There are a lot of ways to open an interesting story. I’ve heard quite a few over the years, but I think my favourite one came from a meeting with James Blonde this past week.
“It was at that moment that I realized we don’t have health insurance,” said Phil Taylor, drummer for one of Niagara’s best-known and most fun acts. The band have just finished their first ever run of shows in the United States. One of the venues they played was a biker bar in New Jersey, which they graced with a cover of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. When guitarist Steph Mercier jumped onto the bar to tear open the song’s solo, the realization about the band’s insurance hit. No one fell, of course: everything was fine. If there’s one thing James Blonde understands more than how to make good music, it’s how to have fun.
“87 per cent of the time, I never fall,” Mercier said of his antics, in a testament to the energy and spirit that the band brings to all of their shows. It seems as though the audience repays them in kind, too. Having never played in the States before, they were shocked to discover that audiences knew the lyrics to their songs and were surprised by the size of the crowds they were attracting. I put that down to their humbleness; anyone who has experienced a James Blonde show knows that they deserve to be packing stadiums by now. Their showmanship and mastery of their craft come together to turn even the smallest of venues into a huge event.
The friendship of the three members, as evident in this interview as it is during their performances, is likely the key to their success. Mercier, Taylor and bassist Neil Carson have been playing music together in some form or another for nearly a decade now. They’ve been through various bands and projects in that time, but James Blonde itself has been the so-called brand of the group for a little under three years now. Taking great inspiration from modern indie darlings such as The Killers and Arctic Monkeys, as well as classics such as the Beatles and even heavier bands like Muse, James Blonde’s sound has its own unique flair. Powerful riffs and catchy choruses combine with three-part vocal harmonies and a huge array of guitar sounds to create something that’s much greater than the sum of just three musicians.
That huge sound is something that they’ve tried very hard to cultivate. The band actually used to be a four-piece, but they found they really hit their stride upon becoming a three piece.
“It made us a lot more comfortable with the writing and gives us more space to explore our sound,” Mercier says. And explore they have: they make the most out of their three members. Each of the members can sing and on top of that, both guitar and bass take lead duties at various points. Mercier’s guitar sound can go everywhere from a funky 70s sound to distorted hard rock brilliance to even sparkly, synth-esque layers of ambiance. Truly, there is a huge variety in James Blonde’s music. The hard rocker “Cynical” wouldn’t be out of place on a Royal Blood album, whereas ‘Heartbreak’ combines the emotional core of The Killers with the deep grooves of Franz Ferdinand.
James Blonde currently have one record to their name, a self-titled album released last year. But as every member of the band attests, their strength is in their live shows, so that’s where most of their energy goes. It’s the physical connection with their audience that they thrive on creating. While nothing is set in stone yet, they’re planning on capitalizing on that with a huge run of North American shows in the new year, possibly even some European dates. No matter how far they travel, however, their roots are in Niagara and they haven’t lost sight of that at all; their connection to Niagara’s music community couldn’t be more clear, as each member was able to rattle off the history of the St Catharines music scene at the drop of a hat. Being able to come back to play shows at home is an honour and a wonderful experience for them. On October 13, they’ll be playing a homecoming show as part of the inaugural Cicada Music Festival on Henley Island. James Blonde are excited about what this new festival might become as it carries on, but right now, I’m more excited to see what they have up their sleeves for the show.