new music that I can’t wait to see played live because to see this artist live is to see musical alchemy as he brings his music to golden life in front of your very eyes. The soundtrack is from a movie about Frank Mitchell who was sprung from Dartmoor Prison by the Krays 10 days before Christmas 1966 and so it feels timely to listen to the incredible soundtrack and maybe watch the film. After all, if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, so is this.
I’ve never hidden my love of the movie soundtrack and my idol Ennio Morricone and so it was a pleasure to chat with an artist that shares my passion. I hope our chat inspires you to check out this incredible artist. Trust me, you’ll thank me for introducing you to this artist.
EP: ‘Holograms’ has been out long enough now for people to have listened to the new music after waiting patiently since the release of ‘7 Blood’. For people new to the music of Blair Jollands, what should they expect from this new release?
BJ: Holograms isn’t a huge departure from ‘7 Blood’ – Its got that same cinematic vibe running throughout, however the events of 2020 definitely put a new tint on things. I’ve been getting more into composing lately too and I find there’s less discipline required with soundtrack writing as opposed to song writing. Less structure, less rigidity. I enjoy that freedom and I think you can start to hear that influence my song writing, also bringing with it more horn arrangements and trumpet instrumentals.
EP: Your music is always genre defying and, for me, that’s one of the most attractive things about it. The new album is no different, effortlessly moving between the Bowie-esque title track and the dark, brooding cinematic ‘Nothin’ in the Pot’ covering everything in between. Is this something you consciously pursue or are your releases just a window in to the eclectic nature of your inspiration?
BJ: Haha the latter! I don’t think about it at all. The musical diversity is no intention. I love keeping things interesting. I could probably make things a lot easier on myself by towing the party line, just covering one style and one genre. A&R folks like to be able to pigeon hole you but I gave up that game of trying to do what I thought I should be doing long ago I’m happy to say. I try to let my heart lead the way.
EP: One of the things that is starting to break my heart a little is the fact that songs are getting shorter and shorter, constantly bowing to the pressure of conforming to the TikTok generation of consuming music 30 seconds at a time. Your songs, and this album for sure, has songs that all feel like complete works with structure, shape and content. Do you feel the pressure that so many artists feel to ‘write something for TikTok’ or, and I pray this is the case, would you never compromise your musical identity for fleeting consumption?
BJ: Never ever never!! – I’m doing my best to downgrade! Holograms actually touches on the whole selfie culture – the vanity of it, where everything is polished, botoxed and beautified. I find it quite disturbing. Someone recently told me that only dinosaurs don’t utilise TikTok. Maybe he’s right. I really don’t care.
EP: Along with the release of ‘Holograms’, you recently released your first movie soundtrack. ‘The Krays’ Mad Axeman’ opens with ‘Breakout’ with a haunting harmonica strain reminiscent of ‘Man with a Harmonica’ from Once Upon a Time in the West and there’s the whistle on ‘My Way Home’ and ‘Going Home’. I feel the hand of the Maestro Ennio Morricone, who we sadly lost during lockdown, in the musical approach. There is no fear in the instruments that you employ in the soundtrack which also spills over into ‘Holograms’, the mournful trumpet on ‘Atoms’ is a great example. Am I way off the mark or is he one of your influences?
BJ: You’re right on target. Ennio has definitely been an influence for me right from the very beginning. I was lucky to see him in 2001 at The Barbican in London with a 50-piece ensemble. It’s definitely up there with the most powerful gigs I’ve ever been to. I love the space he creates in his music. I love his unpredictable arrangements and choice of instruments. He actually was extremely good at chess and was a great trumpet player. I don’t think composing was his first choice as a career path. Sometimes we must relinquish control on where we think our destiny should lie.
EP: There’s a little of the ‘Italian Job’, a Quincy Jones masterpiece, in there too with ‘London’ and the way you conjure 60’s London. Also, with ‘The Krays’ theme there’s more than a nod to 60’s TV culture like ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Mission Impossible’. How did you go about creating this soundtrack? Did you want each character to have their own musical identity within the soundtrack, something I feel Morricone firmly established?
BJ: The main thing that established the direction of the soundtrack was the budget. There was very little set aside for session musicians so I know I could afford to employ only a few musicians and the rest I would have to do. The movie is about Frank Mitchell and as some of you may know, he was incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison before escaping with the help of The Krays. He was then basically locked up again in a ‘safe house’ in Bow, London around Christmas time 1966…while the law tried to track him down. So the harmonica seemed to me the most fitting instrument for man so alone. Whether behind bars or a fugitive on the run there’s something so mournful about the sound of whaling blues harp. And because I play the harmonica it was an affordable option!
As a sound designer my soundtracks balance on a thin line of music and sound design. I’m a big fan of composers like Johan Johansen and soundtracks like ‘Sicario’ where music becomes tonal and organic, almost taking on the soul of a creature rather than an instrument. The other two instruments I chose were the trombone and saxophone. Frank was an extremely unhinged character and I wrote the trombone parts to reflect his schizophrenic nature. The saxophone was written around Lisa, the woman the Krays brought in to try and help calm him down with female distraction. Other things I used in the soundtrack were a heavy chain, which became the main backbone beat to several pieces as well as metal bars, hammering steel plates etc. Frankie David, my backing vocalist when performing live, came in to smash the vocals on ‘London’. We achieved a successful crossover of period 1960’s fused with contemporary garage and grime!
EP: It seems only timely to mention that the soundtrack includes what could be your Christmas single, ‘Let That Snow Fall’. As it’s coming up to Christmas, what sort of music will be on your holiday playlist?
BJ: I tend to listen to atmospheric instrumental stuff currently – on my playlist are artists like Jon Hassel & Arve Hendrickson. But yeah. ‘Let That Snow Fall’ is a killer Christmas tune!!
EP: How has the pandemic affected you? I have spoken with many artists who felt that it gave them time to really examine their art without the pressure of time. You have been hugely productive with the two releases, both very different projects. How did you go about keeping the inspirations and motivations separate for the projects or did we witness the birth of twins, linked in so many ways intrinsically, but different too?
BJ: I started on Holograms later in 2019. When the pandemic hit all my film work stopped overnight and all touring stopped too. I found myself all of a sudden with more time than I had ever imagined. Outside the world spiralled into this frightening place where shit just got real…and inside we were going nowhere fast. I loved the empty skies. The rebirth of nature. The quiet. I live beside Epping Forest in London and so month upon month my family and I would walk through the woods each day. It was such a surreal moment in time. And a very generous time for those feeling the need to create. All gone now though as we race towards insanity again. I’m glad I used that window to make the record.
EP: You revisited some of ‘7 Blood’ in the soundtrack. Whilst making the soundtrack, did you feel that the songs simply fitted or were they always destined for other things in your mind? Also, you covered the classic ‘Green Green Grass of Home’, something I’ve not heard you do before; is this song a personal favourite and have you had any feedback from Mr Jones?
BJ: The Krays soundtrack came before ‘7Blood’. I wrote ‘I’ll Remember You’ for the scene where Frank has his last dance with Lisa. I had so little time to complete the soundtrack that I originally only wrote and recorded the first verse and chorus as the scene was just over one minute long. Later when I made the ‘7Blood’ record I realised that the song really fitted into the record family so I had to write the rest of the song. ‘Burning Man’ (also on ‘7Blood’) was one of those songs that was hiding in the vault so I brought it back to life for the Krays soundtrack. It fitted perfectly. It too made it onto ‘7Blood’ and became the go to single and favourite when touring. I still play it in my live sets today. The Director, Will Kerley of course sanctioned all of these tracks. From the beginning he wanted My Way Home to be the music behind a particular scene where we revisit in a dream Frank back at Dartmoor tending to the wild horses. The production wanted ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’ in the film because it was an Xmas hit in 1966. But they couldn’t afford Tom’s version so we decided I would perform it. Mark Anderson and Alicia Light help me there on bass and guitars…. And of course the harmonica is there keeping in line with the film’s main theme.
EP: Back to ‘Holograms’, can we expect you to be touring the album next year? I’d love to see you play this music live. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you live and your attention to detail and perfection is still one of the most inspiring and moving things I’ve witnessed.
BJ: There’ll definitely be some touring in 2022. The question is where? Covid still disrupts showbiz. My label has offices in the Netherlands and The US. I toured the Netherlands recently in October, just before restrictions were reinforced. Things were still very quiet with covid passports preventing full houses. It’s so difficult to build momentum when this keeps happening. Book agents are dropping like flies. It’s very worrying for those relying on a livelihood from live music. The US seems more viable at the moment so it looks like we’ll focus on that territory. My band is cooking. We’re ready to hit the ground running.
EP: Finally, what are your plans musically? Do you have any more soundtracks in the pipeline? Are you writing at the moment or are you letting your creative juices settle a little?
BJ: I’m writing a duet for a legendary singer. She doesn’t know it yet! There are some movie soundtracks in the pipeline. But apart from that I’ll lay low until 2022.