Well hello there Blake Allen! Thank you for making the time to talk with me this weekend. Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?
Thank you, Chiffon for sitting down and talking with me. Yes, I did have a nice Thanksgiving. I went to visit my sister and her kids over in The Netherlands for a couple of days. How was your Thanksgiving?
It was nice. I cooked the entire meal so I continued my Stepford Wife without a husband fantasy.
Ha! Glenn Close would be proud! My brother-in-law bought a turkey from up north in the country, and it was boiled because that’s all they can do in Holland, apparently. Good thing I’m a vegetarian.
Yikes! Boiled turkey sounds enough to make the most virulent carnivore a vegetarian! So in a fun bit of WERRRK. com Interview trivia, talking to you makes you part of the second couple in which I’ve interviewed both members. I spoke with your partner Marti Gould Cummings already and the first couple that I spoke with would be Dusty Ray Bottoms and Marc Singer so you’re in good company! (Editor’s note: I made a mistake. Marti and Blake are actually the third couple I’ve interviewed, with the second being Pissi Myles and David Aylon. The lesson as always….I’m an idiot.)
Oh, yay! I love Dusty and Marc. They are very kind people, and I’ve known Dustin since before Dusty existed, so definitely wonderful company to be in.
So I must say I’m a tad intimidated because of all the interviews I’ve done, I believe you are the first person with a dot org website!
Oh, please. Don’t be intimidated. I think there was already a BlakeAllen.com and a BlakeAllen.net and a BlakeAllenMusic etc. So I did a .org to differentiate from everyone else and to show that I take myself very seriously! Who knew my name was such a hot commodity? But truly, there is only one me.
Let’s hop in the DeLorean and head back in a time a bit shall we? Where does your origin story begin?
I was born in Tucson, moved to St. Pete Florida when I was six months old, then on to Gainesville, FL when I was five, then El Paso, TX at nine, where we stayed until I graduated High School. Basically it felt like we were Army brats without the Army part. So I’d say El Paso because it is the place I have lived the longest outside of New York.
When did you realize you had a proclivity for music?
Firstly, proclivity is not used enough! Such a good SAT word. I come from a family where music is very important, so basically when I was born. My mother went to University for piano pedagogy, so she taught me piano beginning at age three to ten when I switched to a different teacher. I think also growing up LDS (Mormon) made music such an impact because music, and “god given talents” are such a core part of worship. I don’t have a single memory without music attached to it in some way. I think it became very clear I was going to be involved with music as a career when I would practice hours more than were my “daily requirement” and then would cry when told I had to stop practicing.
After you stopped studying with your mother, did moving so frequently affect your growth musically as it must have led to a constant churning of instructors?
I think there comes a time when every student outgrows their teacher/mentor because advice and technique become predictable. I learned so much moving to Ms. Tredway at such a young age – she taught me music theory and first introduced me to contemporary, 20th century piano music. I also think it was so important for us to be in a large city, like El Paso, because I added violin, then viola when I got to middle and high school because Texas has one of the best state-wide orchestra programs. And so taking piano, and violin and viola all simultaneously broadened my horizons so much more than I could have ever anticipated. It also taught me that choosing a university as a musician should be more about choosing a teacher that works for you rather than just a name of a school or name of a professor.
You attended BYU and University of Cincinnati – College-Conservatory of Music as well as NYU where you earned your Masters in music. Once you got to NYU, did you know that New York City was where you wanted to be moving forward?
So I went to CCM for my masters program. I did a summer string quartet program at NYU, while living with my then boyfriend. I realized during that summer I was not being treated the way I wanted to be treated by certain faculty members and would be better off studying privately in the city I wanted to move to after graduating anyway.
After about a year of private study, I “transferred” to NYU where I finished my masters with honors. I am actually currently a PhD Candidate in the dissertation stage, also at NYU. Since moving to the city, school has been such an important part of my growth, while also being a much needed consistency. My PhD program was part-time (thankfully) which has allowed me to simultaneously achieve academic dreams while also allowing my composing and performing career to flourish. I know I am lucky to say they really haven’t interfered too much with each other.
The move here has clearly payed off for you because running down your resume could take up the rest of our time together but I would like to touch on here is the role of you growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You already mentioned that because your religious upbringing, music was regarded as a gift from God but at least from my external point of view, it does seem to be a very restrictive lifestyle, not the least which being their disapproval of homosexuality. How did that affect your growth both personally and musically?
The LDS Church is definitely a very restrictive lifestyle, and the farther removed I become from my time in it, the more restrictive it becomes. My sister has also recently left, so I’m learning a lot from her and her experience as a woman in the same Mormon Orthodox house as me. Around the time I was a student at BYU, the rules changed to “hate the sin, love the sinner” meaning you were allowed to be gay, you just couldn’t act out on it or support anyone who had a lifestyle not consistent with the Church’s teachings.
Growing up as a homosexual, and having to in turn hide the feelings and live a life of self-loathing, definitely had a massive impact on my musical sound as well as my dedication and drive. I had to be the best, not because of an ego thing, but because it would take the light shining on the “worst part of me” and shine it on accomplishments – make my parents proud for different reasons. Straight As, etc. etc. It is not a healthy way to live, and has taken years of therapy and self-introspection to learn how to love myself and be happy that I am queer and happy that I do what I do. Of course, being raised LDS taught me wonderful things, like how to be kind to one another, how to always look towards the bright side. It has left some scars that are still healing but through those scars has come my musical sound, and through the healing process is how I wrote my latest album SHARDS.
You beat me to the punch on my next question Blake! When you sat down to create SHARDS, did you do with attempting to heal the scars of you upbringing or did that evolve along with the music?
My friend at BYU, gay and LDS, committed suicide fourteen years ago today actually, and so when I began writing shards in 2012 it was through a place of healing. I still had a lot of things I wasn’t admitting to myself, or had turned away from, or had medicated through. The process of writing and developing SHARDS this past, almost decade has definitely helped me understand my trauma, and learn how to handle my traumas. At the same time, I think it has helped my familial relationships while also giving faith to others who grew up like me that there is hope and peace. Through writing SHARDS, I also started to understand my musical sound and it really is quite a monumental Opus and has taught me so much about collaborating, writing for specific people, while also staying true to my musical voice. Did that answer your question? *Laughs*
“The process of writing and developing SHARDS this past, almost decade has definitely helped me understand my trauma, and learn how to handle my traumas. At the same time, I think it has helped my familial relationships while also giving faith to others who grew up like me that there is hope and peace.”– Blake Allen
And then some! When you finished, how did you feel? Was there a sense of relief, like you gotten out feelings that you had been holding in or were other emotions at play in the aftermath of such a lengthy project?
Both. There was a sigh of relief because I had the best team possible – they let me tell the story exactly how I wanted it to be told, which is a rarity in this business. But then of course it had unlocked a lot of feelings I hadn’t confronted while also blasting them out to the whole world. I am very grateful I was able to go through the process with my therapist because there is already anxiety when releasing any artistic thing into the world – will people buy it, will they like it, etc. etc. but then there was the added anxiety of releasing something so targeted and honest and emotional. However, like most things, all those fears were assuaged through conversations like this, and conversations with people who are at BYU who are having a similar situation. That’s what it is all about! It’s all about trying to make the world a better place for people after you. Maybe my story can help someone else. That’s why “we” are artists.
Do you think the church will ever further evolve their position on homosexuality or is the dogma just too ingrained in your opinion?
No they never will. The church’s foundation is built upon the foundation of Family. Heaven is built on being sealed in a temple and having a family, that we are on Earth to be the vessel for more of God’s children to come to Earth.The ONLY way they will change, is if it is too dangerous to be a religion with such anti-gay rules, I.e. losing exponential membership and therefore exponential money. But then it will be “coming from God directly” like how in 1978 African American men were allowed to hold the priesthood because they were getting such pressure from NAACP and it was ruining their membership. But it came down from the top that “God changed his mind” or some other manipulative, gaslighting saying.
You’ve become quite the fixture on the charts as well, having hit number 1 on both the iTunes and Amazon Classical charts! Is that something you could have imagined when you were young? Is recognition like that something which motivates you?
A fixture?! Wild. I guess both of my albums hit #1… it’s so much pressure! I remember having a phone call with Mitchell Walker, one of the producers of shards, in almost tears about the pressure of everyone saying “can Blake do it again?” My mom always reminds me to zoom out and tell my sixteen year old self what I have done, and it always puts it in perspective. I am very very blessed, and extremely grateful people care and people listen! Of course, recognition is always joyful, and thrilling, but it is never my point. I never want to become the person that is motivated by winning an award or charting a certain way – it is about being the honest artist, telling the story that I feel needs to be told. Maybe it is that honesty people are responding to.
I said fixture and I stand by it, no pressure intended! So let’s run something else by your sixteen year old self then. Would you have ever guessed then about the amount of drag queens in your life that you have now?
*LAughs* The only drag I knew as a sixteen year old was Mrs. Doubtfire and Lady Bunny. I got in trouble for supporting both!! We are in the platinum age of drag with so many different genres. I am very grateful to work with Tina Burner, Marti, Doris Dear, Bob the Drag Queen, Brita Filter, Dusty, etc. I think drag makes people feel joy, makes people feel safe, makes people feel seen, and if I can be even just a small part of that scenario, then I will always jump on board!
“I think drag makes people feel joy, makes people feel safe, makes people feel seen, and if I can be even just a small part of that scenario, then I will always jump on board!”-Blake Allen
You’ve been working as the official pianist and music director for RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 star Tina Burner. How did that relationship come about?
We became friends doing Shade: Queens of NYC where i did a lot of music for the show. Then it just naturally blossomed from the GLAM winning Witch Perfect to creating a Broadway album to touring the world. We are actually writing our next album that should be coming out at the beginning of next year. You’re hearing it here first!! Tina and actually get along really well and we are very similar. We have the same humour and interests. I’m just maybe not as much of a Manhattan Monster. More of the heart of gold type haha
Fun fact Blake: You and I worked together in Shade: Queens of NYC, you as a featured figure in the show, me as someone in a couple of blink and you’ll miss me background shots at New World Stages.
Oh!! That’s right! You and Strawberry Fields.
We’re perpetually tied at the hip! Speaking of Strawberry, she and I were at one of Marti’s shows at 54 Below where she shared a story about your early dating history. Could you share a little bit about how you two crazy kids got together?
We met on Grindr! I was bored at work so downloaded the app (that’s right, I didn’t have the app!) and without my picture being approved, Marti messaged me: “fresh meat, where you from” which I thought was the FUNNIEST thing I had ever heard. We eventually met up months later and had coffee and the rest is history!
What is like having two extremely successful and busy people in the entertainment industry in the same relationship? Have you had situations where one of your personal goals had to take backseat temporarily for the work of the other person?
I think our relationship works because we both understand the industry but we do different, complimentary things. The only thing that comes to mind is when Marti ran for City Council. It required so much from everyone in Marti’s world. But, is was more just my free time than me having to put my career on hold. I just finished a film score (Dusty’s in the movie!) so Marti had to pick up slack at home when I was writing it because it was intense for a month. That’s really the only giving and taking this far!
With both of your intense schedules, how do you find time for each other?
We joke our relationship is amazing when we are out of town working because we can actually spend time together. We try to have a date night once a week so we can spend non work time together. Or late night horror movies and nachos
So normally I do a Lighting Round of short answer questions but since most of my interviews are with drag artists, I’ll spare you all the questions about makeup and such but I will ask one important question. What is the most embarrassing song on your phone?
The Hokey Pokey sung by Annette Funicello.
Hmmmm. Not the worst that I’ve heard. So what does the future hold for you Blake? You mentioned another collaboration with Tina but else is on the horizon for you? What kind of goals remain in your proverbial bucket list?
I want to finish my dissertation! But I am writing a couple shorter, one person operas I want to record and release next year. My dreams are a full production of SHARDS on Broadway or City Opera, and a night of my music at Carnegie Hall. Eventually! Oh, and I want an agent… Know anyone?
WERRRK. com Universe, you heard the man! If there’s an agent out there looking for an absurdly talented client, have your people call our people! But in the meantime Blake, where can we all keep abreast of your work online?
Definitely Instagram! That’s where I post most frequently. And follow me on Spotify so you can stay up to date on my releases.
Well Blake, we have just about reached the end of our time together but I’m so glad we had a chance to do this. In addition to your considerable talents, you’re also one of the absolute nicest people I’ve met in the business. In keeping with the tradition of the WERRRK.com Interview, can you share some final words of wisdom with our readers?
You are one of the kindest people I’ve met. Always so supportive and being such light with you when you walk into a room. I am so glad we got to chat!!My advice is to live how you want to live as long as you believe in yourself, others will too. Oh, and drink water!
Featured image photograph by Jordan Frey