Interview & Photos by Tiffany Lam. Hailing from Bristol, British electronic UK Garage production duo BLONDE have been making a name for themselves in North America over the last year, with popular tracks such as “All Cried Out” ft. Alex Newell and “I Loved You” ft. Melissa Steel. The two met online back in 2012 through the channel Eton Messy and have been collaborating non-stop together ever since. It wasn’t until late 2013, however, that Blonde was born.
We managed to catch up with Adam Englefield and Jacob Manson, two halves of Blonde, just before their Toronto debut at Tattoo in the fall. In this interview, we chat about their debut album, vocalist collaborations, and being massive Beliebers. Read on below!
“All Cried Out” is one of my favourite Blonde tracks and surprisingly features a vocalist from the TV show Glee, Alex Newell, which is quite interesting. Did you guys work directly with Alex for this? How did it come about?
Jacob: We didn’t work directly with Alex but what happened with us was that we were working with a couple of writers and were sent a whole song. We only liked a bit of the whole song, so we took the hook of that song. We had three musical ideas and they were all meant for different songs, but we put them together. At that point we had everything and we knew it sounded great but we still needed a singer. We tried loads of vocalists on it but no one seemed to really fit. It was only when we got sent the vocals by Alex. The label wouldn’t tell us who it was just in case the whole Glee thing clouds what we thought of the track. It was amazing. He actually transposed it up a bit which for a male vocalist is pretty crazy. We were really impressed with the vocal and when we found out about the Glee involvement, that kind of just added to it. Although I can’t say that I’ve seen Glee.
Adam: I think just the fact that it was a male vocalist and the song was really written with intention for it to be sung by a female. Because “Alex” can be male or female, we thought it was just a female “Alexandra” with a deep voice. But Alex is actually a man and we were like, that’s super cool. We had to go with that.
I know a lot of your tracks feature vocal artists… How does this process work for you guys? Studio or send samples back and forth etc.
Jacob: With the singles so far, they’ve been written and someone will sing the vocals. The only exception so far is “Foolish” with Ryan Ashley who co-wrote that with us. We quite often have songs and then find people to work with them. We have a few on the album coming which were written by the person singing themselves.
Adam: We’ve done a lot of sessions with singers themselves and stuff like that, which will be coming out later. We’ll write with singers but they won’t always be the singers we use when the album comes out.
And when might this album be coming out?
Adam: Early 2016, hopefully. It’s one of those things where we’re constantly writing for it but haven’t really set a date yet, but have a rough idea when it’s going to drop. We’re just trying to get as much content out and keep the ball rolling before we drop the album.
Nowadays many producers release a series of EPs instead of a full length album. Is there a reason you guys opted for the latter?
Jacob: I think we’ve always wanted to see an album because that’s how it was when we were growing up. It’s something we always just aspire to even though it’s something more predominantly found in indie rock, hip hop metal, etc. Those are more album genres versus dance music. I think you can still sell dance albums though.
I noticed too you guys have done quite a few remixes. One that particularly stood out on Soundcloud was a remix of “Coming with You” by Neyo, a very well known R&B artist. How did you guys go about making the decision to remix this? Was there a particular reason?
Adam: We were lucky enough to even be offered the opportunity to remix it. When we first started out we were making tunes in our bedrooms without any expectations of it going anywhere, putting it up on our SoundCloud and getting maybe 100 views or something. But we did do one where we sampled an Usher vocal. “I Loved You” is an R&B vocal as well.
Jacob: We even did Justin Bieber recently.
Adam: Yeah, we’re massively drawn to R&B vocals and using them in house [music]. I guess it’s the nostalgia of it for us; it’s the kind of music we were around when we were younger… Giving it a fresh bit of life into dance music.
Any similar R&B-oriented remixes coming out soon?
Jacob: We’ve done a bootleg of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean”.
Adam: It sounds like we’re massive Beliebers right now… Which we kind of are. I like his voice, it’s amazing. We did a UK Garage remix.
Blonde’s sound is very happy and upbeat, but sound-wise kind of varies among different genres and styles. Do you guys ever feel inspired or urges to create music in different styles beyond that?
Jacob: The singles are more dance music obviously, but a lot of the stuff we’ve done for the album is slower and more R&B. It’s still dance music, like “Foolish” and “Higher Ground”, but not necessarily songs to dance to… They’re not club tracks.
Adam: We’re massively influenced by garage and 2-step. Most of the stuff we’ve put out recently has been more house-y but there’s a couple of things on the album that are quite 2-step. It’s nice working with different sounds and styles. If you just stick to one thing, you can kind of get lost in it. It’s always good to experiment.
You guys have a mixtape series called Highlights, in which you reach out to fans to submit artwork for the mixtape covers, which is really quite cool. Can you tell me a bit more about this project?
Adam: Yeah, it’s every month, when we remember [laughs].
Jacob: It’s been every month but we were a little late with no. 9 because we had “Feel Good ft. Karen Harding” come out in the UK as well as touring and live shows. It is essentially a monthly thing though.
Adam: We love doing that because it means we get to support all the acts we wouldn’t normally get to support, all the people who we are really inspired by.
Jacob [on the artwork]: We didn’t know what to do for it and the label put together some stuff but we weren’t sure about that… Then we thought, maybe we should try getting other people to design it. We have quite a few creative friends we thought to reach out to but then decided just to put it out there and have the people that support us send in their artwork every month. I’m always surprised by the work that gets sent in to us. It’s quite cool.
So the both of you met essentially through Adam’s YouTube platform, Eton Messy, and this was all online collaboration for a while. Thinking back to before Blonde was born, do you guys remember the first time meeting “in real life”? When and how was it?
Adam: [laughs] Well as you said, we had been corresponding online for ages, chatting on Facebook and stuff and actually wrote a couple tunes together without having met face-to-face, sending tracks back and forth on WeTransfer and Dropbox until we had a finished track. It was probably about 2 months before [meeting]. I was living in Bristol at the time and coincidentally that’s where Jake’s parents lived – he was at University of Leeds and came back to visit his parents. We went to the pub down the road and it should’ve been really awkward, but thankfully wasn’t at all. We had a few drinks together. It was a beautiful first date, [both laugh].
What do you think you’d be doing, if you guys weren’t doing what you’re doing right now? If it weren’t for the Internet and Eton Messy and stumbling upon each other… It’s quite magical I find.
Jacob: When this all started, I was in my third year of English literature in university and I had started actually applying for grad schemes and record labels like Warner, Universal, etc. I knew I wanted to work in music but didn’t really mind what I did. I always figured that if I got my foot in the door in one aspect of music, I’d be able to sort of do whatever I wanted, and not necessarily an artist thing. It’s pretty crazy to have end up being on the artist side. I always thought I’d end up being in A&R or marketing. That excited me just as much, to be honest.
Adam: Like Jake, I really wanted to work in the music industry and anywhere would’ve sufficed. Obviously doing Eton Messy, I was promoting club nights and doing record label type stuff now. Those elements intrigued me as well. Doing anything in music really would’ve made me happy. I’m quite thankful I get to be on the artist side as well and experience this whole crazy world.
Both of you had your own solo projects as well. Are those projects you ever revisit and dabble in or do you primarily just focus on the duo project now?
Adam: We don’t really sit down together and think, let’s make a Blonde tune; I think that attitude kind of stifles the creativity. We’re always making music and one day Jake might make a trap tune and I might make a bassline tune or something that’s not really fit for “Blonde”. In that retrospect, we’re always kind of doing our own projects and creatively stimulating ourselves. But at the end of the day, this is the baby and it’s all focused towards Blonde.
Is there a story behind the labelling of your duo as BLONDE?
Jacob: Oh God…
Adam: Jake’s got really beautiful blonde and luscious hair, [laughs].
Jacob: We were just thinking and coming up with different names… Blonde as a word seemed to fit with the sound of the music, kind of. We came up with loads of different names and this one was the least bad one, [laughs]. There’s no real exciting backstory to that one.
What’s one song you wish you wrote or produced?
Jacob: “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. Max Martin is a genius.
Adam: Yeah, I can’t think of anything else right now so I’m just gonna go with that one too.
Name one item on your bucket list to accomplish within the next year?
Adam: UK #1 would be lovely.
Jacob: I’d love to see South America and a little more of the world. This is our first North American tour.
“It’s nice working with different sounds and styles. If you just stick to one thing, you can kind of get lost in it. It’s always good to experiment.” – Adam Englefield on Blonde’s sound