Blake Stranathan is a guitarist, producer, and writer currently working with Lana Del Rey. After being a finalist on MTV’s Making His Band at the age of 20, Blake has gone on to work with artists such as Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole, Nicole Scherzinger and many others. He is currently on tour with Lana, and helped write and produce on her new album, Ultraviolence.
What kind of pedalboard do you have and what is your signal chain?
Right now I’m using a Pedaltrain pro with a fairly simple set up:
Guitar–> ProAnalog Supaquack Wah –> Suhr Riot –> Berkos Third Stone Fuzz –> Klon Centaur –> Boss Tuner –> Ernie Ball VP Jr –> JTM45/100 (with FX Loop and Master Volume)
Can you share what the co-writing process was like with Lana Del Rey on the new album Ultraviolence?
It was probably the best experience of my life so far. I was in New York visiting family, and Lana invited me down to Electric Lady Studios, which was always a dream of mine being a Hendrix nut. It was surreal being and working there. We wound up being there for 8 or 9 days with basically the entire place to ourselves. I had played guitar on a couple tracks that were pretty much finished, but one morning I came to the studio super early just to work out some tones and play in that amazing live room. As I was coming up with some progressions, Lana walked in and we came up with “Pretty When You Cry” on the spot. It was recorded through a Neve 8078 which just sounded unreal. None of it was planned which certainly added to the vibe. The same happened with “Cruel World”. I was actually watching a video of the ‘BigSky’ on my computer and showed it to her. She said, “Fuck! That sounds amazing. We need that.” (Laughs) So a couple of hours later, a runner went out and grabbed one. On the last day while Phil Joly, the engineer, was bouncing down a couple sessions, and she asked me if I wanted to play around with the new pedal in the live room. I played maybe a few chords and we immediately started writing ‘Cruel World’. We recorded it just guitar and vocal in one take, and then Dan Auerbach went on to produce the song not long after. Everything about the recording and writing process was super organic, plus the energy in that studio is very powerful. I came up with the guitars for ‘Flipside‘ at home in Los Angeles using the BigSky as well. I made a quick video clip and sent it to her phone. We wound up writing the song a couple days later at her house, and then recorded it at a studio later that night. Strymon definitely played a big role in shaping the sound of the record.
Now that recording software and equipment has become more accessible, what are your thoughts on home recording vs. going into a studio?
Home recording and the technology today is such a big advantage. I do most of my creating at home using an Apogee Duet and my MacBook Pro, which is loaded with plug-ins. It gives you the ability to make really awesome demos and record ideas without having to waste time and money at a big studio. Through trial and error, you also become a better engineer and mixer as a result. However, I think a combination of the two is the best scenario; Being able to work out your ideas at home, and then recording it for real in a nice studio. Being in your room is just not the same as being in a great space and collaborating with others.
After finishing working on the Lana Del Rey album, how did you musically prepare for the tour to support the album?
We are still adding in new songs here and there. There are multiple guitar tracks on many of the songs, so it was important to find the best way to incorporate all of them and make sure it sounds super full. It’s important to approach the music with a ‘producer’s ear’, like what you can add sonically to bring the music to life. During the live show, the sounds of the keyboards and some of the drum triggers are controlled off-stage via MIDI. The BigSky and TimeLine are hooked up via MIDI, and I made presets for each song. When the next song is loaded up, the pedals sync up to the specific patches. It’s such a life-saver on stage because I make guitar changes on a lot of the songs due to the different tunings. I use Fenders and I am always manipulating the tone/volume controls and pickup positions. The Klon is on all the time, and I have the Strymons in the FX loop to give me the atmospherics I need.
What would be a top tip you would give to an aspiring songwriter?
Be constantly learning and be unique. Don’t be quick to filter your ideas. Trust your gut.
We would love to know if you’d be willing to share a preset you used on “Flipside” with BigSky.
For the verse part I used the first Cloud preset with the mix turned to 3 o’clock, with the tone rolled off on the neck pickup on a strat. For the choruses I just flipped down to the bridge pickup.