Photo: Jason Landis
Blackbear Talks New EP ‘Misery Lake,’ Dream Collab With BTS, Making Music For His Mental Health & Fatherhood
The Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter blackbear caught up with GRAMMY.com ahead of his new six-song project, 'misery lake'
Like many of us, blackbear spent the seamless string of early pandemic-filled months holed up indoors, battling the feelings of isolation and anxiety brought on COVID-19. Unlike many of his fans, though, the Los Angeles-based artist, singer and hit songwriter emerged from last year's quarantine period with two new projects: his fifth studio album everything means nothing and new EP misery lake, which he's releasing tomorrow, August 13.
"It's about isolation–it's basically about quarantine and how you can feel loopy and you can feel happy and you can feel horrible all at the same time," he told GRAMMY.com over the phone.
blackbear spent the weeks leading up to the August release of everything means nothing surfing through Los Angeles Airbnbs, where he wrote and recorded what would turn out to be his two latest projects. Creating music at those rental homes became the mental health escape he needed from the pandemic, he explained.
"We recorded the whole everything means nothing album at probably three different [Airbnb] houses and then, for my mental health, I was like I need to just keep getting houses and keep recording," he said. "So I was like, let's do another project; what could it hurt?"
The result was misery lake–a six-song EP that encapsulates the feelings of loneliness and longing of 2020 in the melancholy-drenched yet undeniably catchy way that only blackbear's music can.
Now, arriving in a post-quarantine world, the EP translates into heartbroken bangers with edgy-pop production that fans will soon be screaming back to blackbear as he tours the U.S. this fall. The 33-stop trek with Maroon 5, which kicked off in Washington earlier this week, is just one of the positive things 2021 has brought the 30-year-old. Earlier this year, blackbear became engaged to his girlfriend Michele Maturo and in January, the couple celebrated their son Midnight's first birthday. The tot's voice can be heard on the outro of misery Lake's "bad day."
"It wakes me up in the morning," blackbear said of being a first-time dad. "It's a reason to keep going and to keep showing up for myself and to be a good example for my son."
Speaking with GRAMMY.com a week before releasing misery lake, blackbear opened up about writing and recording music to protect his mental health, how fatherhood inspires him, his love for BTS, recent cross-genre collaborations and more. After linking back up with his Mansionz collaborator Mike Posner for their single "Jealousy" earlier this year, blackbear also offers fans an update on what's next for the duo. Read his full interview below.
misery lake is your first project since last year's everything means nothing and it's your first EP since 2017's Salt. Did you set out to make an EP or did it start with "u love u" with Tate McRae and kind of build from there?
After everything means nothing, I kept wanting to get these writing houses. We kept recording in Airbnbs in L.A. County because my studio is under construction right now, so we were getting Airbnbs and just setting up speakers and microphones in there. [They were] pretty nice places, too. We recorded the whole everything means nothing album at probably three different houses and then, for my mental health, I was like I need to just keep getting houses and keep recording. So I was like, let's do another project; what could it hurt?
Was writing and recording music a good mental health release for you during the weirdness of quarantine?
For sure. The whole underlying theme of the EP is isolation and just feeling so alone. The first track is called "alone in a room full of people" to give you an idea, and it's just kind of a lonely EP, but it actually makes me feel good, too, at the same time.
What was that experience like, recording music in these different houses? I know a lot of artists usually like recording at home or in their studio where they feel most comfortable. Was it different being in these new places?
Yeah, at every house, we just had to kind of feel it out. You can't really tell from the pictures–every house looks nice on Airbnb.com. And then when you get there, you find a good couple houses and you stick to those. We had like two houses that we really liked, where we made everything means nothing in and all of misery lake in.
Where did the title misery lake come from?
It's about isolation–it's basically about quarantine and how you can feel loopy and you can feel happy and you can feel horrible all at the same time. I really felt like I was in this imaginary place and I started tagging [the location of] my photos on Instagram as "Misery Island," "Misery Lake" and stuff like that, and I was like, you know what? I love that for a title. Maybe my next EP will be called Sorrow Forest.
"@ my worst" has to be my favorite song on the project. What was the story behind that track?
It was one of our writing trip days and I think we were writing for other artists; I don't think we were writing for blackbear at the time. It just came out, and it was the first time I sat with [the song's co-producer] Andrew [Goldstein] and just really let it all come out. I was feeling a lot at that time. A lot of mental health [stuff] going on, a lot of anxiety.
It came out in a really beautiful way. Like you said, the EP is a lot of isolation and heartbreak, but you've been celebrating lots of good things this year. Your son turned 1 and you recently became engaged. How does your family and being a dad impact your music?
It wakes me up in the morning. It's a reason to keep going and to keep showing up for myself and to be a good example for my son. I just want to be the kind of dad that shows him how to be a man and how to take care of business and really just trust in yourself and trust in the process. I wanna set a good example, and I think that's what it's done for me.
You can hear your son cry at the end of "bad day," which is really cute. What made you want to add that to the track?
We heard him downstairs and he was crying in-key. I was like, "He's going to be a singer." I went down there with my phone and recorded an audio note and that ended up making it onto the song. We didn't autotune it at all. He sang a perfect A major.
That's so cute! Is he already dancing or responding to music?
When we get in the car all he says is, "Dada. Dada. Dada." And he'll cry until Dada's music comes on. He doesn't wanna hear any other artist, it's insane. He's my biggest fan.
misery lake has that classic blackbear sound, but you've been having a lot of success lately crossing into other genres. For example, what was it like working with Kane Brown on "Memory"?
It was so fundamental for me to work with Kane Brown. I just wanted so badly to work with him. He's my favorite country artist out – besides Sam Hunt. I really like Sam Hunt as well. But Kane Brown especially because he's so versatile, and I love the direction he's moving in with his music. He's open to pop records and he's very open to experiment. He doesn't mind being the different one in the crowd and I love that.
Jungkook from BTS also recently covered your song "smile again" and I saw you gave him a shoutout for the cover on Twitter. Would you be open to collaborating with him or BTS?
I keep sending songs for BTS to cut. That's all I want! All I want is for them to take one of my songs, but I guess I just haven't written the right one yet. I'm just gonna keep trying, 'cause I've already sent them like three songs. I'm really trying really hard. Besides Ariana Grande, BTS is the other artist that I really wanna write for.
Earlier this year you and Mike Posner reunited to drop "Jealousy." Have you guys been working on anything else lately? Maybe a Mansionz Part II?
We have been working on Mansionz music but not Mansionz Part II officially yet. We've been sending ideas back and forth and when the time's right, when I'm off tour and he's done climbing whatever mountain he's on now. He already summited Mt. Everest; I think he's on another mountain now. He was also talking about going to space. So, as soon as he's done with those endeavors, we'll probably find some time. Both of our schedules have to pan out and we both have big dreams – they're very different dreams, but they're big dreams.
Like you said, you're getting ready to head out on tour for what will be your first string of shows since before the pandemic. Are you excited to get back out there?
I'm so worried that I'm not in shape enough, but yes. I've been running three miles a day and singing my set and just trying to prepare. Getting IV drips at the house with all the vitamins and everything, just trying not to get sick. My son has the stomach flu, so you know. I've just been in total preparation-mode, like really eating right and drinking my protein shakes. I'm just trying to be prepared for this tour because it's gonna be a big stage and it's gonna knock the wind out of me.
Have you been prepping with Maroon 5 at all? What's that like to get ready to go on tour with them?
I've been prepping over text with Adam Levine. He's been sending me his outfits back and forth so we can coordinate to not dress too similar. And we're making sure that we don't have the same color hair on tour–that's a big thing. [Laughs.] I think he has green hair right now, so I'm not gonna go green. I told him I might want to do pink and he was like, "I want pink." So, I'm just gonna stay blonde.
You collaborated with Maroon 5 on their album JORDI too, so there's got to be a good chemistry there already.
Yeah, JORDI was such a great album. There's no skips for me.
Earlier this summer you also partnered with the CBD beverage company VYBES to release your own drink that you've said helped you cope with symptoms from your chronic pancreatitis. How have you been doing health-wise?
I get flare-ups a couple times a week and I get an attack probably once a month, but I've been managing it to the best of my ability. I've had to cancel a couple [recording] sessions, but everybody's been really cool. Benny Blanco understood. He was really nice and he rescheduled [our session] about a month later and we made an amazing song together. It's just about managing it and managing my stress because stress is a really big trigger for pancreatitis. So, I've just been trying to keep my stress down and live a stress-free life.
Has it been challenging preparing for a physically-demanding tour?
For sure, there's been a lot of days where I couldn't get out of bed to go work out. So, it's been challenging for sure. But hopefully I can inspire somebody else with chronic illness.
Your fans will definitely appreciate finally getting to see you perform again, too!
That's the first thing I'm gonna say on stage, "I'm back fuing outside!"
Maroon 5 Auction To Benefit GRAMMY Foundation
Auction offers pairs of tickets to GRAMMY-winning band's Southern California dates on Oct. 4 and Oct. 6
The GRAMMY Foundation will auction 80 pairs of tickets to Maroon 5's upcoming performances with Kelly Clarkson and Rozzi Crane on Oct. 4 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, Calif., and Oct. 6 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The auction for both concerts is open now and ends Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. PST.
Proceeds will benefit the GRAMMY Foundation, which cultivates the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the impact of music on American culture through music education programs, scholarships and grants.
Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Rolling Loud Festival Los Angeles Reveals 2019 Lineup
Find out who's bringing the heat to the hip-hop fest returning to L.A. this December
Today, Rolling Loud revealed the massive lineup for their final music festival of 2019, Rolling Loud Los Angeles, which is set to take over the Banc of California Stadium and adjacent Exposition Park on Dec. 14–15.
This iteration of "the Woodstock of Hip-Hop," as the all-knowing Diddy has called it, will feature Chance the Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD, Young Thug and Lil Baby as Saturday's heavy-hitting headliners. Sunday's headliners are none other than Future, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill, YG and Playboi Carti.
L.A.'s own Blueface, Tyga and Doja Cat, are slated to perform, as well as representatives from the diverse rap scenes across the country, including Wale, Juicy J, Lil Yachty, Megan Thee Stallion, Gunna, Tyla Yaweh, Machine Gun Kelly and Yung Gravy.
The lineup announcement follows the successful wrap of Rolling Loud Bay Area in Oakland this past weekend. The event's flagship Miami event took place in May this year, and the New York and Hong Kong debut editions will both take place later this month.
Some of y’all not ready for these moshpits https://t.co/3nlaudjapq— Randy (@randyt0321) October 1, 2019
DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs
DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards
DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.
"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."
After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.
DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle."
Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."
Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.
ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"
Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.
Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?
Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?
Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible.
In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.
Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.
Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.