By Keith Sharp
Considering Forest Blakk’s traumatic childhood upbringing, it would have come as no surprise if his musical influences had been Thrash Metal or Gangsta Rap. Yet his third EP, ‘Every Little Detail’ contains eight emotional introspective compositions which rank highly on wedding musical theme lists, an image which belies his gruff, tattooed physique.
Blakk grew up in Montreal, the son of an abusive mother and a drug-addicted father who sold him to his stepfather for 10 grams of cocaine. “That really hurt, and as I grew older and older, I hated my original name (Jesse James Cameron),” he explained on the phone from his Los Angeles base. “It was like smelling the worst smell you could smell, seeing the worst that you could see, and it was all connected to that name, so I didn’t know what to call myself. As an adult, I had gained 100 pounds, had mental health issues, I needed to find a way to get better.”
A trip to Germany after establishing himself in a relatively successful Calgary-based band called Makeshift Innocence provided him with his new name, Forest Blakk. However, ironically, he was determined at that time to commit suicide.
“I was playing to about 7,000 people at the Kimza Reggae Festival, and I was determined to go home and kill myself,” Blakk explained. “But that night was really strange because the audience would not let me get off the stage. They kept asking for encore, encore, encore. I was really in a bad place at that time, but when I got back to Calgary, I took two years off my music to concentrate solely on my health issues and weight problems. In that time, I came back to where I wanted to be in my life.”
After a traumatic childhood which found Blakk living off the streets as a teenager, he found refuge living with his maternal grandmother. “Without her, I don’t know where I would be,” he allowed saying he wrote “I Hope You Know” as a dedication to her off his latest EP. “Me being a homeless teenager and her offering me a home, buying a train ticket to get to her house, she gave me the first glimpse of safety I felt in my life.“
His grandmother also bought Blakk his first gift, a second-hand guitar. “Music wasn’t part of my story. I grew up surrounded by gang violence and panic,” he allowed. “To think you could pick up an instrument that was made of wood and strings and sing what you felt, and people responded to that was mind-blowing to me.”
A special influence to Blakk as a youngster was discovering his step-father’s copy of The Eagles’ `Desperado’ album. “It was like Don Henley was talking directly to me with that title song,” he allowed. “I pay homage to him on my first EP, if I ever meet him, I will tell him I heard what you were saying. That song became an anthem for a child to escape what was a pretty bad situation.”
Blakk decided to move to Calgary in pursuit of a girlfriend who was relocating there, but when he arrived, he discovered she had changed her mind, leaving him stranded in the prairie city and facing another heartbreak situation. But trying to make the best of a bad situation, he got a bouncer gig at a local biker bar, The Rusty Cage and took advantage of the situation to go on stage one night and perform one song at the venue’s karaoke night.
“I remember walking into the bar with my guitar and I looked like a crazy person; I asked myself, ‘hey, can I play my song here,’” Blaak wondered. “The scene was like one of those movies where the record spins and stops, and everyone looks at you, and that’s what it felt like. I got on that stage, and I sang my song. I kinda disappeared into my head, and when I came to, the room was quiet, and then they started clapping. For the first time ever, I felt a kind of acceptance, I instantly became addicted to that feeling.”
A major influence was Pat MacIntyre, owner of the Ironwood Bar and Grill, who encouraged Blakk’s budding music aspirations. “He was integral to me thinking I could do this because Pat was really honest with me. He would say, “Hey, you suck, and I believed him. I knew he was right, and I had to eat some humble pie, and I worked at it for two years. Before that, I had arrived in Calgary nursing a broken heart; I had my guitar, and people that surrounded me were writing down what I was talking about and convincing me that what I was saying was both cool and important.”
Blakk (as Jesse James Cameron) started to earn some traction with Makeshift Innocence which released one album `Yours To Keep’ in 2012 which was good enough to earn a Juno nomination in 2013 and earn the band a strong following in Germany where they toured several times.
But after experiencing his mental health issues which almost drove him to suicide, Blakk took that time off and resurfaced with a new name and a new musical direction. “I started writing songs to make people feel like I was feeling,” he noted. “Even with positive feelings, you can be depressed on a sunny day. Life is an ongoing process; you are always going to find something to write about. I wanted to write music that makes people feel something.”
Starting with a 2015 hit single, “Love Me,” which led to a six-track 2018 EP titled `Minutes’ and followed with a seven-song EP called `Sideways’ Blakk started to pen vignettes which registered with their deeply emotional lyrics, songs that were enhanced by a series of poignant videos that soon became staples on many wedding song lists. One track, “If You Love Her,” with its moving video, proved to be especially emotional, receiving over 310 million global streams.
“I had signed with one of the world’s biggest record companies (Atlantic) but was living in my car in Los Angeles when that song took off, and then it was like a rocket ship,” Blakk explained. “Then I found my current girlfriend, Tiffany Michaela, and things started to go great for me. I moved into a house with her, the song started to take off, and the work just didn’t stop.”
He feels that the videos accompanying songs like “If You Love Her” are effective because they are produced more like mini-movies. “They are like short stories, and it gives me an opportunity to tell short stories about things that matter to me. That video for me was the cliché broken-hearted singer/songwriter, but other people around the world have their own interpretation. They relate it to their wedding, where they are dancing with their parents. I have always liked the concept of filmmaking and the fact you can visualize a song with your video to make the whole project more effective.”
Blakk has re-issued “If You Love Her” as a duet with Megan Trainor on his latest eight-song EP, `Every Little Detail’ and will be promoting the new release with an 18-date North American tour in January and February that includes five Canadian dates including a January 26th date at Vancouver’s Fox Theatre and a February 18th date at Toronto’s Rivoli venue.
For more information on Blakk and his up-coming tour, please link to https://www.forestblakk.com