Daryl Blake is no stranger to the Orange County music scene. In 2013, he co-founded The Grinning Ghosts, who spread their snotty garage rock all over Southern California and went on to release some tunes through Burger Records. They have recently returned from a hiatus, but Blake, a true songwriter at heart, as been hard at work on his own project in the meantime. The result is a new aptly-named solo album, Orange County Folk Songs Vol. 1, which was released at the end of last year. “I just happened to be writing about Orange County stuff just because I was born in Anaheim and I basically lived [here] my whole life” Blake says. But this regional focus ended up driving the album harder into a folk direction: in addition to utilizing the sort of eclectic and often acoustic instrumentation that is often heard in folk songs, Blake’s lyrics tell stories about his environment. “I feel like that’s a part of the folk tradition that I’m drawing on,” he says.
The American folk tradition is something that is obviously important to Blake, as a musical and culture lineage that he is a contemporary torchbearer for. In fact, whereas some may be quick to assume that this album was influenced by more modern folk punk acts, Blake claims that classic folk artists like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan were his main source of inspiration. “Daniel Johnston’s in there too,” he adds.
But the influence he draws from the folk tradition doesn’t just stop there. “Some songs specifically are sort of derived from older traditional folk songs,” he explains. “For instance, ‘Hard Times in Orange County Town’ is derived from ‘Hard Times At the Mill” and ‘Orange County Sunshine Blues’ is derived from ‘Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues.’” It’s interesting to note that both of those songs were based on older traditional songs, so in yet another way, Blake is carrying on the folk spirit by putting his own spin on them.
Blake’s lyrics are perceptive, relevant, and often delivered with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. “There’s a lot of Disney stuff in it,” he explains, “Just because that’s a part of the miasma that I’ve been marinating in for most of my life. My mom works at Disneyland. I have a weird love/hate relationship with it.” After all, how could anyone write a folk album about the OC and not mention Disneyland? It’s that enigmatic kingdom at the core of our county which somehow resembles both an international mecca and the Death Star.
“Devil on Main St.: Orange County Fires of 2017” is the song that deals with Disneyland the most directly. “It’s written from the perspective of Walt Disney’s ghost,” says Blake. “The Main St. in question is Main Street, USA at Disneyland.” What makes the song interesting though, is that it was written during and about the 2017 fires which covered the greater part of the county in a thick orange layer of smoke and embers. It’s through this Hellscape that Disney himself sees his creation for what it truly is.
It’s worth noting that Blake doesn’t seem to be so cynical in his personal life. Instead, he’s created this persona through which he can convey his criticisms and frustrations. “I think the character on the record comes across as much more apathetic and apprehensive about Orange County. I also have mixed feelings about Orange County but I feel like I’m more positive about it than the speaker in the songs,” he says.
There’s no doubt that Daryl Blake is a great songwriter, but he’s adamant that he couldn’t have created this record without the help of the musicians who played on it. They include: Luke Johnson, Gus Puga, Dan Fowler, Richie Belmondo, Josh Santallan, Buzz Gabrakirstos, @tommygunblues, and OC music scene fixture Michael Haight, who’s earned much respect and praise from Blake. “He’s a big influence on me, probably on everything that I do,” he says.
Blake plans to record a blues album and to start on Orange County Folk Songs Vol. 2 this year. Hopefully those songs will be just as insightful and relevant as these. Daryl Blake is much more than a musician: he’s a composer, a storyteller, and a poet.