We all know there is something in the water in Dunedin, a flourishing hotspot for emerging musical talent. Further proof of this lies in Len Blake, a budding songstress winning us over and over with each release.
Photographed by Emily Pinner & Charlotte Powell
Written by Oli Spencer
Born in Dunedin, and now based in Wellington - she tells me the first song she wrote was called ‘Dunedin’, which apparently sounded like a jingle for the region. “My friend and I wrote it and thought it would get picked up by the council or something! It was catchy” she laughs. Now, she has a glossy debut EP to her name, ‘Honey Blood’ - an impressive and explorative debut project, providing a lens into her youth through her picture-painting lyricism. She dives into topics centred around the difficulties of being young, alongside combatting various anxieties that come with youth.
Watching Len Blake’s video series ‘Len + Friends’ her natural stage presence is obvious, her effortless elegance is like second nature. She grew up around a lot of jazz and neo-soul music, and remembers the enjoyable mornings waking up to the sounds of classical music, as both of her parents were classical musicians. It makes sense when she tells me her younger self was quite outgoing, and loved performing. She was the kind of kid who would make up dances and perform them while her parents had friends over. “I would always rope my sister Mia into dance routines, jam sessions and other performances and acrobatics… kind of full on!” Now, the sisters work side by side as an artist manager combo.
Ready to take her next steps, Len Blake will return tomorrow with her latest single ‘Red Seat’, a song that celebrates the kinds of friendships you have in your early twenties.
We caught up with the blossoming artist to talk about her debut EP ‘Honey Blood’, powerful wahine, and tackling the music industry alongside her sister.
Tell me a bit about your EP, 'Honey Blood'!
So, Honey Blood is a collection of songs that I wrote, the oldest one on there was written back in the last year of school… really angsty teen stuff. The other ones are a lot newer, and I just sort of slowly wrote them, not really intending to do much with them. Then, at the beginning of 2021, my parents and friends were like ‘oh you know, you could record them?’. I met Nikau Te Huki who produced the EP - he is the lead singer of H4LF CAST and has his own thing called Casual Healing. He said he’d started his own little recording studio and this would be his first EP, so I was like ‘let's do it.’ The EP is about a series of things, it's about real youth and the kind of angst you get, the difficulties of being young and anxiety that comes with it. It's about people, because I really love people, I’m really interested in them. My mum does psychology and she always had this fascination about people. We’ve always talked about young people and society and growing up. A couple of songs are a bit inward, but it’s the celebration of youth you could say.
It all sounds really complete!
I think one of the big things about that EP, people talk about your first release being really important, you really take your time over it because you can only do it once. My sister and I are an artist manager duo, but she also plays the bass and she’s incredibly creatively inclined, so she helps a lot with all the creative elements and direction. We kind of joke about our whole life sort of leading up to a project, something we’re working on together because I used to be roping her into all those dance and song performances, to us making our own vogue magazine cover shoots with the neighbours and making our music videos and stuff. We kind of always worked together creatively unintentionally, but I think we hit a point where we were like ‘okay if we’re going to do this we need to do it properly, we don't half-arse anything’ so we went hard. It's great to hear that it sounds complete because it was a reflection of us being ready to put it out and make it official. I think before we didn't have the means, or the complete idea so that's great to hear, I'm really glad.
"Rich is a power song in my eyes. I’m from a Pacific background, my mum’s Tongan, and we have a lot of strong Pacific women in our lives. It was kind of an ode to them."
I’d love to know what the production side of it was like, there are some interesting sounds on the EP!
So, there's a bit of evolution with the songs. I've learnt now that people record the whole product then they put them out in a staggered way. They have this huge release plan of how things are gonna work promotionally and stuff. Well, we sort of finished one and then out it goes, finish another - out it goes, which worked really well for us because it was nice to connect to our audience that way. It was like cooking up another one… here it is! So there is an evolution with those songs. About halfway through making ‘Rich’, which is kind of the centrepiece for the EP, I became really interested in the production… suddenly writing with production in mind is a whole other thing. In terms of the production, definitely as it went on we became more and more invested in these sounds that I couldn't create with my guitar or my voice. That was really cool.
Did you have a song that is particularly meaningful to you?
I learnt with this songwriting stuff, which I haven't been doing for that long, and you learn it becomes extremely intimate with you and the people you’re singing to. It genuinely is a therapy, I used to think that was quite a cliché, but whenever you feel bad, or any type of way, you can write about it, turning those emotions into a piece of art. Every song has its own particular feeling and time of my life. Genuinely, when I listen to it it's quite reminiscent of exactly that moment. I’m quite an impulsive person, so hence why I just chucked the music out randomly, so as soon as I get a feeling about something I want to write it down and create a song straight away. They all capture a moment in time that hopefully reflects bigger times. 'Buttercup' is quite emotionally charged in the sense that it’s about a very specific moment with a friend, and it's about a friend going through something really difficult - so in that sense, that's probably the most meaningful. But 'Rich' is a power song in my eyes. I’m from a Pacific background, my mum’s Tongan, and we have a lot of strong Pacific women in our lives. It was kind of an ode to them. I originally wrote it about my sister, Mia, and then about my friends as well - I just look up to them all so much. 'Paperglass' is the first on the EP, I'm glad it's the first because that's the old song about quite traumatising school years… reflecting back on them, you’re just going through so much when you’re around 17. It was cool to remember the lyrics I was writing a couple of years on, you’re just like ‘woah…shit was bad back then.’ or ‘you were really in your head Helen.’
It's like reflecting back on an old diary entry...
Yeah, it really is, it really brings you back. What's been quite cool is engaging with other young people who have sort of been through the same thing, or who have had the same emotions. A lot of middle-aged people, you know mum and dad’s friends and people in the community that are older, I’m glad they can look back with a nice reminiscence about those times, or they can sort of feel a bit of that nostalgia. I’m glad it’s not just young people’s music, I want it to connect with lots of people.
What do you think listeners will gain from the project?
I hope that they get a sense of being implanted in a Len Blake world, definitely. I really love the way Nico made such beautiful continuity between the tracks, with still that nice individual element. They’re all their own track, but there's this nice flavour to the whole project. So I hope people get a sense of being in that world, and I hope it makes people feel some way, strongly. I hope they can just dance to it, cry to it, laugh to it. I guess all people want from their music is to make people feel a certain way.