Jason Blake is a Progressive Rock//Metal//Ambient instrumental Artist who plays the twelve string Warr Guitar. He is based out of Chicago, Illinois and first was drawn to playing instrumental Music with his Love for movie soundtracks. Jason has three instrumental projects, Aziola Cry, Backward Sky Falling, and his own solo work, in which he released his new album titled, The Compromise Rationale, on September 23rd of 2022 through Wayfarer Records.
Jason initially started his career as a bass player that was doing a lot of tapping techniques. His heroes at the time were Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan, which inspired him to do more of that style. Jason played a solo bass show, and somebody came up and told him about the Chapman Stick, which has anywhere from ten to twelve strings and looks like the thick guitar neck, without the body. He ended up buying one thinking about how cool the instrument is, as well as that style of playing because he was doing a lot of tapping while playing the bass.
Jason played the Chapman Stick for a few years, developed more of his skills, and thought about devoting himself entirely to the instrument. A few years later, the sound of the Warr Guitar led Jason to go down the rabbit hole, impacting him to exclusively play the twelve-string instrument that can seem intimidating to a lot of Musicians, especially when it comes to tuning. The setup of the strings is much different than on a normal guitar. In the middle of the neck, the strings are thicker, whereas on a regular guitar, the first string is the thickest and obviously the last is your thinnest, highest pitch string.
“It’s not like a typical guitar, where it’s tuned in fourths, so the melody side is, but the bass side is actually tuned in fifths… With the middle string being the lowest string. So, it makes perfect sense, but if you’re just looking at it, you would say like, “why?” and maybe not even want to pick it up.”
Megadeth and Slayer were two of first the bands Jason got into with Heavy Metal. He feels that a lot of his darker Music comes from Slayer because of Jeff Hanneman’s riffs, who he says was the master of the dark riffs. From there, Jason delved into the Progressive side of Metal with Tool, which then led him to the earlier works of Opeth, and then Emperor.
On the lighter side of the spectrum, Artists like David Sylvian, King Crimson, and Robert Fripp & his work with Brian Eno, for the band Fripp & Eno, were his entry point into Ambient Music, which had an influence on developing his softer sound. He finds himself exploring the Ambient side of Metal and has a Metal Head way of thinking where his Ambient Music has to all of a sudden have a heavy part to it, “For me, it’s important to include a little bit of that heaviness into it. I think it just adds something…I don’t know, maybe it’s a new element, maybe there’s people doing it, but I Love adding that Metal piece to what’s otherwise kind of quiet Music.”
Jason writes his all-instrumental Music spawning from his Love of movie soundtracks. He likes the challenge of creating Music that has the mood of the song, and the story he’s trying to tell rather than adding in the vocal element, where the story is instead told through the vocals. “That’s what kind of guides the Music. So, if it’s a spot where the character is reflecting on some past moment, I make it very somber, and I take the time to think about where it is in the storyline. So, that does definitely guide it more so than anything else. It’s kind of these fake stories that I create in order to kind of help the Music find where it should go with at that time.”
Since 2021, Jason has been busy with releasing four albums, one with Aziola Cry, and three with his solo project. Two of the solo albums are part of a trilogy titled, Ternary Instinct, that are each based on the Freudian concepts of the Id, Ego, and Superego. The first album from the trilogy is called, Fictional Mirrors, released on June 26th of 2021, and is an Instrumental depiction of what the Superego is. Jason describes the aural storylines of the Music as trying to always do the right thing type of mentality with a positive message to it and having a major key sound.
The Compromise Rationale album that came out in September of 2022, is focused on the Ego, and sits in between the Superego and Id. “There’s a very intended split personality to it. Where, it’s very dark on one side, and then there’s a little bit more moving towards that major key, uplifting to kind of branch it to the Fictional Mirrors album. The Compromise Rationale, that’s where you hear those Metal elements in it… That’s me sticking it in where it maybe doesn’t belong, but I Love it so much that I have to. And that’s where I have Metal elements in that Music.”
On his Music video for the song, A Certain Balance, which you can watch below, the main character represents the Ego, the side he’s picking the fruit from is symbolizing the Id, and the unplanted side of where the character is walking, is meant to be the Superego. “The wild growth of the one side is representing the Id. Once it starts to grow, it’s very conformed, and it’s very idealistic in its appearance, that is the Superego. So, in its more simplistic form, that’s it… It’s him navigating between those two sides. And representing the Ego in the process.”
The animation of the video was created by Alex Smith of Oblivion Dawn. Jason usually throws an idea at him, and Alex runs with it, or in some cases, Jason writes more of a thought-out plot line for Alex. The video for, A Certain Balance, was more of Jason giving Alex the idea of the song, “he was the one who then came back with a storyboard for me and started talking about it. And I actually interpret his interpretation. That’s my interpretation of that video. It’s kind of like a process where we kind of just throw ideas back and forth and ultimately create it that way.”
The final album to complete the trilogy is for the Id, and has yet to be released, and is going to be the complete opposite of what the Superego is all about, focusing upon the inner desires and impulses with a very dark and minor key sound. “That one’s intended now to be the darkest of all of them because that’s your inner desires, that’s your…The part that sometimes drags you into doing maybe the wrong thing sometimes. So, that in my mind was always meant to be the darkest of all of them.”
“The one thing that I find about this, is when you paint yourself in a corner, that’s exactly what you’ve done, is painted yourself in a corner… Now I know that that’s where I want to go with it, but now I have to execute it. That’s where I’m at right now, is trying to figure out how do I want this to go… And I’ve had thoughts of maybe adding percussion, and doing something different, and making be more of a Prog Metal album… I don’t know how that would work in terms of the record label that’s assuming that it’s going to be the third of a more ambient album. I’m fighting with that; I’m struggling with that to see where I want to take it right now…”
The intention from the start of creating the trilogy, is that the Id will be the darkest sounding out of all of the albums. That is the reason why he didn’t want to start Fictional Mirrors off as something dark and miserable and become “Poppier” throughout, “I thought it was a safer place to start. I use the word Pop… Fictional Mirrors is by no means a Pop album, but it has a little bit more of an appeal to maybe the average listener, whereas I knew the last one was going to go the furthest from that, so that’s why I went in this order as well.”
Imaginary Cages released on February 25th of 2022, and it is an album that stands alone from the trilogy concept. The story behind the title stems from being sent home, being told to stay inside, and the loneliness from being inside. Jason always had it as an idea for the imaginary cage, that it was your mind, being trapped in your mind, and it seemed like the right time to create something like that, while being at home and having a little bit of loneliness and self-reflective thought. It was originally going to be an album title for Aziola Cry and ended up moving it to his solo work instead, so there was nothing else other than the instrument being live recorded with no overdubs, “that was the intentional part of it because I wanted you to feel that loneliness of the instrument, like the loneliness inside of your mind sometime.”
The album wasn’t meant to be as dark, even though the loneliness in your mind can sometimes go to those places. That’s where the album transitions a little bit darker as it progresses through each track. “What it was… Everywhere, everything from the Artist, where you just wonder…How did they create that? What was going on in their mind when they created that? That’s not necessarily a dark topic, but it was just that loneliness of in somebody’s mind, all the way to maybe the crazy person who’s yelling at clouds on the side of the street. You just wonder what’s going on in their mind. If you notice, it kind of starts and ends a little bit different sounding, and that was intentional just to kind of show that transition of the latter half being more that person’s yelling not seemingly to us, not knowing what they’re yelling at…”
Asking a friend who paints Abstract Art, Jason asked how he knows when he’s done with a painting…His friend told him that you just know, and that answer always stuck with Jason, “I thought, what is it in his mind that he knows it’s done, whereas somebody else could look at it and say, “I don’t even see where it’s even started.” So, that idea of, everybody’s mind being so different, is kind of where I took that.
Aziola Cry is comprised of Mike Milaniak on guitar, and Tommy Murray on drums, with Jason playing the Warr guitar, they released The Ironic Divide in May of 2021 through Sensory Records. The album was produced by Jim Siwek & mixed by Steven Gillis, both at Transient Sound, and mastered by Ted Jensen of Sterling Sound. They’ve released a total of three albums, their previous one being in March of 2007, titled Ghost Conversations, and their first, Ellipsis in February of 2005.
Aziola Cry is the heavier side of Jason’s discography, being a blend of Ambient and Progressive Metal, “there’s a side of me that Loves Heavy Music and then there’s a side of me that Loves Ambient Music, and I try to mix them together, and that’s what Aziola Cry initially started as. A little bit more of a blend of that. And then I realized that I want Aziola Cry to get even heavier, and it didn’t really play into that Ambient sounding stuff. I kind of just separated them, and became me, the solo Artist, is where I now explore all of those more Ambient sounds or solo Warr sounds and moved Aziola Cry into more of the heavy vein.”
On The Ironic Divide, it became more of a Heavy Metal outlet for Jason, as it took on a very dark topic through the soundscapes, while Freeing him at the same time, “I didn’t feel like I could create these long Ambient pieces, like the trilogy, without having to try to insert it into Aziola Cry and places that it didn’t necessarily belong. It worked out in a nice way, where now I have both sides of me still going, but they just have different names I guess, is what I ultimately decided on.”
Through Aziola Cry, Jason met his publicist, Dave Brenner, who co-runs the Earsplit Compound alongside Liz Ciavarella-Brenner. While being signed to Sensory Records, a division of Lasers Edge Records, who works specifically through Dave, they produced videos and were able to get that out to the World. Once the Aziola Cry album cycle for The Ironic Divide calmed down, he reached out to Dave again around the time he was recording the Imaginary Cages album, “it just felt natural to continue to work with him, and get this out to the world, where he’s really good at doing that. So, that’s where that connection has come. I just thought, the momentum we had with Aziola Cry, it was a good time to reach out to him…And have him also push the same people, the fact the Warr guitarist of Aziola Cry now had some Music that sounded similar…”
There are many similarities between Aziola Cry and Jason’s solo work, the glaring difference being that his solo work doesn’t have the added guitar and drums. “I think if you like Aziola Cry, you will find something in what I’m doing with the solo work.”
Backward Sky Falling is another Instrumental project of Jason’s and it is more on the Progressive Rock side of the spectrum. They currently are in the process of mastering their debut album, and it is set to release sometime this year, in 2023. “It’s essentially done. The Artwork is done, we just have to find the right time to put it out at this point. I’m excited about that as well. It’s…How I look at it is, where Aziola Cry is more my baby… That’s all my compositions, this is a little bit more of a democracy, I guess. All three of us have added stuff. We’ve added to the writing process.”
In this band, Jason calls himself the bass player, while he’s still playing a twelve-string instrument. Whereas, in Aziola Cry, he takes lead solos and do more guitar work, “it feels very different. That was one of the things I wanted to do, not necessarily have the two bands sound the same, or me feeling like I was doing a lot of the same thing. I made a very conscious effort to make one like, I’m the bass player, and I’m not the bass player kind of thing.”
To find out more about when Jason will be releasing new Music, you can visit his official website at JasonBlakeMusic.com, as he personally updates it regularly. He has a lot of Music that’s been written, recorded, and is waiting to be released, including something that is going to be accompanying a film, and is also working on a Progressive Rock album under his solo name, “I found myself this year writing Music that just didn’t sound like Aziola Cry, but I knew that it was a Prog album, so I’ll have that coming out in March… I don’t want to say too much right now because there’s going to be a little bit of a press release coming out about that. That album I’m excited about as well. And then part three of the trilogy.”