Words/Interview by Shannon-Lee Sloane – The Colourful Writer
Music has always had a way of putting feelings into melodies and lyrics that can resonate with the listener on levels so deep that it is a healing, enlightening, inspiring and spiritual experience. Sometimes a song comes into my world and for a moment in time, completely takes my breath away with the pure emotion felt upon listening. This happened recently when a press release landed in my inbox for Blake Dantier‘s new single, Ash & Dust. A song with so much heart, it brought tears to my eyes. I listened to it ten times over right there and then. And I just knew I needed to find out more about this talented artist who gifted the world this song.
When did you write Ash & Dust? What is the song about?
I’d been sitting on this song for almost 2 years – I think I wrote it mid-late 2018. It was after a family friend of mine passed from cancer, that I was inspired to write this song. He was fit and healthy, so the news was quite a surprise, but it got me thinking about the unpredictability of life. I wanted to write something that revolved around the idea that we can’t take our time with our loved ones for granted because you never know when it will run out. So I sat down with the guitar and Ash & Dust sort of just poured out. Some songs take time to get onto the page, but fortunately this was one of the easy ones and I had most of what the song is today down in about an hour.
It’s an incredibly heartfelt and emotive track, the first time I listened to it I got tears in my eyes. Do you feel emotional when you play the song? Does it get the tears flowing for you?
It certainly did when I began writing it. I decided to base the story around a father and son with a troubled relationship. It’s far from the relationship I have with my dad, but it still hit home – there’s something about the way the music marries up with the lyrics that really brings out the emotion in them too.
I’ve rewritten the song a bunch of times since then and I think by having to put on the ‘editor’ hat and agonise over each line, some of that raw emotion wore off for me. But since the song has been released I’ve been reminded that it still has the effect and I’ve been able to connect with it again after some distance.
Although it is a sad song, I have always felt that music is like therapy. Do you feel that way? Like writing and singing about something that hurts, helps you to heal in a way?
Absolutely. I don’t think the song even has to relate to what you’re going through either. When I’ve been low it’s always been therapeutic to sit down with a guitar and just sing – when you’re in that head space a lot of the subject matter seems to be pretty sombre but matching that emotion to music can be a cathartic experience.
So I am going to open up and be honest and I mean absolutely no offense here. But I am very particular with my country music, it is not my usual ‘go to’ genre. BUT your music (and some other country artists and bands) really does resonate with me. Country music seems to be something people tend to either love or hate. But I also feel like it has come a long way and has perhaps become more popular in recent times. How do you feel about that? What is your experience as a Country artist? Do you dig other genres too? Or is Country music your heart?
That’s a big question – and one that I love getting into. I’ve only been listening to country music (or even been aware of it’s existence!) for 6 or 7 years now, because in western Sydney, where I grew up, It’s just not really popular. But I gained an interesting perspective on the genre as a result.
When I started writing country music and identifying as a country artist I found it was sometimes met with some slight mockery – people that don’t like or understand country music tend to dismiss it as ‘hillbilly music’ and make stereotypical judgements about it. Admittedly I had been guilty of this too when it came to the heavily traditional side of things.
The way I see it, country music has a few camps – one is traditional country, the one people think is hillbilly/redneck music; one is pop country, which is the sub-genre that is gaining a lot of popularity these days; and the other is the alt-country scene, which can be a mix of other roots genres and is also basically just anything that doesn’t fall into the other two categories.
I would put my music somewhere between trad and alt but when I started writing I was firmly in the pop camp. The other thing about these camps is that they don’t necessarily get along with each other, but to be fair, the sub-genres can sound quite dissimilar. So, while I would love listening to Keith Urban, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift I would think Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam or Waylon Jennings was too hillbilly.
But the more I immersed myself in this genre I gained a better understanding of what the people in the songs were singing about – and why. Soon, all the artists I thought were too traditional for me, I was starting to like. Now I’m at the point where I LOVE traditional country more than any other kind. Just like getting into beer (another love of mine) it takes some time to refine your taste in something niche like country music.
The important thing to note though is that without pop country music I would never be writing what I am today. Every sound on the country music spectrum has its place. I also think it’s awesome that pop country is getting more and more mainstream recognition these days. Because I like to think that the people who accidentally get into country because they heard it on their favourite pop radio station will one day go further with genre and get into its traditional side.
When did you decide that music was your calling in life? Has music been with you from a young age?
It’s certainly been a big part of my life since I was very young – whether I was writing my own poems/songs or listening to tape or CD that I loved. I learned to play music just because it was fun and it wasn’t until I was out of school that I realised I could do it for a living. I wish someone had told me sooner haha!
Do you remember the first time you picked up a guitar? The first time you sang along to something you wrote?
Some of the first times I did that were when I was around 13 years old. I couldn’t play guitar really at all, I could play a bit of piano and had been learning to play drums. I’d written a couple of songs – one was “I Can Play Guitar” and the other was “Fat Guy Living in My House” – typical teen problems right? I recorded them using some free software and basically played one chord at a time, then spliced it all together into a coherent guitar track. 21st century music production at its best!
Ash & Dust is the second single release after your debut, Mary Jane. What has the response been like to your first two releases? How does it feel to be ‘officially’ releasing your music into the world?
I love it when somebody I don’t know goes out of their way to tell me they found my song and loved it. I think I decided I wanted to write songs so that I could make people feel something. I can’t count the amount of times a song has helped me with some emotional hardship or opened my eyes to something I didn’t know was there. So it feels good to pay it forward.
You’ve won some pretty special awards for your music! Including the 2020 Tamworth Songwriters Salute Awards for Country Rock Song of the Year, as well as being a finalist for Alt Country Song of the Year. In 2019, in the same competition, you won the award for Novice Country Song of Year, and in 2018 you won the Country Music Stampede’s Maton Rising Star Talent Search! That’s a darn good effort! How does it feel to be awarded for your music/your art?
Really good actually. There was a long period where I wasn’t really getting much outside recognition that what I create is actually not bad. That sort of thing can drive a lot of people to quit the music business – it can be draining and unrewarding. So finally getting some positive responses and recognition for my songs makes me feel like I’m still on the right track.
With live music sadly not happening right now, what have you been doing to ‘scratch that itch’? I did see a recent live stream you did which I really enjoyed!
Yeah it’s been weird because I’ve been performing around 1-3 nights a week for a few years now. But to be honest I’ve enjoyed taking a break. I still get to play guitar every day but there’s no obligation. The live streams have definitely been a fun way to scratch that itch though. As much as it’s nice to have a break I miss performing country music.
What has been helping to keep you sane during isolation? What music have you been listening to?
I’ve been learning to play the harmonica, working on my mandolin chops and playing a lot of pokemon… I’m pretty heavily into Alan Jackson’s catalogue at the moment too and Brooks and Dunn – I’ve been learning heaps of Brent Mason’s guitar solos from their songs.
Do you have an EP or album on the way? If so, when will it be released?
I sure do! I’m hoping for a release around Jan next year but as to whether it’s an EP or an LP will depend on what my bank account looks like at the back end of the Covid-19 crisis. Until then, I’ve got a few more singles I want to release this year!
If Country music is your thing, you NEED to check out Blake Dantier‘s music right now. If Country music isn’t your thing, you NEED to check out Blake Dantier‘s music right now. Blake makes music that is sure to appeal to everyone; it’s from the heart and that’s exactly where music should be from.
Blake Dantier is an Alternative Country artist based in Western Sydney, some of his influences include: Waylon Jennings, Vince Gill, Chris Stapleton, Merle Haggard, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, Wheeler Walker Jr and Willie Nelson.
Taken from Blake‘s Facebook page: Q. What do you get when you put a brooding songwriter in a room with a telecaster, a stack of old school Country CDs and a case of beer? A. Blake Dantier
Blake has a music video coming out soon for Ash & Dust – so stay tuned to his socials for more details!
You can follow Blake here:
With thanks to Wildheart Publicity