Four our newest Home Team addition, I visited the home of Chicago artist bleeklino, where we spoke about his prolific year, his upcoming plans, and his outlook on the scenes in both Chicago and Detroit, where he is originally from. Along with the interview, we are also premiering his newest track, "Baba Babinski".
Driving to bleeklino's home in Pilsen, it rains the entire way. With the windshield wipers putting in work, I feel as though I'm entering an aquarium within Chicago. It's only fitting that bleeklino (aka Nico Haag), who has a song called "Purple Beach", lives on a street known as Blue Island. Through his abstract and experimental yet accessible music, he crafts his own world where he is an introspective voyager; an explorer looking into himself. When he lets me into his home, he shows me his room, which is a tiny patch of space no bigger than a closet. It is covered in clothes with a bed on the floor. For more space, we take to the back outdoor patio where he smokes cigarettes near a crackling amp, playing me music, including something he made the night before.
“My next release is gonna be a project called King," he tells me. "It's gonna be a ten song project. Unlike all my other stuff, where you said it’s like a cassette tape, it's not gonna be like that. It's gonna be each song on its own. I feel like I've been mushing everything together because I haven't been able to make each song kinda feel like a world of its own, so putting them all together kind of created this entire world where I couldn't do that with just one song, but this next album, on King, I'm really trying to make each song a specific atmosphere, head space. As soon as it starts, it's the beginning of something new.” He compares the experience of entering a new song to that of Animal Collective.
While King is his next release, and while three other EPs have been released this calendar year, bleeklino is still considering the near-mythological Sleep Castle to be his forthcoming debut album. Unlike his other releases, which have been recorded on laptop speakers in home studios, Sleep Castle will be an album polished and recorded in a proper booth. It is an album with a GoFundMe for studio costs, an album evolving into something new and fantastical, just like the title.
“I started talking about it before I really put anything out,” he tells me, “like River Bones or anything. So when I put River Bones out, I was like, 'This is side work while still working on Sleep Castle' so people would be like, 'Oh, Sleep Castle's still a thing'.”
Now, months later, multiple projects later, and Sleep Castle remains an abstraction. “I'm just weird about it now because it is what it is. I wanted it to be more at the time. If I go back to a song, it goes back to thinking back on a relationship. It's not fully as genuine as it was when it was happening.”
Taking a few steps back to the history of bleeklino, I ask him about the origin of his unique name. “bleeklino was originally my Xbox gamer tag in high school," he laughs, telling me how his dad calls him Bleeks and how his grandma (“my nona”) calls him Nicolino, which is Italian for little Nico. Combining the two together, he becomes Little Bleeks.
He’s not your typical Chicago artist. He sounds like of Montreal playing David Bowie on an iPhone voice memo, yet rolls with rappers like Melo Makes Music and Ju.
He plays a handful of instruments: “The more you understand other instruments, the more you understand your songs in general.”
He records and produces on GarageBand: “Sometimes it takes a little bit longer but I think that adds to it sounding a little bit different.”
His home studio is his bed on the floor of his cramped and cluttered room. All this and he was just able to legally drink this month. Despite his prolific efforts, he tells me his older brother (23) is even more productive. “My brother's a master music maker.” He says his brother is the whole reason he makes music. “He's so active.” bleeklino tells me his brother has made 60 albums and painted almost 200 canvases. “When he's not doing that, he's writing this philosophy book of thoughts he has. He makes me feel like a lazy piece of shit.”
Since he originally hails from Beverly Hills, Michigan, about half an hour from Detroit, we discuss the similarities and differences between his hometown and his Windy City home base.
“[Chicago's] definitely a lot cooler," he begins. "Detroit's music scene is all post hardcore emotional rock. They're not bad, but they're just riding a wave that once was a thing. They aren't really doing what they feel. It's not gonna be a progressive movement. Just gonna be a standstill. I don't like it and I don't like playing music there. It's the same 100 kids and it's almost like a talent show with the same people.”
“I like Chicago because it's really competitive," he continues. "So many people on their shit. There's so many talented people here. I'm really happy that I fell into a similar realm that Ju and Carmelo (Melo Makes Music) exist in. I think the hip-hop scene is so competitive and active and everyone's trying to push the limit to make their mark in the scene, so I really like that aspect of it. I feel like a lot of people think shit's cool because they haven't heard a lot of music I grew up listening to.”
As much as he loves Chicago, he tells me that he plans on heading back to Michigan for the winter.
“Even if I move back home, which I might for the winter, cause I'm not doing so hot, this is always gonna be my roots. I'll always be around here. That's my most recent intense switch-up. The other night I had this crazy dream, woke up, just started crying. Shit's definitely weird. I don't know why I can't thrive on my own yet but I can't. I've just been mooching off my girlfriend for the whole year. It'll be good. I can go home, save some money, get my recording shit together.”
While he's only been in Chicago for about a year, he plans on returning once winter turns into spring and he has some money in his pocket. “I came here on a whim," he says. "Like, 'Fuck you mom, I'm going to Chicago.' She makes me feel like a hobo who makes music when I'm at home. Around here I feel more validated for the things that I value and do.” He also tells me how he can't handle Chicago in the winter. “It's just so sad. Everyone's pressed as fuck.”
He mentioned briefly about having a dream and waking up in tears, so I ask him if he's had any dreams recently that are worth sharing.
“Lately I've been thinking about dying a lot, and just the concept of forever. Deep space. I've been paying attention to a lot of weird things like conspiracy theories that I don't necessarily believe in but it's more interesting than reading about the fucking debate.”
He tells me about a dream where he's in space. “Not black and clear but black and full of dimensional blobs of color that kind of moved in a similar way that I would only be able to compare to acid patterns.” Fractal domains, moving blobs. He says he was with his brother and people from various parts of his life. “Kind of like on this Magic School Bus field trip, in this space area. At one point, there was this rocket ship and were going to go in it and I remember being scared, wondering when is this going to stop? Because through these blobs of color was just infinity. When we got to this destination, it was just a swampy ass house still in this space realm. Nothing significant happened there, I just remember getting there and being like 'damn'." It is here that he quotes ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna about jumping into the darkness and finding comfort. Just as his writing and recording process is a deep space endeavor, so too is living day to day trying to sustain from art.
As we close out the interview, doing what I always do, I ask bleeklino if he has any advice for artists working on their craft.
“If you focus too much on being heard, you're not gonna remember why you were doing this shit in the first place. It's important to always look at everything happening to you with the attitude that this can all go into the creative process. I think a lot of people focus too much on being heard. Focus on the fucking music. I really believe in the saying, easy come, easy go. Just because you know someone who knows someone who knows someone that can put you on a blog, in ten years, that shit's not gonna be relevant. People should really focus on being themselves and have them show through in a way that's so unique that no one could do it but you and if they did, you could easily tell that they were trying to mimic what you were doing because they're just doing what you naturally do best.”
The interview comes to a close and I return on my way with the rain fading and the sun returning to Pilsen's industrial Blue Island. I bid farewell to bleeklino, knowing full well that the next time I see him, he will have a couple of more projects under his belt, forever plotting on Sleep Castle, with plenty of new ideas taking him into the dark yet comforting void of tomorrow.