British singer-songwriter James Blake started out making beautiful, disembodied, dubstep-inclined sound collages in his bedroom. In 2011 he released his self-titled, full-length debut, and, armed with a much-downloaded hit (an underwater-sounding cover of Feist's “Limit to Your Love”) and the usual assortment of accolades (a Mercury Prize nomination, a Bon Iver collaboration, an approving shoutout from Kanye West), he went out into the world. He sold a decent amount of records, fell in love for the first time and settled in to make “Overgrown,” his high-stakes second album.
"Overgrown" is more soul-influenced, more concerned with vocals in general and love ballads in particular than its predecessor. Blake, who is successful in a 15th-on-the-bill-at-Coachella kind of way, says that ignoring the things that got him here is part of the point. There's no use basking in his success because "there's nothing to bask in," he observes politely in a phone interview a few days before the American release of "Overgrown."
It's an open question whether an artist like Blake, everyone's secret blog discovery, everyone's favorite purveyor of ephemeral, danceable soundscapes, can make a dent in the mainstream. Below, he discusses falling in love, betraying his roots and avoiding the sophomore slump.
Q: Your second full-length drops in a few days. What's going through your mind right now?
A: Um, sheer terror? Mixed with complete delight? I'm glad people like it. I'm really happy.
Q: On your first album you went from the bedroom to the world. Is that a fair way to characterize it?
A: Yeah, pretty much. That is essentially what I did. I think about five people knew about the music, and then suddenly everybody knew.
Q: There must be something uniquely strange about offering up these (bedroom tapes) to the world. It seems like it would be a masochistic experience.
A: Yes, it's akin to writing a diary and publishing it online. But I suppose that's what everyone does nowadays. It's part of the Internet generation.
Q: One reviewer said your first album appealed to people's feet, and this one appealed to their hearts. Do you agree? It does feel like a warmer album.
A: Well, that's very nice. It's probably because of the subject matter, writing about love. It's a step up (from) writing instrumental music, then having a vocal involved — people relate to it even more. And when the subject matter becomes about love, it's another step up. People can instantly relate.
Q: Do you think it's human nature that when it comes to love songs, people just naturally gravitate to things like ballads and pianos? It's hard to write a dubstep song about love.
A: Yeah, I think so. We all gravitate toward what moves us the most. … But I think love is such a unifying force, without sounding too cheesy.
Q: When you were making this album, were you very conscious of not straying too far from your roots in dubstep, so people didn't feel betrayed?
A: No, I didn't. If anything, I wanted to get as far away as possible, but then I always do. Once I do something, I don't want to do it again. When artists are produced by other people, they do one album with one person. Then they might get another producer, and your whole outlook might change, and your entire sound palette might change. But when I'm my own producer, I have to do something to reinvent, at the risk of stagnating. … When I say I don't want to do the same thing twice, for most people that's just natural.
Q: Who acts as a sounding board for you, if you don't have an outside producer?
A: My friends, really, and my manager. Brian Eno was really helpful with that. Whoever will listen, really. I sometimes feel like that annoying kid at school who wants to learn magic, and he brings his deck of cards to school and he's just offering you a card every few seconds.
Q: Doesn't it feel weird to you, that we're casually discussing your friendship with Brian Eno?
A: Not really, because I didn't know that much about him before I met him. I don't think I was quite aware of the scale of what he'd done, and I think that took the edge off. He's easy to be around.
Q: You've said that the relationship you're in now is your first real relationship. Does that make you go back and listen to the love songs on your first album differently?
A: If anything, the first album's songs were based on a lack of (love) and a kind of a hole where that should be. I did "Limit to Your Love," but even that was a breakup song.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.
Price: Sold out; etix.com