Blake Allen Lillard: Paving his Own Way onto the Oklahoma Music Scene
There's a new guy in town, and I think he's going to be causing some heads to turn and people to pay attention.
I caught Blake Allen Lillard just by chance, playing a set at JJ's Alley during the Sunday Sessions the first weekend of August and was definitely impressed with what I heard.
I got the chance to chat with him a bit and found out more about this young musician fresh on the Oklahoma scene.
“I started playing guitar in the 5th grade. It was a little K-mart guitar. It's kind of funny, because I had just gotten in a fight in school 5th grade year and my grandparents picked me up and it just happened to be on the same day that I was going to get the guitar that was promised to me,” said Lillard with a laugh. “I didn't start the fight so I wasn't in trouble, so I still got the guitar.”
Lillard took that little K-mart guitar and started taking lessons, playing up until about the age of 13 when he set it aside for other pursuits.
“It was never like a big thing to me, especially not singing or songwriting. I rodeoed in high school, bareback horses. That was fun but also a little dangerous. Then junior year I kinda picked the guitar back up,” explained Lillard. “Senior year I started playing quite a bit more. I wasn't really that good back then. I remember writing some songs that sounded the same playing them back and they were kind of rough. I just kept at it.”
The moment that really got his attention was when he went with the Claremore FFA to the State FFA convention in Oklahoma city senior year in 2014, when he got to play for the crowd of about 10 thousand plus people.
“That was really cool, and that was kind of when I realized that I could actually do this for a career. I received a standing ovation from everyone in the place, and to get that kind of praise was really cool,” said Lillard. “Then I went off to college and I studied music business and got my Bachelors degree in May of this year. I was the first one in my family that actually went to college and graduated. My parents were proud of me so that was cool.”
Lillard definitely comes off as a good-ol-boy who worked hard and found his place. He's got a polite demeanor and a clean cut look, he seems to come from good stock in a genuine and real way.
“I started really hitting it hard in January of this year. I just realized that I didn't want to be an accountant or do anything like that. I knew I was graduating and I knew I was getting to a point that I needed to know what I wanted to do with my life, I really just started hitting the music scene hard and then released this EP a few weeks ago.”
His 5 song self titled EP was a labor of love. He worked long and hard on it, and actually played almost all the music on it as well as mixed and mastered it himself.
“They are all originals. I had a buddy, Alex Clark who played guitar on 2 of the songs, one of the songs he just plays a solo on it. Man he's so good. I wish I would have met him a little sooner, could have had some better guitar parts,” he said with a laugh. “I did all the music myself. I don't play drums but I used a drum machine for the album. I did every thing else, and it was a lot of work. I did the mixing and mastering myself with an online mastering tool.”
The album is available on Spotify, Itunes and all the other major music platforms.
“I use a lot of life experiences to write my songs. I never found it that easy to write fictional songs. Sometimes the Losers Win, that song is about my dad being on pills when I was growing up and my mom running off and that was all true. We are all flawed and that's the part about it, it's not that I'm trying to write songs just about people's problems and just isolate the problem itself. I've been able to see my dad get better dealing with that stuff, and I'm super proud of him and that's where I got it,” he said. “Because sometimes the losers win. Sometimes it doesn't look all that great from the outside and people want to write other people off but you can't always do that. I've been there too, I haven't always been the greatest example of a human being, but I really try to be good to people. So I write a lot about realistic experiences and just try to write things that tug on people's hearts a little bit and get them to thinking.”
Lillard says his musical style is somewhere between 90's traditional country and kind of a red dirt/Texas sound. I would strongly agree with him.
“It's a very traditional sound but at the same time it's my own thing, mixed with a lot of harmonica,” he said. “I've got a full band now and we don't get together as much as I'd like to but we're getting some gigs and trying to hit the bigger places. Just trying to play as many shows as I can for the most people that I can and build a following.”
His band now consists of Alex Clark on lead guitar, Gabe Belden on drums and Jon Coleman on bass. Belden and Coleman went to college with Lillard, where they played in the jazz band.
“They are very good musicians. We've been playing together for a while now, about 3 years. They are good wholesome guys, and that's who I want in my band and on my team,” said Lillard. “I'm just going to keep pushing it as hard as I can and playing it wherever I can. As far as music goes I have another project that I plan to have out in January if not a little sooner.”
One of the shows he has coming up is the Suicide Awareness Benefit at the Tulsa Speedway on 36th St N & 169. He'll be kicking off the show on September 28th at about 5 p.m. Trett Charles, Doc Fell & Co. and Josh Ward will be on the bill as well.
You can also check out his website at www.blakeallenlillard.com where he has a 'shows & dates' tab where you can find all of his upcoming shows, and even subscribe to get email notifications when new shows are added.
“I've got an idea in my head and I know how that goes sometimes, but I plan to get to a point where I can play music full time in 3 years. That's the goal I've set for myself and I'm just working towards that,” said Lillard.
Now onto the review of his self titled EP.
Sometimes the Losers Win has a great beat with a little honky tonking vibe. Lillard's voice is deep and southern like the traditional country crooners, and the music suits him well. The song tells a story of the trials and tribulations of his parents in a real, down to earth way. I think most people can identify with being flawed but having the chance for redemption. There's some rocking guitar solos going on in the song, and it makes you want to get up and boogie down. I saw him perform this one live at JJ’s and it really caught my attention and held me captive for those few minutes.
Edge of Town slows us down just a little bit. It's got a meandering beat, which matches the lyrics about slipping away from it all. It takes you off on a dreamy little tune that would be one of those perfect feet in the sand summer time tunes. Lillard's style definitely has it's roots in good old fashioned country music, authentic and genuine and real. He's not trying to be something he's not. It definitely doesn't feel like he's overplaying it or trying to just please the masses, he just sounds so comfortable in this style of music.
The Blame opens up with some great harmonica, followed by some fantastic guitar playing. His honey smooth voice comes barreling in, deep and reassuring. The lyrics are apologetic and vulnerable, about messing up and asking for forgiveness, all set to a lovely little country ditty. It makes you tap your toes and bop your head along with the beat. The harmonica really adds a good layer to it as well.
How's Dallas also opens up with some tasty licks on the harmonica. It's got a nice pace and rhythm, like a horse on a slow trot. It's a bit of a lost love tune, laced with some longing and memories, but set to such an upbeat tune that it's hard to get too melancholy about it all. There's a great guitar solo and Lillard's voice shines through like a strong cup of dark roast coffee.
I Must Be Dreaming might be my favorite on the album. It starts leisurely and unhurried and builds up to be powerful and bold. Lillard shows off his vocal skills in his ability to switch gears and make it so seamless from one to the other. Lyrically it's straightforward and simple, in an honest and authentic kind of way. What you see is what you get with this kid, which is pretty refreshing.
Overall it's pretty impressive as a first collection that's self produced, mixed and mastered. Which I think just goes to show that Lillard has what it takes and is only going to get better. His songwriting skills are strong and his voice is reminiscent of the country days gone by. He seems to have a really good head on his shoulders, and a strong drive to make his dreams come true. I'm looking forward to watching him take off, because I'm sure he will.
Go listen to his album, follow him on social media and check out a show soon. I don't think you will be disappointed.