There’s a diary-like aspect to a record like this, and parts of your life can’t help but spill into it. In this instance, I just grabbed a CD of Secrets for the car, and when I heard “Cane,” I thought of the book the song is based on because I’d read it while I was working with Gil. And then I thought about Ibeyi and how I wanted to play it for them.
I also really wanted to have a reading from the book in the song, and it occurred to me that Kim Jordan, who was Gil’s keyboard player, has a fantastic speaking voice as well. So I asked her about reading from the book, and she did. There’s a lot of threads in there, and I really like the idea of being able to present a song that Gil wrote to people.
10. “Purify (Interlude)”
Peter Gabriel is on this song—but he doesn’t sing, he plays piano. Did you want him to sing?
We did a few sessions and we did record stuff with him singing, which is really good, but it’s not on the album. There’s something refreshing about people who are hugely famous but just here to play. I asked him about it once, and he said that he was only a weekend pop star. He really appears to have no ego, which is strange, given all of his achievements. Also, if you’ve got super famous people singing, there will be the potential to overshadow the song. There are some really famous people in the background of this record, which is quite nice and generous; they left the greater platform to the other artists.
11. “Be My Friend”
Ben Reed, who is in Frank Ocean’s live band and played on Blonde, plays guitar on this song. And XL released the physical version of Blonde. Which made me wonder: What’s your relationship with Frank, and did you try to involve him in the sessions for this album?
I would imagine he’s fairly inundated with people suggesting he does stuff. But I’m a massive fan, and he was an inspiration on this album. When I started making this record, I felt like the main inspirations were these warm ’70s records by Robert Wyatt, Curtis Mayfield, and Gil—really soulful albums that feel like they’re giving a bit of a hug. But while I was making it, there was this run of unbelievable timeless classics that came out, one after the other: D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, Lemonade, The Life of Pablo, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. And Blonde was probably the masterpiece of all of them.
I get a slight Miles Davis thing from Frank—he’s inspired when he’s inspired, and that’s attractive. And to do that, you have to value the inspiration above the norms of society, above the music industry, above the expectations, above the schedule, above everything. When you do that, it creates the potential for something truly important to occur.
12. “Everything Is Recorded”
This song is about appreciating the moment and taking full advantage of it, which is something you seem to be really great at. Do you have any tips as far as staying in the present and not getting distracted with nonsense?
Meditation is very popular for a reason, it’s one of the only things you can really do for your mind. I meditate every day. But meditation doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal practice, and if you just do things meditatively, that can be very good for you, whether that is playing an instrument or painting or walking. It can be incredibly important. There are massive upsides to the fast way we consume things now, but then there’s obviously a price to pay for things speeding up. This record taking such a long time might have to do with me making sure I wasn’t letting things speed up too much.