'A soul search': Blake Berglund pours heart and mind into new album

When a modest artist says he's recording the best work he's ever done, it's more than enough encouragement to hear more.

Blake Berglund says his new album, Realms, is a concept record and his best work yet

Blake Berglund is working on his new album, Realms. (Chris Haynes/CBC)

When a modest artist says he's recording the best work he's ever done, it's more than enough encouragement to hear more. 

Blake Berglund has done just that with his new album, Realms. While the album is still pure country, Berglund told CBC's The Morning Edition it's also a concept album.

"It was a concept that came together just following Christmas," Berglund said. "It's sort of a multilayered onion, and a concept record. I'm heavily influenced by classic rock stuff like the Pink Floyd movement — and they always had this concept behind their material. So I thought it would be fun and a little challenge to approach a new record with that mindset."

The genre of country music in the mainstream has become these ideas of trucks, and get drunk and glorify alcoholism and stuff. And it's not something that should be glorified.- Blake Berglund

Prior to recording Realms, Berglund said he approached records with the mindset of writing "some great songs and let's put them all on the album." While Berglund's statement certainly downplays the effort any album requires, he said this new album was more of a challenge.

"To sort of put a concept together and stick to it in the writing process," he said. "This is the first album that I did that really drew off personal experience, personal relationships — the relationship with my dad, my mom, my brothers and sisters. (There is) A big family orientation to the record."

Berglund said his sister called it "the breadth of the human experience."

Blake Berglund performs in the Empty Room series. (Brent Nielsen)

"It's kind of a man finding himself," he said. "The struggles that he endures coming through them and then bringing it home and trying to enlighten his community from those struggles."

In 2015, Berglund said he spent all his time on the road, which sometimes led to a feeling of complacency and "not creating the best art you can". Now, he focused in on a vision to create his best work yet.

Blake knew what he was going after as soon as he walked in the door- Jason Plumb

"It's just like something bigger grabs you and shakes you and says, 'You kind of have a job to do.' And it was that moment that I recognized, 'Yes, I've worked my whole like at this and it should have a positive message, and it's time to really put that into the material.' "

While Berglund stays true to his country roots, Realms isn't the country music many people are used to hearing these days. And that's great news for Berglund.

"The genre of country music in the mainstream has become these ideas of trucks, and get drunk and glorify alcoholism and stuff. And it's not something that should be glorified. I mean, when Merle (Haggard) was talking about alcoholism, he was disappointed in himself.  When George Jones was talking about alcoholism, he was disappointed in himself and moving through it was an issue."

For Realms, Berglund teamed up with Saskatchewan producer Jason Plumb, who said the album is a collection of "amazing, amazing songs."

"(This is) a project that a lot of thought has gone into. Blake knew what he was going after as soon as he walked in the door," Plumb said.

 "We've been living in the age of shuffle, and singles, and iTunes. With the resurgence of vinyl, it brings back the possibility of doing this and knowing that people are going to listen on two sides or four sides."

With files from CBC's The Morning Edition