James Blonde is a trio whose members are so thoroughly enmeshed in their dazzlingly original, ferociously melodic pop/rock that they’ve given rise to an identity that soars within confines of their music.
Like kindred spirits Billy Talent and Franz Ferdinand, the Niagara Falls-based trio of guitarist Steph Mercier, drummer Phil Taylor, and bassist Neil Carson are sonic subsets of a sort, expertly channelling their individual parts together to create an ultra-accessible rock behemoth that navigates the sweet spot between scorch and swoon.
James Blonde’s brilliantly assured self-titled debut may be the most persuasive argument yet that killer music really is greater than the sum of its parts. Also, that three guys can produce a glorious racket when they set their hearts and minds to it.
“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.”
That hive-mindset is most evident in James Blonde’s democratic assignment of lead singing and songwriting duties, which are shared equally by all three members, imbuing James Blonde, the album, with a sprawling range rarely seen in alt-rock.
Witness ‘Don’t Lock the Door,’ the towering first single and album opener which juxtaposes a thunderous rhythmic wallop against staccato team vocals.
“I’m most excited to play that song live,” Mercier offers, “because it's one that hits me emotionally in both a deep way — its meaning and relevance — as well as in a superficial way. It makes me want to dance.”
Elsewhere on the album, James Blonde hits even harder. “I’m excited about playing ‘Cynical,’” Carson says. “It’s a solid rock number with lots of harmonies and cool dynamics.”
“But ‘Cynical’ took a while to write,” adds Taylor. “It was tricky to figure out how to get vocals to sit properly on it. By contrast, [the galloping and powerfully anthemic] ‘Sea of Hearts’ was pretty much finished in one sitting. It ended up sounding nothing like what we were going for,” he laughs, “but it just kind of fell into place.”
And then there’s the quietly pulsing, knock-kneed ‘Hopeless Romantic,’ the album’s sole ballad. “In our live set, it’ll be a nice comedown from all the high-energy stuff,” Carson notes.
Digital downloads notwithstanding, special attention was paid to sequencing the album to get the ebb and flow just right. “Singles are the pickup line,” Mercier cracks, “but a good album is husband material.”
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 really 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.”