By Christopher Treacy & Terry Blade
Chicago-based Terry Blade is a singer-songwriter with a creative vision that’s been getting him noticed since his striking 2020 debut, ‘Misery (Mastered for Headphones).’ In the short span of time since, he’s racked up over thirty awards for his work, which speaks to people through disarming grit and honesty. Blade cleverly articulates his experience as a queer person of color with homespun tracks that are largely under-produced, meaning he polishes them up without pushing the finished songs beyond believability. There’s no vocal showboating, no over-the-top slickness—Blade keeps it real, which allows his message to penetrate on a deeper level. It’s vulnerable in a way seldom heard these days, especially with artists in and around modern R&B.
But while last year’s Neo Queer employed more of a neo-soul delivery system, the upcoming ‘Ethos: Son of a Sharecropper’ (out January 20) leans into something rootsier. On the first single, “Won’t Be Around,” also our current Song of The Week in the latest CQ Roundup, Blade’s voice is the star of the show, lightly punctuated with rhythmically plucked acoustic guitar and carefully placed piano chords that perpetuate the drama. The song doesn’t mince words: Blade is up and leaving. Done. Gone. The sparse presentation allows the listener to really let the words seep into consciousness—having to leave isn’t often pretty, but in this case, it’s necessary.
As an excerpt from a more linear storyline, “Won’t Be Around” leaves us wondering about context: is he inhabiting a character, or is this a first person narrative? Blade reveals a bit more below, and when the album arrives in a couple weeks, we’ll have the full picture. In the meanwhile…
While you’ve explored multiple different musical motifs in the last few years, your music seems to have a foundation in R&B. For this project, though, you’ve leaned into an Americana aesthetic. What about this project made that feel like the right choice?
The term ‘ethos’ as used in the album’s title refers to the morals, values and beliefs of an individual or an entire culture. The project seeks to communicate my ethos to the listener through an exploration of my personal experiences. Thematically, the album wrestles with self-identity, culture, community, relationships, adversity and perseverance. The term ‘son of a sharecropper’ as used in the album’s title is a reference to my being a descendant of black American sharecroppers in Colerain, North Carolina. Sharecropping was a system developed in the American South after the end of the Civil War.
Because the album’s themes are inextricably linked to my roots as a person, Americana or American roots music felt like the more appropriate aesthetic for this project. I also wanted to show that black American music doesn’t just encompass R&B, it also includes what we think of traditional Americana music. As a genre-fluid singer-songwriter who is both black American and queer, I am well positioned to demonstrate that.
“Won’t Be Around” is a powerful declaration. It sounds as if it could be a strong statement of independence, but my instincts tell me it’s got more to do with abandonment. Can you talk a little about how this track fits into the narrative of the ‘Ethos…’ project?
“Won’t Be Around” is a follow up to the last line in the previous song “Come Home.” The line goes “If the bond is worth saving, darling you better come home or I’ll be gone.” “Won’t Be Around” is about me doing exactly what I said I would do. That is part of my ethos. When I say I’m going to do something, I mean it. “Won’t Be Around,” is about showing, doing, acting. Specifically, it is about showing independence by outright abandoning a situation that I said I would abandon.
The song would’ve stood up to a busier arrangement, but you kept it spare. Did you try it a few different ways? The vocal stands out more prominently this way… I’m guessing this was deliberate. What is it about this vocal performance that makes you proud?
A sparse minimal arrangement was exactly what I had in mind for this song from the beginning. I deliberately took a less-is-more approach with the production to make the vocals and the underlying message of the lyrics the focal point of the song. I’m proud of this vocal performance because its raw, honest, gritty and vulnerable.
Can you tell us about your recent Global Music Award – what was it for and what does it mean to you?
I was incredibly fortunate to receive the Gold Medal of Award of Excellence from the Global Music Awards for my previous neo soul album Neo Queer. That award meant the world to me because not many organizations are willing to recognize or celebrate the work of black queer artists, especially when that work is so clearly derived from a black queer experience. That album was all about love—love of self, love of others, and love unrequited.
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.
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