April 12, 2017 | By Wesley Case
Guy Blakeslee misses his hometown of Baltimore, particularly its "unique cultural energy."
Now based in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter was introduced to the music scene here by performing in punk bands around the city as a Calvert School student. Later, when he wasn't working at the Charles Theatre, Blakeslee played blues and old-time tracks at the Ottobar's Anti-folk Night.
"It's a very esoteric place with a lot of hidden treasures a lot of people don't know about," Blakeslee said on the phone from LA last week. "Even today, I think about coming back there all of time, and kind of starting another life again there."
It won't surprise Blakeslee if he settles down here, but his career — as the one-man band known as Entrance — mostly keeps him on the road these days. (On Friday, he returns to Baltimore to headline the Crown.) That shows no sign of slowing down soon, as Blakeslee plans to tour much of this year and next in support of his new album, February's "Book of Changes."
"It's not that common in our world for people to have that clear of a sense of what they're supposed to be doing," said Blakeslee, 35. "I'm trying to live up to the responsibility of that, in terms of remembering that's why I'm here and trying to do it as much as I can."
He's been working toward this path for a while. Before Entrance, Blakeslee played bass in the Baltimore psychedelic rock band The Convocation Of… in the late '90s, then moved to Chicago, where he played acoustic blues songs solo as Entrance and later added a rhythm section to form the trio Entrance Band.
Blakeslee went back and forth, releasing albums as a solo artist and as a part of the three-piece. Now, though, Blakeslee said the Entrance Band is on a "semi-permanent hiatus," though bassist Paz Lenchantin and drummer Derek James both played on "Book of Changes."
"I'm sure I'll continue to collaborate with them for the rest of my life, but also, we might not be appearing as a three-piece band under that name anytime soon," he said.
For years, Blakeslee wanted to be seen as a lone troubadour, like Charley Patton and the other old Delta blues singers he long admired. He gave off the sense he was winging it, because a lot of times he was. It made for exciting shows, but his recorded output suffered.
"If I look back at what made it onto my records, I think some of the best songs that I had back then never got recorded and may even be forgotten," he said with a laugh. "There wasn't very much thought going into it."
"Book of Changes" is a much more calculated project, he said, and one he used to grow personally. He wrote the 10-song effort while splitting his time between Los Angeles and London, and never felt grounded in either location. It led to something of an existential crisis, he said.
"I went pretty deep into the question of 'Who am I and what am I doing here?'" Blakeslee said. "I was working that out through the process of making it."
Influenced by the enveloping pop-rock sound of Phil Spector and the layered harmonies of R&B, "Book of Changes" is arguably the densest record of Blakeslee's career. There's strings, bells, female voices and xylophones, along with lyrics sung through the perspectives of fictional characters.
But what was most important for Blakeslee, he said, was if the bells and whistles — both literal and figurative — were stripped away, a strong song could still exist with just a voice and acoustic guitar. It's his way of pushing back against the music industry, which he believes has become overly reliant on computer software and editing techniques.
"I've never played by a campfire, but I like to think of it as connecting to that folk tradition — being able to sit down and share a song with someone in its pure form," he said.
If his career to this point is any indication, Blakeslee could completely change his approach for the next record. Whichever route he takes, he has no doubt the songs will come. That existential episode he had? There's only one answer for it.
"Every time I play a show or sing with my band," Blakeslee said, "I feel a lot less confused about why I exist."