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Meet Blake Baldwin of Crooked Barrel of Snakes in North East LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Blake Baldwin.

Blake, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, I started playing guitar when I was 13 years old as a freshman in High School. I had some lessons on drums before that but my parents never got me a drum set so I sort of lost interest. I do remember I broke one of my Dad’s guitars when I was in band class in 5th grade (sorry Dad). He wasn’t a musician per se, but I have some great childhood memories (and embarassing videos) of him and his friends playing guitar and making up goofy songs for us kids on the spot. At some point, though in the middle of 9th grade, I was dating this skater punk girl a grade older than me and I saw she had this beat up strat in the corner of her room, and one day I was like “Hey, can I borrow that?” I don’t even really know where the impulse came from to be honest. Maybe from some desire to get closer to the music I was listening to. I’d always had a pretty deep emotional connection to the music I liked and I think this was just another way to live in it. I quickly dove in pretty deep and was staying up all night learning songs from my all my favorite bands.

Not too long after that I was playing in punk and metal bands with my friends. Like a lot of people, I graduated from high school not really knowing what I was going to do. I definitely didn’t see myself as collegiate material and honestly I didn’t really care either. But I had some incredible experiences writing music with some of my best friends and I got serious enough to get through community college and eventually land at CalArts where I studied music. Ultimately though I think it was just about keeping the feelings of joy that came from those early experiences going.

CalArts was a wild place and along with helping me get some of my chops together, it really set my creativity off in a way I couldn’t even have conceived before going there. After I graduated I moved to Northeast LA and I’ve been working as a freelance instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer as well as working on my debut album with some of best friends under the band name “Crooked Barrel of Snakes”.

Has it been a smooth road?
Haha, no it has definitely not been a smooth road but I never really thought it would be either. The realities of being a working artist are difficult on multiple levels, financially, emotionally, sometimes physically, and I’ve seen a lot of people fall in and out of it over the years, and often for some very good reasons.

There are lots of potential pitfalls but I think one of the biggest issues is the pressure that comes from using your artistry as the main vehicle for making all the money that you need. It’s flat out hard to do, but the amount of anxiety that comes along with it can really choke the life out of your creative self and thats arguably worse. To be successful I think you need to stay as resilient and as happy as possible, even if that means doing side projects and stuff just for the joy of it. Or even purposefully doing something “unproductive” for bit. Otherwise, all that financial pressure can make you lock up or maybe start creating things that are not really in line with how you really feel or think as an artist.

It’s some balancing act of not caring/really caring about what happens to some of the stuff you make haha. Otherwise you’re just sort of white knuckling this part of your life and that’s really not good for anyone.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Well, I am obviously really proud of my debut album that will be coming out this November. My friends Evan Jiroudek (drums/precussion/vocals) and Matt Denis (Bass, Mixing/Production) really helped me make something special and I’m excited to release it into the world.

As a musician I can play a handful of instruments pretty well and I think like a songwriter or arranger so collaborating with people is really fun. I’ve also played a pretty wide range of gigs over the years from experimental opera to musicals, metal, country, indie rock, and more.

As an artist I am proud of all the lines that I’ve blurred for myself. Like, I used to just see myself as just a guitarist, but then I started collaborating with people and writing my own songs. Then playing other instruments, and learning to write for orchestra, and learning recording and producing techniques…. Etc. It’s hard to explain but this growth has made my artistry feel potentially infinite and not defined by a single label like “guitarist,” and thats a really exciting feeling. It makes me feel free and those lines are becoming increasingly blurred the more I learn, the more music I listen to, and the more people I play with.

I also teach a bit and I’m really interested in studying creativity, from a phenomenological as well as an artistic perspective. Eventually, I want to start dabbling in other mediums as well such as visual arts, dance, and theatre just to see how those lines can blur even further for me personally.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Haha oh man. I have a hard time with questions like this because even though I am from Los Angeles, I sometimes have a love/hate relationship with it. There is some really incredible stuff here for sure but sometimes I have to ask if it’s good for me. I mean the food scene here is lit af, so at least I can get fat and die here and be happy.

But is it a good music city? Yes, there are a lot of great musicians around doing really cool stuff. For someone like me, I think this works out well because there are a ton of avenues that a musician can use to promote themselves and their music. Yeah you can be in bands and do sessions and stuff, but there is also the film/tv/media industries as well and that can be a huge source of income for people. Everyone’s trying to hustle a different angle of that here and it’s cool to see.

It is pretty different from some of the other music cities though, where the community is way more tight-knit and there are strips that house a lot of the clubs/bars/venues. I kind of wish we had a more centralized hub sometimes.

I guess I would say to someone just moving here that if you play certain genres of music you might fair better in other parts of the country but really, LA has great stuff going on and you might as well give it a try here.

But also, please don’t move here cause it’s crowded enough as it is.

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Image Credit:

Mallory Turner

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2 Comments

  1. Linda Guglielmelli

    September 11, 2019 at 05:57

    Amazing artist and singer. Blew me away when I heard his voice.

  2. Robert Baldwin

    September 11, 2019 at 17:17

    Broke my guitar eh ? Humpfh…

    Blake’s start came as a love for music from your’s truly.

    He actually knows almost every lyric by both the Beatles AND Garth Brooks library.

    His interest start was @ 9 years old when I got him the Greenday “Insomniac” CD.

    What he didn’t tell y’all is that he’s an expert dirt bike rider. You’re welcome son.

    If there’s a nice, sincere, grounded and committed woman out there, Blake would make a great husband and father. He got the from me too… Ciao…

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