By Michael Dunn
CALGARY – For the last three years, Blake Berglund has been treading a personal path of enlightenment that has culminated in the release of his fourth full-length, Realms. A forward-thinking, philosophizing country record, on which Berglund examines the tension inherent in making a living in the arts as a born and bred Saskatchewan cowboy. Realms also dives deep into questions of existence, creation, and purpose, with Berglund finding some, but not all, the answers he seeks.
“There are some artists who believe you have an ability to access the divine,” Berglund says over the phone during a long drive from Texas to Saskatchewan. “There were a lot of times in the writing of the songs where I had no explanation for how a lyric, idea, or concept was just planted in me, and they were all really clear. There was no questioning or inner struggle, it felt like pieces of a puzzle being presented to me that I couldn’t explain. I’m a farm kid from southeastern Saskatchewan, and I know the rural lifestyle, so the references to western culture, cowboy culture, that’s exactly where I come from.”
Realms strides a balance along that pastoral imagery, the songs bursting with spacey and psychedelic elements that subtly convey an idea that the simple life isn’t always so simple.
“At first, I wanted to keep these songs stripped down,” says Berglund. “Not empty, but minimal, so the songs could be the focus and I thought that if we got too heavy with production, it might take away from the arc of the story I was trying to present. I found later on, having built up some of these tracks, that I couldn’t be so precious about the production. If that ‘something greater’ had been influencing the writing, then why not just allow it to influence the direction of the production? I had to let myself submit, and let Jason (Plumb, producer) do what he thought was right with this project.”
After a busy spring and summer of 2016, finishing the record and touring western Canada, Berglund took off for six weeks, roaming the southern states trying to find more of the country music he cares about, making friends and acquaintances in the Kentucky and Tennessee country undergrounds, which ultimately landed him gigs this past autumn throughout the Southern States.
“I went south after the album was mastered with the intention of meeting good people,” says Berglund. “Getting to know the clubs, the players, and the scenes down there, and in the process, like most plans I make, they get altered right from the beginning, and I began writing about it in real time which made it a writing task as opposed to just checking out other scenes.”
The product of that writing was a series of prose-heavy blog posts on the nature of small community country music, and what the phrase “country music” actually means anymore.
“You need only look at the way women are marketed in the country music industry to see a problem,” says Berglund. “One ad from an Ontario festival for a ‘reunion party’ was mostly a photo of two women in Daisy Dukes and tank tops, with their heads cropped off the top. Look at the Canadian country charts. Female artists are really underrepresented. The idea is, there can only be one of each ‘style’ of female artist, while male artists are run out of the assembly line as long as they’re willing to glorify alcohol abuse and that same sexist view of women. I want country music to mean something, and if we as artists don’t say anything, if we’re not willing to have a point of view, maybe we think we’re just not involving ourselves, it’s just as harmful as anything you might have to say. It’s a turbulent time in entertainment and elsewhere, and men, whether artists or otherwise have to take a look at themselves, feel some disappointment, and ask, ‘What kind of people do we want to be, and what kind of society do we want to live in?’”
Blake Berglund’s new record Realms is out now on Oceanman Records.Blake Berglundl, Oceanman Records., pastoral, progressive, Realms