Photo: Jason Landis
Blackbear Talks New EP ‘Misery Lake,’ Dream Collab With BTS, Making Music For His Mental Health & Fatherhood
Like many of us, blackbear spent the seamless string of early pandemic-filled months holed up indoors, battling the feelings of isolation and anxiety brought on COVID-19. Unlike many of his fans, though, the Los Angeles-based artist, singer and hit songwriter emerged from last year's quarantine period with two new projects: his fifth studio album everything means nothing and new EP misery lake, which he's releasing tomorrow, August 13.
"It's about isolation–it's basically about quarantine and how you can feel loopy and you can feel happy and you can feel horrible all at the same time," he told GRAMMY.com over the phone.
blackbear spent the weeks leading up to the August release of everything means nothing surfing through Los Angeles Airbnbs, where he wrote and recorded what would turn out to be his two latest projects. Creating music at those rental homes became the mental health escape he needed from the pandemic, he explained.
"We recorded the whole everything means nothing album at probably three different [Airbnb] houses and then, for my mental health, I was like I need to just keep getting houses and keep recording," he said. "So I was like, let's do another project; what could it hurt?"
The result was misery lake–a six-song EP that encapsulates the feelings of loneliness and longing of 2020 in the melancholy-drenched yet undeniably catchy way that only blackbear's music can.
Now, arriving in a post-quarantine world, the EP translates into heartbroken bangers with edgy-pop production that fans will soon be screaming back to blackbear as he tours the U.S. this fall. The 33-stop trek with Maroon 5, which kicked off in Washington earlier this week, is just one of the positive things 2021 has brought the 30-year-old. Earlier this year, blackbear became engaged to his girlfriend Michele Maturo and in January, the couple celebrated their son Midnight's first birthday. The tot's voice can be heard on the outro of misery Lake's "bad day."
"It wakes me up in the morning," blackbear said of being a first-time dad. "It's a reason to keep going and to keep showing up for myself and to be a good example for my son."
Speaking with GRAMMY.com a week before releasing misery lake, blackbear opened up about writing and recording music to protect his mental health, how fatherhood inspires him, his love for BTS, recent cross-genre collaborations and more. After linking back up with his Mansionz collaborator Mike Posner for their single "Jealousy" earlier this year, blackbear also offers fans an update on what's next for the duo. Read his full interview below.
misery lake is your first project since last year's everything means nothing and it's your first EP since 2017's Salt. Did you set out to make an EP or did it start with "u love u" with Tate McRae and kind of build from there?
After everything means nothing, I kept wanting to get these writing houses. We kept recording in Airbnbs in L.A. County because my studio is under construction right now, so we were getting Airbnbs and just setting up speakers and microphones in there. [They were] pretty nice places, too. We recorded the whole everything means nothing album at probably three different houses and then, for my mental health, I was like I need to just keep getting houses and keep recording. So I was like, let's do another project; what could it hurt?
Was writing and recording music a good mental health release for you during the weirdness of quarantine?
For sure. The whole underlying theme of the EP is isolation and just feeling so alone. The first track is called "alone in a room full of people" to give you an idea, and it's just kind of a lonely EP, but it actually makes me feel good, too, at the same time.
What was that experience like, recording music in these different houses? I know a lot of artists usually like recording at home or in their studio where they feel most comfortable. Was it different being in these new places?
Yeah, at every house, we just had to kind of feel it out. You can't really tell from the pictures–every house looks nice on Airbnb.com. And then when you get there, you find a good couple houses and you stick to those. We had like two houses that we really liked, where we made everything means nothing in and all of misery lake in.
Where did the title misery lake come from?
It's about isolation–it's basically about quarantine and how you can feel loopy and you can feel happy and you can feel horrible all at the same time. I really felt like I was in this imaginary place and I started tagging [the location of] my photos on Instagram as "Misery Island," "Misery Lake" and stuff like that, and I was like, you know what? I love that for a title. Maybe my next EP will be called Sorrow Forest.
"@ my worst" has to be my favorite song on the project. What was the story behind that track?
It was one of our writing trip days and I think we were writing for other artists; I don't think we were writing for blackbear at the time. It just came out, and it was the first time I sat with [the song's co-producer] Andrew [Goldstein] and just really let it all come out. I was feeling a lot at that time. A lot of mental health [stuff] going on, a lot of anxiety.
It came out in a really beautiful way. Like you said, the EP is a lot of isolation and heartbreak, but you've been celebrating lots of good things this year. Your son turned 1 and you recently became engaged. How does your family and being a dad impact your music?
It wakes me up in the morning. It's a reason to keep going and to keep showing up for myself and to be a good example for my son. I just want to be the kind of dad that shows him how to be a man and how to take care of business and really just trust in yourself and trust in the process. I wanna set a good example, and I think that's what it's done for me.
You can hear your son cry at the end of "bad day," which is really cute. What made you want to add that to the track?
We heard him downstairs and he was crying in-key. I was like, "He's going to be a singer." I went down there with my phone and recorded an audio note and that ended up making it onto the song. We didn't autotune it at all. He sang a perfect A major.
That's so cute! Is he already dancing or responding to music?
When we get in the car all he says is, "Dada. Dada. Dada." And he'll cry until Dada's music comes on. He doesn't wanna hear any other artist, it's insane. He's my biggest fan.
misery lake has that classic blackbear sound, but you've been having a lot of success lately crossing into other genres. For example, what was it like working with Kane Brown on "Memory"?
It was so fundamental for me to work with Kane Brown. I just wanted so badly to work with him. He's my favorite country artist out – besides Sam Hunt. I really like Sam Hunt as well. But Kane Brown especially because he's so versatile, and I love the direction he's moving in with his music. He's open to pop records and he's very open to experiment. He doesn't mind being the different one in the crowd and I love that.
Jungkook from BTS also recently covered your song "smile again" and I saw you gave him a shoutout for the cover on Twitter. Would you be open to collaborating with him or BTS?
I keep sending songs for BTS to cut. That's all I want! All I want is for them to take one of my songs, but I guess I just haven't written the right one yet. I'm just gonna keep trying, 'cause I've already sent them like three songs. I'm really trying really hard. Besides Ariana Grande, BTS is the other artist that I really wanna write for.
Earlier this year you and Mike Posner reunited to drop "Jealousy." Have you guys been working on anything else lately? Maybe a Mansionz Part II?
We have been working on Mansionz music but not Mansionz Part II officially yet. We've been sending ideas back and forth and when the time's right, when I'm off tour and he's done climbing whatever mountain he's on now. He already summited Mt. Everest; I think he's on another mountain now. He was also talking about going to space. So, as soon as he's done with those endeavors, we'll probably find some time. Both of our schedules have to pan out and we both have big dreams – they're very different dreams, but they're big dreams.
Like you said, you're getting ready to head out on tour for what will be your first string of shows since before the pandemic. Are you excited to get back out there?
I'm so worried that I'm not in shape enough, but yes. I've been running three miles a day and singing my set and just trying to prepare. Getting IV drips at the house with all the vitamins and everything, just trying not to get sick. My son has the stomach flu, so you know. I've just been in total preparation-mode, like really eating right and drinking my protein shakes. I'm just trying to be prepared for this tour because it's gonna be a big stage and it's gonna knock the wind out of me.
Have you been prepping with Maroon 5 at all? What's that like to get ready to go on tour with them?
I've been prepping over text with Adam Levine. He's been sending me his outfits back and forth so we can coordinate to not dress too similar. And we're making sure that we don't have the same color hair on tour–that's a big thing. [Laughs.] I think he has green hair right now, so I'm not gonna go green. I told him I might want to do pink and he was like, "I want pink." So, I'm just gonna stay blonde.
You collaborated with Maroon 5 on their album JORDI too, so there's got to be a good chemistry there already.
Yeah, JORDI was such a great album. There's no skips for me.
Earlier this summer you also partnered with the CBD beverage company VYBES to release your own drink that you've said helped you cope with symptoms from your chronic pancreatitis. How have you been doing health-wise?
I get flare-ups a couple times a week and I get an attack probably once a month, but I've been managing it to the best of my ability. I've had to cancel a couple [recording] sessions, but everybody's been really cool. Benny Blanco understood. He was really nice and he rescheduled [our session] about a month later and we made an amazing song together. It's just about managing it and managing my stress because stress is a really big trigger for pancreatitis. So, I've just been trying to keep my stress down and live a stress-free life.
Has it been challenging preparing for a physically-demanding tour?
For sure, there's been a lot of days where I couldn't get out of bed to go work out. So, it's been challenging for sure. But hopefully I can inspire somebody else with chronic illness.
Your fans will definitely appreciate finally getting to see you perform again, too!
That's the first thing I'm gonna say on stage, "I'm back fu**ing outside!"