The name is new, but you might recognize the faces: James Blonde is a Niagara Falls-based Pop trio comprised of the members formerly known as XPRIME.
Like kindred spirits Billy Talent and Franz Ferdinand, guitarist Steph Mercier, drummer Phil Taylor, and bassist Neil Carson have created a fast-following with a repertoire of original rock-edged power pop songs that feature finely-tuned ensemble playing highlighted with grand solo flourishes.
“Some of our favourite bands didn’t have typical band names, so we wanted to follow in the footsteps of having a person’s name representing the group,” Taylor confirms. “To us, the name James Blonde represents the group. It’s its own entity. We are James Blonde, and the singularity of the band is the most important part.”
The Blondes recently released their independent self-titled debut album featuring the lead single, “Don’t Lock the Door.”
Taylor, Mercier, and Carson — who have played together in various permutations since around 2010 — credit Derek Hoffman (The Elwins, Like Pacific) with helping to develop each song’s maximum potential during sessions at the producer’s Fox Sounds studios in Toronto in late 2016.
Says Carson, “Derek really dug into the songs. He added just enough elements for a big-production album yet maintained the essence of a three-piece band.”
While James Blonde are stoked to have the new album out, all three members admit it’s a means to an end: playing live. Performance is James Blonde’s calling card, as electrified crowds who have caught the band at marquee festivals like Osheaga, Edgefest, CMW, and Sound of Music — or opening for Weezer, Sam Roberts Band, Serena Ryder, the Arkells, and Lights — can attest.
“Our favourite thing to do is play live in front of audiences,” Taylor says. “So, success with this record would mean continuing to tour but on a larger scale. We wouldn’t complain if we had some radio play. But really, the goal is to get the music out there, so people come see us play, and see the party come to life.”
“We are songwriters and performers at heart,” adds Carson. “We just want to write and play forever.”
David Farrell caught up with the band shortly following their return from a road-trip in the western part of the country that included having the contents of their van burgled. Fortunately, it came with a silver-edge, as is explained below.
You have just returned from a western tour driving from Niagara Falls to Vancouver where your van was burgled and your cash and passports were stolen. This must have been pretty disheartening?
Yes, but luckily what started off as a disheartening event turned into the most heartwarming part of our tour. After a night of calling the police, cancelling cards/reporting the theft and processing what happened and how to move forward, we posted about it the next morning. We just wanted to let our fans know what happened, in case it would affect some future commitments.
However, immediately after the post, we got an outpouring of support; a couple of fans sent us e-transfers, and others suggested we start a GoFundMe for those who wanted to help. We ended up making back all we had lost in 24 hours! Our fans showed us an immense amount of support, and it really hit us how much reach we’ve had as a band to have our fans come out and support us like this.
Tell us a little about the inspirations that led to writing the songs on your self-titled debut album.
These songs felt like they were a long-time coming. We had been a band (under an old moniker and lineup) for several years prior; playing and writing in a style that never really felt natural to us at the time. So when the lineup changed to a three-piece, we were able to explore song ideas and musical elements that we had kept in the dark before, but have always felt were more natural. We are huge fans of the Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Mother Mother and of course The Beatles, and we utilized the influence of these artists and more current alt/rock music we’ve come to love to help shape the more modern rock/pop tone of our début album as James Blonde.
Have you mapped out a career arc for the band, and how closely do you work with your manager, agent and publicist?
We honestly haven’t thought of a career arc for the band. The band was formed out of our love of music and performing, and a career wasn’t necessarily our prime goal when we started: we just wanted to play music and present it to people. The band just sort of kept going and growing naturally out of our thirst to keep writing and performing for more people. I guess you could say our arc is to continue building as much as we can in a sustainable way so we can keep doing what we love as long as we can.
Of course, a manager is a key to growth and longevity; we work closely with Michael Greggs (manager, Been There Done That Entertainment) to make sure we’re on the right path and connecting with the right people to move ahead. We’ve recently started working with Eric Alper who’s helped show us the power of publicity and PR, and it’s a relationship we hope to continue and grow with the band’s future releases and stories. As for an agent, Phil (the drummer) still acts as the band’s agent as he has from day 1, but we’re looking to add an experienced agent to our team to help get the band’s strong suit (our live show) to a broader audience!
In a general sense do you find your interactions with local radio stations and club promoters advantageous or frustrating?
It depends on the interaction. I feel like with the oversaturation of amateur weekend/hobby bands, coupled with the lack of live “original” music venues; there is a lot of cynicism with local radio and promoters especially. It’s often hard to get a promoter excited or even interested in booking a band he hasn’t worked with or booked before. But I find that once that first show happens, the interactions are a lot easier, and promoters tend to be a lot more excited about helping the band grow at their venue/in their market.
As for local/campus radio, I feel like it’s become increasingly hard as a more “mainstream” genre band (alt, rock, pop, etc.) to get radio play since most of them seem to gravitate towards more niche genres. Which is great for giving those styles a platform to be showcased on, but makes it harder for bands trying to break on commercial radio to get any traction or momentum in the early stages of their radio tracking.
The opportunities in a crowded music scene seemingly favouring a small number of superstars must be daunting. What magic potion drives James Blonde to succeed in this Jurassic Park?
I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that commercial radio and top40 is no longer the primary goal of a band like James Blonde; it’s one of many “what if” objectives, but it’s not the primary focus for us. Our love/lust for the stage is what drives us forward. If we can make fans one at a time and make lasting impressions at our live shows, those are real fans that will continue to support us even after a big single stops being relevant. I think our experience with the GoFundMe campaign just reinforced our belief that when it comes to a fan base for us, it’s quality over quantity.
We try to spend the time and money where it counts to curate a fan base that loves the music, the band and the story we build as we grow; those are the fans that will keep us going, buy our records and tickets and stick by us as we continue. We don’t need to be top of the charts for commercial success – we just need to keep making fans and keep giving them content they can enjoy and want more of.
James Blonde next appears at the Warehouse in St. Catharines on Dec. 9.