Sanders Bohlke Interview


1>Hi Sanders, how are you doing, and where have I caught you?

I’m ok, thanks. I am in Virginia right now. I live here during the winter. My wife and I are house sitters. We house sit for this one family and they spend their winters in Florida in summers in Virginia – so we do the opposite. It is pretty cool.

BS - That sound like a fantastic arrangement! Help me out here, I’m trying to work out how you pronounce your surname…

Sanders - It’s Bohlke (bol-kee)

BS - I would have guessed it was like ‘bolk’

Sanders - I think you’re closer to the proper German pronunciation, but when we came over here we started pronouncing it that way. We are probably wrong, but that’s just how we went with it!

Phew, well now that we have cleared up the name thing let’s talk about your latest record, Ghost Boy. How do you feel it fits with the rest of your work?

Umm, well, if you’re just looking at two full-length records then it is a complete 180, but with the singles that I put out, there is a slow build. It fits ok if you look at the whole thing, but people that don’t follow me that closely may say “your first record is this, and your second is this”.

Would it be fair to say that it is a bit more heavily produced, a bit poppier?

Oh definitely, yea. I just got more into sounds and, not necessarily less emotion, but on the first record there was a lot of “oh we will just run with the first take”. There was a bit of that on Ghost Boy, but all the stuff now is really thought out and we think A LOT about which sound should go where. Overall I think it is just a reflection of me growing as an artist. I don’t think one record is better than the other, and some people may hate one but not the other, but for me I was in a different place and wanted to experiment with different things.

BS - Well we loved it!

Sanders – [A genuinely pleased sounding] Thank you!

I used to ask people what kind of thing they were listening to at the moment, or who they were really into at the moment, but I found that people have a strange reaction to being put on the spot like that, and forget ALL music, and what they have been listening to. Or they panic, and try to think of something cool, or appropriate. So my adapted question is – if I were to turn on your iPod now, what would be playing?

Um, probably Beyoncé – her new record. Could be James Blake. This is real honest. I’m trying not to do either of those two things you mentioned. I have not forgotten all music, and you can ask my wife, I can put her on right now and she will tell you the things that I listen to all the time. I listen to Beyoncé a lot. Her new record is great.

BS - I have to confess to not actually having heard it! Maybe that is me being a bit of a snob.

Sanders - I can see that. People have their reservations about pop music, and I know a lot of it is crap, but there are people that are mega pop stars, but for all the right reasons – because they are that good, and they deserve it. Beyoncé is one of those people. Maybe people don’t like that she is so mass market, and her label will do things that people won’t like, but she is as talented as a person can be and she deserves everything that comes with being a major pop star.

Was there a moment with the music when you decided that it was going to be the thing that you go with full-time?

Actually no. There was a moment when I was very young when I thought that I probably want to do music, but nothing hit me over the top of the head and said “here we go”. It was more like a series of events. I started playing guitar, I started playing in bands, I started singing in those bands, people started saying that they thought I had a nice voice so I tried to sing more because of that, people then started saying “oh, your songs are pretty good”, somebody introduced me to a producer who liked my stuff, who kind of said “Ok, lets work together” and at that point it all began to get a bit real. I just went through all of the little doors that were opening, one thing led to another and then I had a career!

BS - So you’re like a victim of musical fate.

Sanders - Yea, exactly!

You’ve done some work with Gregory Alan Isakov.

We did a little tour together. He is great.

BS - Did you have some fun times?

Sanders - We did. We really hit it off on tour. I was not super familiar with his music before going out on tour with him, but I knew that I liked it. When I heard him play, I was like “oh man, I like this!” I feel like we write in a similar way, and about similar things. Not exactly the same, but the vibe is similar. He is a super nice guy. We have some plans to maybe do some things in the future, like perhaps a tour. I told him that I’d love to write something with him, too.

BS - We will keep our fingers crossed on that one!

You’re originally from Mississippi. What was it like, and has it affected your output as a musician?

It definitely has. When I first started playing, the bands I was in were all blues bands. I grew up listening to the blues, and soul music. Obviously I don’t do that kind of music now, but it is infused into everything I do. I think I take a different direction to most folky people having had this very different background. Even if you don’t like the blues, it is impossible to get away from it if you grow up in Mississippi, and anywhere in the Deep South, but especially Mississippi.

A lot of your songs are about death. Why do you think this is? Do you think about dying a lot?

It fascinates me because nobody knows what it’s really like. You can pretty much write anything you want about it. Your dreams and thoughts about death aren’t necessarily wrong. Nobody can tell you they’re wrong. There is this huge gigantic pool of things to draw from to create your own little world and nobody can say “that’s incorrect”.

[ Skype line cuts out, and it takes a few minutes to get back through. A very apologetic Sanders is on the other end. Amongst a lot of laughing we reconcile our frustration with the internet by agreeing that it is actually quite nice to think that it is not everywhere! ]

Sanders goes on to say that death is a subject matter that has not been beaten into the ground in music, and he therefore finds it very exciting.

What are your experiences with, and views on, England?

Oh man, I love it. I went while I was in college for a week, and I did all the touristy things. I just really loved it. I’d like to live there at some point.

BS - Were we friendly?

Incredibly! The reason I was there was because I was playing a show in Nashville and a girl called Annie enjoyed my set and invited me over to England. She gave me her email address, we emailed a bit, and then one day I asked her if some friends and I could stay with her. She put us up in her flat (apparently this is an amusing term for Americans!) and we stayed for a week. It was super cool.

BS - That’s SO nice. I feel a proud Brit!

Sanders - [Laughing] You should be!

BS - [more laughing]We’re not all that nice.

Sanders - I bet most of you are that nice!

BS - Aaaa stop it!

Interviewee suddenly becomes interviewer as Sanders asks what I you think about the states.

I babble on about my time driving around the states, and how I thought Americans were some of the most hospitable and generous people I’ve ever met. I go on to bemoan the bad press that America / Americans get.

Sanders - I’m not going to lie to you, I can understand why some people hate it, but Americans are generally very kind people.

BS - I think that it is an environment in which extreme people have access to the tools to be extreme, in a way that isn’t the case in other countries.

Sanders - Yes. True. That’s a good point.

BE - Anyway, a big thumbs up for America!

Sanders - Good! Same here! Thumbs up to England! [Laughing]

It’s time for an old favourite, the kind of thing that housewives all around the country are reading in their gossipy magazines. You are on a desert island, and you are allowed one person, but they’re not allowed to be a family member. Who is it?

Oooh, wow, man!

BS – [I interject] – I think if someone were to ask me that question then I would think to myself that it doesn’t matter if I don’t get it right, or take it that seriously, so I am going to roll with Taylor Swift, because I think she seems like a lot of fun.

Sanders - That’s a good answer. It is a desert island so you’ve got to think about your future existence. If you took a dude then you would die out quite soon. Actually, I suppose the human race would still go on without you, just not on your island. Right?

BS - Yea, but you could start a colony.

Sanders - Yea, so you would start a colony with Taylor Swift, whereas if I took a guy then we couldn’t start a colony.

BS -True.

Sanders - There are a lot of people I would like to hang out with, and, maybe on a desert island that would be cool. I also don’t want to upset my wife by saying a woman, but you know what let’s just go with Beyoncé. We can sing together, start a colony, we’d have good looking babies [ we’re both finding it hard to keep it together at this point through the hilariously ridiculous nature of the conversation].

BS - Shall I take that bit out?

Sanders - Yea..No no! My wife knows I like Beyoncé a lot! I need more time with that question!

[Trying to get things back to a level of normality] -Where would you like things to be in three years time?

Um, I think that I would like to have three more records under my belt.

BS - So would we!

Sanders - Haha, well I am currently working on one now, which will cover the first year. I also want to tour the world. That is one thing I haven’t done. I would love to win something like a Grammy maybe, but, you know, that’s high-hopes, and maybe my music isn’t suited to that, but I think it’s a good think to aspire to, and even if you fall short then you’ve done some good things. Grammy, mercury prize, I’m not fussy. I don’t think I can win a mercury prize, right?

BS - I will try to start the ball rolling on that one. We could start a movement, right now.

Sanders - Yea!

BS - We’ll really get on that one.

Sanders - Sure, let’s work on it!

BS - I’m up for it!

Will we see you over here in Britain any time soon?

It is the first place I want to tour outside the US. If we can make it work, and not break the bank, then we will definitely do it.

I make a genuine offer to put on some shows with him in England if he comes over, and then we ring off. What an incredibly nice guy! Please look him up, and have a watch of the video below.