We caught up with the promising country artist Blake Dantier in what is set to be a busy year for him with the release of his debut album.
If you ask any casual observer of country music what the genre’s songs are usually about, chances are that they’ll say drinking (pickup trucks at a push perhaps).
So when you see that Blake Dantier’s latest single is called ‘Wish You Were My Beer’, the immediate worry is that it’s a cliched and tired track. This couldn’t be further from the truth: it might be about the age-old, time-honoured trope of having a proper drinking session but Dantier makes sure to handle it with a self-aware and fun playfulness.
It’s why the hilarious accompanying video sees him take on the role of a smarmy, overconfident host of a game show called ‘Wish You Were My Beer’ (“the only game show banned in three states,” he proudly exclaims to the audience).
Both the video and the song instantly make you yearn to be in an old-fashioned boozer in the 1970’s, putting back pints with mates, the happy and drunk dancing and swinging amidst the haze of a smoke-filled room.
Dantier’s song is, essentially, a time capsule, and it’s entirely purposeful. He performs traditional country when perhaps it’s not the surefire way to mainstream success; he loves singers like Alan Johnston and Waylon Jennings and wants to keep their spirit and style alive.
Originally from Western Sydney, he didn’t start out in the country world but he’s certainly in it now. His fiancée is the exciting star Cass Hopetoun and the pair are a rising power couple in Australian country: together they won New Songwriter of the Year and Ballad of the Year at this year’s TSA Awards (Dantier co-wrote both songs).
His previous solo efforts, ‘Ash & Dust’ and ‘I’d Do It Again’ achieved national airplay success in 2020, the former locating a deep well of emotion, a rawly honest examination of the death of a close family friend from cancer.
And this what his upcoming debut album will be, fine balancing act of upbeat swinging songs with sincere and thoughtful songwriting, all layered under a traditional country atmosphere.
Earlier this week, we spoke to Dantier from his Blue Mountains studio to discuss his beginnings in music, the country music genre and his plans for the future.
Check out ‘Wish You Were My Beer’:
TD: About the new song first: obviously aside from the fact that drinking is such a staple of country music, what inspired it?
BD: I actually got the title from a Brad Paisley song. There’s a line in it where he says ‘I wish I was your beer’ and I thought that could be a song in itself. And like you said, country music has a lot of drinking involved in it! It was a no-brainer.
I also got pretty seriously into home brewing so I was thinking about beer a lot! I got seriously into it, I even started working at a brewery because I wanted to learn more about it all. Just with that much beer on the brain, I started going back to the song and tweaking it and adding more information once I learned more.
TD: I appreciate the level of commitment! With drinking being such a trope of country music though, did you want to try and find a new angle to explore it?
BD: Yeah (laughs). I just thought the title ‘Wish You Were My Beer’ sounded a little more fresh. There’s nothing too special within the song, it’s just another drinking song, love gone wrong type of song. It’s a classic country music drinking song. I just thought the approach was fresher.
TD: That’s what I enjoyed about the video for the song, it really found the humour in it. How did the concept for the video come about?
BD: When I had a lot of time during lockdown, I was watching a lot of Saturday Night Live and I really loved the improvisation of that comedy. And I found all these game show sketches that they did, there’s just so many of them. So I was like ‘I’ve got to do something just like this, that would be cool’. I think really I just wanted to be a sketch comedian.
TD: So it wasn’t inspired by any old Australian game shows?
BD: I actually wanted to base it directly off those Saturday Night Live sketches, a proper American game show, but when I started talking about the idea to Duncan Toombs, the guy who shot the video and co-produced it with me, he thought it would be better if we did it as an Australian thing. I thought that might be kind of harder because the American accent works being cheesy and the Australian accent definitely doesn’t! It worked out in the end though, which is good.
TD: I wanted to ask about your songwriting process. With ‘Wish You Were Beer’, the title and the words came first but is that the way you usually work?
BD: That’s the way I like to do it if I can. It’s evolved over the last few years. I used to start by just sitting down with an instrument and going for it. I’ve got a little folder of notes on my phone where I’ve written down all these things that people have said out in the world and I’ll come back and visit them. I think when you start with the title, it’s a lot easier to get a really focused song out of it, rather than just sitting down with some chords and a general feeling.
TD: Your old song ‘Ash & Dust’ was intensely personal and serious. Is that what your album is going to be, this mixture of downturned melancholic ballads like that and more upbeat barnstormers like ‘Wish You Were My Beer’?
BD: Yeah. ‘Ash & Dust’ is probably as serious as it gets and obviously from ‘Wish You Were My Beer’, you can tell I don’t like to get too serious! I think something like ‘Ash & Dust’ needs to be said and I’m not just going to not say it because I don’t like being serious. Those types of songs have to be put out there. The album will probably be half and half, yeah. There’s songs that take themselves seriously and there’s some that are just fun country songs.
Check out ‘Ash & Dust’:
TD: So when is the album planned for then?
BD: It’s planned for October. I’m pretty keen to get it out. We’ve been tracking it now since February 2020. We had about five of the songs and then COVID-19 hit and I was like ‘should I be releasing these songs?’ We then did six more in August and then we just finished up some last final touches recently.
We managed to get Adam Harvey to come in and do a collaboration on one of the tracks so there’s a little duet in there. It’s a really classic country tune. This album is very much a traditional country album. I think with ‘Ash & Dust’ and I’d Do It Again’, they were more alternative but then ‘Wish You Were My Beer’ is definitely traditional and that’s more the sound of this album.
TD: That’s what I was going to ask you because the subgenres of country music can feel so distinct yet indistinct at the same moment. What one do you find yourself falling into mostly?
BD: Yeah, it’s not that distinct sometimes, where the line is! This album has a bit of alternative and traditional as well as some pop contemporary sounds to it as well. The thing that gets me the most is that traditional sound of people like Alan Jackson or Waylon Jennings. I love it all but I really love that stuff.
So I decided that this particular album is going to have that traditional focus. I’m looking forward to getting more of the songs out there that have that atmosphere. They definitely dominate the album more than the alternative or pop sound.
TD: I was interested to trace your journey to here. You’re from Western Sydney which isn’t a traditional hotbed of country music. What brought you to the sound initially?
BD: Yeah, there’s not a lot of country music around here! Growing up really close to Penrith, it’s such a classic rock type of place. If you ever go see a cover band around here, they’ll probably just be playing classic rock. I started playing with my brother as a duo because my uncle had a friend who was having a birthday and he asked us to play so that was our first gig. We started doing covers when I was around 16.
My dad had Faith Hill and Shania Twain CDs and we used to do these long trips down the coast to my Nan and Pop’s place so I needed something to listen to. I guess I was at that point where I was listening to anything and everything, just trying to find more music.
I think it helped that Faith Hill and Shania Twain are still quite pop so I wasn’t dropped into full-blown country right away! But I heard the pedal steel on Faith Hill’s stuff and was like ‘what is this instrument?’ I thought it was so cool and after that, I tried to find more stuff like that. It eventually went deeper and deeper, going back to Hank Williams, all the way through the genre.
TD: Is there one period of country music that you’d love to go back and immerse yourself in?
BD: I reckon the 70’s would be so good, just being around country music at that time. It seems to come and go in waves. There was Hank in the 50’s doing his thing and then it went really pop in the 60’s but then in the 70’s, that’s when people got sick of the pop and artists like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were able to come back really strong.
TD: Being an outsider, so to speak, from the genre, do you think this gave you a fresh perspective?
BD: It’s definitely something that I have to remind myself of every now and then. When I see what other people are doing or achieving, I have to remind myself ‘you don’t play mainstream country music’. Not everyone’s going to like it. I still think it’s really worth doing though because it’s the country music that I love. I think that people really will love it and this music just needs a chance. I just think people aren’t making traditional country music as much these days.
Check out ‘Mary Jane’:
TD: Obviously your fiancée Cass is a country star in her own right. What’s your dynamic like when you work together?
BD: It started when Cass was like ‘I want to give country music a go’, and I had been doing it for four or five years by this point. I had been doing the traditional country style for myself but I still enjoy writing pop stuff so it was excellent for me. So I started writing some songs and then Cass wanted to be involved in the songwriting too which is why we now write a lot of the songs together. It’s cool because I haven’t done much co-writing in my life but it’s so easy to do it with her because we live together! We get some pretty cool results.
TD: That’s right, you won two TSA Awards recently? How did that feel?
BD: I didn’t even know we were entered in that until we got these certificates in the mail saying we were finalists. They’re Cass’s songs but we wrote them together so I was like ‘oh cool, I’m up for this as well, that’s awesome!’ Stuff like that is so good. You’re sitting at home writing songs and there’s no feedback, it’s just you thinking that the music is good, so when you get an award like that it’s great validation that you’re on the right track.
TD: You also played at the Tamworth Country Music Festival this year. What was the atmosphere like with it being reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions?
BD: It was such a weird festival this year. We had a great time despite it really not being a festival at all. Cass supported Andrew Swift and I played guitar with her at that. We went to the Golden Guitars for the first time. I’ve never been there in person before, I’ve always just watched it on the livestream or youtube. It’s so different actually being there, you can see the stage, the tables, it’s like seeing behind the magic I suppose. It really made it seem a lot more attainable.
TD: So how much have you missed touring? It’s such a big part of country music especially.
BD: I’m pretty into my instrumental stuff so I love getting out there and jamming on the guitar. I’ve been missing it a lot but I’ve managed to make up for it because I’ve had heaps of time to mess around on other instruments and get better. I started learning the lap steel guitar, doing more stuff on the mandolin, I’ve done a bunch of stuff.
TD: No harmonica yet?
BD: Oh yeah, I did actually (laughs). That was a brief point in there as well, I did that for about a month. There was just so much time to explore new things.
TD: What’s the plan for the rest of the year then? Try and sort some tour dates?
BD: That’s pretty much exactly it. I’ve got some ideas in the works but the album still won’t be out until the end of the year obviously. It’s slightly annoying because festivals and tours are just starting to come back now and a lot of them are honouring lineups that they were going to do in 2020. And that’s great, everybody gets to play their gig, but it’s made this sort of buffer where you have to wait for your turn.
I’d like to get on a support slot with somebody though, I think that’s the plan if I’m going to do some shows before the album’s release. It’s just about working out who’s touring and who’s not.
Check out ‘I’d Do It Again’: